Gulliver's Travels [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (3rd June 2011).
The Film

I wish there was a Film Court; somewhere we could bring charges against filmmakers for creating something so patently terrible that it should be grounds for punishment. I’m sure Jack Black is glad we don’t have one because he’d likely to placed on Executioner’s Row for headlining the cinematic travesty known as “Gulliver’s Travels” (2010). This is no mere bad movie; this is a major studio bomb that hundreds, if not thousands, of people toiled an endless number of hours to complete. And every single frame of it is nauseating. I’m actually sort of impressed that something this bad was ever released. I’d suppose Fox’s hasty decision to convert this film into 3D during post-production was a last-ditch effort to hope it suckers moviegoers out of a few extra dollars so this wouldn’t be an unmitigated disaster. But it was, although bizarrely enough it raked in a decent amount of coin overseas. To be somewhat fair, I can’t recall a single version of Gulliver’s Travels that has been praised, although I’ve read that Ted Danson’s interpretation, a mini-series from 1996, was the most faithful of all previous adaptations. There are at least half a dozen different film iterations dating all the way back to 1935, but I’d be willing to wager this is the worst of them all.

The extent of my knowledge regarding the source material is that Jonathan Swift wrote the original novel, “Gulliver’s Travels”, back in 1726 (!), and that it features a human who winds up in a kingdom, Lilliput, ruled by tiny people. Other than that, I couldn’t tell you much about the story. Well, thanks to Wikipedia I’m slightly more enlightened. In the novel, Gulliver visits 4 different lands, each vastly different from the previous one. Here, in this latest feature version, Gulliver (Jack Black) only visits one, though he does spend a brief amount of time at another, known only as “The Island Where We Dare Not Go”. This time around, he’s a bumbling, go-nowhere mail room clerk who gets ousted from his position the day a new guy shows up on site. Despondent, and desperate for a date with the girl of his wet dreams, Darcy (Amanda Peet), Gulliver pretends he’s a travel writer and lands the assignment of traveling to the Bermuda Triangle. After he sets sail, a giant storm whisks him away and he wakes up tied down on the beaches of Lilliput. The military orders him to be shackled and confined, brought out only to service their needs. But when a fire breaks out, and Gulliver saves the day in the most puerile way possible, the citizens love him and he becomes a huge celebrity. Eventually, they teach him how to be big on the inside, and he tries to gain the confidence that has eluded him in life.

When I mentioned he puts out a fire in the most puerile way possible, I should clarify that it WAS something that came directly from the book. That still doesn’t make up for the fact that his method of containment involves whipping out his penis (which must look like a blue whale would to us, given the size of the Lilliputians) and streaming down a frothy, green stream of urine all over the King and a few unlucky bystanders. When the fire was raging, and one citizen shouted out that they “needed a large quantity of water immediately”, the first thing I thought was that he’s going to whip out his dick. I figured that would be the most juvenile way to handle the situation, and then they did just that. Again, I know this happened in the book (so I’ve been told), but I think it’s emblematic of the film as a whole.

There are some questions I really wanted answered, mostly involving infrastructure and equipment. When Gulliver washes up on the beach, I can understand them using ropes to tie him down. I can maybe even understand creating some type of shackle to keep him chained up. But some of the contraptions they outfit him with seem implausible. Who’s building them? At one point, he’s wearing a sophisticated harness system designed to force his movements from a control booth above his head. Based on the size and intricacy of the piece, I’d suspect it would have taken dozens of ironworkers a few weeks to complete. Not to mention the engineering that would have be needed to properly design it in the first place. Once Gulliver is embraced by the masses, he’s given housing in an estate built for his size, though the construction of such a palace would likely have taken a period of at least a year, maybe more. The people of Lilliput don’t strike me as being infinitely more advanced than humans in regards technology, so these feats are ludicrous. Furthermore, when Gulliver has redefined the Lilliputian way of life, and we’re shown numerous billboards for films & products featuring Gulliver’s face and name replacing real-life ads (Galvin Klein, Gavatar, to name a few), it made me wonder about whether or not they had a film industry there. If so, how were they able to write, produce and release these films in such a short amount of time? We don’t ever learn how long Gulliver has been there, but I’d roughly estimate it to be no longer than a couple of weeks, tops. I know this isn’t stuff I’m supposed to think about, but when a movie is this bad I’m forced to really dig into the minutia and rip it to shreds.

