Reviewed by: Scott Brennan
|Featuring:||Jack Black (Lemuel Gulliver), Jason Segel (Horatio), Emily Blunt (Princess Mary), Amanda Peet (Darcy Silverman), Billy Connolly (King Theodore), Chris O'Dowd (General Edward), T.J. Miller (Dan), more »|
|Producer:||Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Davis Entertainment, Electric Dynamite, Jack Black, more »|
|Distributor:||Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation|
“From the studio that brought you ‘Night at the Museum’”
Thomas Jacob Black (aka Jack Black) was once quoted as saying “I’d rather be the king of kids, than the prince of fools.” Unfortunately, I think he may be quickly approaching the latter, especially if he continues to accept roles like this one in “Gulliver’s Travels.” Known for his antics in movies like “Nacho Libre” and “The School of Rock,” Black clearly demonstrates his ability to poke fun at himself—but the laughs are fewer and farther between. Judging by today’s opening-Christmas-Day-family audience—the laugh meter never reached higher than a 3 on a 10 point scale. If you have money “to travel” with over this holiday, you might want to skip “Gulliver” and wait for the DVD—if at all. As to the 3D part of it, you’d be missing nothing, except a disorganized story emphasized in an extra dimension.
For those of you who may be wondering about the tie-in of this film to the classic piece of literature written by Jonathan Swift, let me be clear: there is virtually no resemblance on almost any level. The only thing that might be the same, but for entirely different reasons, may have to do with referenced nuances in current society. In various editions of the book Gulliver’s Travels, there are often footnotes to explain the meaning of various jokes, and the sarcastic wit and humor he used to refer to groups or individuals in Irish or British Society. The same would be true if this movie were to be seen only a decade from now, as many of the pop cultural references made in this film, which are hardly funny—as currently used in the movie (e.g. the lyrics of a Prince song used to court a princess), would be nearly unknown to most young viewers in the future—and therefore need to be explained via subtitles. It’s been said by some critics of Swift’s writing, that if one has to explain his humor to the reader, then it probably isn’t that funny to begin with. Probably not the best comparison, since Swift’s intellectually biting wit is really not on the same wave-length as the adolescent material in this film, but the point is made: If it has to be explained, it probably isn’t funny. In any case, this is where the similarities between the two mediums part ways.
Gulliver (Jack Black) is an overgrown adolescent who plays with Star Wars figures, spends hours playing Guitar-Hero™, and who laments being one of the “little people” at the big city newspaper where his sole job is—to deliver the mail to all the “important people.” In between time, he fantasizes about his “crush,” the travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet), whom he tries to impress by plagiarizing some articles to use as a qualifying writing submission, in order to get an assignment in the Bermuda Triangle and leave his lowly post in the mailroom. She falls for it, and off he sails, alone, to write “Gulliver’s Travels.”
Why couldn’t he just have told her the truth? Well that’s the lesson he must learn in Lilliput when he awakes there—bound by the “little people” (like his former self) where he quickly becomes the resident star. Once the Lilliputians overcome their prejudice and declare him truly valiant, his pride begins to surface. New problems arise with the boastful advice he begins to hand out to those like his new found friend, Horatio (Jason Segel) and Horatio’s “crush” Princess Mary (Emily Blunt). [Okay, veiled references here to British Society and its political misgivings in addition to Swift’s consistent use of paradox between the pride of man in the Age of Reason (Proverbs 16:18) and their “beastly” instincts to return to their baser selves do apply (they refer to Gulliver as ‘the beast’), but they are short lived (Proverbs 26:11).]
Predictably this becomes a plot about unrequited love, and “be true to your self,” complete with Darcy showing up in Lilliput on her own—so that Gulliver can make things right. Will he or won’t he succeed? Meanwhile, the antagonist, General Edward (Chris O’Dowd), the thwarted love interest of Princess Mary, takes on Gulliver for control of Lilliput in nothing less than a robot outfit that assembles itself like something out of a “Transformers” film. I’m not kidding. The story digresses from there with a series of ever more ridiculous “made for Jack-Black vignettes” (like Jack in a lady’s dress inside a dollhouse forced by a “giant girl” to kiss a male doll) that grow tiresome after a point and culminate with an ending that is laughable, and I mean—not in a good way. If you want to imagine the worst anti-war dance number ever created (done to none other than the blatant 1969 anti-Vietnam War song called “War” by Edwin Starr) to make a point about war’s futility, then see the ending to this film, and imagine no more.
Overall, this film sort of lost its way from the beginning, not being sure of what kind of movie it wanted to become. The PG rating is definitely lax, since the scatological humor along with wedgies, buttocks (you see Jack’s butt crack which eventually falls on top of a Lilliputian soldier) and excessive fat jokes are not appropriate for the younger kids, nor is the cleavage of the 18th century royalty, or the sexual innuendoes like “tell her she’s sexy” and General Edward pointing to Emily’s breasts as two reasons he loves her. She responds with, “That’s not appropriate,” and the boys in my audience chuckled with a muffled laugh. There are the Lilliputians hired for Gulliver’s amusement to perform “Kiss” songs, and freeze on command with tongues hanging out, that are disturbing—just one more scene, like many others, which seem out of place. These things combine with the contrived title of “lameass”—said several times in jest—as a supposed honorable title (from Gulliver’s world) all added to material which borders PG-13 in terms of rating. Also noted in my darkened theater scribble, were two OMG’s or a variation thereof.
Finally, there is one scene that is—more than distasteful—where Gulliver drops his pants and puts out a fire in the King’s chamber by urination. While a similar event did happen in the book, the circumstances were not even close in resemblance, and he certainly didn’t spray all over a host of the Lilliputians for a cheap laugh as is done in the film. I read once of one 4th grader’s response to this “fire extinguisher scene” when the teacher read this aloud to her class. “That’s not funny! That’s despicable. No one will like that!” said the boy. To which she replied, “Well, maybe a few boys would.” That’s about what it was, a few laughs, but mostly disgust from the audience today. [In the book it was the Queen’s apartment and was thought by many to be a reference to Swift’s extinguishing the flames of Catholicism while defending Protestantism in the name of Queen Anne.]
Why anyone would want to take this classic story by a satirical, yet thoughtful Christian apologist from the Age of Enlightenment, who challenged himself along with all of his contemporaries to think soberly about all their actions in life (be they great or small), and turn it into a wannabe family film is beyond my understanding.
On the other hand, the fact that so little inappropriate language is used (other than what was mentioned) and no sex scenes (other than a kiss and the innuendoes mentioned above) make it more tolerable than it would have been had it gone full-on “Jack Black.” There is a positive romantic spin at the end for both couples, and the plagiarism and lying is confronted head on in the resolution, which is refreshing. Unfortunately, it just isn’t enough to pull this into a truly acceptable family film category. It is morally “average” for this genre, which means it is “somewhat offensive” and is generally not recommended by this site.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Mild