It's not as if the public was clamoring for a remake of Land of the Lost. Young and old generally remain ignorant of the short-lived Saturday morning television program from the mid-'70s with campy dialogue and Z-grade special effects. As for the forty-somethings that actually remember it from their childhood, they typically regard it with nostalgia or embarrassment (if not both). I caught a few episodes during a recent TV marathon—to call Land of the Lost cheesy is an insult to cheese.
Yet who would have guessed that a big-screen adaptation could sink even lower? Sure, Hollywood has screwed up TV shows before, but you'd think a modernized Land of the Lost with better production values would play as well as the 2008 remake of Journey to the Center of the Earth. Instead, the filmmakers have aimed for the lowest common denominator with a movie too juvenile for adults and too crude for kids. If you hated the show before, chances are you'll hate this even more. If you loved it, prepare to find your precious childhood memories drenched (literally) in dinosaur pee.
Tone is the first big problem here. The filmmakers can't decide whether or not they're paying homage to the original or mocking it; that blend worked rather well for The Brady Bunch movies of the '90s, but not so much this time. Beyond sharing the same names, the characters in this movie have little in common with those of the series. Instead of a wholesome park ranger and his two children who accidentally find a bizarre lost world, we have three unrelated (and unlikeable) adults—two vulgar nitwits and a generic female in tight shorts for ogling.
The show's familiar elements are present at least. Creatures such as the ape-like Pakuni and the reptilian Sleestak, in all their fake-looking costumed glory, as well as the dinosaurs, vastly improved CGI creations reminiscent of Jurassic Park which trump the show's claymation and B-grade puppetry. There's even a brief appearance of the original's corny, banjo-driven theme song.
Unlike the deadpan seriousness of the TV program, the movie rarely takes itself seriously, playing it all for silliness. That would be perfectly acceptable if it were even remotely funny. Ironically, the old show took itself seriously and yielded unintentional laughs, while the new movie tries to be funny and fails miserably.
Maybe this isn't surprising since it's a Will Ferrell vehicle. For every Anchorman and Elf in his spotty track record, there's a Bewitched and Semi-Pro lurking nearby. Here he plays Dr. Rick Marshall as a whiny and arrogant buffoon whose theories about time travel and alternate universes are widely ridiculed and discredited, especially after an embarrassing tiff with Matt Lauer on The Today Show. (Since this is one of the rare instances where the humor works, the filmmakers knowingly deliver it twice.)
Turns out Rick is not a complete idiot, or so says pretty grad student Holly (Anna Friel of TV's Pushing Daisies), who urges him to give his time travel device another try. Their field test leads them to a backwoods cave raft ride, guided by sleazy souvenir salesman Will (Danny McBride of Tropic Thunder). Before you know it, the three are transported through a portal to a strange new world accurately described as "a cosmic lost and found." Past, present, and future intriguingly collide in a jungle-and-desert wasteland littered with Viking ships, flying saucers, and restaurant signs. For an attempt at plot, the trio loses the time travel device upon arrival. Befriended by a half-evolved monkey man named Chaka (Jorma Taccone of Saturday Night Live), our heroes are pursued by a vindictive Tyrannosaurus Rex dubbed Grumpy, the Sleestak lizard people, and other monstrosities in their quest to find a way home.
All of this might have added up to the same sort of weird whimsy that made Ghostbusters and Galaxy Quest successes, but those were smartly made comedy blockbusters. This script is an overindulgent mess, reveling too much in its own goofiness to bother with details like clever writing and comedic timing.
Instead, director Brad Silberling and his writers are perfectly content with letting Ferrell and McBride riff off each other in response to everything with quips that are too stupid one minute and too clever the next—further evidence of the film's struggle to find a tone. The plot itself is like a series of exploits that all involve Rick making a bad decision, then paying for his mistake. Will asks him, "Do you ever get tired of being wrong?" Rick responds, "I do, I really do!" You will be too—tired, that is—before the movie is over.
Case in point: Rick tells his friends that they need to mask their human scent from the dinosaurs, so he produces a bag of dinosaur urine from his backpack. This sparks an awkward discussion of how he procured said urine the night before while everyone else was sleeping. It goes on for a couple minutes, stalling the inevitable. Rick finally proceeds to pour said bag of urine over himself, and then complains about the smell and acidity. He then goes further by drinking the urine. After that, he deduces he should pour more on himself … and so on. Are you laughing yet?
Scenes like this prevent us from ever believing Rick can ever figure out how to get them home, much less get them there in the first place. Furthermore, the gags are stretched out too often, trying hard to elicit laughs from lazy writing and gross-out jokes. There's a funny scene involving a very hungry mosquito that goes on for at least a minute too long. You'll quickly grow weary of Rick constantly reminding Chaka, "I am your master!"—a line played for laughs numerous times. Or how about the recurring gag involving the time machine's tendency to play tunes from A Chorus Line? It's never funny to begin with, and becomes less so after the fourth or fifth instance when Ferrell finally delivers a choreographed dance scene.
And don't get me started about the lengthy bit involving Rick, Will, and Chaka getting high on some narcotic fruit juice. The nonsense starts with the threesome frolicking in a pool and degrades into stoner dialogue involving sexual dares. It also includes one of the most sacrilegious comments I've ever heard in a movie: "Dude, the love I feel for you right now is a million times more than the love Jesus felt for all mankind on the cross."
The sad punchline to all of this is that Sid and Marty Krofft—the original show's producers and the same guys responsible for other classic children's shows like H.R. Pufnstuf—are also responsible for producing this remake. They should be ashamed of themselves for trying to peddle this lazy and mostly unfunny piece of garbage as family entertainment. I'm all for a good slapstick comedy/parody/remake, with emphasis on the word "good." But some things are best left lost and forgotten, if not completely ignored altogether.
Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- Rick's theories about time travel and alternate universes are widely ridiculed, but he's ultimately proven right. Is Rick unwavering in his beliefs? Who or what restores his faith in his scientific breakthrough? How do Rick's ups and downs resemble a Christian's faith and spiritual walk?
- What about Holly? Is her faith in Rick's skills unfounded or is she ultimately proven right? Is her support completely based on romance, or is there something more to her support? How does her trust in Rick resemble a Christian's faith?
- Do you consider Rick Marshall a brilliant scientist? Why or why not?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Land of the Lost is rated PG-13 for language, drug references, and crude sexual content. The pervasive profanity includes misuse of God's name and the f-bomb, with dialogue that frequently relies on sexual references both explicit and implied (including masturbation and a suggested "three-way"). There's also a ceramic mug graphically depicting a woman's bare breasts, a scene involving intercourse between two Sleestak (lizard people) occurring off-screen, and several instances when Holly is groped by other characters. The movie includes plenty of gags focused on excrement and three of the heroes engage in crude and foolish behavior after ingesting a narcotic. Additionally, there's some (mostly bloodless) violence involved, including a man dismembered off-screen (his severed arm is shown) and a dinosaur that explodes into meaty chunks. Last but not least, there's a terribly sacrilegious line that should offend any Christians that take their faith seriously. Suffice it to say, the film is grossly inappropriate for children and anyone in search of good family entertainment.
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