BR: 3 Worlds of Gulliver, The (1960)

December 9, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  December 13, 2016

Genre:  Fantasy / Adventure

Synopsis: Jonathan Swift’s classic satire is toned down in this very kid-friendly yet exciting saga of Lemuel Gulliver as he encounters little people, giants, and reunites with his fiancee after being separated during a vicious ocean storm.

Special Features:  Separate HD transfers in 1.66:1 and 1.78:1 rations / Audio Commentary with film historians Randall Cook & C. Courtney Joyner, and Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith / Isolated Mono Music Track / 1995 featurette: “The Making of The 3 Worlds of Gulliver” (7:30) / 2002 Featurette: “The Harryhausen Chronicles” (57:53) / Vintage Featurette “This is Dynamation!” (3:27) / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and www.twilighttimemovies.com.

 


 

Review:

Ray Harryhausen’s fantasy epic adventure is surprisingly low on stop-motion creatures, but his brilliance with trick photography made him the perfect hands-on producer for this fanciful, exciting version of Jonathan Swift’s classic tale that’s apparently remained in print since its inaugural (and initially sanitized) publication in 1725.

The screenplay by Arthur A. Ross (Creature from the Black Lagoon) and writer- (Paris Blues) director Jack Sher (Four Girls in Town) follows the incredible adventures of Lemuel Gulliver (Kerwin Mathews) as he journeys as a ship’s doctor, discovers his fiancée Elizabeth (June Thorburn) as a stowaway, and is tossed into the ocean during a tumultuous storm.

Gulliver awakens on an island of Lilliputians (eenie-weenie peoples) who engage in petty bickering amongst themselves, and a war of sorts with the nearby regime of Blefuscu because they refuse to break open eggs from the smaller tip. Realizing he’s in a land of loons, he takes his full-size boat and ends up on another apparent isle, this time as a little man who’s gathered and sheltered by a little girl officially designated Gulliver’s keeper by the king.

He also gets lucky in discovering Elizabeth had washed up earlier on the isle’s shore, and the two live in a dollhouse in apparent bliss, but Gulliver’s self-assertion as a trained man of science has him hunted by the royal sorcerer like a witch, and the two lovers soon bolt from the castle, escaping the giants but puzzled whether their sudden return to England is  part of a weird dream, or the close of a surreal journey.

Swift’s original work pushed Gulliver to myriad odd worlds, people and creatures, and his wordplay poked fun at political and sexual bons mots (his infamous repartee of “Master” and “Bates” is hysterically funny), but the sense of the author’s fun with odd characters, extreme encounters, and the book’s ongoing adventures remain potent in the film version.

During the late 1950s, Mathews was a Columbia contract star, and as detailed in Twilight Time’s newly recorded audio commentary with a trio of historians, his big break was supposed to be a co-starring role with Rita Hayworth, but close to production the project was aborted, and as the star told a publication decades later, his career never really broke, and yet his two leading Harryhausen roles – Gulliver and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) – are among his best, in part because they showcase his innate screen likeability, physical adeptness in stunts and action, and his solid voice, plus holding his own against Christopher Lee in Hammer & Columbia’s surprisingly dark pirate film The Pirates of Blood River (1962).

His solid screen presence made him a good fit as the lone American in an all-British production, surrounded by some outstanding scene-stealing character actors. Pouty Peter Bull is fun as the father of Lilliputian hottie Gwendolyn (Jo Morrow), and Basil Sydney is a reliable fuddy-dudddy as the Lilliputian king.

The best material is inarguably in the kingdom of the giants, where Gulliver initially remains in great favour of King Brob (marvelous scene-stealer Gregoire Aslan, who had also appeared with Morrow in Carol Reed’s droll Our Man in Havana) and his Queen (ever sweet Mary Ellis); and the tension between himself and royal witch doctor Makovan (slimy Charles Lloyd Pack).

The film’s cast is filled with behavioral & moral alternates & opposites from royalty to children, including kind Glumdaclitch (former Mouseketeer Sherri Alberoni) who shepherds Gulliver & Elizabeth from danger, but is pitted against Makovan’s bratty daughter, the perfectly named Shrike (Waveney Lee).

Harryhausen stuck with the same tried & true Spanish beach locations, and retained ace cinematographer Wilkie Cooper who created some moody scenes, especially the gelled colours in Makovan’s eerie cavern, using pinks, blues, and greens much in the way Mario Bava would place pools of light to heighten mood and mystery in fantasy tales like Hercules in the Haunted World (1961).

Also wisely retained for his second of four productions is composer Bernard Herrmann, who wrote a stunning main theme that’s flows elegantly but bubbles with a little cheekiness, and composed some stirring variations strained with extra urgency to boost Gulliver’s predicament yet humanize his experiences in otherwise improbably worlds.

