Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I am a complete, un-ironic, unapologetic fan of the original Land of the Lost. I love it the way I love the original Star Trek - fully aware of the camp, the iffy production values and occasional clunky episode, but savoring the amazing inventiveness, utter sincerity and pulpy excess of it all. With a trippy premise created by original Trek writer David Gerrold, some surprisingly dark scripts from notable sci-fi writers of the day (including Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova, Norman Spinrad and Dorothy "D.C." Fontana) and sweetly hammy performances by Spencer Milligan, Ron Harper, Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman, Land of the Lost was truly great pop trash, like a Jack Kirby comic come to life.
People who sneer that the effects of Land of the Lost look "fake" are totally missing the point - these are rubber dinosaurs, painstakingly animated on tabletop sets with painted mountain backdrops. With a set-up like that you're not getting reality, you're getting 24 handcrafted works of art per second. The effects makeup by future Star Trek makeup artist Michael Westmore was crude but effective. All the seams, zippers and obvious papier-mâché just serve to remind you that people made this thing, doing the very best they could with what they had. That's one of the great things about Land of the Lost; they didn't have the money or the technology to really do the crazy, cosmic things their writers dreamed up, but somehow, they found a way.
So, you can probably guess what I think about the upcoming Will Ferrell comedy based on the show. The trailers make me hiss and recoil like a Sleestak with a torch waved in his face.
I would think Hollywood would have figured this out by now: when a movie is based on a TV series, it's essential that the film reflects and honors what was best about the show. The Star Trek movies took the original series and expanded it to epic scale and it worked. The Bewitched movie, by contrast, was a confused, unwatchable mess made by people who somehow failed to understand that the reason audiences would go to a multiplex to see a Bewitched movie would be because they want to see a movie based on Bewitched, not some weird, smirky thing about a real witch starring in a movie based on Bewitched. When filmmakers look down on the property they're adapting, when they think they have to "make it fresh" and "introduce it to a whole new generation" with fart jokes and bad CGI, they usually end up with something that mocks the original, pisses off fans and fails to bring in a new audience. (After all, if kids didn't grow up with a show, why would they go to the movies to see a parody of it?)
Perhaps you're saying, "Hey, Monsters and Rockets, it's silly to bitch and moan about the Land of the Lost movie before it even comes out!" Well, you're very wrong. What are you, stupid or something? The Land of the Lost movie is the kind of turd-pile that you can smell three counties away. The film is a straight up, sneering mockery of the original, that's its entire reason for being. Rick Marshall becomes yet another one of Ferrell's self-satisfied, idiot man-children. Will and Holly aren't his kids; Will is a sleazy con artist who works in a gas station and Holly is Rick's British(?!) assistant. There are penis jokes. We will inevitably be treated to scenes of dino poop. And I don't even want to think of the "fun" they'll have with the Pakuni tribe.
If you grew up loving the original Land of the Lost, be sure to down a couple of Vicodin before you watch the following trailer for the movie, to numb the pain. Actually, you should probably take a few Dramamines too, to help control the inevitable nausea.
If you made it through that clip with your sanity intact, here's a SCI FI Wire interview with the movie's cast to push you over the edge. Anna Friel quite rightly wonders why she was cast as Holly ("I was a little bit concerned (...) First, A, I'm not American. B, I'm not 14. And C, I've not got blond hair. And I thought all the avid sci-fi fans are going to be like, 'What?'") and actually seems proud of herself for coming up with the line "googly-eyed wankers" to describe the Sleestak. Ferrell sounds a little defensive, insisting that the show both parodies and honors the original: "We just sort of opened up the comedy a little more (...) I'm sure there'll be some people who are like, 'Oh, what are they doing?' But you've got to consider that you have, like I said, a whole group of people that will be watching this for the first time without any knowledge that this was based on a prior story. So I think hopefully we kind of did both."
I will be covering the film in the weeks leading up to its release, partly because it is big news in geekland and partly because some masochistic part of me simply can't look away. But I warn you now that you can't expect unbiased reporting where this thing is concerned. The Land of the Lost movie isn't just raping my childhood, it's raping and murdering my childhood, burying my childhood in the backyard and then spitting on my childhood's grave. The more I learn about the film, the more I want to step inside a pylon, twiddle some crystals and journey to some dimension where this movie doesn't exist. I don't even care if that dimension has dinosaurs. Being eaten by a T-rex would be better than having to watch Ferrell make the talk shows rounds to pimp this abomination.
Look, I know how petty it sounds to rant about a bad movie based on a TV show I loved growing up. But for some of us, coming home to watch Land of the Lost reruns was the highlight of some unhappy childhood days. The show offered us an escape, but it also made us think. Like the best children's stories, it challenged us and didn't sugarcoat anything. In the Land of the Lost, parents die. Friends betray you. You have to fight survive, as you struggle to understand the ever-shifting reality around you. Land of the Lost is a low-budget, epic fantasy with both (rubber) feet planted firmly in our world.
(If you've never seen the original, click on the photo above to purchase the complete series on DVD. Take the money you would spend seeing the movie, and put it into something not evil. You'll be glad you did.)
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