Gulliver's spellbinding travels to the lands of great and small are captivating in this live-actionfantasy adventure.
"I stop wars, put out fires, feed people, give them hope and peace and prosperity - how can I be a traitor?"
Some adaptations are in name only. Perhaps a little bit of the basic concept seeps through into the final product, but not the themes or subtext. If the source material is dense enough or politically complicated enough, then this can be a fitting way of truncating events and ideas but still providing some worthwhile entertainment for the audience. Such is the case of Jack Sher's 1960 film 'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver' starring Kerwin Mathews with June Thorburn and sporting state-of-the-art visual effects by stop-motion animation master Ray Harryhausen. Less an adaptation of Johnathan Swift's seminal political satire, 'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver' simplifies and distils the politics of the novel down into a rousing adventure film.
For struggling English Doctor Lemuel Gulliver (Kerwin Mathews), a world of possibility, fortune, and adventure lays just over the horizon. All he has to do is book himself as a crew member on a ship and go out and get it. His wife-to-be Elizabeth (June Thorburn) is content with their life. Gulliver may be paid in vegetables and livestock, but it is a living. That's not good enough for Gulliver. Gulliver want's to put a real roof over his future wife's head, not the rotten planks of an old shack. Over Elizabeth's objections, Gulliver sets out on his adventure for fame and fortune. Little does he know Elizabeth stowed away for the ride! When Gulliver is tossed overboard during a storm attempting to return Elizabeth to shore, his true adventure begins. As he travels from the island of Lilliput to the land of Brobdingnag, he will learn that whether you're a giant or little person, a man with good sense and wisdom doesn't stand a fighting chance in the face of arrogance and outright stupidity.
For those going into 'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver' expecting an accurate adaptation of the stinging satire found within Gulliver's Travels may be sorely left disappointed. A couple of the lands Gulliver travels to in the book were excised for time, and the ones Gulliver does travel to are neutered down in order to be more akin to a special effects extravaganza. While much of the satirical elements may be missing from this film, the final product remains a wild and entertaining ride with a subtle sense of satire - if you look for it.
As a child, I didn't know anything about or care about any of Swift's politics when he wrote the book. His needling of France and England over petty issues while also poking intellectuals mostly went over my head. It wasn't an aspect of the story that concerned me at the time. As an adult, I can see the subtle inlets carved by the screenwriters into the script. Gulliver's frustrations with people fighting over small and petty differences are just as sharp and poignant today as it was in Swifts time. I particularly enjoy Gulliver's frustrations in having to pound logic, science, and reason into the head of a severe egotist called Markovan (Charles Lloyd Pack) who denies anything and everything outside his scope of understanding. Again the satirical elements are there if you look for them, but they're distilled down to the basics and not exactly very heady. But for what this film sets out to achieve, that's okay as most will likely be having too much fun enjoying themselves to be worried about the darker realities of Swift's satire.
Like many other fans of the film out there, I was introduced to this film as a youngster. I grew up with the Ray Harryhausen spectacle films the likes of 'Jason and the Argonauts' and 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad.' My father renting 'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver' and showing it to me was just another in a string of great and amazing films he would show me. These were the films he loved as a boy growing up and got to see when they were first released in theaters and via VHS, he was slowly introducing them to me. Each of them are favorites in their own way because they each have distinct special effects that made them unique and interesting. 'Jason and the Argonauts' had the skeleton battle. 'The 7th Voyage of Sinbad' had the cyclops. 'Mysterious Island' had the giant crab monster. 'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver' doesn't really have a signature monster. There's an alligator, but that's not really the main effect of the film. The big achievement for this one to make Kerwin Mathews convincingly look either 100 feet tall or ten inches tall depending on the land he was living in. On top of that, we're treated to another rousing and beautiful score by Bernard Herrmann that makes the whole adventure feel grand and wonderful. 'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver is a treat for kids of all ages. You could be two feet tall or six foot four and still love every minute of it.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Twilight Time and is pressed onto a Region Free BD-50 disc. Housed in a sturdy clear Blu-ray case, the disc comes with a booklet containing stills from the film as well as an excellent essay from Film Historian Julie Kirgo. The disc loads automatically to a static image main menu with traditional navigation functions. From the "Play" function you can select your desired aspect ratio in which to view the film.
As for the picture quality of this transfer, one is going to have to look at certain pieces in terms of preference. For starters, this transfer is framed in it's original theatrical 1.66:1 1080p aspect ratio with slight vertical pillar boxing on either side of the image. Or, you can view the film in a slightly zoomed in 1.78:1 aspect ratio that removes the pillar boxing but takes a little off the top and bottom of the image to do so. Why I say this is going to be a matter of preference is because both aspect ratios look beautiful for this transfer. Film grain is present but fine enough as to not be intrusive. The optical effects sequences do show a stronger grain presence but that is natural given the process. Colors are bright, bold, and beautiful with a lush and vivid primary presence. Blues and reds, in particular, like to leap off the screen. Black levels are strong and inky with plenty of shadow separation to give the image a pleasing three-dimensional presence. I was honestly not expecting too much from this Blu-ray presentation as both the old VHS and DVD releases tended to look on the softer side of things, but this transfer is a real beauty. The clarity of the image allows viewers to soak in all the details. Free of any age-related damage or speckling, this is a terrific looking restoration. As I said before, both aspect ratios look amazing, so you get to take your pick without any worry.
With a beautiful DTS-HD MA 1.0 mix, 'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver' is given the proper audio treatment it's so long deserved. Dialogue comes through crystal clear without any hiss or interference from the score our sound effects elements. That Bernard Herrmann score has never sounded better and feels rich and lively for this playful adventure film. Even as a basic mono audio track, there is a sense of space and dimension in the layering of the elements that allows it to sound lifelike even in the most wild and crazy moments like when Gulliver is 50 feet tall and towering over the tiny people of Lilliput. The bass and lower tones really give his "Giant" voice some extra oomph. All around this is a rich auditory presentation that fits perfectly with this colorful and fun film. Free of any age-related issues, this is a terrific audio mix.
Audio Commentary: Film Historians Randall Cook, C. Courtney Joyner, and Steven C. Smith provide an informative and engaging commentary filled with facts about the production, lots of backstory about Harryhausen's involvement with the film and the film's reception.
The Making of 'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver': (SD 7:31) This is a great but sadly brief interview with Harryhausen but it is incredibly informative as to how they achieved the sense of size and scale of Gulliver as he traveled from one land to the next.
The Harryhausen Chronicles: (SD 57:56) This is one of the best documentaries about Ray Harryhausen and his incredible works. Narrated by Leonard Nimoy, this doc covers everything from the time Harryhausen saw King Kong as a child all the way up to his work on 'Clash of the Titans.' If you've never seen this before, do check it out.
This is Dynamation!: (SD 3:25) This is a goofy and fun "trailer" of sorts advertising the Dynamation process and it's debut with '7th Voyage of Sinbad.'
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 3:21)
'The 3 Worlds of Gulliver' is a classic adventure film full of rich colors and amazing special effects. It may not be one of Harryhausen's greatest known works, but the technical process and creative use of scale make it a memorable one. The film itself may be a very loose adaptation of the Swift novel, but it is a rousing good time and fun for kids and adults of all ages. Twilight Time has done a magnificent job bringing thing film to Blu-ray with a terrific A/V presentation, a great essay by Julie Kirgo, some archival bonus features, and an isolated score track to round out the bonus features. There's nothing left to say but to call this one highly recommended.