Jack Black, Emily Blunt Think Big in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’

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CHICAGO – Call it too much holiday eggnog, but the re-imagining of the immortal classic “Gulliver’s Travels,’ starring Jack Black, Emily Blunt and Jason Segal, has a little Yuletide fun and hurts no one. If you like Jack Black, you’ll enjoy the film. If you don’t, find another way to spend 93 minutes this tinsel time weekend.

Black is Lemuel Gulliver, a manchild who works in the mailroom at a popular travel magazine (soon the publishing industry will cease as a movie glamour profession, but I digress). He is thirtysomething, stuck on post pubescence and has an ambition-less path in his life, having been the mailroom manager for 11 years. His one distraction is the crush he has on an editor, the fetching Darcy (Amanda Peet).

When a new guy is given his manager position, a distraught Gulliver takes some action. Forging some distinct travel writing, he manages to get a Bermuda Triangle assignment from Darcy. He goes into the nebulous region via a small boat, and proceeds to get sucked into a watery vortex. Knocked out and washed ashore, when he awakens he finds himself confined by ropes. Ropes that have been affixed by an army of tiny men.

Gulliver has landed in Lilliput, a kingdom of industrious and miniature people. He is now a giant among men, and with the help of Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) and commoner Horatio (Jason Segal) he becomes the protector and rock star of the new land. Lilliput becomes a virtual shrine to Gulliver’s glory, as he takes credit for every invention and entertainment from his old world.

Wrapped up for the Holidays: Jack Black in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’
Wrapped up for the Holidays: Jack Black in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’
Photo Credit: © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

When war looms with a rival island, Gulliver is forced to get into the middle of the scrum, and a jealous general (Chris O’Dowd) switches sides and helps build a robot opponent. Can giant Gulliver survive the fight, a temporary banishment to another land and the loss of trust from the citizens of Lilliput? No worries, there are no sad endings at Christmas.

The story began as a book by Jonathan Swift published (amazingly) in 1726, and has never been out of print. The elements of the book – it was a take-off at the time of popular travel pamphlets and a sharp satire of human nature – are somewhat preserved in the film. The travel magazine is Gulliver’s ticket to Lilliput, and his mega-maniacal ego as a “giant among men” has some very sharp moments (a staging of the film “Titanic,” in which Gulliver is the main character, is hilariously debated).

The story, of course, lives or dies through the Jack Black “character,” the arrested developmental man who has not shook his rock and roll attitude. He pays a bit in this scenario, as his caught-in-the-mailroom life is suddenly upended. But the character creates a havoc in Lilliput, the re-creation of Times Square with nothing but Gulliver billboards is strange and funny. The citizens of Lilliput are incredible inventors (in the gears and pistons sense of the early industrial revolution) and their constructed accommodations for the giant man are quite weird.

The supporting characters give a nice balance to the hard sell of the story. The royal court of Lilliput, with the King (Billy Conolly) and Emily Blunt’s Princess Mary play it mostly straight, as innocents sucked into the Gulliver vortex. Blunt also gives the impression that she is tremendously bored in her gilded castle, practically begging to be kidnapped by the rival kingdom just for something to do. Jason Segal makes a practical and eventually heroic best friend, but seems a bit uncomfortable talking to a green screen.

“Green screen” refers to the special effects, and the whole film probably was constructed inside a computer. The look is epic, but perhaps the human characters has a hard time understanding where to look. Most of the cast handles it well, especially Jack Black, but you can actually see the difficult transition that the human performers have to make in this process. Acting classes, begin to teach your kids how to act to the orange ball on a stick.

Things are Looking Up: Jason Segal as Horatio and Emily Blunt as Princess Mary in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’
Things are Looking Up: Jason Segal as Horatio and Emily Blunt as Princess Mary in ‘Gulliver’s Travels’
Photo Credit: © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp.

This is also the second film, after the Chronicles of Narnia, that features a watery tunnel as a portal. The screenwriters from Harvard must be taking psychology classes now, or maybe they miss their mothers. Sigmund Freud gets to dance a Christmas jig over the trend of the watery tunnel.

There are worse ways to spend Christmas than dancing with Freud and Jack Black. There is an epic dance at the end of Gulliver’s Travels, so silly and random that it closes the subject of the film quite marvelously. Imagine, a wish for Peace on Earth.

“Gulliver’s Travels” opens everywhere December 25th. Featuring Jack Black, Jason Segal, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Chris O’Dowd, T.J. Miller and Billy Connolly. Screenplay by Joe Stillman and Nicholas Stoller (based on a book by Jonathan Swift), directed by Rob Letterman. Rated “PG”.

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2010 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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