Review: Gulliver's Travels DVD

Gulliver's Travels DVD boxSTUDIO: Fox | DIRECTOR: Rob Letterman | CAST: Jack Black, Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, Amanda Peet, Chris O’Dowd, Billy Connolly
RELEASE DATE: 4/19/11 | PRICE: 3-Disc Blu-ray/DVD $24.99, 4-Disc Blu-ray/DVD 3D $34.99, 2-Disc DVD $20.98
BONUSES: featurettes, deleted scenes, gag reel ; Blu-ray adds featurettes, Fox Movie Channel segments, BD Live features, digital copy
SPECS: PG | 85 min. | Fantasy comedy | 2.35:1 widescreen | Dolby Digital 5.1/DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio | English and Spanish subtitles; dubbed in English, Spanish and French

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

In this latest movie adaptation of Jonathan Swift‘s classic 1725 tale Gulliver’s Travels, our circa-2010 Gulliver (Jack Black, Tropic Thunder) works in the mailroom of a large metropolitan newspaper, where he aspires to bigger and better things and loves Darcy (Amanda Peet, 2012), the paper’s travel editor, from afar. Cribbing write-ups of exotic lands from other publications (Frommer’s, anyone?) and passing them off to Darcy as samples of his own work, Darcy is impressed enough by his previously unsuspected writing talent to assign him to cover a story in the Bermuda Triangle. Predictable wackiness ensues

Gulliver's Travels movie scene

Jack Black makes some noise in Gulliver's Travels.

Swept via mystical whirlpool to the land of the Lilliputians, Gulliver—a relative giant among the local population—rises, after numerous trials and “noble” deeds, from gawked-over “beast” to the greatest hero Lilliput has ever seen.  In the process, he introduces the charmingly outdated Lilliputians (The Adjustment Bureau‘s Emily Blunt and Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s Jason Segel, among them) to all the glories of McMansions and contemporary pop culture (which seem dubious gifts at best), while also finally gaining the courage to attain his dream job, his dream girl, and his dream life back home.  Somewhere in there is a brief interlude in Brobdingnag, the land of giants, which feels cursory and contrived enough to require no additional explanation here.

It would be unfair — and downright mean-spirited — to review a movie like this as if I were, say, a college professor of 18th century literature. The point of this movie, after all, is to serve as the kind of family-friendly fare that parents can bring their children to, confident that a PG good time will be had by all. Fair enough. This movie’s one irredeemable flaw, however, is that it fails to be fun. It tries on the one hand to be a funny, silly, fantasy adventure for children, while also maintaining a semi-cynical, wink-wink tone for adults, in the mold of films such as Shrek. As is so often the case with movies that try too hard to be both, it ultimately succeeds at being neither.

The visuals, however, are gorgeous, and the cast and crew have done a truly outstanding job of making us believe that all scenes were shot with all actors on one set, rather than green-screening Black and adding him later to the Lilliput scenes, which is actually the case. The seamless fashion in which this effect is pulled off deserves plenty of praise.

The special features on the DVD are the standard fare: interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes looks at how Jack Black was digitally integrated with the Lilliputians, et cetera.  There’s also a faux TV show called “I Don’t Know,” in which Black — in character as Gulliver — attempts to explain the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle.

All in all, Gullivers’s Travels is probably a painless enough film to throw on in the background on a rainy Sunday when the kids are stuck indoors and parents are looking for something — other than a computer screen — to keep them occupied for a couple of hours.  Just don’t expect them to be so enraptured that they forget to periodically complain, “Mom, when can we play with the Wii again?”


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About Gwen

Gwen Cooper is a movie and TV lover and the author of Homer's Odyssey (no, not the one you're thinking of).