Le voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les géants (1902)
Director: Georges Méliès
Synopsis: The story of Gulliver’s travels to the lands of Brobdingnag and Lilliput.
Cinema’s first adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels is, by virtue of its 4-minute running time, a highly selective retelling. In fact, it’s little more than a collection of scenes from the novel rather than a narrative, and therefore relies upon its audience’s familiarity with Swift’s work, or perhaps the furnishing of additional information by a narrator, to follow what is happening.
There’s a possibility that the original film began with a shipwreck at sea, but the existing version opens with a quite striking image of Gulliver gleefully striding amongst the tiny houses of Lilliput, which reach no higher than his ankles. Initially, the town’s inhabitants are understandably mistrustful of this giant in their midst; they bind him as he sleeps, and throw their tiny spears into his side. Their attitude towards him softens enough, however, for a later scene to show him enjoying a slap-up meal as a small (geddit?) team of chefs fill his jug with ale from a barrel, and Gulliver repays their kindness by hurling water over a fire that rages in a nearby building.
The location then shifts abruptly as Gulliver finds his way to Brobdingnag, where he’s brought before a king playing cards with a courtier as a comical jester looks on, all of whom are shown in a tight medium-shot which is quite unusual for its director, the French trick photography pioneer, Georges Méliès. Gulliver seems in fear for his life, but survives long enough to have a private audience with a young lady during which he falls into a tea cup after climbing a ladder in his attempt to get close enough to her to make himself heard.
Le voyage de Gulliver à Lilliput et chez les géants is a typically accomplished piece of work from Méliès, featuring many of his familiar special effects, including extensive use of highly impressive multiple exposures to create believable scenes of Gulliver interacting with people both smaller and vastly taller than himself. In addition, existing prints are hand-coloured, which adds to the fantasy element of the movie.
(Reviewed 14th September 2014)