Pylons and Sleestaks and Dinos . . . Oh my!

If you are in roughly the same age bracket as me (mid-forty-ish), "Land of the Lost" was probably part of your Saturday mornings as a kid. This 30-minute show hit the airwaves when I was about 9. This is the age when cartoons start to become a yawn, and in the early 70's, Saturday morning "kidvid" started an awkward transition into more live action shows. To throw out a few titles, "Run, Joe, Run", "Westwind", "Shazam!", "Isis", "H.R. Pufnstuf", "Lidsville", "Sigmund & the Sea Monsters", and "Land of the Lost". Production values on these shows generally ranged from 'bites hard' to 'total suckage.'

Those last four titles I mentioned were all produced by brothers Sid and Marty Krofft and were probably the best of a bad bunch. And "Land of the Lost" was the baddest of the bad. And by "bad", I mean what passes for "good" in this context.

I caught a few of the old episodes of "Land" on cable several years ago. And brother, they have not worn well. The nostalgia center of my brain wants to remember this show as a shining achievement rising high above the rest of the Saturday morning schlock. But face it, fellow forty-somethings, the dialog sucked,the special effects sucked, and the acting sucked (or was at best intentionally very campy).

But I mean all that in the best possible way. Producing a show like "Land of the Lost" for Saturday morning in 1974 was an exercise in insanity. The state of the art of special effects at the time was nowhere near capable of creating believable live-action footage of actors interacting with dinosaurs, especially on a per-episode budget that probably wouldn't cover the cost of lunch on the set of a prime-time drama of the day.

But they did it anyway. The Kroffts attempted what they had to know was impossible, and that is often the Genesis of genius.

While the producers may have skimped on acting talent and been hamstrung on special effects, they deserve credit for laying out the dough for quality writers. "Star Trek" and science fiction fans will know some or all of these names: David Gerrold, Margaret Armen, Larry Niven, Ben Bova, D.C. Fontana, Norman Spinrad and Theodore Sturgeon. And even if the acting and production fell short of potential, there were smart science fiction concepts in play and a well-developed and consistent "universe," although writing and continuity slipped noticeably in the last season.

Well, people, get ready for a not-so-routine expedition. "Land of the Lost" is back. Or it will be this June at a theater near you. Depending on what you want this movie to be, the fact that Will Ferrell is in the starring role is either very good news or very bad news. I would describe Ferrell as highly talented, but his appeal to me personally is uneven at best. The "More Cowbell" skit on Saturday Night Live? Genius. "Kicking and Screaming" and "Blades of Glory"? Not so much.

If you wanted "Land of the Lost" re-done in serious mode with state of the art CG special effects and script treatment worthy of Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clark, this assuredly won't be it. I suggest you try getting your dino fix by renting "Jurrasic Park" again.

Based only on the trailer on the official site, it appears to me Ferrell may be hitting the right notes on this one. There's a Marshall, there's a Will, and there's a Holly (although they aren't father, son, and daughter this time around). There are dinosaurs and Sleestaks. There's a "greatest earthquake ever known." There are three moons and monkey people. We can see giant walnuts, giant mosquitos, and it appears the characters kill a giant crab in self defense and eat it with a squeeze of juice from a giant lemon. Concepts from the original show such as the Lost City and the Sleestak Council of Skulls seem to be present as well. The cast listing for the new movie at imdb.com lists a Chaka, an Enik and no less than 26 Sleestaks. Possible references to specific episodes of the original show are suggested by the viking ship visible in the trailer, and characters in the cast that include two "Tar Pit kids" and an "Astronaut."

Don't see any pylons, skylons or light crystals yet, though. Hmmm. . .

"Must see" movies are few and far between for me these days, but 2009 promises at least two of them so far: the re-boot of "Star Trek", and "Land of the Lost".

(NOTE: click the picture at the top of the post and you will be taken to the full size image file. This is the downloadable wallpaper image from the official site modified to fit wide screen laptop-style screens - 1440x900 pixel size. Right-click it and enjoy.)

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