The review below is the unedited copy of the review published in our column Animadversion (Dawn Newspaper’s iMAGES on Sunday), Sunday 30 January 2011. The version published, is linked below.
Pop-Culture Dweebiness in the Land of the Little People!
By Mohammad Kamran Jawaid
In one the more preposterous screen-updates based on Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, we see a modern office mailroom guy – Jack Black aka Lamuel Gulliver – get demoted from a comfy long held position by the new, one-day old subordinate. But that’s not the preposterous part. The preposterous part – or parts – happen in Lilliput, the land of the little people he crashes into, to whom technology and time is suspended to the 1800’s. Despite that hindrance they have the brains to make Gulliver a brand-new home outfitted with everything from florescent light fixtures to coffee makers.
However, “Gulliver’s Travels” isn’t preposterous all the time. The first fifteen minutes of Gulliver are spunky and original as the modern world gives Mr. Black enough dweeby, pop-culture leverage to harness a comedic-footing for his upcoming stay in Lilliput. Within minutes of showing up on the screen, we know he’s more indolent than a nitwit. He’s an adult who shirks at the responsibilities of man-hood as he jams the guitar and role-play’s Luke Skywalker (and Darth Vader) before breakfast. Mr. Black’s Gulliver is Peter Pan without the lost shadow; the little boy who doesn’t have a reason to leave Neverland.
But there is always one reason to change it all. That’s Darcy Silverman – the cute looking Amanda Peet – a senior journalist, who Gulliver has eyes for, but is scared stiff to approach for a date. When, by the end of the day, Gulliver is demoted from his boss-status he finally calls on trembling guts to ask Darcy out. Instead he winds up with a writing sample submission with next morning’s deadline.
When be begins to write, Gulliver’s Travels is the only headline his muse gives him, as he stares into the computer screen, all blank expressional. By morning his imagination sparks-up and he starts to plagiarize like a high-schooler (he copy-pastes full-features without even editing the headline). Moments later he is on assignment to travel to an island near the Bermuda triangle that safe-houses Lilliput (and a cue for lots of un-special effects).
As soon as Mr. Black leaves the haven of Manhattan “Gulliver” loses its freshness and settles for what becomes a musty parody. Borne of pop-culture roots, Gulliver helps Horatio (Jason Segal) woo Emily Blunt, the princess. However, Ms. Blunt already has a suitor with a time-fixed daily-courting session (possibly one of the better scenes in the second half); that suitor is General Edward (the annoying Chris O’Dawd), the local hero and the film’s ultimate baddie.
Even with limited acting chops that Mr. Black employs in his characters, it’s not easy to dismiss his clutch on what he knows best. The awkward physicality and gawky facial expression exclusive to Mr. Black is enough to properly deliver a quirkily-novel Gulliver.
It’s just that the screenplay by Joe Stillman and Nicolas Stoller often shifts gears between scenes of marginally effective comedy, drab mockery and plain revulsion (there is a scene where Gulliver hoses down a raging fire with urine).
The screenplay also defies logic: Lilliputians are gifted architects, but as their lifestyle, craft and language is limited to old-English custom, logic and education, how can they even fathom of making modern-day buildings, let alone instant coffee-makers or electric guitars. Surely, Gulliver doesn’t have a masters degree in architecture stuffed inside the shorts he wears. Things just get weirder and weirder up until the point that Gulliver is grappled and hung-around like a pendulum by a giant robot.
Released by 20th Century Fox and Directed by Rob Letterman (Shark’s Tale, Monsters vs. Aliens) “Gulliver’s Travels” is rated PG for crude humor and geeky comedy. If seeing a bulging, top-naked, Jack Black dispel an armada by ricocheting cannon balls off his body doesn’t turn you off, nothing will.
By Farheen Jawaid
In Jack Black’s retrofit “Gulliver’s Travels” we see Mr. Black awkwardly fitting into the mold of Lamuel Gulliver – novelist Jonathan Swift’s lost hero, who travels to wondrous, exotic lands and mingles with logic defying people. Unlike the book, which had Swift’s hero desperate to return to his old country, the update sees Mr. Black in no hurry to get back to modern day Manhattan where he works in the mailroom of a newspaper magazine. In the present Mr. Black is the king of the geeks and plans to stay one –– indefinitely.
With no ambition and bottomed-up dreams of romance with the cute journalist Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), Mr. Black get’s a wake-up call when his junior becomes his boss in less than a day. Then, in a moment of pure inner wakening, he convinces Darcy of his writing ability by submitting some lamely copied (read: plagiarized) travelogues and ends up in a whirl-pool in the Bermuda triangle that washes him to Lilliput. Lilliput is the land of little people that brings forth uninteresting 3D and mundane old-school visual effects.
Mr. Black is a literal giant, in front of the six inch long Lilliputians, so he has no problems breaking free of the ropes keeping him in bondage when he washes ashore. But as soon as Gulliver gets out of the ropes, the film sticks itself between geek-culture and logic-impaired ho-hum comedy.
An early urine joke and Gulliver’s half-naked showdown with the opposing kingdom’s navy barrage, takes out all the weight the film would have had. There are some bits of comedy that actually work because of Mr. Black’s blank, half-sure expressions, but “Gulliver’s Travels” walks a very fine line between bad and the not-so-bad; nonetheless it often stumbles between the two.
The published version is at: