The 3 Worlds of Gulliver
This pleasant but dated little 1960 family movie arrives on DVD as part of Columbia TriStar's "Ray Harryhausen Signature Collection." However, unlike Jason and the Argonauts, First Men in the Moon, the Sinbad sagas, or monsterfests such as Mysterious Island, there's not much here to thrill the average Harryhausen fan. Other than a quick battle with a giant alligator and a dino-sized squirrel that's more mirthful than menacing, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver doesn't depend on Harryhausen's famed stop-motion monsters to menace our hero. Instead, it uses basic matte and forced-perspective cinematic effects to make seafarer Dr. Lemuel Gulliver (7th Voyage's Sinbad, Kerwin Mathews) a skyscraper-tall behemoth on the isle of Lilliput and a doll-sized castaway "witch" in the court of Brobdingnag.
The script is litle more than a hanger for the "giant/tiny" effects scenes, but the story moves briskly (even a pair of treacly song-breaks don't get much in the way), and it should particularly appeal to the under-10 set who haven't yet become jaundiced to anything pre-dating modern CGI gloss. Mathews is plenty wholeseome and likable in a role first offered to Danny Kaye and (no kidding) Jack Lemmon. And Gulliver's fiancée (June Thorburn) is perfunctory but not too much of a drip. Look for Peter Bull, Dr. Strangelove's Russian ambassador, in a small role.
Of course the script is only loosely based on the first half of Jonathan Swift's ribald 1726 novel, Gulliver's Travels. While the book remains one of the hardest-biting social satires ever to draw blood from the pompous and the political, few of those teeth remain in this truncated adaptation. Nonetheless, the Lilliputian social order and its Emperor's single-minded war against a neighboring island fought over an absurdly trivial matter inflated to genocidal levels by unbending ideological fervor will probably always be recognizable allegorical targets. Visually, Harryhausen's tall/small effects are well done, though a viewer accustomed to any more recent breakthroughs will spot the seams showing and hear the floorboards creaking. For a good number of fans, Bernard Herrmann's fine score is the chief appeal here.
* * *
This DVD edition has been "digitally mastered in high definition" and the color and detail are very good. However, it came from a source print marred by frequent jolts of dirt and blemishes, a built-in distraction created by the sofa lint commonly sandwiched into c.1960 image-compositing. 3 Worlds appears here in a non-anamorphic, pan-and-scan 1.33:1 full-screen image, altering the original theatrical 1.66:1 ratio and rudely eliminating some of the original image area. Although the box alerts us that the film has been "modified to fit your screen," the full-frame image is touted on the label as a Special Feature, thus adding insult to injury. The audio is good in DD 2.0 monaural, but Hermann's score comes across rather thin.
The chief extra, already familiar to fans of previous discs in this series, is "The Ray Harryhausen Chronicles." This terrific hour-long 1997 documentary by Richard Shickel, narrated by Leonard Nimoy, features Harryhausen himself along with lifelong pal Ray Bradbury, George Lucas, and others in a tribute devoted to the master's life, work, inspirations, and ongoing influence.
Also here are "This is Dynamation" (a short made to promote the special-effects process and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) and a nifty five-minute short on the making of 3 Worlds of Gulliver. Closing out the list are the usual talent files, the theatrical trailer, and trailers for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. The keep-case holds a production notes slip-sheet.