Gulliver ’s Travels (PG)
HTHE movie market place is littered with the desiccated shells of literary classics plundered for their riches by shallow producers looking for a fast buck. From William Shakespeare to Emily Brontë, the road is a long one.
Who could ever have envisaged Jonathan Swift’s 18th century misanthropic satire on human nature being transformed into a brainless vehicle for portly, one-note American comic actor Jack Black? Thus satire becomes cloddish comedy of the crassest kind with an illstarred leading man grinning and gurning his way through what remains of the story.
As the unlikely monickered Lemuel Gulliver, Black is the mail boy for a big magazine who has a crush on travel editor Amanda Peet. His charm persuades her to give him a chance: to write a piece on the Bermuda Triangle.
Via a mysterious storm he ends up in Lilliput where he towers over the locals, is put in prison but earns the king’s favour by preventing a kidnap attempt on his daughter (Emily Blunt). Elevated to the position of official protector, he must stand fast against the Lilliputians’ traditional enemies, the Blefuscudians.
This is a stinker of epic proportions – “satire” for the MTV generation that is packed with pop culture references. It’s also painfully unfunny.
Black has proven himself to be capable of passable straight acting, principally in early roles (such as the hapless dupe in The Jackal) or when directed by strong filmmakers like Peter Jackson in King Kong.
Here he has been given free rein to unleash his comedic Id. Surrounded by a gaggle of other talent – Billy Connolly, Catherine Tate, James Corden and Chris O’Dowd – Black doesn’t hold back and delivers another lazy and mindnumbing variation on the slacker persona he has been trading on since High Fidelity. And that was 10 years ago. The Id never materialises, mainly because he doesn’t possess one.
Black is now 41 and rather too old for the fat slacker routine. Thus all eyes turn to the Brits. Billy Connolly sleepwalks through his role as the king of Lilliput. Blunt plays another in a string of royals. Tate and Corden barely register. Only Chris O’Dowd, as a military man with his eye on the princess, gives anything resembling a performance of merit.
Gulliver’s Travels is a monumental mess that rapidly wears out its welcome. Throw in a fight scene between Gulliver and a robot and this pointless retelling screams “Superfluous!” for all to hear. Beat a Swift retreat from this one. that allows Weir to put flesh on the bones of his haggard cast. There is an accountant, an engineer, a chef, a priest and a tattooed mystery man. They are played by an ensemble cast that includes Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell and Alexandru Potocean.
These are ordinary men faced with an extraordinary situation of epic proportions: a forced march of thousands of miles towards an uncertain goal. En-route there are comments on 1940s-era Soviet Communism. On reaching the Mongolian border, they are be greeted with a red star and a portrait of Stalin. “So it’s here, too,” mutters Harris’s ex-pat American.
If it was the wish of Weir and co-screenwriter Keith Clarke to underwrite the men, they succeed. Only Valka, the street criminal played by Farrell, emerges with any sense of identity.
It is Farrell who offers up the notion of cannibalism, eyeing a sickly member of the group with mad-eyed relish. And it is Farrell who decides to turn back at the Soviet border, preferring the only life he has ever known to the uncertainty of freedom.
Weir almost deliberately shies away from any sense of drama or violence. The group’s breakout is hinted at, not shown. The slaughter of a trapped animal is delivered off camera. And the aftermath of mass murder at a Buddhist temple is shown via charred timbers and blasted bones hidden in the ground.
Thus our companions struggle on. The finale, when it comes, lacks emotion and punch – surely not what Rawicz intended when he wrote his book. giant flying insects running amok through a backwater American town, and throws in some saccharine family bonding for good measure. Arthur (Freddie Highmore) is staying with his grandmother (Mia Farrow) and eagerly awaits the end of the moon’s tenth cycle and his return to the Minimoy village.
Consequently, he will be able to venture back to his beloved princess Selenia (voiced by Selena Gomez). However, Arthur’s parents (Robert Stanton, Penny Balfour) throw a spanner in the works by cutting short their stay. Poised to leave, Arthur is shocked when a spider deposits a grain of rice in his hand engraved with a plea for help.
Fearing that Selenia and her little brother Betameche (Jimmy Fallon) are in peril, the lad hastily improvises a passage back to the Minimoys where he joins forces with bar owner Max (Snoop Dogg) and his pickpocket cousin Replay (Stacy Ferguson) to locate Selenia.
Arthur And The Great Adventure plods from the start and barely moves into second gear when the action changes from live action to computer animation.
Highmore loses all emotion when he is reduced to a mere voice, matching lacklustre performances from his costars.
Action sequences are brief and the detail in the visuals is lacking next to recent Hollywood films.
Save yourself the trouble, a DVD replay of Toy Story 3 or How To Train Your Dragon are far ‘greater’ adventures than anything Besson can muster here.
LENGTHY JOURNEY: A group of men escape from a brutal Russian gulag in Siberia and walk to Mongolia in The Way Back.