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Gulliver's Travels: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Gulliver's Travels (2010) movie poster Gulliver's Travels (2010)

Theatrical Release: December 25, 2010 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Rob Letterman / Writers: Joe Stillman, Nicholas Stoller (screenplay); Jonathan Swift (novel)

Cast: 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 Quint), James Corden (Jinks), Catherine Tate (Queen Isabelle), Emmanuel Quatra (King Leopold), Olly Alexander (Prince August), Richard Laing (Nigel Travel Writer), David Sterne (Foreman), Stewart Scudamore (Blefuscian Captain), Meredith Vieira (Lilliputian), Joe Lo Truglio (Butt-crack Man), Romany Malco (Young Hank - uncredited)

Buy Gulliver's Travels from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy • 2-Disc DVD • Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy


Jonathan Swift's 1726 satire Gulliver's Travels has endured as one of the greatest English novels of its time. As such, it is no surprise that it has been filmed many times over the years, starting with Frenchman Georges M้li่s' 1902 silent short. Swift's scale-based fantasy made it a logical choice for animation. In fact, two of the first ten animated feature films on record were adaptations of it:
Russia's 1935 stop motion Communist retelling Novyy Gullivyer (The New Gulliver) and America's second feature cartoon, the Fleischer Brothers' 1939 cel-animated response to Disney's Snow White. These films aren't well-known today, even those aided by public domain status. Subsequent versions -- 1960's Ray Harryhausen-enhanced The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, the 1968 Hanna-Barbera cartoon series "The Adventures of Gulliver", 1978's mixed medium Richard Harris film, and 1996's NBC miniseries starring Ted Danson -- don't fare much (if at all) better in this regard.

So there is an opening for a definitive feature filming of Swift's book, but take one look at the poster or cover art and you know that 2010's Gulliver's Travels does not fill it. This big budget family-friendly comedy is a vehicle for Jack Black, an actor who rarely chooses to play things straight. With Black at the center, we get a modern Gulliver loaded with pop culture references.

Mailroom clerk Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black) can't bring himself to ask out travel editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet). Gulliver (Jack Black) awakens in Lilliput tied down and with the surprising sight of a tiny general on his chest.

Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a mailroom employee at the bustling fictional newspaper The New York Tribune. Gulliver has no ambition or tenacity. He's spent ten years delivering mail and trying to avoid notice. The girl he likes, travel editor Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), gets unnecessary visits but nary an insight to his feelings. When a newly-hired mail boy (T.J. Miller) gets promoted to Gulliver's boss his first day on the job, Gulliver is inspired to finally take action and apply for a writing job under Darcy. After submitting a writing sample plagiarized from a couple of sources, Gulliver gets his first writing assignment: to report on three weeks spent in the infamous Bermuda Triangle.

Per legend, Gulliver does disappear mysteriously while boating in the region. When he comes to, he is in the land of Lilliput, tied down as a giant prisoner of a people one twentieth his size. Gulliver's captivity is short-lived as is the Lilliputians' fear of him, as he befriends lovelorn peasant Horatio (Jason Segel, doing an admirable, casual old English accent) and saves Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) and her father King Theodore (Billy Connolly) from kidnapping and fire, respectively. The Lilliputians embrace their enormous new visitor and soon put their famous work ethic to use to construct him a luxurious home, full of their ancient equivalents of his beloved present-day amenities, like Guitar Hero.

Seizing an opportunity for embellishment, Gulliver builds himself up as an extraordinary representative of his people, a noble president whose biography incorporates plots from Star Wars and Titanic. He relishes the attention and the diminutive citizens are all charmed, with the exception of Mary's fianc้, the villainous General Edward (Chris O'Dowd, "The IT Crowd"), who is downgraded to assist the tale-telling oaf whose regalement he sees through. As Gulliver coaches Horatio through courtship of the princess, Edward conspires with Lilliput's rival nation to bring down the giant.

Gulliver (Jack Black) finds a tiny but trustworthy friend in Horatio (Jason Segel). Horatio's (Jason Segel) forbidden courtship of Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) employs Gulliver's questionable expertise.

