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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gulliver's Travels is a bit... small.

This ain't your Granddad's...

Robert Letterman brings us a 2010 update of a timeless novel - full review, after the break

In an effort to update and, in more than one sense of the word, modernize, Jonathon Swift’s timeless novel, director Robert Letterman and his screenwriters Nicholas Stoller and Joe Stillman have crafted something unique - unique, if not distressingly blank. Here we haven’t the classic epic story that many have grown up with, but rather a focus on the themes and ideas portrayed in Swift’s writing, and portrayed in a few underrated adaptations from days passed. The story, always, has been a meditation on the measure of a man. The Ted Danson vehicle from the mid 90’s seemed to lose a bit of the magic of the novel in its translation from text to screen, but stories like this one are hard to tell. Damn near impossible to get exactly right, if you consider the vision of the literature to be “exact”. With this one, though, starring the affable Jack Black, the sincere beyond all reason Jason Segel, and the always wonderful Emily Blunt, we as the audience are treated to what contends to define “family feature”.

It’s a holiday romp through a strange land, and it has enough vulgar humor to keep even the oldest of children occupied, even when they might miss the underlying point of it all. Stoller and Stillman seem to have a large respect for the novel, but - and this is where it gets odd - they wisely strayed from telling the whole story. Not only, if in its entirety, would the film have to be a mini-series, but it’s simply just not what they were going for. The themes, as mentioned, are treated with their respect and nothing entirely detrimental is hashed from Gulliver’s arc, and it’s given a magical “kid’s fare” touch. The kind of film where grown ups and children alike will laugh at the same thing, but most likely for different reasons.

What surprised me most about the film were its ingrained sarcastic measures and the comic pacing of the script - Apatow-esque influences all over the place, and the cultural references in the screenplay actually mean something to the story - they aren’t just there for laughs, though they are pretty funny. It’s a smart screenplay, but… that doesn’t mean it isn’t thin. With what Stoller and Stillman were trying to achieve, Gulliver’s Travels is a success. But, in terms of an adaptation, or even an above average film, it’s a failure. Out of 10, it’s only fair to reward the movie a 5. Rewatchable, to say the least, but not grand enough, nor gigantic enough, to make the emotional impact that Gulliver’s Travels is supposed to make. Unfortunate, but unavoidable.

Thoughtful performances bring the slick, if empty, script to life. Letterman does the best he can with the proceedings, and the movie gives you plenty of opportunities to sit back, turn off your brain, and enjoy your popcorn. Hell, it’ll even let you go get some more without having to ask the person next to you what you missed. It exists as the holiday film this year was missing, but… it should have been more. More sadly, though, it could have been more. Gulliver’s Travels, as fun as this was, deserves a bigger treatment. Letterman, Black, and associates got the humor and the irony and the sarcasm correct, and they even injected their own vulnerabilities into the film. Though, it’s Swift’s vulnerabilities that make the story what it is.