Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift’s caustic satire on human folly, has been re-imagined by Hollywood as a knockabout vehicle for Jack Black – and the result is a film so witless that it could itself serve as a target for the author’s mockery.
Those who haven’t actually read Swift’s book fondly imagine it to be a charming book for children, dimly recalling something of the titular hero’s adventures among the little people and the big people.
Director Rob Letterman and his collaborators must surely belong to this group since they have taken Swift’s satire on the inanities of his own age and turned the story into a celebration of the most imbecilic aspects of contemporary junk culture.
The buffoonish Black, of course, is the film’s standard-bearer for modern American idiocy. His Lemuel Gulliver is a boastful mailroom clerk in a New York publishing company who somehow wangles a travel writing assignment on the Bermuda Triangle from Amanda Peet’s editor. After getting sucked into a freak whirlpool, he washes ashore on an island inhabited by a race of diminutive people who wear 18th-century dress and have manners to match.
And it’s Old World pomposity, not modern mores, that come in for lampooning, as Black’s Gulliver impresses the tiny folk with his tall tales, gets them to perform mini live-action versions of Star Wars and Titanic, and shakes up the stuffiness of the island’s court, winning the gratitude of king Billy Connolly, queen Catherine Tate and princess Emily Blunt.
There’s one feature of Swift’s original, however, that the film does preserve intact – unsurprisingly, it’s the scene where Gulliver puts out a raging Lilliputian fire by pissing on the flames.
On general release from 26 December.