A Swift Take on Gulliver

Johnathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels provided early 1700s England with a snappy political satire, an irregular choice to pair with Ray Harryhausen’s consortium of creature creations. Certainly, The 3 Worlds of Gulliver has to squeeze in his stop motion talents – the rest of his work goes to a sodium matte process, fitting Gulliver into his surroundings.

Not all of Swift’s lampooning source material is lost in two centuries of translation. While 3 Worlds deflates some of the energy – bickering between surrogates of France and England wouldn’t sit in the 1960s anyway – what’s found in this screenplay still holds an alluring, effective anti-war bias. Also, the vanity, pettiness, cowardice, and shallow narcissism of political leadership. Some stories never age; they simply cycle back around into relevance.

Instead, Three Worlds casts Kerwin Matthews, and with little subtly, drops the gay star into fantasy which is as much anti-war as it is pro-acceptance. Matthews effectively plays himself, a giant of a leading man whose fulsome Hollywood looks grant him an amiable screen appeal. Matthews begs the miniature Lilliputian King to accept his identity, and others for who they are. One exchange pleads for the Lilliputian King to see how, despite their differences in scale, they’re equals.

3 Worlds stages the greater morality play as a war over eggs – Lilliputians’ spiteful attitude toward their neighboring islanders, the Blefuscudians, comes to blows over how they break open their breakfast food. The dogmatic beliefs of Lilliputians lace the film with a soft intolerance over nothing of consequence, comedic, if with enough thrust to reach the matinee audience a picture like Gulliver aimed for.

From Harryhausen’s cinematic resume of overgrown nuclear menaces and Greek mythos, only 3 Worlds of Gulliver asks for a flash of reflection

A draconian fate awaits Gulliver in Brobdingnag, a trip which culls much of Swift’s original work. Accused of witchery by the spineless magnate, Gulliver is set to be burned after, in a chemistry experiment, he – quite literally – shows his own color. Out goes the subtle touch.

Being 1960, Matthews’ Gulliver comes with a romantic counterpart, June Thorburn as Elizabeth. It’s feisty, even chauvinist. Gulliver’s adventure begins only due to an argument with Elizabeth, sending him overboard, turning Elizabeth into Gulliver’s overarching quest. Some stories DO age; those thankfully fall out of favor.

It’s a wonder what Harryhausen might have done with the rest of the source material. Swift put Gulliver in contact with ghosts, floating islands, mutants, and a race of horse people. Even in Swift’s version of Brobdingnag, the “sizable” circumstances draw the ire of a wasp, a Harryhausen moment done to great effect in Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger nearly two decades on from Gulliver. 3 Worlds still lets Harryhausen dole out an astonishing stop motion squirrel and sterling clash between a miniature Matthews and an infant crocodile, both startling in their animated reality.

Harryhausen fit into this style of adventurous if tranquil entertainment, gentle and pleasing even as it stomps on cultural naivety. From Harryhausen’s cinematic resume of overgrown nuclear menaces and Greek mythos, only 3 Worlds of Gulliver asks for a flash of reflection. Seconds before the credits, Elizabeth asks, “Why do we live with fear?” In a film flush with inconsolable cultural differences, it presents a question which too often needs asked.


It’s a small tragedy such gorgeous catalog releases end up as limited editions. With a bounty of color, pulled from a faultless print, 3 Worlds of Gulliver comes well dressed to this premiere on Blu-ray. Twilight Time’s disc shows no signs of damage. The sodium processes which matte Gulliver into the frame show no damage, leaving each shot speck, dirt, and scratch free.

Expertly resolved grain keeps a mountain of fidelity in view. Rousing close-ups for the A/V connoisseur come sprinkled throughout. Detail in costumes shows off the delicate touches of the design, with the distinct Middle Eastern flair many of Harryhausen’s productions favored. Spectacular location shots equally impress, as do the miniatures of castles.

Generous saturation livens up the images, pulling tremendous hues from each frame. Again, those costumes shine, shimmering with a palette of royal colors, dense and pure. Flesh tones steer warm without harm.

Note the disc holds two aspect ratios, 1.66:1 and 1.78:1. The former is accurate to the theatrical release, the latter is slightly cropped, representing 3 Worlds of Gulliver as presented on video prior. It’s arguably unnecessary to maintain the cropped version, but an appreciated gesture for those seeking it out.


Bernard Herrmann’s awesome (as if he did anything other) score doesn’t get lost in this DTS-HD mono track. Although the low-end lacks a bit of bite, exceptional clarity highlights this track. The score is also available isolated, that ever rarer bonus which couldn’t have a better companion than Herrmann.

A slight hiss introduces itself in the third act. Not terribly detrimental, but notable. Dialog tends to fall in fidelity here, but is otherwise pure. Like the video, no pops or cracks in audio audibly appear. At times, 3 Worlds of Gulliver seems invincible to age.


An older seven minute making of and a trailer become the only 3 Worlds of Gulliver-specific bonuses. The great Harryhausen Chronicles runs nearly an hour, narrated by Leonard Nimoy. If you own a Harryhuasen Blu-ray or DVD, chances are you’ve seen it. The same goes for This is Dynamation, a Columbia advertisement for 7th Voyage of Sinbad concerning Harryhausen’s effects.

  • The 3 Worlds of Gulliver
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Ray Harryhausen is often the highlight of 3 Worlds of Gulliver, but it’s the clever and well covered story of acceptance which is the real highlight.

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