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Gulliver's Travels (1996) (DVD Review)

7 Sep, 2008 By: John Latchem

Gulliver's Travels

Street 9/9/08
$14.95 DVD

Not rated.
Stars Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, Peter O'Toole, Alfre Woodard, Omar Sharif.

When it debuted in 1996, Gulliver's Travels was among the most expensive miniseries ever produced. A joint production of the Jim Henson Co. and RHI Entertainment, the epic was one of the few adaptations of Jonathan Swift's 18th century adventure novel to attempt to portray all four subplots of the story. Most versions simply make do with Gulliver's encounter with the miniature Lilliputians.

The version put forth by executive producer Robert Halmi Sr. and writer Simon Moore adds a framing device that involves Gulliver (Danson, barely attempting a British accent) returning home and being put in a mental hospital for telling his fantastic stories. This leads to a subplot about a rivalry with another doctor over the affections of Gulliver's wife (Steenburgen).

Much of the allegory Swift embedded into his original story was swept aside in the translation in favor of the spectacle, and the insane asylum storyline pretty much reduces the Gulliver character from dynamic explorer to passive observer. In aiming for the creation of a timeless, sweeping adventure, the screenplay loses some of its teeth. So the miniseries is still as vibrant as it was 12 years ago, but it may have been more interesting had the script attempted to modernize some of the satire to fit contemporary issues (which deep down aren't really that different from Swift's day).

This special-edition DVD version adds a couple of behind-the-scenes tidbits made during the original production. One is a standard making-of featurette. The other is an extended interview with Omar Sharif, who at one point compares the scope of the production with Doctor Zhivago.

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