Gulliver finds himself pinned down on the beach by dozens of Lilliputian soldiers.
Adaptations are a tricky task in film. While more commonplace than ever, cinematic adaptations of revered books, poems, plays and even video games fail more often than they succeed. Some anger fans, others anger critics, and others even anger both. Those that do succeed find the unique balance of honoring the source material while putting a unique spin on it. This balance is not to be found in Gulliver’s Travels.
Gulliver is hoisted up in the city square.
An adaptation of part one of the 18th century novel by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels tells the story of lovable deadbeat Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black). Having worked in the mailroom at a successful New York City newspaper for 10 years, Gulliver’s life is seemingly going nowhere. He has a crush on the travel editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet) and is quickly surmised by a new hire (T.J. Miller), who becomes his boss after one day on the job. Gulliver spins a lie about being a writer in an attempt to win the heart of Darcy and is assigned a fluff piece on the Bermuda triangle. After falling asleep during the voyage, he is caught up in a storm and transported to the kingdom of Lilliput, a land inhabited by tiny people. From there, Gulliver is first feared as a giant and then revered as a hero of the kingdom after saving the princess (Emily Blunt, who must’ve been paid well for this one). If you’ve seen any fantasy-type or hero’s journey film like this, you can probably guess how it ends.
Later Gulliver helps the Lilliputians defend themselves against their rivals.
Jack Black is this film. He’s front and center for the entirety of it and is the only character the audience should be caring about. This is surprising given the talent of the cast, who are shelved into archetype roles in the fantasy story setting. Gulliver is a typical Jack Black character, an average guy whose life is stuck and has a spark of an idea and is becomes someone better than he could’ve possibly thought to become. School of Rock was a great film about this character, Gulliver’s Travels isn’t. Black is mostly annoying for most of the story and you find it hard laugh at his antics. Where Dewey Finn was a muddling, wannabe rocker who inspired a class of kids to be great, Lemuel Gulliver is a guy who essentially takes advantage of some little people to get a girl and look heroic.
Lemuel Gulliver gives advice to his friend Horatio (Jason Segal).
What is also lacking in the film is the spirit of the original Swift novel. Part one was a political satire in the truest sense of the genre and took plenty of shots at European governments of the time. Surprisingly, the modern day film adaptation is PG rated and aimed at a younger audience whose parents would be the only ones who have heard of the original work. The original story is used mostly as setting for the comedic exploits of Gulliver. The only really funny moment of the film come early as Gulliver explains who he is and where he comes from. A highlight is a play about his life, which is really just famous scenes from Titanic and Star Wars.
Floating on a raft.
The Lilliputians throw a spear that lands in Gulliver’s black low cut chucks.
Chucks, or really one pair of customized chucks are prominent throughout the movie. Lemuel Gulliver’s shoes of choice are a pair of black low tops with an extra red racing stripe stripe and red ankle piece on their backs. He sports these throughout the film. There are constant closeups of these chucks due to Gullver’s size in relation to the Lilliputians. Highlights include the scenes when he is first captured by the Lilliputians on the beach, and brought into their city square, where he attempts to save himself from drowning by putting on as many floaties as possible, where he saves the burning castle by peeing on it, the king, and villainous evil general, and when Gulliver gets trapped in the triangle, tossed about by storm. At the very end of the film, he wears a new black leather pair, as does Dan, his mailroom co-worker.
One of many closeups of Gulliver’s chucks in the film.
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