Land of the Lost
Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel, Jorma Taccone
(Universal; US theatrical: 5 Jun 2009 (General release); UK theatrical: 5 Jun 2009 (General release); 2009)
Listen up, Hollywood! There is only one way to handle the remake of a kitschy, campy, ‘60s/‘70s fever dream classic - and, no, we aren’t talking about the way you typically treat this kind of material. Remember Rocky and Bullwinkle (both versions???). Or how about Lost in Space? Does the Scooby-Doo debacle ring a bell? If you take things too seriously, you end up with ineffectual dramatics and mostly maudlin pap. Take it to comic extremes, and you run the risk of ruining the original source in the process. This is exactly what happened when you decided to turn Sid and Marty Krofft’s time traveling dinosaur adventure Land of the Lost into an inappropriate prop comedy nightmare. With or without the casting involved, taking a beloved piece of pop speculative fiction and turning it into a crude, rude gross out just wasn’t the right way to go.
For research scientist Dr. Will Marshall, life as a laughing stock has taken its toll. With everyone from Stephen Hawking to Today‘s Matt Lauer mocking his theories, he’s been reduced to a running joke among local grade school science classes. When a visiting Oxford gal named Holly Cantrell comes calling, she wants to know about the success Marshall has had with his hypothetical time travel device. Sadly, it’s very little. Inspired by her sudden interest in his work, our hero fashions his amazing machine, and the pair go to test it at a local “mystery” spot. There they meet proprietor Will Stanton, a crude man with an even more rudimentary grasp on reality. Suddenly, Marshall’s contraption causes a spike in prevailing “tachyons”, and soon the trio is sent hurtling down a raging rapids and through a waterfall-inspired vortex. Waking up, they find themselves in the proverbial Land of the Lost, a oddball universe filled with ape creatures, lizard men, and rampaging dinosaurs.
Take Step Brothers, remove all the sibling rivalry humor, insert plenty of pee and poops gags, set it all in a surreal backlot that’s half Dino-Lion Country Safari, half Salvador Dali product placement dreamscape, and then pump as much Will Ferrell and Danny McBride at the audience as possible. Call in the Kroffts, give the old coots a paycheck, and name the creation Land of the Lost (after the siblings’ seminal show). Then, sit back and watch as audiences…well, that’s the kicker, isn’t it. This remake/reboot/reimagining of the Saturday Morning stalwart about a family suddenly stuck in time and space is so uneven, so scattered in both approach and tone, that you don’t know whether to laugh or wince, shudder or simply stand up and walk out of the theater. If this is what $100 million buys today, then our country is really in a complete an d utter economic meltdown.
Part of the blame for this overripe frat house flop goes directly to director Brad Silberling. Responsible for past artistic underperformers like Casper, City of Angels, and the should have been Potter Lemony Snicket, the filmmaker feels that the best way to handle the Krofft’s cracked fantasy realm is to simply stick smarmy actors in the middle of a glorified greenscreen and let them riff until something salvageable can be created. When placed in the right realm, Ferrell and McBride can be electric. They can be and usually are funnier than numerous lame laugh-fest wannabes. But here, they do nothing but tread water - and they do so poorly. We except a certain level of irreverence from the duo. What we get instead is an attitude so mocking that it makes the whole experience pointless. If the people on screen aren’t taking things at least semi-seriously, why should we.
This is not to say that Ferrell and McBride are bad, or miscast. Indeed, they are only playing to their preplanned strengths and to an audience ready to lap up every bit of their anger-spawned spoofing. But like Mike Myers in The Love Guru, this is a film for confirmed fans only - and even that’s a stretch, quality wise. Anyone hoping to glimpse a bit of the old Land of the Lost magic will wince when the Sleestaks are transformed into Alien rip-offs, or when beloved Neanderthal Chaka turns out to be a hopeless horndog. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking a nostalgic favorite from several decades ago (right, The Brady Bunch Movie?). But this version pisses all over the original - literally. Indeed, there is a sequence dealing with dinosaur urine that has to go down in history as one of the most pointless bits of forced scatology ever.
But the biggest mistake that this Land of the Lost makes is the total disregard for the sci-fi setting created. Nothing is ever explained here - not even when plot point Enik shows up to send the narrative careening off into heroes and villain mode. Leonard Nimoy’s cameo is cast aside with complete disregard, and the ending is given over to cheap F/X and stunt work. Yet we’d buy all the bumbling and burlesque if we just understood the rules of this particular parallel space. Why the various derelict ships (including a couple of flying saucers)? Why the old school motel with convenient pool (ready for a pointless drug dream montage)? If the dinosaurs and Sleestaks don’t get along, how did they survive each other until now? And why does everything in this particular domain revolve around feces, phlegm, and numerous man/animal bodily fluids?
For those who like their satire glib, snide, and on the decidedly stupid side, Land of the Lost may satisfy. It defiantly builds up a big head of silly steam trying. But in the end, the lack of any real affection for the original series will ward off the Krofft faithful, and Ferrell’s fans haven’t actually been reliable when it comes to making his movie’s consistently successful (right, Semi-Pro and Stranger than Fiction?). Indeed, the only demographic assured of enjoying themselves are the same ADD-addled viewership that makes random hit or (mostly) miss shows like Family Guy a Fox favorite. In fact, if you didn’t see the other names listed among the credits, you’d swear Seth MacFarlane and his band of comedically challenged cronies were responsible for this hopeless hatchet job. As long as you enjoy the actors involved, Land of the Lost will mostly deliver. If you don’t, you’ll vanish into an entertainment void all your own.