I’ve been tiring of Jack Black’s shtick for a while now. Any goodwill that he’d build up with me through his work with Tenacious D, and their underrated comedy “Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny” (2006), has been eroding since sometime around 2009, when it seemed like he was everywhere, in everything, and getting increasingly more annoying. Black is sort of like Michael Cera (but not nearly as bad) in the sense that he has one character that seems to work for him and he’s riding it into the ground. His only major turn, as Carl Denham in “King Kong” (2005) was one of the weak points of that film, proving that he should stick to comedy. And, right now, he’s not doing that very well. Maybe I’m aging outside of his core demo group, but I’m exhausted with grown men who act like rampaging children on screen. It’s played out. Black spends most of this movie stomping around and acting like a giant buffoon. It’s only near the end that Gulliver appears to learn the lesson he so badly needed to, and then the film wraps up with a saccharine ending. I don’t know what he can do to revitalize his career. Maybe take a few years off and reinvent his wheel? What I DO know is that he needs to stop being paid to make bottom shelf crap like this.

Video

The film may be total crap, but Fox maintains their stance in providing the best possible picture for new releases. “Gulliver’s Travels” arrives on a 50GB Blu-ray with a 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image that looks technically superb, though its clarity is also its weakness at times. Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first. The image is pristine, with some incredible detail visible in Lilliput. The detail on military outfits, royal garb and well-coiffed facial hair is exemplary. Very few scenes take place in dark lighting, leaving us to become fully immersed in the sun-baked vistas seen on the island. Black levels look excellent for the most part, though they do become slightly hazy in darker shots. Part of the reason it’s so crystal clear is because it was shot digitally, rather than on film. This means less grain, so the image can appear unnaturally clear at times.

Unfortunately, it also means that many of the visual effects shots are going to look terrible. The film was shot using a system called Dual MoCo, which allows Black to act against a green screen in one area of the stage while the actors portraying the Lilliputians are on another, but it gives the appear of them acting opposite one another. The idea was the make their interactions seem more genuine, but the irony is that it can sometimes end up looking exactly like a cheap effect. A few shots were outright terrible, managing to look worse than if they’d just used the tried-and-true method of rear-screen projection.

Audio

The film’s default track is an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit. There’s a lot of activity in this track, with the rear speakers being utilized during many sequences, resulting in a spacious, dynamic track that packs a punch when required, but one that can also relay subtle cues woven throughout. The cyclone that sweeps Gulliver away roars with tremendous might, while more intricate sounds, like the chatter of Lilliputians as Black is wheeled into town, come across just as clear and balanced. The film also features a number of contemporary rock tracks, and those always tend to really bring the thunder on home video. Guitars squeal from every speaker, while the drums pound your LFE track for a solid minute or two. Of course, let’s not forget rockin’ music is a staple of just about every Jack Black film.

I’ve learned that this film was one of the few released in 7.1 during its theatrical run, so I’m not sure why Fox didn’t include the intended track here on Blu-ray. I don’t know how much the extra channels would have added, since this 5.1 mix is perfectly adequate in every way, but it’s a little puzzling. Regardless, this is a solid audio effort presented with great clarity, a harmonious balance and adept sound design.

There are also French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound track included. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, French, Spanish, Cantonese, Traditional Mandarin, Portuguese and Ukrainian for the hearing impaired.

Extras

I’ll give Fox credit for stuffing this release full of any and every thing they could. “Gulliver’s Travels” hits Blu-ray in a 3-disc combo pack that almost as fat as Jack Black. The first disc houses the film, along with several featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel, interactive games, trailers and more. The second disc contains the feature film on a DVD, while the third has a digital copy for use with portable devices. They even made some use out of BD-Live! I’m pleased to see that Fox continues to stuff their new releases with lots of supplements - even titles that most would argue aren’t worth the effort.

DISC ONE:

“I Don’t Know… with Lemuel Gulliver” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 5 minutes and 15 seconds. Black, in character, plays host to a faux show about the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle. This could have possibly been funny if they’d had a decent set, and if Black looked like he gave a rat’s ass by at least shaving before they shot it.

A gag reel (1080p) runs for 1 minute and 28 seconds.

