It’s always hard to know what’s going through the heads of filmmakers, but I think that maybe the folks behind this big-screen mounting of the 1970s Saturday-morning series believe they’ve made a cheeky homage to the cheapie Sid and Marty Krofft science-fiction kiddie mind-bender. I suspect this because they keep throwing in lines of dialogue cribbed from the old show’s theme song, and because some of the visual effects look consciously crappy, and because they’ve dressed Anna Friel, a grown woman, in the same clothes—and apparently the same size clothes—that the little girl who shared her character’s name wore way back when.
Or else Land of the Lost is merely a cynical attempt to mine some cash from one of the few remnants of Generation X’s collective childhood that had yet to be picked over for the sake of nostalgia.
Here’s the thing: Whatever the intent here, Kevin Smith offered up a far more loving—and also far snarkier—homage to the real Land of the Lost when he dubbed a character in his 2001 film Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back “Marshal Willenholly.” If that’s not funny to you, there’s probably no point in explaining it, but I will anyway. In the mid-1970s, park ranger Rick Marshall and his children, pre-teen Holly and teen Will, got caught in a catchy theme song that started out “Marshall, Will and Holly / On a routine expedition ...”
And part of the reason that theme song was so catchy was the show that it was attached to. It followed the little family as they were marooned in some sort of parallel universe after they wormholed to an alternate past populated by dinosaurs, yes, but also by intelligent reptiles called Sleestaks and weird little monkey people, one of whom became their pal Chaka. Yeah, as was true of all the freaky Krofft kid-fare of the 1970s (Lidsville, Sigmund & the Sea Monsters), the effects were less than special, but what made the show so unforgettable were the truly sciencefictional concepts it played with; wormholes and alternate universes were only the beginning. This was a show aimed at little kids that was smart and aggressively weird, and it didn’t talk down to its audience.
Screenwriters Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas and director Brad Silberling seem not to understand any of that here. They don’t get the appeal of the original Land of the Lost, or else they just don’t care. Weird is out; crude sexual innuendo and toilet humor are in. It’s ironic, I suppose, that this pointless, humorless remake is so relentlessly juvenile, yet also gleefully earns its PG-13 rating. The extended joke about dinosaur urine is simply dumb, but poor Friel constantly getting felt up by the new Chaka (Jorma Taccone) is just plain disturbing.
Friel is Holly, here an adult and no relation to renegade scientist and “quantum paleontologist” Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell, who coincidentally also played Smith’s Marshal Willenholly). She’s just a fan of his, and of his theories about tachyons and bending time and the possibilities of traveling to parallel dimensions. In trying out his “tachyon amplifier,” Rick and Holly, along with random boob Will (Danny McBride), end up journeying sideways through dimensions to a realm of cheap-looking Sleestaks and horny subhumans. The clever joke of everything from dinosaurs to 1950s roadside motels to a classic saucer-shaped UFO to the Golden Gate Bridge also having gotten pulled into this parallel place (the bridge from, presumably, some point in the future, since no one has reported it missing) is nothing but slender backdrop to Rick getting harassed by a T-rex that he insulted, and a complication involving a Sleestak scientist that is simultaneously tacked-on, simplistic and unnecessarily convoluted.
It all plays more like a mean-spirited parody of the original show than anything affectionate, and it all feels rather like an extended advertisement for the Land of the Lost ride that will inevitably show up at Universal Studios theme parks. With just the slightest application of ingenuity, this could have been a send-up as eerie as its source was. The F/X may have been cheap back in the 1970s, but the filmmakers here settled for another kind of cheap that is not so easy to overlook.
LAND OF THE LOST
Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel