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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
Gulliver's Travels (TV) (1995)

"I can assure you there's nothing wrong with me."
- Lemuel Gulliver (Ted Danson)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: January 18, 2002

Stars: Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, James Fox
Other Stars: Ned Beatty, Alfre Woodard, Peter O'Toole, Thomas Sturridge, John Gielgud, Kristin Scott Thomas, Omar Sharif, Warwick Davis
Director: Charles Sturridge

Manufacturer: Laser Pacific
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (a brief discussion of mating habits and a character who puts out a fire by urinating on it are about the only objectionable items in this made for TV mini-series)
Run Time: 03h:06m:38s
Release Date: July 25, 2000
UPC: 707729101864
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+BB B+

DVD Review

I'm generally not a big fan of television mini-series, and tend to avoid them like the plague. My experience with these big television "events" has resulted in features that begin strong to hook the viewer and then peter out by the time the conclusion rolls around, with generally too much padding and not enough substance. Imagine my surprise on viewing the DVD release of the 1995 production of Gulliver's Travels, starring Ted Danson as the exasperated traveller, which is proof that the mini-series is still a viable vehicle for quality entertainment.

Based on the classic 1726 novel by Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels is grand fantasy with much more serious and dramatic undertones. Swift penned the original novel as a sharp-tongued political satire that poked fun at the ridiculousness of human behavior, and director Charles Sturridge (Fairy Tale: A True Story and Brideshead Revisited) has captured Swift's intent, and translated that to create a fantasy that tosses out some not so subtle barbs at man's frailties and problems.

Danson is Lemuel Gulliver, an 18th century physician who returns home after being lost at sea, and presumed dead, eight years earlier. His wife Mary (real-life, at the time, Mrs. Danson—Mary Steenburgen) has been struggling to raise their young son Thomas (Thomas Sturridge, son of director Charles) and has been fending off the advances of stuffy and close-minded Dr. Bates (James Fox). Gulliver returns home one night, wild-eyed and crazed, full of fantastic tales of where he has been for the past eight years. His adventures included encounters with a race of tiny people, of giants, a sorcerer and a floating island full of powerful thinkers, to name a few. He is immediately deemed insane, which is completely believable due to Gulliver's bizarre behavior and even more bizarre tales. This is the 18th century, after all, and free thinking and reason have not been fully developed. Dr. Bates views Gulliver as a threat to his successfully wooing Mary, so he seeks to lock up Gulliver in a mental hospital.

Director Sturridge has jazzed up Swift's novel in a way that works very well visually and really engages the viewer. As Gulliver is relaying his adventures to whomever is present, his current surroundings slowly give way to that of his narrative, and at times are quite surreal in their appearance. This technique, which is used throughout the film, is cleverly done and serves as an unusual transition device that prevents the 187 minute feature from becoming simply a series of narrated pieces.

Like all mini-series, this one is populated with an interesting cross-section of familiar actors and actresses. Danson plays Gulliver, with his long stringy hair and constantly furrowed brow, with a proper level of insanity and excitement that had me wondering more than a few times if this was the same guy who was the dull Sam Malone on Cheers. I liked Danson here, and his portrayal of Gulliver is a strong tie for the rest of the story to connect to. During his travels, he comes across notable cameos by Peter O'Toole, Ned Beatty, John Gielgud and Kristin Scott Thomas, among others, and these small performances are perfectly campy (O'Toole), creepy (Warwick Davis) or dark (Thomas), as needed. Fox is wonderful as the devious Dr. Bates, and he carries the villain role very well. Steenburgen's role is rather lifeless, though her performance isn't necessarily at fault.

Like all good fantasies, it's the special effects that can make or break it. Obviously not as landmark as some big-budget theatrical epics, the effects here are well done. Whether Gulliver is big or small, there are seldom any sequences that look poor or dated, and in fact some are rather impressive, such as Gulliver's tabletop fight against a trio of wasps.

My 10-year-old daughter Sam, who is a voracious reader, had never heard of, read, or seen any incarnation of Gulliver's Travels, and I insisted she take part in watching this disc with me. She was completely hooked from the beginning, and was beside herself when we had to split the viewing into two nights. I guess that's as good of an endorsement of this enjoyable tale as you're likely to get.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Rationo

Image Transfer Review: The transfer here is presented in matted widescreen format, and as this was originally shot for television there doesn't appear to much in the way of any noticeable pan-and-scan. Colors look rich when needed, and appropriately drab when required to match the narrative. Black levels are solid, with proper shadow delineation that give this television feature the look of a theatrical release. The only detriment here is a substantial amount of grain that is evident during much of the film.

All in all, a decent transfer from Artisan.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: A no-frills 2.0 surround mix presents a clean sound field, with dialogue clear and intelligible. Rear channel cues are minimal, but there is a fair amount of front channel directional imaging that gives the viewing experience some aural depth. The Trevor Jones score sounds terrific, however.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
Production Notes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Alpha
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Gulliver's Adventure Game
Extras Review: The film, which was presented as a two-part mini-series, is divided into Book One (01h:33m:02s) and Book Two (01h:33m:36s).

The 24-minute feature Ted's Excellent Adventure: The Making Of Gulliver's Travels is hosted by Ted Danson, and includes an array of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews some of the production principals, and detail on the creation of some of the film's special effects. The interviews are a little fluffy, but the background and effects info are nicely done. There is a good chunk of this piece devoted to the development of the wasp attack scene.

The Gulliver's Adventure game is a series of multiple-choice questions based not only on the story, but on some of the cast and crew. There isn't any real payoff to the game, but my daughter Sam breezed this segment fairly easily, except for some of cast info.

Production notes, as well as 18 chapter stops per Book round out the extras.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Gulliver's Travels is big, broad fantasy that attacks man's foibles with great accuracy. Nicely done and completely entertaining.



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