June 03, 2009

Land of the Lost

starhalf

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Land of the Lost

SCIENCE FICTION/COMEDY:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-06-05

Running Length:

1:33

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Cartoon Violence)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone, John Boylan

Director:

Brad Silberling

Screenplay:

Chris Henchy & Dennis McNicholas, based on the TV series by Sid & Marty Krofft

Cinematography:

Dion Beebe

Music:

Michael Giacchino

U.S. Distributor:

Universal Pictures

Subtitles:

none


What were they thinking? Not only does the concept of re-imagining a campy Saturday morning TV show as a Will Ferrell "family-friendly" big-budget movie sound bad, it is bad. A turd of T-Rex proportions, Land of the Lost makes one remember last summer's Speed Racer fondly. At least that movie was so over-the-top that it was trippy. This movie is dull, unfunny (every remotely amusing bit is in the theatrical trailer), and completely unsuitable for viewing by anyone who isn't a charter member of the Will Farrell fan club. It's as if someone gave Ferrell a rejected script for Jurassic Park IV and he decided to infuse it with "comedic" shtick that doesn't work and throw in a few nods to the '70s TV series. The result might be painful if it wasn't so sleep inducing. I have often said that if I ever walk out on a movie, it won't be something truly awful, but one that stagnates in the belly of mediocrity. I nearly walked out on Land of the Lost. A part of me wishes I had done so.

Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) is a "quantum paleontologist" who, despite widespread ridicule from mainstream scientists, pursues a machine that will allow him to manipulate tachyons and travel through time and into alternate dimensions. He has, however, all but given up on the research until the arrival of Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), a pretty physicist from England, spurs him to put the finishing touches on his machine. Then, with Holly in tow, he heads to a tachyon-rich cave to try out the invention. Accompanying them is tour guide Will Stanton (Danny McBride). The device works better than expected and Rick, Holly, and Will are transported to the "Land of the Lost," where dinosaurs roam, a race of lizardmen (the Sleestak) are being shaped into an army bound for multi-versal domination, and their lone ally is a half-human/half-primate named Chaka (Jorma Taccone).

Admittedly, I don't remember much about the TV series Land of the Lost, which aired in the mid-'70s. It was infamous for terrible special effects (rivaling those of Doctor Who) and screenplays by some fairly well-known science fiction authors (including David Gerrold and Larry Niven). The movie pays homage in numerous ways to its predecessor: there are the Sleestaks, the theme song is incorporated (at least in part), and the characters of Enik and The Zarn make appearances. Overall, however, one suspects that die-hard fans of the TV series will be horrified by the pastiche that has made its way to the screen.

It's difficult to discern the purpose of the movie. On the one hand, it has some of the earmarks of a typical dumb, raunchy "Will Ferrell" comedy, although the opportunities for laughter are surprisingly sparse. On the other hand, it's crammed with special effects, almost as if there was some fear that, without these, the film wouldn't stand up to a litmus test for summer spectacles. The result is that the CGI overshadows Ferrell's comedic aptitude but fails to generate enough in the way of an action/adventure element for there to be an effective payoff.

The plot doesn't make a lot of sense but, since this is a comedy, that's the way things are supposed to be, right? It's easy enough to forgive a disjointed story and line after line clogged with technobabble when the reward is consistent laughter. But calling the humor in Land of the Lost "tepid" may be overstating its effectiveness. The film reminded me of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Lost in Space - big-budget movies that lost the souls of their inspirations and died ignominious box office deaths. Both of those, it should be noted, were better than Land of the Lost. This is closer to Will Ferrell's other TV-to-motion picture abomination, Bewitched, in its utter failure to engage the audience.

There's something vaguely creepy about changes made to the characters. In the TV series, Holly and Will were Rick's kids. In the movie, all three of the principals are adults and none of them are related. This leaves open the possibility of a romance between Rick and Holly. While this won't bother anyone bringing a fresh set of eyes to the movie, I can see how the quasi-incestuous aspect of this relationship might disturb those who spent numerous Saturday mornings following the adventures of the Family Marshall. By the way, I liked Anna Friel as Holly but wasn't as keen on Danny McBride's white trash interpretation of Will. As for Jorma Taccone's Chaka, all I have to say is that the producers clearly wanted to challenge Jar Jar Binks as the Most Annoying Sidekick to appear in a science fiction-themed movie.

Land of the Lost is a mess and a bore and it offers less in the way of a nostalgic flashback than watching a black-and-white TV with rabbit ears. And, while few of the jokes are funny, some are unexpectedly racy for what is being sold as a "family film." It earns its PG-13 rating. There's plenty of profanity and more than one instance of sexual innuendo so obvious that even the most na´ve 8-year-old in the audience will "get it." (References include, but are not limited to, female arousal, male masturbation, and orgies.) Bad taste humor doesn't normally bother me, except in cases like this when it's not funny and when the studio ignores its presence in an attempt to seduce as many kids as possible into the theater. Those there to see the T-Rex probably aren't expecting to observe Will Ferrell stick his hands down his pants for a little self-gratification. (Although, to be fair, those who saw Old School are probably expecting just that.)

Land of the Lost usurps Angels & Demons' short-lived position as the worst major motion picture of 2009's summer season. My advice to Will Ferrell: avoid further remakes - this kind of retro experience makes me want to do what so many LSD abusers have done and forget the '70s. Land of the Lost is only worth watching if you have a desire to see how badly a cheesy TV show can be mangled.

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