‘The 3 Worlds of Gulliver’
What the fuck did I watch last night?!
So last night I finally settled down to watch the only Ray Harryhausen effects driven movie I had never seen — ‘The 3 Worlds of Gulliver’. I think the reason I had never seen it as a kid was because it didn’t feature any dinosaurs or monsters and I’m sorry but if you’ve got Harryhausen doing the effects then why have no monsters or dinosaurs? It’s like going to an orgy and keeping your clothes on. What’s the point? (I had quite strident and inflexible views regarding fantasy movies as a child.)
But now I am an adult and am made of stronger stuff and have matured to the point where I could possibly watch a film with Harryhausen’s name on it that was monster free, I felt I could handle such an undertaking. A sign of personal growth indeed and that all those therapy sessions were not in vain.
Fortunately ‘The 3 Worlds of Gulliver’ is, at least for the first half, really good fun. It is witty and, at times, genuinely funny. Of course having Swift, albeit a highly sanitised and toned-down version, as your source material helps and this is a family film after all.
The movie has some great lines — “That’s the problem with big people. The bigger they are the more room for treachery”; “Of course I don’t need a prime minister to fight a war! But I need one to blame in case we lose it”; “I hate justice, but I love law!”; “I like little men with spunk.” (?!)
However, once Gulliver arrives in Brobdingnag, and is conveniently and rather hastily reunited with his fiancée Elizabeth, the film loses some steam along with some of its bite and, oddly, becomes incredibly sexual explicit.
For example, once reunited with his Elizabeth Gulliver becomes absolutely desperate to jump her bones immediately. So much so he wakes the entire castle up at night so the King can marry them there and then and, even before the ink has dried on the marriage licence, Gulliver and his wife start going at it. Hang on, are they actually fucking under that marriage licence? Yep, they’re fucking all right and the Queen knows it, naughty Queen.
Which leads us to another naughty Queen moment: she is poorly in bed and, apparently, has a problem with her “insides”. Gulliver, being a doctor, makes her a drink but then disappears… somewhere? Did he just go where I thought he went and is that why the Queen is suddenly looking so perky? I just hope he showered after!
Talking of the Queen of Brobdingnag, she is great and there are a number of other really enjoyable performances in the movie. Kerwin Matthews is pretty good as Gulliver and gets to show a bit more range, and charm, than as Sinbad and it was nice to see Peter Bull, the Soviet Ambassador from Dr Strangelove making a delightful appearance.
Harryhausen provides some impressive effects work. The sequence where Gulliver helps someone escape from jail is really cool and there’s some lovely effects and imagery going on throughout the entire film. There’s some nice reverse smoke/cloud work when he blows away the storm and because, especially during the first half when Gulliver is a giant, there are a lot of low camera angles it means that the screen is very often filled with gorgeous skies of Eastman colour blues. Eye-lines and perspectives are spot on and really help to sell the differences of scale, as well as being pretty to look at.
And it is just as well that the effects are nicely done as the stop-motion stuff is few and far between and contains, possibly, my least favourite Harryhausen creature — that fucking squirrel. Looking like an escapee from a taxidermists it feels more Svankmajer than Harryhausen with a rather unnerving, rather than magical, look about it. Fortunately the alligator fight at the end is great and there’s some really seamless stuff going on in it. Add onto that Bernard Hermann’s great score and there’s a lot to like here.
It is a real shame that, for me, the film loses its bite halfway through as I was loving the satire and comedy before it turned into a more straight forward adventure tale. There’s still some great stuff in the second half but it just doesn’t have the spark of the first in terms of the script.
All in all I had a better time with ‘The 3 Worlds of Gulliver’ than I was expecting. Of all of the films Harryhausen was involved in this has some of the best dialogue and is genuinely entertaining even when there’s no effects work on screen. I just wish it was more consistent in terms of the satire and boy, does it veer off into some sexually odd territory at times. Then again, that could just be me (but it’s not).