Land of the Lost

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday June 5, 2009

A ’Routine Expedition’ into an ill-advised remake: Danny McBride, Anna Friel, and Will Ferrell star
A ’Routine Expedition’ into an ill-advised remake: Danny McBride, Anna Friel, and Will Ferrell star  (Source:Relativity Media)

If I have grown up with a taste for odd entertainments that are both narratively complicated and conceptually outlandish, then I blame too many Saturday mornings watching The Land of the Lost on TV.

The show dealt with a family who have been transported to a pocket universe so tiny that, using a good pair of binoculars, the father,a park ranger named Rick Marshall (Spencer Milligan), can view his own backside.

Even better: the "Land of the Lost" is a realm in which a trio of moons light up the night sky, lizard-men called "Sleestak" (after a Civil War general) shamble around an ancient ruined city, dinosaurs roam the jungle, strawberries grow to gigantic size, pre-human hominids scamper about, and guests from different times... and planets... drop in, sometimes offering the family the possibility of escape, but more often sharing in their stranded misery, as with a crashed space alien or a time-traveling Sleestak who has come to view his species' distant, savage origins.

The show was full of strange twists and surprising developments: super-hi-tech "pylons" dotted the landscape, housing control panels of crystals that could transport a person to different dimensions. And Enik, that well-spoken Sleestak who beheld his ancient ancestors with such horror? Imagine his shock when he discovered that the race of mindless hissing monsters before him were, in fact, his descendants: he'd traveled into the far future, and now needed to get back to his own time in order to avert whatever catastrophe had befallen his people.

The show was nominated for an Emmy; more to the point, it captured young imaginations as it and spun out one surreal story after the next, and no wonder: its story editor was the gifted sci-fi writer David Gerrold, whose departure after season one (and that of Spence Milligan after season two) led to a decline, precipitous in season three, in quality (or so I judged it at age 12).

I'll be the first to admit that if I were to see the show now, I would probably be disappointed. But I also recognize that when I got a thrill watching the first season of "Lost," it's because I had vague hopes that J.J. Abrams had an adult version of that old kids' show in mind. What else could be thrashing through the jungle and roaring in the night but a dinosaur? And how else could you explain the sudden appearance of a polar bear on a tropical island? (Surely, I thought, an in-joke was at play in the fact that when the Abominable Snowman showed up on the "Land of the Lost," he was played by an actor named Jon Locke.)

I'm still not sure Abrams and his co-writers didn't take a page or two from the old Sid and Marty Croft TV show. But I am definite in feeling that the new movie based on the Saturday half-hour of high adventure in a lost world is an insult and, worse, a snore.

It's not that the movie re-imagines the show as a contemporary comedy; the star is Will Ferrell, after all, and Ferrell--who counts himself a fan of the original series--is in the laugh business. He probably even has a valid point if he thinks that the only way to bring such a show to the big screen is as a comedy.

To be sure, screenwriters Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas pay homage to many of the original show's ideas: the Land of the Lost is a "cosmic lost and found," a nexus where past, future, and various other dimensions intersect. The movie exploits its big screen format to present desert environments as well as jungle, and has fun with its carte blanche to draw from any epoch, showing a Viking boat resting on a sand dune... with a small plane crashed into its hull.

Indeed, all sorts of artifacts litter the landscape: classic cars, along with a drive-in movie theater, crop up; so does a motel, complete with neon and a swimming pool. An ice cream truck drops in, just in time to draw a crowd of carniverous customers. And is that a silvery UFO stuck edge-on into the sand in one shot? The very ship that the old series' space alien, The Zarn, was piloting, perhaps?

Enik (John Boylan) appears, as well; as in the show, he's the lone smart Sleestak amidst the dazed, aggressive mob that still hangs around the old city (giving the place the air of an overgrown shopping mall). With the help of physicist Marshall (Ferrell) and his sidekicks Will (Danny McBride) and Holly (Anna Friel), who have ended up stranded through a series of utterly bogus sci-fi justifications that somehow include a piece of sophisticated equipment given to broadcasting show tunes, Enik hopes to stop an evil nemesis from leading a Sleestak army into a battle of conquest against the universe at large.

Just so you know: in this version, Will and Holly are not brother and sister, as they are in the old TV show. So Will's disgusting fondling of Holly, which is done in the most sexist and loathsome manner possible, is at least a little less crude than it might have been.

That laddish, shameful, and so-wrong bit of groping is a low point, but sadly it's not that much lower than the rest of the film. The jokes are so horribly contrived and the dialogue so riddled with lame lines that the occasional intrusion of real wit is hard pressed to make an impact. (They are there, those almost-accidental moments of inspiration: a giant crab becomes dinner in a madcap accident; a throw-down between Marshall and NBC's Matt Lauer serves as a prologue to the film.)

Gross-out gags and glaring logic lapses plague the movie, none of which would matter if they were actually funny, but they're not. Soon, the film just becomes deeply, deeply irritating, and you hope that Grumpy the tyrannosaurus simply eats the three wayward explorers, and their native pal Chaka (Jorma Taccone), too.

Then something very much along those lines happens... and it's a letdown. Grrr!

This movie is a disappointment. Not that it matters: the old show will remain wreathed, in memory at least, in mystery: the new movie will simply disappear into some cosmic dustbin and be forgotten.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.