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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Gulliver's Travels

April 16th, 2011

Gulliver's Travels - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, 3-D Blu-ray / Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack

Gulliver's Travels is a family film that cost more than $100 million to make and that opened on Christmas Day. Expectations by the studio must have been massive. However, by the beginning of December, analysts were warning it could be a bomb. Then when it opened, it actually missed the low end of lowered expectations. It did find a much more receptive audience internationally, but its worldwide total haul was still middling. Is the film as bad as its box office record here would indicate? Or was its performance overseas more inline with its worth?

The Movie

Jack Black stars as Lemuel Gulliver, a mailroom refugee stuck in his dead-end job. He's not without ambition, but he's too much of a slacker to get anywhere. That changes when the new guy, Dan Quint, gets promoted after being on the job an incredibly short time. After that, Lemuel decides to pursue his dream of becoming a writer... Actually, he decides to ask out the woman at work he has a crush on, Darcy Silverman, but chickens out at the last minute and instead bluffs his way into a writing assignment.

He is to travel to the Bermuda, rent a small boat, and travel into the Bermuda Triangle and write about its mysteries. Those mysteries includes, as he quickly finds out, a giant water spout that sucks him into the air and knocks him out in the process. When he wakes up, he's on a beach in a strange island, which wouldn't be such a bad thing, except he's tied down and being yelled at by Edward Edwardian, General Edward Edwardian, the Commander of Lilliput. Lilliput is a land of tiny people, and I don't mean pigmy tiny, I mean four inches tall tiny. Charged with aiding the Blefuscians, the sworn enemy of the Lilliputs, Lemuel is given to the King and Queen as a slave. He's forced to stay in a dungeon, where he meets the only other prisoner, Horatio, who was imprisoned for hitting on Princess Mary.

Despite Lemuel's obvious height advantage, he's forced into manual labor. But when the Blefuscians actually do attack, he proves his worth (in a scene that proves this film is aimed at little kids) and he is hailed as a hero. He quickly takes full advantage of the situation, lying about his glorious achievements back home. Of course, since he has gained this advantage through lying, you know the situation won't last, and soon Edward is plotting against him and helping the hated Blefuscians conquer Lilliput. Things only get worse for him after that.

That's enough of the plot. That's probably more of the plot than is needed, as the movie is mostly just Jack Black being Jack Black. In fact, it's Jack Black trying too hard to be Jack Black, which sadly means he fits in with the rest of the movie far too well. There's a scene where Edward and King Benjamin talk about Edward's distrust over Lemuel. But in an attempt to sound 'authentically' old-fashioned, each line is peppered with "ests" and "ethes". 'I don't trusteth Lemuel.' I assume it was done for comic effect, but it had no subtlety and the film really needed a lighter touch on a lot of the jokes. They were straining so hard to wring a laugh out of the material, that actually made the situation worse. I got the impression that the actors themselves knew something was off with the film, as even those who can normally generate at least a few laughs out of weak material were unable to do much here.

The film is a simple tale about a slacker learning to embrace his potential, and everything else is just window-dressing. Unfortunately, that simple tale feels padded out, even with a running time of just 84 minutes. Given the source material, this is a major disappointment. I did like the Steampunk aesthetic that was used, but the visual look of the film is arguably the only thing that was a success.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD that comes with the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is a gag reel. However, you can't buy the single-disc DVD, only a two-disc special edition. The second disc of that DVD includes I Don't Know...with Lemuel Gulliver, an in-character 5-minute featurette describing the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. Next up are 15 minutes of deleted / extended scenes. Little and Large is an 8-minute making of featurette that looks at the difficulty in making a film where one of the characters is 22 times larger than the rest of the cast. Jack Black Thinks Big is a six-minute look at how they modernized the story of the original novel. Finally, there's Gulliver's Foosball Challenge, which is a remote control game.

There are several exclusive extras on the Blu-ray, starting with Down Time, which is a 4-minute behind-the-scenes look. War Song Dance is a six-minute look at the recording and filming the climatic song and dance number in the movie. There are two Fox Movie Channel Presents interviews, the first with Jack Black and the second with Jason Segel. Life After Film School interviews the director Rob Letterman. There is also a 6-minute look at the film's World Premier. The disc is also BD-Live enabled, but the Jack & Jason's Dance Class is not yet live.

As for the look and sound, the film looks amazing. Blacks are deep, colors are bright, the details are crisp, etc. The film cost more than $100 million to make, and the visuals were the main selling point, so it should come as no surprise that the Blu-ray doesn't disappoint. It is also a great sounding movie with clear dialogue, good use of surround sound speakers, dynamics, etc.

The Blu-ray does cost 47% more than the two-disc DVD, on the other hand, and this is a bit much, even for a film that is so visually intensive and for a Blu-ray with exclusive extras. It's not outrageous, but two or three dollars more than I would like. (This is not the fault of the studio, as the list price is a much more acceptable at just 33% more.) The 3-D only costs 20% more than the regular Blu-ray combo pack, so if you have made the leap, or are planning to, it's a better deal.

The Verdict

I'm not sure who the target audience is for this movie. It's a modern adaptation of a classic literary satire, which if done right should attract a more mature demographic. On the other hand, it was turned into little more than a slacker comedy. Furthermore, a lot of the jokes seemed to be aimed at an audience far too young for even that target demographic. (Peeing on the palace? Guy getting stuck in someone's butt crack? Really ?) Gulliver's Travels will likely fail to please either group enough to be worth buying. If you are intent on buying, the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack looks great and does have exclusive extras, but watch the price when compared to the Two-Disc DVD. Finally, the 3-D Blu-ray / Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is not a bad deal, for early adapters.

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Filed under: Video Review, Gulliver's Travels