Not that we’d planned to see the new Land of the Lost movie, but wow, judging by the reviews and the box office, it sounds like Kelsey and I have been much better served having spent our time watching several of the original television episodes during the Sci-Fi channel’s marathons.
What I remembered about “Land of the Lost” from when I was a kid was mostly bits and pieces: The opening credits and the theme song. Sleestaks. (Which, it seems to be generally agreed upon by people of a certain age, were utterly terrifying, what with the hissing and the creepy slinking and the big shark-black eyes and all.) Pylons and crystals that looked like giant Lite Brite pegs. Dinosaurs. That’s about it – nothing about specific episodes or storylines or the tone of the show. (I had also never realized that Dad/Rick Marshall actually escaped the Land of the Lost in the third season opener to be conveniently replaced by Uncle Jack.)
Then, while doing some homework for the GeekDad Father’s Day Gift Guide, I learned about the impressive list of science-fiction writers who’d worked on the show – Larry Niven, Norman Spinrad, Ben Bova and Theodore Sturgeon, for instance – and I was intrigued enough to set the DVR to record something like eight or ten episodes. (There’s a good 2004 interview with writer David Gerrold about season one, when most of those writers contributed, in the TV Shows on DVD archives.)
Truthfully, I didn’t have high hopes for my return down that thousand-foot waterfall. A few years back, I thought it would be fun to check out the Hanna-Barbera “Godzilla” cartoon my friends and I loved to watch on Saturday mornings in the late 1970s. It sucked. And I don’t even remember being super-attached to “Land of the Lost” in the first place – it was just another one of those Sid & Marty Krofft shows.
So watching “Land of the Lost” for the first time in probably close to 30 years, with my skeptical 12-year-old daughter along for the ride, I’m more than pleasantly surprised to find that:
The opening theme is exactly as I’ve recalled, down to the timing of the Marshalls’ scream as they plunge over the falls, and the miniatures-and-bluescreen work are also just as cheesy as I remember too.
The Sleestaks are still creepy: My daughter says so, without any prompting, and I find this strangely comforting.
For all the laughable special effects and simplistic acting, there’s actually some decent storytelling crammed into these sub-30-minute episodes, and the show’s tone is completely unlike the almost-all-for-laughs atmosphere of every other Krofft production that comes to mind. Multiple time streams, dead alien races, mind trips, travelers stuck halfway between worlds, questions that go unanswered and mysteries left that way. And while there are sitcom-esque one-liners regularly stuck in the Marshalls’ banter, for the most part, everything’s played straight: This is a bizarre and deadly world these kids and their dad (and later, uncle) are stuck in.
Kelsey & I liked this a lot more than we were prepared to, and I’m sad that we missed out on seeing most of the first season episodes, but that’s what DVD sets are for, and the summer stretches out ahead of us like a watercolor matte painting of an abandoned Altrusian metropolis.