Ladies and gentlemen, after a storied legacy spanning nearly 300 years, the unthinkable has occurred: “Gulliver’s Travels” has become a romantic comedy and a children’s movie, and it’s even lazier and more juvenile than what audiences have come to expect from both genres.
At Quality 16 and Rave
20th Century Fox
It’s not one of those bearable romances, either, but an outright tawdry one. Jonathan Swift’s masterpiece was never meant to be interpreted with such a shallow lens — it is a political and social satire with implications far more profound than anything this movie has to offer.
In short, this “Gulliver’s Travels” finds Jack Black (“Year One”) playing a lowly mailroom clerk who is enamored with Darcy (Amanda Peet, “2012”), a journalist in his office building. When he finally works up the nerve to talk to her, she sends him on an assignment to the Bermuda Triangle to write a travel article. It’s a contemporary rendition of a timeless classic that completely misrepresents authorial intent.
The discrepancies are neverending. For one, save the names of Gulliver’s travel column (“Gulliver’s Travels”) and the town of Liliput, this adaptation bears no resemblance to the original. It’s impressive when an adaptation improves on an original, like Eric Roth’s take on “Forrest Gump,” but it’s another thing altogether when a script ignores an abundance of quality source material and strays one step too far off the beaten path. Considering Swift’s vision, this remake is no more than a skeleton of the novel’s lively commentary.
It’s not even good as a children’s movie. After all, the greatest children’s movies throw a bone to the parents as well. Pixar’s masterpieces appeal to the entire spectrum with subtle innuendo for adults and obnoxious slapstick for the kids. But Jack Black’s dull wit takes “obnoxious” to absurd new levels. Imagine a Manhattan stoner who gets super-high, falls into the Atlantic, and wakes up to find himself washed ashore on Britain’s beach — and there you have it. Even the kids will be scratching their heads.
Furthermore, Jason Segel (“I Love You, Man”) is a Liliputian with a British accent? That has to be one of the worst miscastings of the decade. In the minds of elitist James Bond fans worldwide, English connotes “proper,” and the awkward, lackadaisical characters Segel plays are generally anything but. It evokes an upwelling of discomfort, the feeling that something’s not quite right. He’s great as a lovelorn Marshall, and even better as a lovelorn Peter Bretter, but no one’s buying his act as a lovelorn Englishman.
Writer and director Rob Letterman should have stuck with animated films, like his beloved “Shark’s Tale” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Instead, he tried to turn a beloved classic of exceeding complexity into a children’s movie with a lazily implemented romantic twist, and he failed miserably.