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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

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Ratings
Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Gulliver's Travels (****)
by Simon Moore, based on a novel by Jonathan Swift (DVD edition)

Gulliver's Travels How do you film a classic without making it boring? That is a very hard question to answer. Very few filmmakers have answered it successfully.

The fantasy mini-series has become a television staple. (The Mists of Avalon, airing this month on the 15th and 16th, is the latest example. If it had aired before my deadline for this column, I would have watched it. As it is, I'll wait for the DVD.)

The current spate of fantasy mini-series spectaculars began with Gulliver's Travels, which aired in 1995, and is out on DVD -- it was the first and the best. Most of the others have been bad, some very bad.

Why bad? How bad? When you film a classic, you run the risk of being boring and predictable. Everybody knows the story, at least in outline. So if you just tell the story, in a straightforward adaptation, what is it? Booooooooring!

Writer Simon Moore found an answer to the question of how you film a classic.

Jonathan Swift wrote four adventures of Gulliver: in the land of Lilliput, in the land of Brobdingnag, in the land of super-science, and in the land of intelligent horses whose word for humans is "Yahoo" (not intended as a compliment). Simon Moore keeps these familiar stories lively by fragmenting them, inter-cutting with the story of Gulliver's madness upon his return, and his revulsion at the human race after living with the noble Houyhnhnms. The quick cuts, the madness, the shocking juxtapositions help a familiar story to hold our interest. If you are telling a twice-told tale around a campfire, it helps if, when least expected, you jump up and yell "Booga Booga!"

Gulliver's Travels is now considered a tale for children. When it was first published, everyone read it, and it was described by the critics of the day as "furious, raging, obscene" and "painful and repulsive." This filmed version manages to take what has become familiar through repetition and put back some of the fury. Jonathan Swift was, after all, the writer who suggested that the solution to the Irish problem was for us to eat their babies.

Copyright © 2001 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.


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