Though Swift's novel is told in four parts, this movie mostly only deals with the first and most famous act. Even ignoring the contemporization of the protagonist, the film offers a very loose retelling of Swift's text, losing much of the bite of the author's societal critique in favor of familiar conflict and cultural clash. That is inevitable in a PG-rated movie opening on Christmas Day and carrying a $112 million reported production budget. Gulliver was positioned as a tentpole in the vein of Fox's highly profitable Night at the Museum.
Unfortunately, this film contains a small fraction of the humor, adventure, and fun that marked the earlier hit and its likable sequel.

Gulliver's Travels offers one bad idea after another, most of them noisy and ill-executed. At its heart, the film tests your tolerance for Black's slacker persona. There's nothing wrong with giving the people what you're known for, but relying on the same old shtick on the other side of 40 requires more good will for that shtick than the public has ever held. Black looks like fun to be around and seems like a nice guy, but his style doesn't have the wide appeal of actors like Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler, a fact that box office numbers have repeatedly reinforced.

He may be the star and one of two executive producers, but Black isn't the only one to blame for the film's failings. Director Rob Letterman makes his live-action debut, having previously collaborated on DreamWorks Animation's Shark Tale and Monsters vs. Aliens. It's unclear why those movies, box office hits but among the creatively weaker entries in that studio's canon, would qualify Letterman for taking the helm on such a high-profile project. This probably ought to give Hasbro and Universal some second thoughts about picking him to direct their upcoming Stretch Armstrong movie. I'm more concerned about a different follow-up. If this is Gulliver's co-screenwriter Nicholas Stoller and star Jason Segel's idea of quality family entertainment, then maybe their upcoming Muppet movie shouldn't be my most anticipated release of 2011.

The one Lilliputian not charmed by Gulliver, General Edward (Chris O'Dowd) takes matters into his own hands by assuming the controls of a giant robot about six feet tall. A wet, shirtless Gulliver (Jack Black) encourages the Blefuscian Armada to retreat in response to his antics.

Gulliver's Travels has very strange ideas on what to substitute for Swift's satire, making Gulliver into a hedonist and false prophet. His ego gets Lilliput to build their version of Times Square with him as the subject of parody ads for Broadway shows, fashion, and Fox properties. His devil-may-care attitude never incurs danger on the little people, save for one evidently crushed inside his buttcrack. His iPhone battery never runs out. He almost never changes clothes. Even the visual effects are more poorly realized than they should be today. The one brief excursion outside New York City and Lilliput, suggested by the second part of the book, exhibits shockingly bad judgment as Gulliver becomes a living doll for a girl much larger than he. At least this and other miscalculations are fleeting; the film runs just 78 minutes before the end credits roll.

Going down as one of 2010's biggest flops, Gulliver's Travels grossed just under $43 million domestically, less than half of all its Christmastime competition. The film fared much better overseas, earning $179 million abroad with a potent $24 M coming from Swift's satirized native region. Still, the North American performance should make every studio uncomfortable with the idea of putting Jack Black at the center of a big budget live-action family movie. People are more apt to embrace one of his losers when his voice is coming from a panda.

Seemingly looking to combat the public disinterest head-on, Fox last week released Gulliver's Travels as a 2-Disc DVD set with standard pricing and extras collectively called "Gulliver's Fun Pack". In addition, the movie is available in the family film standard, a 3-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack (reviewed here), and a 4-disc set that adds a Blu-ray 3D disc (as if you couldn't guess that this movie was released, but not shot, in that increasingly off-putting format).

Gulliver's Travels Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: DTS-HD 5.1 MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French; BD-Only: Portuguese
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
Release Date: April 19, 2011
Three single-sided discs (BD-50, DVD-9 & DVD 5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99 (Reduced from $39.99)
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in 2-Disc DVD Set ($29.99 $6.49 SRP), Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy ($49.99 $29.99 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Unsurprisingly, the Blu-ray offers a highly satisfactory presentation of the film. The 2.40:1 picture is sharp and vibrant (allowing you to really notice how the worlds fail to blend as believably as they should). The forceful DTS-HD 5.1 mix is full of peaks and valleys, sure to make volume-conscious reach for the remote.

