Ken Russel once famously said about Oliver Reed that he only had three acting styles, but that he knew those styles perfectly, so when he was directing he knew exactly what he was going to get. I could apply the same logic to Jack Black, except he has only the one style – down on his luck, but with good heart – but he does it extremely well. What that style needs is a good vehicle, i.e. the right script, then it really shines; School of Rock (2003) is a perfect example. When the script isn’t so good, or indeed when the story calls for something more than that particular style, the results are rather less than stellar, in fact, they stink. Unfortunately, Black’s latest vehicle, Gulliver’s Travels, falls firmly into the latter category – watching this film was a painful experience, even my son, who the film is actually aimed at, hated it. So hold tight, let’s take a look at the tall story that is tonight’s feature, Gulliver’s Travels. The film has already been covered on site in its 2D form, I’ll therefore be brief in my recounting of the synopsis before taking a more in depth look at the picture.
Black plays Gulliver, and when we meet him he is a down on his luck employee in the mail room of a news paper showing delusions of grandeur as he ‘interviews’ the new help Dan (T. J. Miller), even though the help already has the job. He then shows him the ropes with all the typical Black mannerisms of a man who knows his place, including the crush he has on holiday journalist Darcy Silverman (Amanda Peet), who, of course, he doesn’t have the courage to talk to. These opening scenes neatly encompass Black’s character as a ‘small’ man, with ideas above his station, but with the heart necessary to be a good man, if only he had the opportunity to show it – it’s a typical Black characterisation – and from this point on you just know where the story will end. But to get there we have to go through seventy minutes of hell. A string of lies and plagiarism sees Darcy giving Gulliver a small time writing gig in the Bermuda triangle, which leads to him getting sucked up into a tornado/water vortex doodad that deposits him in Lilliput, already tied down by the Lilliputians. They imprison him, christening him the ‘beast’ and put him to work in the fields, but his fortunes change when he saves the King’s life (I’m sure you already know how). Now, being hailed as a hero, Gulliver sets himself up using more lies until the inevitable happens and it all comes crashing down on his head. Cue heart break and upset, that is finally put to rest by a good friendship, humility and a song and dance.
Tedious does not cover this film. It manages to attain new levels of boredom by simply being unoriginal, drawn out (and that’s something in an eighty minute film) and irrepressibly dull and awful. Black’s character isn’t anything different than we have seen him in before, but this vehicle just doesn’t work for him, he is the nuisance of the people and his journey to betterment is rushed and obvious. Things happen in the script without rhyme or reason, unless it’s to pad the already unbelievably short run time – what was that part with Gulliver in the doll’s house all about? Other than a nod to the original text, it served no purpose to the plot of this film whatsoever. Darcy arriving on the Lilliputians land ... the only purpose that served was to give Gulliver something to aim for – and how (or why) does she forgive him for everything he’s done by him simply admitting to a crush – damn this film was insulting to my intelligence and just plain annoying to watch. The feel good wasn’t there and thus the film had nowhere to go. I am honestly struggling to have anything positive to say about it. Ah, ok, the effects worked well. Ummm. Oh, yeah, it has a stellar cast with many of the UK’s top comedians putting in star turns, only they were somewhat stilted by the restrictive script and never allowed to inject any of their comedic talent which surely would have made for a better watch? Ummm. That’s about all I’ve got.
Seriously, if you are a diehard Jack Black film fan you will probably gain some sort of enjoyment out of Gulliver’s travels, it is purely there to service his ego, even if he isn’t actually much good in a role he’s perfected due to it being the only style he knows. For everyone else I’d avoid, there are so many better films, why waste time with something so inferior?
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