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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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.

MPAA: rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine
  • I warned you. But no, you just thought it was just another harmless Will Ferrell movie.

    Well, it’s always the same…

  • bats :[

    What the hell is wrong with Will Ferrell (and a bunch of other “stars” — they sure aren’t actors, in my book)? Do they need the money that much to do half-baked things like this? I don’t know if he said this (I’m not ascribing it to him), but I get tired of these guys saying “I’m doing this for my kids, so they can see and appreciate my work.”, when the work is just plain lousy and a cash-cow for the studio.

  • PaulW

    One of the reasons why the Land of the Lost original series was so trippy? It had actual sci-fi writers working on the scripts: Larry Niven, DC Fontana (responsible for one of the more paradoxical episodes in the first season where Holly meets her future self), a handful of other Trek hands like Walter Koenig (!) and David Gerrold, Ben Bova, Theodore Sturgeon, etc. This movie was written by… two guys you never heard of. Where’s George RR Martin or Ursula Le Guin when you need them?

    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.

    Oh god. There’s a live-action move based on Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch coming, isn’t there??? NOOOOO…

  • FrankS

    Oh god. There’s a live-action move based on Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch coming, isn’t there??? NOOOOO…

    I think I gave up on Hollywood when I heard there was a Stretch Armstrong movie in production…

  • James T.

    Fondly remembering the original from my childhood and thinking the teasers looked funny, I had high hopes for Land of the Lost. I guess I should have known better when, in the teaser, Chaka does a breast grab. It’s sad and somewhat amazing that the only jokes Hollywood knows any more are crude sexual jokes.

  • mortadella

    Just imagine if Douglas Adams were still around and wrote the script. Or hell, the Red Dwarf writers…who ARE still around and would probably have enjoyed taking on a Hollywood gig.

    I’m starting to think screenwriters should have to pass some kind of test before they get to work on big studio projects. The test can ask questions like, “Do you think the word ‘pee-pee’ is funny?” If you answer “yes,” you loose points…and so on.

  • Barb

    Well I’ll stick with the original series. It may be bare bones but it’s still enjoyable. I wasn’t a big fan of the remake tv series either (I think from the early 90s that lasted two seasons).

    I just wish Hollywood would stop with the remakes (do we really need a Total Recall remake?) and make some original material for a change. Look at stuff like Bewitched, Get Smart, etc. It just makes you yearn for the originals.

  • Victor Plenty

    It just makes you yearn for the originals.

    You’ve probably hit upon the reason, right there, that Hollywood will never stop with the remakes. If a remake succeeds, they make money from a new hit movie, and maybe even a whole series of movies.

    If the remake fails, they still make money when disappointed moviegoers get home and order the DVD box sets of the old productions they now remember more keenly with fond nostalgia.

    Either way, Hollywood wins.

  • amanohyo

    That’s a great point Victor. I never realized that a lousy remake is a great marketing tool for the original DVDs and box sets, but you’re right, even when they fail at the box office, they still succeed in convincing people to buy more stuff they don’t need. Damn those crafty bastards… always two steps ahead!.

  • el flesh

    I don’t know why ppl hate on this movie. The urine joke was the most HILARIOUS part; and there were several funny parts (the Coelophysis running with a hat over its head was #2). Maybe because I’m a dinosaur hobbyist, but I LOVE this flick – it’s much better than the “serious” treatment they tried to give this concept with “SACD’s the Lost World”.
    It’s just like Sat morning: FUN nonsense! Realistic Documentaries are something else entirely!

    JP3 was far, far worse than this movie.

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