The DVD's presentation is noticeably less striking and sharp, but still clean and free of any specific concerns. Its Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack features similar highs and lows with less but still sufficient impact.

Jack Black sports a turtleneck of authority to reprise the character of Lemuel Gulliver in the original short "I Don't Know." A marital discord subplot for King Theodore (Billy Connolly) and Queen Isabelle (Catherine Tate) ended up on the cutting room floor.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

A sticker on the slipcover claims that this set "includes over 90 Minutes of GIANT Sized Bonus Material!" and though it looked the same size on my television as anything else,
the content does narrowly surpass an hour and a half, even without an audio commentary to be found.

The Blu-ray's extras begin with "I Don't Know... with Lemuel Gulliver" (5:15), a short show on the Earth's mysteries. In character, Black dispenses a bogus history of the Bermuda Triangle before interviewing himself about his experience. The whole thing is a really lame rip-off of John C. Reilly's Dr. Steve Brule and one of his most memorable "Check It Out!" bits.

Oddly, the gag reel (1:27) consists of just a single outtake from a deleted scene with Jack Black and Romany Malco.

Eight Deleted Scenes (15:12) are offered, many of them hindered by incomplete visual effects. Some of this material, like Gulliver teaching the Lilliputians basketball and trash-talk and Horatio and Mary's date, could have improved the film, but none of it is badly missed.

Look out people of Blefuscu, CGI Jack Black is comin' at ya in "Little and Large"! Jason Segel and Jack Black make the most of "Down Time" with ukulele bonding. Are you ready for some foosball? The Blu-ray game Gulliver's Foosball Challenge requires one solid minute of rapid remote control arrow pushing.

The making-of featurette "Little and Large" (8:14) has cast and crew discussing the scale and both showing and telling how the two worlds came together in filming.

"Jack Black Thinks Big" (5:59) explains the movie, paying specific attention to the Times Square Gulliver brings to Lilliput.

With candid footage of tomfoolery and ukulele-playing, "Down Time" (4:24) shares how hilarious the atmosphere was on the set; too bad it didn't rub off on the film.

"Gulliver's Foosball Challenge" is a pretty terrible game. In it, you've got to press the directional buttons shown to you in rapid succession. A minute of doing that furiously and you win. One wrong move and you lose. Either way, you just get the choice to play again. There isn't even time to notice or appreciate how you're "controlling" the foosball players.

"War Song Dance" (5:45) offers a behind-the-scenes of the film's egregious use of Edwin Starr as its closing number, semi-choreographed by Black.

Jason Segel explains how writing the new Muppet movie gives him an excuse for playing with puppets now. Director Rob Letterman shares his experiences with film students in "Life After Film School." To know if Emily Blunt would rather live in modern-day America or Lilliput, don't miss Fox Movie Channel's "World Premiere" short with Tava Smiley.

It wouldn't be a Fox movie without some Fox Movie Channel programs. The Blu-ray holds four, the disc's only standard definition extras. "In Character" pieces with Jack Black (6:30) and Jason Segel (4:52) talk up the movie with both sincere revelation and amusing irony. In the more substantial "Life After Film School: Rob Letterman" (21:52), three film students ask practical questions and get candid answers from the director about his Sundance and DreamWorks Animation experiences, his plans for Stretch Armstrong, and, most of all, Gulliver's Travels and its unique challenges. Hosted by Tava Smiley, "World Premiere" (6:02) mixes promotion with red carpet remarks on staying true to the book but updating it to contemporary sensibilities.

The disc preserves the film's theatrical trailer (2:22), which underplays the Lilliputian content that makes up the bulk of the film. Finally, there is the Digital Copy "How to" (3:34), a super-serious tutorial that's always good for a laugh.

In addition to trailers for and Blu-ray bonus feature samples from Fox family titles, the scant BD-Live offerings include the short "Jack & Jason's Dance Class" (3:29) for streaming or download, which includes tongue-in-cheek comments from the stars while overlapping some with the on-disc dance featurette.