There are several deleted scenes available, some of which are rough with unfinished FX work. They can be watched individually or all together with the “play all” function. Included are the following:

- “Old Hank” runs for 1 minute and 13 seconds, someone objects to Gulliver gaining access to the Triangle.
- “Gulliver Meets Royals – Extended Version” runs for 1 minute and 20 seconds, a longer cut of Gulliver’s first meeting.
- “Defense System” runs for 42 seconds, Gulliver is tricked and walks right into a trap.
- “Royal Banquet – Extended Version” runs for 1 minute and 43 seconds, the Lilliputians teach Gulliver the history of their battles.
- “Basketball” runs for 2 minutes and 20 seconds, Gulliver tries to play sports with the Royal family.
- “King & Queen Practice Basketball and King Makes Breakfast” runs for 3 minutes and 11 seconds, the title says it all.
- “Horatio and Princess on a Date” runs for 2 minutes and 48 seconds, it’s riveting and romantic.
- “Gulliver & Edward Duel in Gulliver’s House” runs for 1 minute and 2 seconds, more of the big fight.

“Little and Large” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 8 minutes and 14 seconds. We get a look at how the filmmakers were able to use the Dual MoCo system more extensively than ever before to shoot the film. There’s a lot of discussion about how the film’s visual effects were achieved, and how they were constantly breaking new ground in the visual effects field.

Jack Black Thinks Big” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 5 minutes and 59 seconds. Join the cast & crew as they discuss Gulliver’s impact on the people & island of Lilliput, bringing a lot of his modern day New York sensibilities to their antiquated lives.

“Down Time” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 4 minutes and 24 seconds. You might not have guessed it from watching the film, but the cast members consider each other to be hilarious when they aren’t busy shooting.

“Gulliver’s Foosball Challenge” is an interactive game which asks viewers to use their remote to play a game that’s somewhat difficult and no fun at all.

“War Song Dance” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 5 minutes and 45 seconds. Ugh. The battle at sea was one of the film’s lowest points. Why you’d ever want to relive it and learn how they constructed it puzzles me.

“Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Jack Black” (480p) is a featurette that runs for 6 minutes and 30 seconds. Jack Black proves he can’t ever speak to anyone out of character. Deep inside him, somewhere, is a fragile, emotional person who cries at night. There has to be. The guy never gives a straight interview.

“Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Jason Segel” (480p) is a featurette that runs for 4 minutes and 52 seconds. I love Segel, but why he wasted his talents making a film like this confuses me. I can only imagine Fox gave him a fat paycheck. Here he does his best to discuss why he’s in this.

“Life After Film School: Rob Letterman on “Gulliver’s Travels”” (480p) is a featurette that runs for 21 minutes and 52 seconds.

“World Premiere” (480p) is a featurette that runs for 6 minutes and 2 seconds. I never understand why these get included on home video. Does anyone care about watching actors strut down the red carpet and spew hyperbole about their film?

The film’s theatrical trailer (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 22 seconds.

Finally, there is a BD-Live exclusive featurette:

“Jack & Jason’s Dance Class” (720p) runs for 3 minutes and 28 seconds. The two actors share some bro-mantic moments while teaching us about the film’s dance moves.

The disc is also D-BOX Motion Code enabled for those with the proper home theater equipment.

DISC TWO:

This is simply a DVD copy of the feature film.

DISC THREE:

This is a digital copy of the feature film for use with WMA, Android and Apple portable devices.

Packaging

The 3-disc set comes housed in an amaray keepcase with a swinging tray inside holding two discs, while the third rests on a hub. There’s a slipcover that replicates the cover art included on first pressings.

Overall

I’d say this is unarguably the nadir of Black’s career, so the guy needs to make some serious efforts to move up. This wasn’t just the worst film of 2010; it’s one of the worst I’ve ever seen. And that isn’t even hyperbole. I genuinely feel as though this is a film so insultingly bad that it should just be wiped from existence. I think it’s safe to say no one would shed a tear. I don’t know how a parent could force their child to watch this, but doing so might be grounds for child abuse. Avoid this one at all costs. If you really feel like you want to show your children a Gulliver film, seek out “The Three World of Gulliver” (1960), which features stop-motion animation from the master, Ray Harryhausen.

The Film: F Video: B+ Audio: B+ Extras: B- Overall: C-

 


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