Literary Miscellanea: Gulliver’s Travels Book-to-Movie

Last week I did a Literary Miscellanea post on a book-to-movie adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. The adaptation I am focusing on today is actually a mini-series (1996) and is deliberately unfaithful to the book in some important ways. Yet, I really liked the adaptation. Spoilers are included.

Gulliver’s Travels

As you may know if you have been following my blog for some time, Gulliver’s Travels is one of my favorite books of all time. I wrote a spoiler-free review and a spoiler-y reflection post for it. Swift was a master satirist.

The 1996 mini-series is directed by Rob Letterman, and Lemuel Gulliver is played by Ted Danson. Unlike the book, the story of Gulliver’s travels are told by the protagonist not in a written memoir but in a psychiatric ward. He is considered unfit for society by Dr. Bates who tries to destroy the relationship between Lemuel and his wife Mary. Dr. Bates wants Mary for himself. As expected, Gulliver’s travels are told in the mini-series through a series of flashbacks.

What I enjoy about the mini-series is the focus on perspective. Gulliver believes that all of his trips were real, but he is having a hard time convincing others of his sanity. Even his wife and child think he’s delusional. A lot is at stake. If Gulliver does not convince the people around him that his adventures were real he loses forever the people he loves.

Like the mini-series, Swift’s work is all about perspective. Gulliver’s identity is defined and redefined by the creatures he meets in his travels. He needs their affirmation. But whereas Swift focuses on the evolution of Gulliver’s character, the mini-series focuses on the unchanging society to which Gulliver has returned. In the book, Gulliver doesn’t realize that he has changed. In the mini-series his oddity is lost on no one. Gulliver was rejected by the Houyhnhnms, but he cannot afford to be rejected by his family.

The mini-series is not very long (a little over 3 hours), so it can be viewed in one sitting. Even if you do not like Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, you might still enjoy the adaptation. But if you did like the book, I think you will find this new perspective delightful.

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