Monday, June 01, 2009

Land of the Lost

During the 1960s and 1970s, Hanna-Barbera ruled Saturday morning with limited-animation cartoons. In the late-60s and early 70s they had some competition from a couple of puppeteers named Sid and Marty Kroft. The Krofts produced several live-action shows that made a splash. The Krofts' first several shows were light-weight entertainment aimed at kids. In 1974 they did a serious show called Land of the Lost.

As originally promoted (and as implied in the theme song), a family was on rafting trip when an earthquake dropped them into a valley where dinosaurs still existed. What was actually produced was a science-fiction cult classic.

From the first few lines of the first episode it was established that the Marshall family was no longer on Earth. The world that they ended up in had dinosaurs but it also had ape-men called Pakuni and lizard-men called Sleestak.

Several of the best known science fiction writers were involved with the show as well as some Star Trek alumni. The story editor was David Gerrold, best known for the Trouble With Tribbles episode of Star Trek. Trek's story editor, D. C Fontaina contributed a script as did Walter Koenig.

As revealed over the first season, the Land of the Lost was a tiny pocket universe created by a lizard-like race called the Altrusians. This universe contained glowing crystals with special properties according to their color. If several crystals were combined into a matrix then they could control aspects of time and space. A number of pylons containing these matrixes maintained the Land of the Lost, controlling things such as the  weather and the movement of the sun and moons.

At some point the Altrusian race fell and devolved into the Sleestak. One of the Altrusians named Enik was stranded in his people's future and was trying to return to his own time to warn his people. Enik was a frequent ally but his degenerate descendants, the Sleestak were mainly interested in sacrificing the Marshals to their god.

A few times the closed nature of the pocket universe was demonstrated. The Marshalls tried to escape by following a river only to end up back where they came from. On a high cliff the Marshalls used binoculars to look at the next cliff only to see their own backs.

A young pakuni named Cha-ka was a regular. A consistent language was created for the pakuni.

All of this was at odds with the production values. Saturday morning shows were produced on a shoe-string budget. The Krofts typically spent most of their budget up-front on sets and costumes. Even that didn't go far. The show only had three sleestak costumes and three pakuni. In order to show a jungle-universe on a budget, many sets were constructed in miniature with the live-action cast added through chromakey. This was never very convincing.

The dinosaurs were animated through stop-motion supplimented by puppets. The models used were poor, even by 1970s standards.

While science fiction was part of the show, the episodes centered on the relationship of the Marshall family and their efforts to return home.

The show's cult status comes from this mix of ambitious science fiction and shoe-string budget. Watching it requires a major suspension of disbelief, much like the 1960s Dark Shadows.

The first season ended with a clever twist. Rather than leave the Marshals stranded in case the show was cancelled or precluding the possibility of other seasons, the last episode of the first season managed to do both. Enik managed to create a time doorway but it was stuck on the Marshall family plunging down a waterfall (as shown in the opening credits). The Marshalls couldn't leave the Land of the Lost until three people entered and the earlier version falling down the waterfall couldn't enter until three people left. The solution was for the two sets of Marshalls to exchange places. The current version went home and the earlier version came to the Land of the Lost, bringing the series in a full circle.

Presumably the second season was events that happened to the Marshalls before they left but had not been shown earlier.

For the third season the show changed studios and everything changed. Spencer Milligan who played the father, Rick Marshall, left the show and was replaced by his "brother", Uncle Jack Marshall. The family moved from the cave they had been living in to an abandoned Sleestak city.

The quality of the scripts declined. Many of the rules established in the first two seasons were dropped. The show was cancelled after this season.

A new version of Land of the Lost was created in the 1990s. It had a revised setting and improved production values but the scripts were uninspired.

A theatrical version will be released this week. The previews make it look like nothing more than a framework for Will Farrell jokes.

1 comment:

Enik1138 said...

I'm disappointed that the Land of the Lost movie is going to be a comedy. I'd much prefer to see a mature take on the Land of the Lost concept. I love the old TV show for it's sci-fi underpinnings and melodrama, not the goofiness that occasionally crept in.

If you're interested in Land of the Lost, you might want to visit my fan site with coverage of both versions of the TV series and the latest news on the upcoming movie.