Land of the Lost – Movie Review

(Originally posted on Republibot.com on 6-7-09)

I am disappointed and heart-broken. I know that general consensus has been that this remake was a bad idea as constituted, but – if you follow me on Twitter (www.twitter.com/jobfaust) then you know that I am a dedicated and overly apologetic fan of Will Ferrell. I admit it – the guy makes me laugh. And he makes me laugh spasmodically. The relative quality of his films can easily be challenged, but the fundamental fact remains that, as it relates to me, almost all of his films have had 3 to 4 gut wrenching laughs that make up for all of the rest of movie’s failings.

I saw Semi-Pro with a group of my co-workers for a team building event one Friday afternoon and they thought I was going to die of asphyxiation (but with a lot less shame, effort and hidden darkness of soul than David Carradine did) during the scene in which the Basketball Alley Oop was first invented. In all of Ferrell’s movies I have always found moments of pure hilarity that gave me a reason to be grudgingly defensive of his filmic contributions to our culture. That is, until Land of the Lost.

I really did have high hopes for this movie. The trailers had a sense of potential promise, and there were some decent laughs in them. The effects looked sharp and the revised premise didn’t seem too far out of the ordinary for a Big Screen remake of a 70s or 80s TV show. The director, Brad Silberling, has flirted with A List respectability for years and even though he has demonstrated solid commercial instincts repeatedly he has yet to really hit one out of the park. This should have been it, but it just can’t get past its deep desire to be two completely different things under one stretched and shed bipedal hissing lizard skin.

For those of you just tuning in Land of the Lost is based on a Saturday morning kids’ show that ran from 1974 to 1976 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_of_the_Lost_(1974_TV_series)). The original show, produced by the super duo of Sid and Marty Kroft, was a smart and weird take on the efforts of a father and his son and daughter as they try to survive and escape an alternate universe comprised of lizard aliens, pre-human caveman like creatures and dinosaurs. It was briefly revised in the early 90’s with new characters and updated effects.

The new version seems to be built on the model used in the Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson remake of Starsky and Hutch – a dead-on remake plot wise and stylistically, but as an all out comedy with tongue firmly in cheek as it riffs on the original show endlessly. The main problem with this approach, especially with regard to Land of the Lost, is that the original show was a very tight and small production – probably for budgetary reasons. And Will Ferrell’s approach to humor is very broad and is based around pulling as many ancillary characters as possible into his web of weirdness – which isn’t as possible with the extremely limited cast of Land of the Lost.

Basically, this is a five actor show with Ferrell as Rick Marshall, Danny McBride as Will, Anna Friel as Holly, Jorma Taccone as Cha-Ka and John Boylan as Enik, and the latter two of those performers are in heavy make-up and only one of them is featured heavily but does not speak English.

Anyway, I feel like I am starting to belabor the point here and drag this review out longer than it necessarily deserves.

Getting to the point, half of the movie is a great and wonderful recreation with big budget effects of the world hinted at in the original TV series – weird, dangerous, wondrous and scary. The other half is a low budget Will Ferrell skit that has only been partially figured out – I can see the reasoning behind changing Will and Holly from Rick’s children to a comic foil and a love interest, but that doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

Danny McBride as Will – the white trashy road side attraction curator – is totally wasted, mainly because he is an edgier and less charismatic version of Will Ferrell. I am pretty sure everyone thought it would be a great idea to team up these two comedians, but they are too similar as personalities and are unable to generate much chemistry as a result. There is nothing for them to play off of each other since either actor could switch places with the other and not impact the casting greatly.

Anna Friel as Holly – the Grad student who is the lone believer in Rick Marshall’s theories – is appropriately attractive, however, she just doesn’t sell her dedication to Marshall at all, and is mostly used for exposition and motivation, rather than as integral part of the “team”. And additionally, she also has no real chemistry with Ferrell since she just is way out of his league.

John Boylan as Enik – the short and golden Sleestak, or Altrusian – is passable being buried under heavy make-up and having only two real scenes.

The real show stealer, though, was Jorma Taccone – of the Lonely Island – as Cha-Ka. His performance is the only one that fit into both movies that were going on here: the faithful adaptation and the goofy Will Ferrell vehicle.

Will Ferrell himself, as Rick Marshall, was just Will Ferrell, which again in most any situation I would take but in this particular one just wasn’t enough to appeal to my repressed and hidden fragment of frat boy buried deep in my soul.

I would say that if you were a fan of the original series that you would be heavily disappointed in this – there are enough things done right to make the overall failure of complete vision that much more frustrating, and if you are a fan of Will Ferrell there are moments where you think it is going to start to pay off, but then it gets sidetracked with trying to move the plot forward rather than a multiplicity of characters driving everything which is more the norm in his movies.

I am both of the above, so, I am completely heartbroken at how close this came and how far it missed on both accounts.

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