The Boob Tube #3: Land of the Lost
With the approaching Will Ferrell film adaptation on the horizon in June 2009, I think it's best we clear a few things up regarding the original Land of the Lost.
1) First, LOTL was the greatest television show intended for young audiences in history. This is not an arguable point - it is a scientific certainty that should be considered the fourth law of thermodynamics.
2) The caliber of writing was nothing short of genius. Of course, with writers such as Larry Niven, Ben Bova, Theodore Sturgeon and D.C. Fontana, how could you go wrong? The stories often exhibited a complexity way beyond what one would expect from Saturday morning fare. Plus, the actors played the story straight with utter seriousness - it may seem campy today, but, like old episodes of Dr. Who and Star Trek, such is the fate of any science fiction show which pushes the envelope of imagination.
3) The acting was superb. Spencer Milligan played Rick Marshall with astounding sincerity and believability. Wesley Eure brought energy and intensity to the show, and Kathy Coleman was so unbelievably likeable. Hell, I even thought Chaka (played by the youngest black belt in history, Philip Paley) was great. [Things went to hell on the third season: Milligan left and the stories got weak. This gush of LOTL love here refers only to the first two seasons]
4) The show had a dark underside. Every once and a while the show unexpectedly exhibited a moment of terror or brooding horror. Whether it was the Sleestak silently creeping through the darkened caverns, the Library of Skulls (an amazing example of the show's creativity and imagination!), the eerie Mist Marsh, or the mysterious Zarn - LOTL was often downright chilling!
5) Like any good work of science fiction/fantasy, LOTL had a rich mythology. The Sleestak were the descendants of the Altrusians whose civilization fell approximately 1,000 years earlier. The mechanics of the Pylons (the interdimensional elevators) and their strange light crystals were gradually understood by the Marshall family - but the overall history and composition of the land was never fully realized. What was the function of the giant pulsating crystal floating in the center of a void encountered in one episode? Audiences were begging to know. Sadly, the show never lasted long enough to clear up all the unanswered questions.
To give those unfamiliar with LOTL a taste of its greatness, let's take a look at a random episode, "Elsewhen", written by famed Star Trek alum D. C. Fontana.
Season 1, Episode 15: "Elsewhen" (1974)
The episode begins with Rick, Will and Holly exploring the ancient subterranean city of the Sleestak. Already, young audiences of the 70s are tense and nervous - those predatory Sleestak had a habit of popping out of nowhere like Michael Myers. Will Marshall says it's odd that the place seems eerily quiet, but his father assures him the nocturnal Sleestak are simply out hunting.
The Marshalls make their way to Enik's cave (Enik was an integral character in a prior episode) to once again rearrange some light crystals. The combination of crystals results in various outcomes (for example, the combination of red and yellow crystals create explosions). The crystals are obviously the Marshall's ticket out of the LOTL, and also a constant source of frustration and confusion. This time the Marshal clan is optimistic...
Dammit! All it manages to do is create a misty doorway to nowhere. Will and Holly get frustrated and fight, only to be lectured sternly by dad. Holly loses patience and decides to wander alone in the maze of deadly Sleestak caves.
Holly unexpectedly stumbles upon a new cavern with interesting architecture that resembles the pylons. The Marshalls decide to abandon the crystals to investigate. Before long they are travelling down a dark stairway deep beneath the The Lost City.
They discover a hole in a cave wall that appears to descend into the abyss. Will throws a rock down into it, but they never hear it hit the ground. Naturally, Rick will attempt to go down into it, and Holly becomes frustrated once again at being excluded. She travels back to Enik's cave and encounters a buxom woman who's emerged from the misty doorway Rick created earlier.
The mysterious blonde gives Holly some motherly advice and reveals that she has a scar on her arm acquired while helping her brother out of a "difficult situation". She also tells Holly to (1) beware of a Sleestak on the lower level and (2) get over her fear of heights. Then she presents Holly with 3 necklaces which possess special powers before abruptly vanishing into the mist.
Before long, Holly's back with her family and volunteers to go bravely down the bottomless hole herself. Considering neither Rick or Will will fit, they agree to let her. Holly doles out the necklaces to her dad and brother then makes the treacherous descent attached to a rope.
Oh, shit! Dad and Will are attacked by Sleestaks and Holly is sent plummeting into the abyss! As the Sleestaks haul away their human prey, we find that Holly is hanging alone in the dark, terrified at the end of the rope.
Things aren't looking much better for Rick and Will. Not only are they about to be sacrificed by the Sleestak to some god at the bottom of a pit, but it begins to dawn on them that Holly may die a miserable slow death hanging alone by a rope in total darkness.
This is when things start to get real complicated. Holly hears the voice of the blonde hottie from the mist urging her to be strong and "look at the earth". She then finds herself face to face with a mind blowing image of an inverted LOTL. Wikipedia explains: "This bizarre vision is never explained within the show, but may be related to the closed nature of the universe that the Land is in; just as the river loops back to its origin, the pit may descend so far that it comes out in the sky overhead." Whatever the reason, it certainly tripped me out as a kid (and perhaps more so as an adult).
Needless to say, Holly emerges from the chasm to find her father and brother about to be slaughtered in the name of a Sleestak god. She decides to rescue them by throwing a couple crystals. Dad begs her to stop, in the name of all that's holy, but it's too friggin' late.
Holly's crystals manage to incapacitate the Sleestak, but knocks Rick and Will down the sacrificial pit in the process. Way to go! In attempt to undo the damage she's wreaked, Holly follows her family down to the bottom of the pit via a rope. Amazingly, Rick repays her kindness by rescuing himself first (WTF?), leaving Will and Holly to find a way out of the hell hole themselves.
Holly manages to get Will (who was injured by the fall) hoisted up to safety, but must tango with the Sleestak god mano y mano. After a violent off-screen battle, we find that Holly has incurred a wound remarkably like the one on the arm of the blonde from the mist! Thus Holly realizes that the mysterious woman is actually a future version of herself!
In the final scene, Holly pays one last visit to her future self. “Cherish your father and brother, Holly,” she tells Holly in Enik's cave. “They won’t always be there....Give them all your love and understanding while they are.” The message strikes a chord with Holly, and it will make her strong and give her hope for the future. What a profound message!
Keep in mind all these intense and complex events took place in a 30 minute slot on Saturday mornings in between Cocoa Puffs and Stretch Armstrong commercials. A remarkable achievement indeed - one that I can only hope is translated faithfully to the big screen. The temptation to belittle the show or poke fun at the often cheesy special effects will be there, but if Will Ferrell and crew are real fans of LOTL, they won't forget the things that made the show great. The fact that the writer for the film is Adam McKay, the guy behind the awful film adaptation of Bewitched, leaves me a bit skeptical. We shall see...