Gulliver's Travels: Special Edition
R1 - America - Genius Products
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (15th September 2008).
The Show

Jonathan Swift's 1726 literary classic has been in print continually for almost on three hundred years. It has been adapted into many other mediums over the ensuing centuries, but has perhaps lost quite a lot of Swift's original intention as the years have passed. Certainly his satire on human nature is as valid as ever, but Swift's sharp criticism of the feuds between England and France or between Catholics and Protestants has perhaps been bred out of new retellings of the story over the years. Frequently, all that remains is a kiddie story about a man who goes to a place where he is a giant, and then to a place where he is tiny, and then to a land of horses.

This is exactly what we get in the new DVD release of the miniseries made in the mid-1990s, by Jim Henson productions for the Hallmark channel. The story is given a narrative twist to keep things lively; this version begins with Lemuel Gulliver (Ted Danson) arriving home after his nine year voyage, to find his wife (Mary Steenburgen) and son shacked up with a rich cad. Gulliver is shell shocked and a bit mad after his voyages, and spends the entirety of the film trying to convince the local magistrates that he isn't crazy, and that he really has experienced all that he claims to have seen and done. This new material is fairly pedestrian, it is a story we've seen too many times already. It doesn't really add anything to the fabulous fables of Lemuel Gulliver, but it does serve to pad out the running time rather tediously. The film might have been better served if more time were given to the quartet of extraordinary tales that Jonathan Swift originally created.

The usually dependable Mary Steenburgen doesn't have a lot to do here, and Ted Danson spends the entire three hour running time proving to us definitively that he is one of the most miserable actors ever. A few guest appearances - such as by Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, and Ned Beatty - just underline Danson's stiff performance.

The production is particularly CGI-heavy with copious amounts of green screen being used to bring the six inch tall Lilliputians and Blefuscudians, and the sixty foot tall Brobdingnaginas to life. CGI is also clearly at work in bringing the floating city of Laputa to the skies. Athough the CGI is fairly transparent to a contemporary eye, it might have actually have been rather impressive to a 1996 viewer. From an effects perspective, it certianly blows away other middle 1990's CGI-heavy televison programs, such as "Babylon 5" (1994-1998). Some cash and effort seems to have been invested in the production. The CGI also particularly enhances the editing, which is perhaps the thing that this production has going for it the most. There are some clever transitions between mad Gulliver's rantings and the flashbacks to his fantastic voyage.

Video

Video is 1.85:1, non-anamorphic. This made for television production dates from 1996, but the print has held up fairly well. The image seems a bit soft at times, but the picture is clean and contains less compression artifacts than a film of this length might normally be marred by. A few spots seemed overexposed, the whites are a bit hot. Running time is 3:06:47, separated into two parts, and further divided into 16 chapters.

Audio

Gulliver's Travels is presented in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with no subtitles. As is the case with the CGI, the audio is a bit nicer than usually heard in middle 1990's cable television productions. The stereo field is rather wide, and the musical score shifts appropriately as he travels from the British and French-influenced Lilliput to the Indian like Laputa.

Extras

Genius Products has released this miniseries with a featurette and an interview. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

"The Making of Gulliver's Travels" featurette runs for 24 minutes 3 seconds and is narrated by Ted Danson, who addresses the camera, walking us through a collection of behind the scenes footage. This is intercut with additional interviews with the cast and crew.

Also included is an interview with Omar Sharif which runs for 7 minutes 32 seconds and features Sharif on set, in costume and discussing his role.

Overall

The Show: C Video: D Audio: A Extras: C+ Overall: C

 


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