The latest from the Hollywood Messes With Another Childhood Memory Department: the Land of the Lost remake is officially underway, with Will Ferrell in the lead role of Will Marshall. In this new version, the Will and Holly rounding out the Marshall, Will and Holly triumvirate will be adult companions of Will Marshall, and not his children. Way to blow the initial conceit, Hollywood. Yeesh.
As a kid, Land of the Lost was one of those shows I adored. What’s that you say? The dinosaur was clearly a puppet? The waterfall was Tidy Bowl blue? The Sleestaks had seams at the necks? The acting was Shatneresque? None of it mattered; we accepted it all without question, and my brother and I tuned in dutifully every Saturday morning, that magical day of the week when television was just for us. We shuddered when the Marshalls tiptoed up to the Sleestak temple (or, better yet, battled Sleestaks in a pit filled with dry-ice-fog), scratched our heads at the Three Stooges-type antics of Chaka and his Pakuni brothers, and cheered when Will and Holly finally figured out how to get Dopey the Brontosaurus to tow a cart. And we couldn’t wait for that moment in every episode when the Marshalls would ram the “flyswatter” — a gigantic shaved tree trunk — down the throat of Grumpy, a raging T. Rex, knowing full well that he would be back next week for the same abuse. Brain the size of a walnut, indeed.
In the afternoons, my friend John and I would play Land of the Lost in his enormous sandbox (I always insisted on being Will), and the neighborhood kids would debate the question of why the Marshalls didn’t simply look for the waterfall and climb back to the top.
Still, while Land of the Lost was great, there was always something somewhat creepy about it. With its lost cities, shimmering pylons (where there was a foggy doorway leading back to our world, if you could juuuust figure out how to make the crystals work), and vaguely threatening music, there was always this sort of sinister undercurrent running through the whole thing, as if something dangerous were about to happen at any moment.
I had the opportunity to watch the first few episodes of the first season on DVD a while back, and, to my surprise, not only does the show still hold up (for what it is), but that same sense of creepiness is there — only now I understand what they were up to a bit better than I did at seven years old. With science fiction writers like David Gerrold, Ben Bova, Larry Niven, and Ted Sturgeon contributing scripts, the show had a surprisingly sophisticated mythology (remember Enik’s backstory?) and a weird internal logic. Basically, the Land was an alternate, closed universe that doubled back on itself — in other words, keep walking in one direction long enough, and you’ll end up back where you started. Truly bizarre.
Land of the Lost lasted only three seasons (from 1974 to 1976). Every kid on my block watched every episode with a religious-like devotion, though we all grudgingly agreed the show jumped the shark with the departure of Rick Marshall at the end of season two (we never saw him go) and the introduction of lame-o Uncle Jack for season three.