Less than ideal are two songs penned by Columbia composer George Duning and lyricist Ned Washington, which stop the film cold in two spots during the Lilliputian section. A chorus of adults and kiddie-poos sing the awful “What a Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful Fellow is Gulliver,” and Mathews himself sings the silly “Gentle Love,” both of which seemed pained efforts by the producers or studio to launch a single. (The two stale compositions were not included in Cloud Nine’s excellent 1985 score LP and 1993 CD, which replaced the original Colpix and Citadel 1981 reissue ‘storybook’ album featuring Herrmann’s music plus narration written by Howard Berk and performed by Norman Rose.)

Film historian Randall Cook and historian / genre screenwriter C. Courtney Joyner (The Offspring, Class of 1999) cover primary production details, integrate pull quotes from assorted sources, and provide deadpan imitations of Harryhausen’s unique drawl, while Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith adds additional production details and the film’s placement in Herrmann’s canon and fruitful creative association with Harryhausen. It’s a solid track that’s lively, fun, and informative, with main cast bios on leads Mathews and Thorburn (who died in a horrific, tragic plane crash in 1967), plus Sher’s outline for an unfilmed and too-complex sequel. (Gulliver‘s finale is rightly cited for not making much sense, but the cast are so amiable that one ignores continuity nonsense and the ‘Was it real or just a weird dream?’ hook.)

The commentators do mention the excellent 1996 TV mini-series, primarily because of the filmmakers’ decision to stay closer to Swift’s text and include the highly risque (for TV) moment in which Gulliver extinguishes a fire not with spitted wine, but a No. 1, which doesn’t always hit the fire’s bullseye.

One curio not picked up by historians (except astute Julie Kirgo in her delightful booklet essay) is Thorburn’s Brobdingnagian ‘harem’ costume, which bears more than a striking resemblance to the midriff-friendly, cleavage-boosted outfit worn by Janet Munro in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad – perhaps a favourite style the filmmakers revisited for anything set in more exotic, humid scenes.

Kirgo’s essay gives a compact overview of the production, including some bio material on underrated Matthews – he would also star in Jack the Giant Killer (1962), and more interestingly in the French spy series OSS 117 is Unleashed (1963) – and the sodium process which yielded sharper mattes that enabled Harryhausen to craft some still magical fight scenes, especially Gulliver fighting a lizard.

Herrmann’s score is also showcased in an isolated mono music track – a feature apparently present on the 1992 Pioneer laserdisc (its only reported extra) and originally touted on Columbia’s 1995 laserdisc but never included in the final release. Also ported over from the Columbia laserdisc is an archival interview with Harryhausen who recorded a series of reflective featurettes for Columbia’s Harryhausen branded editions. From Columbia’s 2002 DVD comes the familiar “This is Dynamation” featurette and The Harryhausen Chronicles doc which were packed into each Harryhausen disc.

Written and directed by Richard Schickel in 1998, the nearly hour-long doc contains scenes from several unrealized and unfinished projects, test footage, and fascinating moments from his early solo ventures as a teenager. These latter shorts and subsequent nursery tales were shot on 16mm, and reveal Harryhausen’s gift for technique and character, and one can see why his talents were embraced by producer Charles H. Schneer.

Schneer and his childhood friend Ray Bradbury (who presented an Honorary Oscar to Harryhausen in 1992), animators Dennis Muren and Henry Selick, and George Lucas are interviewed. Leonard Nimoy provides fluid narration, and with the exception of One Million Years B.C. (1966), most of Harryhausen’s film work is excerpted. Only qualms: as on the Columbia DVD, the SD doc lacks chapters.

Perhaps the most pleasing aspect to this Blu-ray edition is the inclusion of the film in two distinct ratios: the less wide 1.66:1 and the slightly more expansive 1.78:1 for those wanting to fill out their widescreen TV. Columbia’s prior DVD and laserdisc were 1.33:1, reportedly sporting the unmatted full frame image which certainly in the case of Mysterious Island, yielded more info than the too-tight widescreen matting.

Several of Harryhausen’s films have also received Blu-ray releases in England via Powerhouse / Indicator with differing extras in limited two volume sets, branded The Wonderful Worlds of Ray Harryhausen. Gulliver is currently available in Vol. 1, and in addition to replicating the Twilight Time commentary and isolated score track, there’s a trio of new interviews with Aardman Animation’s Peter Lord, David Sproxton, and Davd Alex Riddett (totaling about 30 mins.). See a review from DVD Beaver for more info.

The 1995 Harryhausen making-of interview is treated a little differently on current and legacy format releases. The Columbia laserdisc featured a (:57) intro + main interview, whereas the DVD and subsequent Blu-ray editions contain just the (5:21) main interview, although TT’s disc adds the (2:09) laserdisc segment featuring posters, storyboards, and behind-the-scenes stills. (Indicator’s disc contains an Image Gallery, but most likely they’re new scans of P.R. material instead of the old Columbia SD montage.)

Twilight Time’s Harryhausen releases include The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960), Mysterious Island (1961), First Men in the Moon (1964), The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), and Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977).

 

 

© 2002; revised 2017 by Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack AlbumComposer Filmography
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

 


 

 


 

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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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