Friday, October 24, 2014

Land of the Lost

In the 1970's, you couldn't love dinosaurs without loving Land of the Lost, that Saturday morning darling of the dinophile set. How could a show that featured a dinosaur roaring into the camera go wrong? The answer is that it didn't go wrong, at least not for a few seasons.

Land of the Lost opens with a toe tapping, banjo riffing song which the unusual fate of the Marshall family. During a river trip, an earthquake sucks their raft into a giant hole, which is really a portal into another dimension, the land of the lost. There, they find all sorts of things that should not be, all assembled into the same mountain-bound land. In the midst of hazzards, they do their best at being a family. They live in a cave up high off the ground, which they called High Bluff. They discovered and named dinosaurs galore, the most famous being Grumpy, the T-Rex that chases everyone and everything, then roars into the cave mouth.

The dinosaurs were a mixture of stop-motion animation and puppetry. The model work must have cost a small fortune, so the editors used very FX show as stock footage, throwing it in wherever possible.

The family itself was composed of Dad, who had a name that didn't matter, Will, the teenage boy, and Holly, the grade school girl. Their sometimes visitor was Chaka, a humanoid called a Pakuni, who befriended them when they found the land. Chaka could speak Pakuni very well, but he was very bad at English.

The show wasn't just trash. This show was full-blown juvenile SF. It featured a collapse alien civilization that had made the land, the last of whom was Enoch, the Altrusian. Their descendents, now nocturnal, are the Sleestak, taking every opportunity to terrorize the family. The land itself is run by pylons which utilize the Altrusian crystal technology to regulate the sun, moon, weather, and even portals into other worlds.

The first series itself was designed as a loop, so that the last episode directly took you into the first. How cool is that?

Heaven isn't forever, and neither are perfect shows. After two seasons, Dad Marshall had enough of the gig, leaving the show. Before filming season 3, the the cave set for High Bluff burned down, so in show, the family moved into a temple set near the Forgotten City, trading Grumpy for an allosaur name Alice and too many Sleestaks as neighbors. The great conflagration that swallowed dad conveniently brought in Uncle Jack, who was a congenial fellow, but nowhere near as cool as Dad was. (Dad had a certain intensity and daring in the face of necessity that made you really admire him.) Chaka now spoke English pretty well and lost his family. The show even got a few more creatures, such as a fire-breathing dimetridon. All in all, the third season was meh.

After filming enough episodes to go syndicated, Land of the Lost move to the weekdays and the magically profitable land of weekday repeats. Nothing as cool replaced it on Saturday morning.

Land of the Lost did not air without competition. There was also the animated show, The Land that Time Forgot, or something like that, about a hidden valley with dinosaurs and cave men. Again, people got lost and wound up there. That show wasn't nearly as good or as compelling, but if you wanted a dino fix, it did fill the niche.

Sid & Marti Croft tried to revive Land of the Lost in the 90's with a passable show. It wasn't nearly as fun as the original, but not nearly as bad as critics panned it.

Will Ferrell bastardized the show into a Will Ferrell movie, and you can guess how well that worked out. Will Ferrell is a "comedian" who produces "comedies." Personally, I think that he sleeps with all the financiers. Gotta make all those little old ladies happy, right? Make a bad movie, then walk away with the profits. (That's a reference to The Producers, folks.)