Saturday, 29 January 2011

Gulliver's Travels (2010)

We had plumbers and joiners and the like in over the weekend, ripping out hot water tanks and putting in boilers, cutting huge circular holes through our walls and leaving the results lying about like weird stone core samples - and every one of the tradesmen involved was tiny, like a firm of midgets or Oompa Loompas had set up in business together.

So when the youngest son and I had to vacate the premises before we became totally encased in dust, naturally we thought of Gulliver's Travels, currently in the picture houses in kiddie pleasing 3D.

Big mistake.

When you make a movie version of a classic novel you have several choices of approach. First off, you can do a straight adaptation, following the novel in every respect. Or you can update it, in the manner of Baz Luhrmann, to the modern day (or more commonly some sort of fictionalised 1930s fascist state/English country house). Or you can use the basic story and a couple of the names and construct your own story, hopefully reflecting and magnifying the strengths and weaknesses of the original, casting new light on the author's intentions and creating a satisfying new work of art in doing so.

Alternatively, you can strip every single interesting out of the book, replace those bits with a generic and yet still unlikely love story, sprinkle some bad but minor special effects around and chuck it out of the studio to act as multiplex fodder for those looking for something to do on a rainy Sunday.

With a song at the end.

Welcome to Gulliver's Travels, 2010 style.

It starts intriguingly enough, to be fair. Nobody at the travel magazine he works for comments on the fact that Jack Black's character is called Lemuel Gulliver, which suggests either very poor liberal arts educations all round, or that there is no such book as Gulliver's Travels in this universe. Also Lemuel is obviously thought of as a sensible first name. This is alternate universe area and I half expected the shadow of a zeppelin to slide across the ground.

It didn't, but Black plays his usual, loveable loser character with sufficient zest in the first tem minutes that I didn't mind.

Because of Black I also didn't care overly much when, early on, the Gulliver's one minion in the travel mag mail room got promoted to his job and became his boss for no obvious reason. Compare that with my reaction to the equally ludicrous ending where Gulliver is a very successful travel writer going out with his lady love and the promoted mail room guy obviously worships the ground he walks on - I was all for burning down the picture house by that point, having had my fill of lazy, condescending writing for one day.

There were obviously dozens of utterly horrible and perverse creative decisions made when making this movie and every single one is visible on screen, to the extent that mentioning them all would turn this post into some sort of faintly mental looking list of individual scenes. Suffice to mention that towards the end Black sings 'War' by Edwin Starr, with all the little people doing the backing vocals and he and Emily Blunt dancing around, like a sort of live action equivalent of a disney cartoon singing extravaganza - except totally out of place, ineptly choreographed and dully shot (my son thought it was great, but what does he know? He thinks Wife Swap is quality television).

And to think I missed midget plumbers to watch this...


  1. Serves you right for choosing to go and see a film like this in the first place.

    Let that be a lesson to you! :-)