Land of the Lost (review)

Couldn’t It Have Stayed Lost?

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 FX 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 that shared her character’s name wore way back when.

Or else Land of the Lost: The Movie is merely a cynical attempt to mine some cash from one of the few remnants of Generation X’s collective childhood that has 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 more snarky — homage to the real Land of the Lost when he dubbed a character in his 2001 film Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back “Marshall Willenholly.” If that’s not funny to you, there’s probably no point in explaining it, but I will anyway: in the 1970s park ranger Rick Marshall and his children, preteen Holly and teen Will, got caught in a catchy theme song that started out like this: “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, about the little family marooned in some sort of parallel universe after they wormholed to an alternate past populated by dinosaurs and intelligent reptiles called Sleestak and weird little monkey people, one of which became their pal — his name was Chaka. Yeah, the FX were less than special, but what made the show so unforgettable were the truly science-fictional 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 didn’t talk down to its audience.

Screenwriters Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas and director Brad Silberling (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Moonlight Mile) seem not to understand any of that here — they don’t get what the appeal of the original Land of the Lost was, or else they just don’t care. Weird is out: crude sexual innuendo and toilet humor is it. 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 Anna Friel (Pushing Daisies, The War Bride) 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 [Step Brothers, Semi-Pro]… who coincidentally also played Smith’s Marshall 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: Tropic Thunder, Pineapple Express), 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 harrassed 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 sendup as eerie as its source was. The FX 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.

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