An homage to Mount Rushmore forms bearing four different likenesses of Ice Age's squirrel in the Blue Sky short "Scrat's Continental Crack-Up." Gulliver gets a Lilliputian massage on a DVD main menu evidently built by Lilliputians.

The DVD on this set includes just one measly feature: the brief gag reel. (Because now on a standard DVD an 85-minute movie only leaves room for an 85-second outtake?!) The gimmicky 2-disc DVD (the only DVD for sale on its own) probably could have fit everything on one disc without excess compression.
Though the press release indicated that the Fox Movie Channel content would be exclusive to Blu-ray, it is billed as being found on Disc 2 of the DVD, along with everything else save for BD-Live and the brief "Down Time" short.

The third and final disc contains only digital copies of the movie in Windows Media and iTunes formats for computer and portable device viewing.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD open with promos for digital copy, Rio, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, followed by the 2ฝ-minute short Scrat's Continental Crack-Up (unclearly previewing 2012's Ice Age: Continental Drift) that preceded Gulliver's in theaters. In it, Ice Age's popular squirrel's pursuit of a nut at the Earth's core causes the separation of Pangaea into continents. The DVD also promotes Arthur and the Invisibles: The New Minimoy Adventures, while Blu-ray teases Marley & Me: The Puppy Years.

Both the Blu-ray and DVD main menu play clips on a screen surrounded by Lilliputian scaffolding. Annoyingly, the Blu-ray makes you page through extras listings one at a time. With just one extra, the DVD doesn't have that problem, and its additional menus are static, silent and simple. Making up for its absurd initial load time, the Blu-ray kindly supplies resume functions, also utilizing bookmarks on the film and allowing you to jump to any point you specify.

The three discs are fit into a standard thin Blu-ray case and topped by an unremarkable slipcover. The only insert is the unique digital copy redemption code.

A giant among Lilliputians, Lemuel Gulliver (Jack Black) quotes the lyrics of Prince's "Kiss" to assist Horatio in his wooing of Princess Mary, which the film explains for audiences with an excerpt of a Taylor Graves cover.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Gulliver's Travels is doomed by bad judgment that none of the talented people who made it can overcome. Putting its faith not in Jonathan Swift's novel but in the belief that families will see any flashy and loud movie in theaters around the holidays, this box office flop is a dud by any standard, offering little in the way of entertainment and enchantment. Fox has kindly loaded the movie up with bonus features on both Blu-ray and DVD, none of which are boring but the lot of which can't render the film less disappointing.

Buy Gulliver's Travels from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray Combo / 2-Disc DVD / Blu-ray 3D Combo / The Book by Jonathan Swift

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
New: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 • Sharpay's Fabulous Adventure
2010 Family Movies: The Karate Kid • Toy Story 3 • Megamind • Alice in Wonderland • The Sorcerer's Apprentice
Christmas 2010 Movies: Yogi Bear • Tangled • Tron & Tron: Legacy • The King's Speech
Starring Jack Black: Kung Fu Panda • Year One • Tropic Thunder | Jason Segel: Despicable Me • I Love You, Man
Billy Connolly: Muppet Treasure Island | Chris O'Dowd: Dinner for Schmucks | Written by Nicholas Stoller: Yes Man
Night at the Museum • Bedtime Stories • Elf • Fred Claus | Written by Joe Stillman: Planet 51

Gulliver's Travels Songs List (in order of use): Kiss - "Rock and Roll All Nite", Walkerman - "Listen to Mama",
John Williams - "The Imperial March", James Horner - "Rose's Theme", Taylor Graves - "Kiss", Guns N' Roses -
"Sweet Child O'Mine", Mike Doughty - "(I Keep On) Rising Up", Edwin Starr, Jack Black, and Cast - "War"

Gulliver's Travels: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack - Music by Henry Jackman:
Buy CD from Amazon.com

Related Video:
Georges M้li่s' 1902 silent French film Le Voyage De Gulliver ภ Lilliput et Chez Les Geants (Gulliver's Travels Among the Lilliputians and the Giants):

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Reviewed April 24, 2011.



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