Gulliver's Travels is neither a movie nor an adaptation of Jonathan Swift's fantasy yarn. Rather, it's a cultural artifact of American pop circa 2010, an immediately dated voyage through the seas of our own cinematic feculence.
Jack Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a career mailroom clerk at a major newspaper. He's supposed to be an endearing slacker but instead comes across as Travis Bickle by way of Emo Phillips. In an attempt to win the heart of travel editor Darcy (Amanda Peet), Gulliver plagiarizes a writing sample from Frommer's and receives an assignment in the Bermuda Triangle, where a magic waterspout whisks him away to the anachronistic kingdom of Lilliput. There he makes tiny friends, including Princess Mary (Emily Blunt) and her peasant admirer Horatio (Jason Segel). The cast handles the SparkNotes script with a doomed charisma, and seeing Black at the behest of crap writing makes one wish there was a reality in which Heat Vision and Jack made it past a pilot.
Gulliver's Travels is Lilliputian in both setting and scope — our protagonist spends 90% of the film yukking it up in Lilliput and perhaps 10 minutes captive as a human doll with a giant in Brobdingnag. We catch glimmers of his future adventures — amongst the Yahoos, et al. — in newspaper headlines that dot the credits. So yes, by the time we get the entire purview of Gulliver's adventures, most of the audience is chucking their 3D glasses in the recycling bin. (And no, the barely noticeable 3D won't make you seasick.)
Imagine you're a kid who's watching the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now imagine that some faceless interlocutor waltzes into your living room, stops the movie 40 minutes in, suddenly mutters, "Well, Augustus Gloop is dead. Poor bastard drowned in Nutella," and then makes you pay an inexplicable $8 sunglasses tax. You'd have no idea that Gene Wilder goes on a boat ride through William Burroughs' amygdala. You'd spend the rest of your life thinking the film was about the accidental death of a German child with juvenile diabetes.
That's what Gulliver's Travels feels like — it's truncated, but it never gives you a nod that it's truncated. Surprisingly, an annoying open-ended ending would've been welcome here. Something like the ending to Deep Rising! But no, the film wraps up neatly. It's like the filmmakers knew they wouldn't recoup their $112 million budget. I hoped to see some cinematic limbo à la Super Mario Bros., but alas and alack, this is not the case.