Why? That’s the question that kept reverberating through my mind as I watched this big-budget feature based off of, let’s be brutally honest here, a pretty cheap Saturday morning TV show that hasn’t exactly aged all that well.
Don’t get me wrong, I spent some time as a kid watching Land of the Lost on Saturday mornings, and I have a warm spot in my heart for the Sleestak and the theme song. But I sure wasn’t demanding a feature based on the show, and this trainwreck of a film is exactly why.
In the original series, a family finds itself sucked through a portal into the land of the lost, a weird alternate world featuring dinosaurs, furry cavemen called Pakuni, and the villainous reptile men known as the Sleestak. In the new version, Will Ferrell, in the Hollywood tradition of Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist or Tara Reid as an archeologist, plays brilliant paleontologist Dr. Rick Marshall. I’ll give you a second to digest that. Take all the time you need.
Years after being discredited by Matt Lauer (who plays himself in the film), Dr. Marshall is tempted to use his invention (a time-warping machine that plays show tunes and you can strap to your chest) by an eager young scientist (Anna Friel). Along with a trailer park worker (Danny McBride) who “smells like feet and malt liquor,” the pair travel into the mystical world of the Land of the Lost.
As set-ups go, that’s not great. Things pick up a little as the voyagers explore the new world, but nothing feels as magical as it should, except perhaps the Sleestak who are painstakingly recreated in all their glory.
The movie has two problems. One, it can’t decide whether it wants to be a comedy or fantasy/action tale. The second is Ferrell himself who is let loose to do whatever he pleases on screen. Although this provides some funny moments and quite a few groans, there’s no real character at the heart of the stupidity. Rick Marshall the character never shows up in the film, it’s just Ferrell trying to save the script with as many antics as he can imagine.
I had pretty low expectations going into the movie, and they were met. I wanted some cool Sleestak action and the original theme song (Ferrell sings it by the campfire in one scene). Land of the Lost does give me these two things, but supplies little else. The dinosaur, Grumpy, is probably the best written character of the film and I thought the effect shots, while not spectacular, were competently done.
I didn’t hate the film as much as I felt apathetic to the entire enterprise. I laughed some, groaned some, and yawned more than once. Even through rose-colored nostalgic lenses it’s pretty hard to argue that Land of the Lost is anything but a disaster, but one that’s bad enough and stupid enough that it could easily find a home, and possibly even a cult following, on late night cable. Land of the Lost should have stayed on TV, in either the wee hours of morning or late at night. That’s where it truly belongs.