Gulliver’s Travels (2010) Review

There’s an exec somewhere who gave $112 million to watch Jack Black piss on a group of little people. Okay, so there’s a fire, someone asked for water, and Black provided, but he drops trow in the middle of this town, conveniently enough with no children watching, and just whizzes on everything. It’s not so much the urination as it is the 100-foot tall Jack Black whipping it… oh, you know what, never mind.

On second thought, no, it can’t be erased from your mind. You can envision all of the people who paid for this travesty in 3D, only to be treated to a non-stop of array of low angle shots focused clearly on Black’s crotch. It’s a never-ending saga of crotch shots, urination jokes, and the literary classic Gulliver fighting a giant robot.

No seriously. That happens. And the robot gives him a wedgie. That really happens too.

It’s hard to even fathom why Gulliver’s Travels exists, telling a classic tale with every attempt to make it director Rob Letterman’s own lost in a pile of juvenile humor… and robot fights. At some point, there’s a meaningless role reversal where Black is sent to another land to live in a dollhouse, tormented by an oversized little girl. That’s where the whole misunderstanding is ironed out, you know that moment where the lies are discovered and the truth comes out? As if this script couldn’t get anymore hackneyed or desperate, it goes there.

Black brings his usual energy as a mail room clerk turned inadvertent giant, dancing like a goofball and fighting off enemy ships. He’s surrounded by only one gem of a performance, that of Chris O’Dowd. He gets into verbal slap fights with Black, the best being over a presentation of Titanic that nearly manages to elicit a snicker. Everyone else (from a “trying to hard even though he’s usually hilarious” Jason Segel to the wasted Billy Connolly) is simply abysmal.

Gulliver’s Travels never finds a spark or a wit, just an endless mountain of visual effects that make you wish miniatures were still in heavy use so you could appreciate something. Even before Black goes through a whirlpool in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle (ugh), the script treats the viewer to an endless barrage of awful, painful, cringe-inducing puns about being large and tall. This thing is 80 some minutes long, and it’s already lost after 10.

Movie ★☆☆☆☆ 

The Panavision Genesis is credited to bringing Gulliver to life, not one to put on the resume in terms of movie quality, although reasonable in terms of video. This is a clean, almost imperfection free digital source, presented with boosted colors, accurate flesh tones, and surprisingly crisp detail. The two warring kingdoms that make up these lands are dressed up in reds and blues, bright vivid hues that match up to other kid’s films and their own primaries. Lands are full of greenery, rich and bold grass.

Detail pops too, loads of close-ups producing exquisite and refined facial definition. Digital means sheer clarity aside from those few bouts of noise early on, so the encode only needs to preserve the texture and motion. It does, and does it well, the whole thing actually appearing quite film like. Even with the barrage of visual effects, faces never appear smoothed over, processed, or anything less than realistic. Medium shots don’t quite have the pizazz, but again, they never look off or differ much from the norm.

Black levels are the one trouble spot here, wavering a bit when the lights dim. The worst offender, and this goes for noise as well, is inside Amanda Peet’s office when Black fails to make a move on her. They suddenly lack weight and distinctiveness, falling victim to a muddy, muted effect that is nowhere near par for this. Later sequences in Liliput fare much better, keeping at a least a hold on the dimensionality even if they’re not totally convincing.

Brief moments of softness are noted scattered around, certainly a rare occurrence. The high-end sharpness replicates some enormously detailed exteriors, especially of the mini castles and houses that make up Liliput. There are plenty of little touches to go around in the capture devices too, replicated in HD without any fault, aliasing, or diluted definition.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Fox issued Gulliver’s Travels in theaters with a 7.1 mix, downgrading the home effort to DTS-HD 5.1. Why the studio is insisting on cropping the two extra channels is anyone’s guess, but they did it for the third Narnia too. Stupid Fox, real stupid.

That’s not going to take away from what is aggressive sound design. As it stands and had that information not have been available, it would be impossible to know something is missing. The track gets a boost early as Black is sent through the whirlpool, stormy seas crashing onto this boat, waves surrounding the listener as often as they hammer the subwoofer. The score co-exists beautifully, capturing the same wrap-around effect without getting lost in the chaos.

Black’s giant footsteps inconsistently pound the ground with some force. When they do, the bass is more than appealing and powerful, producing some great clarity and tightness. Not much can top a cannon assault by some ships, each one blasting into their target and leaving the boats with equal force. They track and pan overheard with ease, a complete 360 degree effect. Later, Black is spun around by the robot, each channel picking up his yells as he passes by. It’s a great piece of fun, goofy sound design.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

No extras as this review is based on a rental exclusive.

Extras ☆☆☆☆☆