Director: Jack Sher
Twilight Time

Twilight Time’s "Limited Edition Series" has released on Blu-ray THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER, the 1960 Columbia Pictures fantasy very loosely based on Irish author Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, featuring “SuperDynamation” special effects from wizard Ray Harryhausen, and starring Kerwin Mathews, Jo Morrow, June Thorburn, Lee Patterson, Gregoire Aslan, Basil Sydney, Charles Lloyd-Pack, Martin Benson, Mary Ellis, Marian Spencer, Peter Bull, Alec Mango, Noel Purcell, and Sherri Alberoni. A studio pick-up job for producers Harryhausen and Charles H. Schneer, following their sizeable international stop-motion hit, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, the low-key, whimsical THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER didn’t have quite the critical or box office impact of their earlier “Dynamation” outing, perhaps because the emphasis this time around was on creating seamless “small/big” optical effects, rather than showcasing numerous, flashy, action-packed stop-motion set pieces. Seen today, some Swiftian wags may suggest THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER works best as an illustrated Bernard Herrmann score; however, the small fry still get a kick out of its gentle fairy tale tone, while the amusing performances should please the tykes’ giant parents. Other than that sparkling 1080p HD Blu transfer (offered in optional 1.66 and 1.78 ratios), the only new extras here are a commentary track, a booklet with liner notes by Julie Kirgo, and an isolated score track. Other extras, including a nice Richard Schickel doc on Harryhausen, are ported over from previous DVD releases.

Tired of getting paid in chickens, Dr. Lemuel Gulliver (Kerwin Mathews, JACK THE GIANT KILLER, BATTLE BENEATH THE EARTH) decides to ditch 1699 Wapping, England, and set sail with Captain Pritchard (Noel Purcell, MAN IN THE MOON, THE VIOLENT ENEMY) for the West Indies in search of riches. His fiancée, spunky Elizabeth Whitley (June Thorburn, tom thumb, ESCORT FOR HIRE), doesn’t care about money; she only wants Gulliver, and she’s willing to stow away on Pritchard’s ship to prove it. Determined not to be dumped at the nearest port, Elizabeth argues with Gulliver, who’s swept overboard during a squall. He awakes on a beach in Lilliput, where he discovers he’s a giant compared to the tiny human inhabitants. Gulliver offers to (basically) become their “god,” eliminating work and greed and hunger through his Herculean physical efforts. However, nothing can quell the petty, even homicidal obsessions of the Lilliputians, particularly of their emperor (Basil Sydney, SIMBA, THE HANDS OF ORLAC). He sees in giant Gulliver the perfect weapon to destroy Lilliput’s arch enemy, the neighboring Blefscu, who are at war with the Lilliputians because both countries disagree...on which end of an egg one is supposed to crack open. Gulliver ends the conflict by easily tugging the Blefscu navy out to sea—he does so to save his friend Reldresal (Lee Patterson, THE SEARCH FOR THE EVIL ONE, DEATH WISH III), the new prime minister who refuses to renounce his traitorous fiance, Gwendolyn (Jo Morrow, DOCTOR DEATH: SEEKER OF SOULS, TERMINAL ISLAND)—but must run for his life when he offends the Emperor and the Queen by doing a good deed badly (he spits wine on them to put out a castle fire). Coming ashore to the island of Brobdingnag, Gulliver’s previous problem is reversed: he’s now as small as the Lilliputians in comparison to little big girl Glumdalclitch (Sherri Alberoni, TV’s THE MICKEY MOUSE CLUB, JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS). The kindly, loving Glumdalclitch takes Gulliver to the king’s (Gregoire Aslan, SEX-SHOP, THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD) castle, for that is the law of the land, where the king has acquired an equally tiny menagerie. Gulliver is now a contented pet, made briefly happy when he discovers a erotically-attired Elizabeth has already arrived at the castle via her own shipwreck. A quick marriage by the King settles the movie censors’ hash, but accusations of witchcraft against Gulliver by jealous sorcerer Makovan (Charles Lloyd-Pack, THE TERROR OF THE TONGS, THE SHUTTERED ROOM) ends his horny idyll, and yet again Gulliver must run for his life.

Ray Harryhausen always took great pains to let everyone know he and his producing partner Charles H. Schneer did not originate the THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER script (...that probably should give you a solid hint on how he felt about the movie in general). Screenwriter/director Jack Sher (THE YOUNG AND THE INNOCENT, TV’s HOLMES AND YO-YO), working with scripters Arthur Ross and Sy Gomberg, had originally been contracted by Universal-International Pictures to deliver a Gulliver movie in 1958, after Ross’ proposed Gulliver TV musical special for NBC was cancelled after a writer’s strike. When it was announced that Columbia and producer Schneer were prepping an A-list Gulliver movie with possibly Danny Kaye or Jack Lemmon in the lead, the cheapskates at Universal blinked and sensibly cut a deal, letting Sher go to Columbia with the project. Presented with a finished script and a studio eager to capitalize on their past hit, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, producers Schneer and Harryhausen did their best to insert their patented “Dynamation” stop-motion effects into the storyline—the reverse of how they usually worked (story points were written around planned effects for earlier efforts IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS, and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, and of course, SINBAD).

