Jonathan Swift’s name has long been synonymous with scathing satire, yet no one would call Gulliver’s Travels, a quasi-adaptation of his most famous work, a Swiftian satire. Or a satire at all. Then again, the filmmakers have tools at their disposal Swift could never have imagined: Swift was unable to depict a Lilliputian soldier getting assaulted by Jack Black’s giant anus in even a single dimension, let alone an extremely fuzzy three. With such wonders of technology at their disposal, can anyone blame the filmmakers for gutting the material of social commentary?
In a performance he’s given maybe 15 to 20 times before, Jack Black stars as a fun-loving loser who stumbles into a way out of his thankless mailroom job when he plagiarizes a travel-writing sample for pretty boss Amanda Peet and is given an assignment writing about the Bermuda Triangle. Things go predictably awry, however, and Black washes ashore in the land of Lilliputia, a fantastical kingdom populated by tiny little people like loveable lug Jason Segel and princess Emily Blunt.
Since Black’s very existence upends everything the Lilliputians know about reality, he is in a privileged position to recreate their world however he sees fit, to serve as a cross between king, god, and monster. Rather than comment on how power corrupts, however, the film has Black re-fashion Lilliputia as the ultimate awesome stoner rec room, complete with a micro-Kiss playing a live-action version of Guitar Hero and a theater troupe that performs moments from Black’s ostensibly heroic exploits, which bear a suspicious resemblance to Star Wars and Titanic.
Like its protagonist, Gulliver’s Travels is big, dumb, and slow-moving, a lumbering oaf of a movie that just barely makes it to feature-length via a groaningly unnecessary production number set to Edwin Starr’s “War.” The 3-D, meanwhile, will delight only folks who feel that extreme soft-focus should not be reserved for Barbara Walters interviews and Barbra Streisand vehicles. With deadening predictability, the filmmakers have reduced a definitive satire about the flaws and foibles of human nature into family-friendly sub-Disney pabulum about an affable slacker who finally musters up the courage to ask a pretty girl at work for a date.