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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 31, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 53
Updated Gulliver a giant waste of time
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Updated Gulliver a giant waste of time

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Gulliver's Travels
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Someplace, somewhere, Jonathan Swift is hanging his head in shame. It almost goes without saying that director Rob Letterman (Monsters vs. Aliens) and writers Joe Stillman (Planet 51) and Nicolas Stoller's (Get Him to the Greek) adaptation of his timeless classic Gulliver's Travels isn't very good. In fact, there are moments where the team's modern-day version starring Jack Black is downright offensive, and the majority of the picture is a tired and joyless exercise in tedium that had me bored out of my mind.

Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a timid clerk in the mailroom for The New York Tribune who harbors a secret crush on the paper's lovely travel editor, Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet). After going online and plagiarizing some travel pieces to present as a portfolio, Gulliver is sent to the heart of the Bermuda Triangle to research and write a piece about the infamous locale. When a weather anomaly blows him into the center of a reverse whirlpool, he ends up in the Kingdom of Lilliput, and after a brief misunderstanding, he befriends the country's diminutive inhabitants and becomes their gigantic protector.

Unlike, say, Little Fockers or Clash of the Titans, I can't say this new Gulliver's Travels is a complete and total disaster or ranks as one of the year's biggest train wrecks. There are several moments that are at least partially amusing, including a semi-inspired bit where Gulliver uses moments from The Empire Strikes Back and Titanic (admittedly stolen from the underrated Christian Bale/Matthew McConaughey apocalyptic fire-breathing dragon adventure Reign of Fire) to puff up his life story for the Lilliputians. Jason Segel is reasonably charming as his newfound pint-sized friend Horatio, while Emily Blunt has a couple of nice scenes as the country's headstrong princess.

But it all feels very stale and by-the-numbers. There are two musical numbers, one gag where a Lilliputian ends up in a giant's bum, and another where Gulliver literally uses the banana in his shorts to pee out a fire and save Lilliput's king (an embarrassed-looking Billy Connolly). Our hero learns to have faith in his own abilities, to trust his friends, and that honesty is the best policy when it comes to fostering meaningful relationships. The bad guy - in this case the duplicitous Lilliput General Edward (Chris O'Dowd) - doesn't win, while the good guys, Gulliver and Horatio, go above and beyond to save the day.

There are no surprises. There is nothing that is unexpected. There is less that is funny. The movie just is, moving from scene to scene with the energy and the vitality of a root canal. I can't imagine anyone, even the kids whose direction most of this is pointed in, will muster up the energy enough to care. The height of the film's wit and inspiration is for Gulliver to channel Edwin Starr to ease the tensions between Lilliput and the Blefuscians. It's understandably absurd but boringly so, and for every minor laugh there are countless groan-worthy sequences that fall apart before they even have the chance to begin.

The bottom line is that this movie just isn't entertaining, but it's not horrible enough to be something I want to spit fire, brimstone, and vitriol at, either. But I still maintain that Swift would have been pretty much aghast as to what has become of his cherished literary chestnut, and while I doubt he's rolling over in his grave, he's certainly not smiling. No, this Gulliver's Travels is nothing more than a dumb waste of time, and anyone thinking about seeing it should do themselves a favor and just reread the book instead.

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