When the A-listers dropped out of the project and Columbia contract player and SINBAD’s star Kerwin Mathews was finally attached as the lead, Columbia not surprisingly dropped THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER’s budget. That necessitated Harryhausen to seek cheaper, faster alternatives for his special effects sequences (in-camera techniques, such as old timey forced perspective, or new-fangled split-beam sodium backing process mattes), at the expense of scenes featuring the laborious, time-consuming stop-motion “Dynamation” that had made THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD such a boffo box office bonanza. Only three such sequences appear in THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER: the brief introduction of the King’s tiny menagerie; the huge squirrel that snatches Gulliver, and Gulliver’s fight to the death with a large/tiny alligator. Still...Columbia thought they had a big “family picture” winner on their hands; they ballyhooed a sizeable promotional campaign in support of THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER, including a fairly extensive—for that era—range of merchandise tie-ins (Gulliver even got his own float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade). Profits were okay for Columbia when it was released...but THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER didn’t come close to matching, let alone exceeding, THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD’s take (a Gulliver sequel was announced...but Harryhausen said “thanks but no thanks” to another studio assignment he didn’t dream up).

Straight up: if you’re into Harryhausen’s work, THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER is bound to be a bit of a letdown. The alligator battle is cool (if a bit too late coming in the already measured pace of the picture)...but that squirrel scene is pretty sad, which Harryhausen freely admitted (why did they use one of those kids plastic whirring “police siren” whistles for the squirrel’s “voice?” They must have died laughing over at the Disney studios...). And that’s it for “SuperDynamation” in THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER. The rest is trick shots that show Gulliver big or small. Granted, some of them are done quite well, and some others...not so much (that first shot of a huge Gulliver looming over the beach rocks must have been as impressive as hell to the screaming kiddies back in the theaters...but the wavering matte lines in a surprising number of shots reminds one of cheap TV chromakeying). But after awhile, you get used to the optical effects and start focusing on the story. And that’s usually not something you want to do in your average Ray Harryhausen movie.

Thankfully, kids will just let all that confused tripe fly over their heads as THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER’s fairytale elements take hold. Gulliver’s first adventure plugs right into their own feelings of invincible power when shoving around their own dolls and action figures, before his second adventure taps into their own fears of being little and defenseless around big, menacing, frequently inexplicable adults. Kerwin Matthew’s gentle, easygoing style is a perfect, pleasant blank slate for small viewers, while fans of 1960s international movies will get a kick out of funny turns from pros Gregoire Aslan, Basil Sydney, Charles Lloyd Pack, Martin Benson, Mary Ellis, Peter Bull, and Marian Spencer (former "Mouseketeer" Alberoni is quite charming, too). None of what works in THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER, however, would work half as well as it does without composer Bernard Herrmann’s delightful score (remarkably, according to reports, he began composing it only four days after he delivered Hitchcock’s PSYCHO score, and completed it in a mere two weeks). Alternately jaunty and whimsical when riffing on 18th Century classical themes, and foreboding and eerie when deepening the more frightening fairytale aspects of the story, simple scenes that would have been routine or ordinary or frankly deadly flat, deliver a far greater impact than they would have any right to expect, thanks to Herrmann’s absolute straight-faced respect for what he’s composing (how else can you explain the truly unnerving undertone you can’t help but feel during silly scenes like the giant squirrel attack?). It’s another memorable Harryhausen score from Herrmann, and probably the chief reason today to watch THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER.

Twilight Time’s new 1080p HD Blu transfer of THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER looks better than I’ve ever seen the movie. It looks like it could have been shot yesterday. Colors are bright, skin tones even and nicely modulated, fine image detail is remarkably improved over previous releases, and grain is tight and filmic in most shots (where it’s not, I’m going to blame the original cinematography). You get your choice of seeing this in 1.66 or 1.78 anamorphic widescreen. There were past controversies about previous fullscreen releases (even from some “savants” who couldn’t quite figure out open mattes and projection masking). No doubt THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER was shot Academy ratio with the intent of minimum projection masking (if you saw it in true 1.33 fullframe in a theater back in ’60, the projectionist screwed up), so it’s up to you how much top/bottom information you want to lose when watching this (in the cartoon opening credits, when the big hand comes in to grab Gulliver, the thumb is mostly masked out in use that as a rule of thumb). The English 1.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack has a healthy re-recording level, and it’s super clean (pity there wasn’t more in the movie’s budget for an original stereo recording session). English subtitles are available.

New extras include a commentary track featuring film historians Randall Cook, C. Courtney Joyner, and Steven C. Smith. Cook’s a little hard to take, but everyone contributes some solid background info on the movie’s production (not enough, however, on its reception), and the difficulties of the shoot in terms of special effects. Next, there’s an isolated music track for when you’re doing the dishes. Old bonuses include 1995’s "The Making of The 3 Worlds of Gulliver" (7:31), where Ray Harryhausen discusses the production, his fondness for Mathews, and his displeasure at the squirrel sequence (there’s also a promotional gallery stuck on the end of this extra). 1997’s "The Harryhausen Chronicles", written and directed by “film critic” Richard Schickel (he’s a far better documentarian than reviewer...), is a pretty fascinating look at Harryhausen’s career, narrated by Leonard Nimoy. Lots of cool footage of Harryhausen’s first stop-animation efforts. "This is Dynamation!" (3:25) is a vintage promotional short touting Harryhausen’s stop-motion/optical effects in THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER. And finally, there’s an original trailer (3:21) for the movie. (Paul Mavis)