Land of the Lost Review
By Karen Dahlstrom
For those too young to remember the days when Sid and Marty Krofft shows ruled Saturday morning television, the big-budget adaptation of "Land of the Lost" is simply another goofy Will Ferrell comedy. Viewers who grew up with the show will find a disappointingly lackluster, big-budget homage to the low-budget, campy 70s TV classic.
The original show centered around Marshall, Will and Holly — a family on an unexplained "routine expedition", sucked into a lost world of dinosaurs, strange ape-men and lizard creatures. Shot on a shoestring budget on a tiny soundstage, the show used stop-motion animation, puppets, forced perspective, rubber suits and composited backgrounds to create the fantasy world. Like most Krofft productions, it was a little creepy, a little sweet and a lot of mindless, campy fun.
In this big-budget remake, Will Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a self-proclaimed "quantum paleontologist" who believes that time warps will solve the world's energy problems. Denounced as a crackpot by Steven Hawking and mocked by Matt Lauer in a disastrous "Today Show" interview, Marshall is a laughing stock. Consigned to a basement lab at the La Brea Tar Pits, Marshall has been forgotten and discarded by the scientific community. That is, except for a plucky grad student from Cambridge, Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), who believes Marshall's work to be visionary.
Holly encourages Marshall to finish his work — a device he calls a "tachyon amplifier" that can harness tachyon energy (or something). Cobbled together out of spare parts, the amplifier's main feature appears to be an old iPod with the "A Chorus Line" cast album still on the drive. To test it, the scientists journey to a spot in the desert known to have a high tachyon reading: a cheap roadside attraction/illegal fireworks stand, run by a smarmy redneck named Will Stanton (Danny McBride).
As proprietor and tour guide for the Devil's Canyon Mystery Cave, Will takes Marshall and Holly deep into the cave to test the amplifier. The device does its job all too well, inciting "the greatest earthquake ever known" and sending the trio through a time warp into a strange world of barren deserts and thick jungles, where creatures and objects from other dimensions and eras have fallen in through similar rifts in space and time. Before they can return home, Marshall, Will and Holly have to find the amplifier, contend with a T-Rex obsessed with Marshall and thwart an army of lizard men bent on ruling the universe.
In creating a big-budget adaptation of a low-budget show, much of the charm of the original is lost. As professed fans of the show, director Brad Silberling and writers Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas claim that they wanted to be true to the original, but come up woefully short. The use of practical sets is a nod to the humble production values of the show, but they look so expensive and realistic that the reference is completely lost. A CGI version of "Grumpy" the T-Rex and other very expensive effects also seem to run in contrast to the DIY spirit of the show. The only concession seems to be the design of the Sleestaks, who are once again played by actors in rubber suits — though heavily upgraded rubber suits (the back zipper is no longer visible). Also an upgrade: Leonard Nimoy provides the voice of The Zarn.
Though "Land of the Lost" uses the original show as a skeleton, the meat of the film is basic summer comedy schlock. Just as the forbidding desert landscape of this strange world is dotted with detritus from other times, the jokes seem like leftovers from failed sitcoms and bad comedy sketches. Instead of attempting to make a clever homage to a beloved children's show, the filmmakers sully our childhood memories with gross bathroom humor, drug references, and Sleestak sex. And if the idea Sleestaks getting it on isn't enough to make you wince, there's even a Polish joke.
Ferrell is no stranger to adolescent humor and both he and McBride have the ability to elevate the ridiculous almost to an art form. Unfortunately, both actors prove as lazy as the jokes in "Land of the Lost". Except for a few fleeting moments of improvised brilliance, Ferrell and McBride are basically playing watered-down versions of their stock characters. As Marshall, Ferrell's mania and self-importance never reaches the sublimely random silliness of a Ron Burgundy. McBride's requisite failed dirtbag character is less funny when (marginally) cleaned up for the kids. Both are simply going through the motions.
In her action movie debut, Anna Friel gets short shrift as Holly. A spunky, talented actress ("Pushing Daisies", "Me Without You"), Friel is merely relegated to the role of the love interest. While her dotty, Manchester-born scientist is a far cry from the Chiclet-toothed, blonde tween in the tv show, Friel is asked to do little more than wear corduroy short-shorts and gaze adoringly at Marshall. Her presence is overshadowed by Cha-Ka, the annoying ape-like Paku who joins the trio. Played by Lonely Island/SNL writer Jorma Taccone, Cha-Ka is the thorn in Marshall's side and Will's future drinking buddy. Taccone is perhaps the only person in the film who attempted to be faithful to the show, as his Cha-Ka is as creepy and annoying as the one in the original.
After "Land of the Lost", two more Krofft adaptations will be making their way to the big screen ("Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" and "H.R. Pufnstuff"). Hopefully the Kroffts will leave their work in the hands of filmmakers with a bit more whimsy and imagination (Michel Gondry, perhaps? Please?) to do justice to the trippy, eccentric vision that made their shows classics. Whatever made "Land" worth remembering when we were kids, is now pretty much lost.