It is common in today’s media-driven society to reach into the past for inspiration and ideas. A trend has developed where original works are transformed into other mediums. For example: books are turned into movies and/or plays, movies are turned into weekly sitcoms, and cartoons will spawn empires (Disney). These things happen so often that an audience rarely stops to question the level of authenticity that remains after these conversions. Perhaps it is only when a project is not well received that people begin to think of the difficulties involved with changing a work’s genre. Using Gulliver’s Travels as an example, discrepancies and additions in the movie can be contrasted with Jonathan Swift’s original text.
It can be assumed that one of the biggest challenges in making a movie from a book lies in the time constraints that movies have, especially those that are intended for TV, as was Gulliver’s Travels. Swift talks about Gulliver’s time in Laputa for almost forty pages, where as the movie only spends a small portion of its three hours focusing on this kingdom. One of the largest additions to Swift’s tale occurs during the movie’s portrayal of this third part of the book. At the start of Chapter V, Gulliver travels to the Academy of Lagado so that he may examine and learn more about the society. He properly describes to the reader their inventions, experiments, and the scientists. In the movie, however, Gulliver goes to the Academy in a frantic search for someone who has heard of England. His interest is clearly not in the happenings of the building; rather he is there for purely selfish reasons.
During this search, Gulliver accosts a man who instructs him to go to the Room of Answers to find out how to get back to England. After going into various other rooms, Gulliver finally stumbles upon a door that is barred with planks of wood. Cobwebs and dust obscure the sign at first, but Gulliver breaks down the barrier and wipes the sign to reveal that he has found the Room of Answers. He enters the room and asks if the man there can tell him the way back to England. The man turns around and Gulliver is looking at an exact replica of himself. This second Gulliver states “You know the way home, but you’ll never find it because deep in you heart, you don’t want to” to which the original Gulliver replies “That’s not true!”
The scene described above appears to be quite critical to the plot development in the movie. However, this appears nowhere in the original text. The viewer must ask him/herself why this was added and the consequences of the change.
The movie version of this story portrays Gulliver as a travel that has been gone for eight consecutive years and had been searching for his way home the entire time. He merely falls into unfortunate circumstances that prevent this return. In the book, however, it is less clear that Gulliver desires to be home at all. He very rarely speaks of his family and seems to have little emotion at being reunited with them after each journey or when he leaves them again. The movie’s alternate portrayal of Gulliver seems incongruent with the added scene. Instead, this extra scene would appear to make more sense if the character of Gulliver was depicted as he was in the book. Gulliver’s apparent true self is speaking to the character in the book, not the movie.
It appears as though this scene was added to depict an inner struggle that Gulliver is having. He purports to want to go home, but yet hates the society that he supposedly desires to rejoin. This is a challenging depiction, since much of Gulliver/Swift’s cutting satire about English society is lost (perhaps purposely) in the transformation into a movie. The television audience (assuming they haven’t read the book) is then left to wonder why, if Gulliver knows how to get home, he does not.They are not given the opportunity to experience the satire that Swift uses to call English society into question and are, therefore, not able to realize the authentic character of Gulliver.
To contrast one medium to another is quite challenging. What works well for authors and readers in print will probably need to be modified in television. The television movie of Gulliver’s Travels is no exception. It is useful however, to compare the two versions and identify and analyze the differences between them because the changes are simply one person’s interpretation of a story.