Subjected to innumerable television and screen adaptations since celluloid’s invention, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels has often struggled to acclimatise to a non-literary format (with the exception of Ted Danson’s impressive contribution in 1996).
Living in New York, Gulliver (Jack Black), re-imagined as a lowly mail room worker of scant aspiration, inadvertently accepts an assignment from successful sub-editor Darcy (Amanda Peet) in a last bid to win her affection and admiration. Sent to the Bermuda Triangle, Gulliver is soon sucked into a watery vortex during a ferocious storm, soon to regain consciousness under the captivity of the inhabitants of Lilliput, initially perceived as a beast and later, via a series of events, a hero.
Only partially willing to embrace the trend of modernising source material, Gulliver’s Travels is more time travel than travelogue satire; its protagonist existing in the present whilst the world of Lilliput remains firmly ingrained in the manners and social proprieties that governed the 18th century aristocracy. Potentially an interesting twist, it soon becomes apparant that it serves as a mere device which grants Jack Black several opportunities to return to familiar territory; the affable underdog with a penchant for playing air guitar (and indeed protracted Guitar Hero sequences) to a varying compilation of rock hits.
Relocating the opening sequences to New York – a city described by Will Self as “Rome with a pituitary gland disorder” – and having Gulliver play with Star Wars figurines is a fitting means of anticipating the later reversal of scale only for the filmmakers to later abandon this theme; the gentle probing of Gulliver’s self-perceived inadequacy brushed aside to facilitate more of Black’s increasingly irksome ‘antics’.
It’s telling that anyone unfortunate enough to have their senses dulled by Gulliver’s Travels will collectively experience déjà-vu when, as the eponymous hero awakes on an island to find himself ensnared by thousands of miniature humans, they’re immediately reminded of its accompanying Orange advert which warns audiences not to ‘let [their] phones ruin your movie’. It is therefore astonishing that, in the same sequence, the soldiers of Lilliput become captivated by Gulliver’s iPhone which they proceed to closely inspect. Perhaps in a more enlightened age the cinema going public will be instructed to avoid similar gratuitous commercials masquerading as an etiquette lesson with a warning against paying to see films propped up by poor penmanship, shameless product promotions and sponsorship deals.