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Gulliver's Travels review


Jack Black keeps a cinematic hot streak alive with this tale of the under-dog who unwittingly becomes a bigshot...

Gulliver's Travels (2010)

The noughties were kind to Jack Black. That was the decade he pushed on from sporadic appearances in films such as Enemy of the State and The Cable Guy, raising his game to what has become an almost steady stream of hits by perfecting a lovable bombast and a grin almost as big as his belly.

Now very much aimed at the kids and young adult market, the Tenacious D front man has once again proven with his latest picture Gulliver’s Travels that when it comes to making a big imprint, he has the feet to do the job.

Taking on the role of Lemuel Gulliver, Black has made a change from the hunter-gatherer of Columbia Pictures’ Year One to mail-room clerk at the New York Tribune in the latest adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s classic novel. A modern take on the giant adventure, Gulliver is a cowardly no-hoper who neither has the courage to force his way up the career ladder, nor to ask out attractive travel journalist Darcey Silverman (Amanda Peet) who seems to take an interest in him.

However, when the new mail-boy Dan (T.J. Miller) steps on his toes, Gulliver lumbers into a deception that sees Darcey send him to write a travel piece on the Bermuda Triangle - where he is soon transported to the magical land of Lilliput. A giant among his peers, the trepid adventurer soon finds that with size comes enormous responsibility; and a great deal of fun, as he sets about taking credit for famous inventions and works of art. However, after getting on the wrong side of General Edward Edwardian (Chris O’Dowd), Gulliver must defend Lilliput from the advances of the opposing Blefuscian army.

Speaking in the run up to its Boxing Day release, director Rob Letterman (Shark Tale) seemed upbeat about the film’s prospects, describing this adaptation as “…a satirical comment on the times of Robinson Crusoe” and “a comedy take with contemporary references.” However, unlike other kids' films, most notably the Shrek franchise, this is a thoroughly modern riff, avoiding jokes about Rapunzel or Don Quixote and replacing them with some about Star Wars and Titanic, which will resonate with a young audience.

The cast and crew of Gulliver’s Travels reads like a Who’s Who of contemporary film talent, starting with Black and moving along from co-stars Jason Segel, Amanda Peet and Emily Blunt to Letterman and screenwriters Joe Stillman (Shrek) and Nicholas Stoller (Yes Man). There are also supporting turns from a UK trio better known for their comedic output in James Corden, Billy Connolly and Catherine Tate.

"Whilst there is nothing particularly new going on, it is Black himself who brings this film to life"

One of the more interesting facets for techno-geeks is the introduction of a DualMoCo camera which allows two cameras in separate locations to film at the same time. This allowed Black to interact with his co-stars much more easily than would otherwise have been possible. Yet, whilst it’s true that there is a rapport between the stiffer Old English Lilliputians and Gulliver’s free and easy living, Connolly’s King Theodore and Tate’s Queen Isabelle seem rather passive influences whilst Corden, who admitted to never having read the book, is unconvincing and irrelevant as the King’s footman Jinks.

Instead, the best performances come from the seasoned professionals. Blunt and Segel’s unrequited love – she of blue blood and he a commoner – is very clichéd but still quite charming, and it contrasts well with the modern version played out between Black and Peet.

However, whilst there is nothing particularly new going on, it is Black himself who brings this film to life. Despite the added burden of being an executive producer, his commitment and drive is unquestionable and he is able to bring every scene to life, whether it’s urinating on his peers or taking a belly-full of cannonballs. The special effects, including a Victorian-style robot, and grandiose locations such as Blenheim Palace bring a great deal of colour to a story which is more about the journey than the destination. This is not a classic by any means, but if you’re looking for more light-hearted fantasy fare than the latest Potter and Narnia films, then you can’t go too far wrong with Lemuel and his travels.

3 stars

Gulliver's Travels is released in the UK on December 26th

See also:

Yogi Bear review


Hop review

Marmaduke review


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