Children's television of the 1970s was a vastly different landscape compared to today. This is especially true when you factor in the shows shepherded by Sid and Marty Krofft. To this day I do not believe anyone has brought anything like it to the scene. Think about it, has anyone reached the heights of Sigmund and the Sea Monster, The Bugaloos, and H.R. Pufnstuf? I think not.
Then there is Land of the Lost, a series that certainly had some odd moments, but as children's science fiction effectively acted as a gateway drug to more science fiction, and actually did a lot with its very limited budget. Now, some three decades later, the show has become the latest to get the "re-imagining" treatment on the big screen.
To quickly describe my reaction to the movie, all I need to say is that I came home afterward and promptly watched some of the old episodes on Hulu to help wash the bad taste away. Factor in that my opinion on the film has deteriorated between then and now. That can't be good.
I am not a big fan of the show, having not been alive when it originally aired. I have nothing against it, it just wasn't part of my childhood process. Still, only watching a couple of episodes it is easy to see some of the changes made during the re-imagining process, such as the introduction of the tachyon amplifier and another scientist for Dr. Rick Marshall to talk to, plus how they initially meet Chaka. None of these provide me with any serious cause for alarm as changes and "updates" are inevitable; besides, I don't want to see a straight copy, I want to see a different vision of the tale, so long as the original is respected. That did not happen here, not entirely.
The story is a simple one. Will Ferrell is Dr. Rick Marshall, a disgraced "quantum paleontologist" who now gives talks to grade school science classes. After a particularly bad presentation Marshall has a visitor in the person of Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), a grad student who has chosen to follow the path that he had pioneered. With her encouragement, he finishes his amplifier and they head off on a "routine expedition."
They travel to a desert cave amusement stop, where they meet with Will Stanton (Danny McBride), the white trash proprietor of said stop. Once inside the cave, the trio go on that journey through space and time, quickly arriving in the Land of the Lost!
In this land they meet monkey people, lizard people, grumpy dinosaurs, and drink narcotic tree fruits. Sure, that sounds like it would be fun, but considering how poorly it is written and presented, I am surprised I even made it to the finish. The 90-minute film has us watching the trio plus Chaka look for the amplifier so they can get home. Never mind all of the scientific aspects that should have interested them in addition to getting home. So long as the effects and comedy propel us to the next scene, who cares?
The concept behind Land of the Lost is a good one, and one I am positive could have bee made into a compelling film, if not a franchise. I think the problem began when Will Ferrell came on board. Rather than Ferrell adapting to the role, the role was re-written for his comedic sensibilities. That is one, if not the biggest, reason for the failure of this movie. Ferrell is the kind of comedian who needs to be reined in and focused. In this case he seems to free-form a lot of it and it comes off as Ferrell being Ferrell instead of Ferrell being Marshall. He's not funny, he's not clever, and he's really annoying.
The writing is also poor as the story is not much of a story. It is more like Dr. Rick Marshall wanting to get back at Matt Lauer for a bad interview. Land of the Lost is based on a concept that could (read: should) have been turned into a film more along the lines of Jurassic Park. This story lacks any substance, has no depth, and just moves along its set path, content to crack jokes instead of developing its characters or any larger ideas or implications of their discovery.
Another problem with the film is also the content. The film is PG-13, and I understand what that means, but this is the wrong way to go with this film. The series was Saturday morning fare for kids, and there are probably a lot of parents who grew up on this who would like to take their kids, but the content is not kid-friendly. The film is riddled with language, sexual innuendo, and drug content. I am not against this sort of thing, but in a film that is advertised for kids, it is less than acceptable.
Let us not forget the look of the film. It is not all that impressive. The effects seem to have been developed for a 3D presentation that was stopped halfway through. The effects are on a level similar to the Brendan Fraser vehicle, Journey to the Center of the Earth. In other words, they're moderately fun, but nowhere near good. I could not tell if they were going for a sort of realism, or playing it as an homage to the show. The tone changes in alternating sequences. I would have preferred a more even tone. As it is, the Sleestak are not all that scary, what with the rubbery looking costumes, and some of the sets seemed under-dressed.
Now, while there was very little to like or enjoy about this movie, and I do not recommend this to anyone, I did enjoy some of what Anna Friel and Danny McBride bring to the screen. Danny McBride has been popping up in a lot of films, and much like Bill Hader, is always trying to elevate his game. In this case, he has a few funny lines and does his best to inspire interest and is therefore worth keeping an eye on. As for Anna Friel, my eyes were opened to her with Pushing Daisies (RIP), and at first it was odd hearing her speak with her natural accent, but she provides a captivating presence as she plays her role completely straight, thus delivering the best performance of the film.
Bottom line. This is not a good movie. Ferrell is full-on annoying, the story fails to deliver anything of interest, and I was glad when it was over. The tone is wrong, the content goes in the wrong direction, and the original show is disrespected (what were they thinking with Chaka?). Better luck next time.