The 1970s was chock full of children’s programming on Saturdays, despite (or because of) the lack of specialty cable channels. The three major American broadcasters – ABC, CBS, and NBC – competed for the eyes of the youth. Sid & Marty Krofft produced a number of live action TV series for the networks, many of which were more cartoony than an animated series. Among their work was Land of the Lost, created by David Gerrold, writer of the classic Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”. The series told the story of a father and his two children who went canoing and wound up in a different land.
The opening theme served as much of an explanation as anyone would get. Our heroes, Rick Marshall and his kids, Will and Holly, were plunged into a land where dinosaurs roamed, primitive human-like creatures were discovering tools, and reptile-men lurked. Marshall used his survival skills to find food, create shelter, and domesticate young dinosaurs*. Meanwhile, a fearsome** Tyrannosaur hunted, waiting to grab any creature who couldn’t outrun it. Unusual for its time, the series ended with an episode that would work as a finale of sorts, a time loop that brought the characters back to the beginning of the season just in time for reruns.
Although the series was short run, it left an impact on many people***, in part because of the sense of exploration and danger that the series created. The land was an alien world, with beings that weren’t just humans with funny foreheads. The Sleestak were a credible threat and weren’t defeated by their own incompetance. The writers included several science fiction authors, such as Larry Niven, Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad, and Theodore Sturgeon.
In the 2000s****, studios were exploiting the market for remakes of old TV shows, popular or not. Land of the Lost was remade as a feature film. Several liberties were taken. Marshall, played by Will Ferrell, became a paleontologist instead of a park ranger. Will and Holly were no longer related to Marshall or to each other, and both were aged up. The tone went from family adventure to broad, loud “adult” comedy. While the original TV series did have comedic moments, the focus was light adventure, with enough fright to keep the intended audience watching without sending it running under a couch.
The movie did not fare well with audiences or critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported only 26% of reviewers gave favourable reviews. The box office returns didn’t cover the budget of the movie. The movie received seven Golden Raspberry nominations. What happened?
The big problem was that Land of the Lost was used as a Will Ferrell comedy vehicle, with all other considerations coming a distant second. Fans of the original series would be disappointed with how the original material was treated. The care taken in the original series into creating a larger world than seen on screen was not evident in the movie. Things existed solely for comedic purposes. In terms of previous columns, there was no respect for the original material.
The Land of the Lost movie could have been different. It could have followed a family dropped into a strange world and having to survive against numerous threats. Instead, the movie was a brash comedy aimed at a completely different audience than the original series was. The potential was wasted.
Next week, side-tracking a little.
* Herbivores only.
** Supposed to be fearsome, though the special effects budget was already strained.
*** References to Land of the Lost have even appeared in Peter David’s Star Trek tie-in novels, including a character Marshall Willenholly.
**** Also not know as the Oughts and the Naughties.