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All star adaptation of Jonathan Swift's satirical tale about a normal man who, after returning home following eight years of absence, relates fantastical tales about how he was thought to be giant in the Land of Lilliput, but was only six inches high in the Land of Brobdingnag. He also tells of his visit to the floating island of Laputa populated by scientists who are so obsessed with reason that they act with no common sense. Finally, he tells of his journey to the land where his disturbing likeness to the bestial Yahoos and his inferiority to the intelligent horses there makes him question the very worth of his humanity. Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <email@example.com>
Despite its many faults, Hallmark's 1995 version of Gulliver's Travels is still the finest adaptation of Jonathan Swift's satirical classic - largely because it not only includes ALL of Gulliver's many travels but also includes the satire that's often overlooked. Unfortunately the twin problems of the book's highly episodic structure and a television budget (even a fairly lavish one) remain. The book is a somewhat rambling collection of traveller's tales moving simply from one surreal landscape to another, but Simon Moore's adaptation tries to impose some order on the chaos by providing a parallel plot that sees Gulliver returned to England clearly deeply traumatised and trying to prove his way out of the insane asylum where the rival for his wife's affections has had him committed. The England scenes at once mirror and comment on the travels, elements of which occasionally spill over into the real world. The trouble is that for the first hour or so it acts more as a distraction, constantly pulling you away from the story just as it starts to get interesting. The Lilliput scenes suffer worse here, with the feeling that the home scenes are too often designed to save them from filming the more expensive setpieces - this has to be the only version where we don't see Gulliver pulling the Blefescu fleet behind him.
Yet once Gulliver makes his escape, the tone becomes more consistent as he finds his situation reversed and himself the pet of the giants of the Utopians of Brobdingnag, a guest of the wise men of the floating island of Laputa who are so engrossed in science that they have no common sense left, the guest/prisoner of a historian who leans history directly from the source, offered immortality with all it's terrible consequences before finally finding a world he wants to belong if only he can convince the sublime talking horses the Houynhnhms that he's not an uncivilized Yahoo, each new destination convincing him of what an absurd and petty species humanity is. For the most part it's a darker set of Travels than expected, with only Gulliver's curiosity and commonsense and disappointment keeping it from plunging into irretrievable bleakness - and even this is offset by the scenes in the asylum where it becomes more obvious that even if he is telling the truth it may well have driven him genuinely insane. It's in these latter scenes that Ted Danson's Gulliver really shines, never more so than in an extraordinary speech where he turns his trial into a disappointed judgment on the whole human race.
Being made for television, the Yahoos are rather less literally scatological here than on the page, but for the most part this is a more adult treatment than you might expect with no real dumbing down. The star cast is certainly impressive, and for the most part well-used (if somewhat briefly in a few cases) - Mary Steenburgen, James Fox, Peter O'Toole, Edward Woodward, Omar Sharif, Shashi Kapoor, Edward Fox, Ned Beatty, Alfre Woodard, Kristin Scott Thomas and Isabelle Huppert among them. It's hard to imagine the upcoming Jack Black version even coming close to being a fraction as impressive as this.
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