The new big budget film adaptation of the 1970s cult TV series Land of the Lost starring Will Ferrell has been rated PG-13 for “crude and sexual content” and for “language including a drug reference.” The mind boggles! After all, the original children’s television show was so squeaky clean it made Little House on the Prairie look sleazy in comparison . . .

Okay, that’s not entirely true. If there is one thing that actually made some parents think twice about letting their little ‘uns watch Land of the Lost it was the Sleestaks, a threatening race of reptile humanoids. Sure, all adults saw were some stuntmen dressed in very fake-looking pantomime-like costumes, but small children are easily impressionable and don’t need state-of-the-art special effects to scare them witless. Thus the Sleestak can almost single-handedly claim having inspired an entire generation’s childhood nightmares! (They are probably the most memorable thing about the show as well – the one thing that everyone who watched it as kids can vividly recall!)

To recap: originally broadcast between 1974 to 1976 on the NBC television network in America, Land of the Lost was a children’s television series produced by the legendary Sid and Marty Krofft. (It is not to be confused with a 1991 remake of the show which was also titled Land of the Lost.)

The plot involved ranger Rick Marshall and his family (his son Will and younger daughter Holly) who, during a standard white river rafting “expedition”, fell through a dimensional portal to find themselves trapped in an alternate universe inhabited by dinosaurs, primates and of course the aggressive Sleestak. The 43 episodes of the series (all of them available on DVD) mostly concern their efforts trying to find their way back home or exploring the exotic new world in which they have been unwillingly dumped.

"Writers such as Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova, and Norman Spinrad actually contributed scripts!"

Incidentally, dimensional portals are very handy things to have lying around all over the place. After all they also allow dinosaurs from the past to find their way into our present in the current British TV series Primeval. As a plot device mysterious lands in which dinosaurs still roam has been a staple of the genre ever since Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World - originally published way back in 1912! – right up to Spielberg’s Jurassic Park sequel of the same name and arguably even J.J. Abrams’ Lost. (Arthur Conan Doyle is of course best-known for having created Sherlock Holmes.)

Considering the somewhat simplistic plots – it was after all a twenty-minute show aimed at small children – it is surprising how many well-respected science fiction writers such as Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova, and Norman Spinrad actually contributed scripts to the series. After all some episodes seem to consist entirely of the cast being chased around through a jungle set by a cheap-looking stop-motion dinosaur!

Back to the squeaky-clean Marshall family. The ‘Seventies may have been an era of societal change in the States (see Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm), but very little of this is reflected in the interpersonal dynamics of the Marshall family. Rick Marshall (played by Spencer Milligan in the first two seasons) is the kindly and competent dad who knows “stuff” that is handy to know when trapped in a jungle wilderness inhabited by man-eating dinosaurs. (He is a ranger after all.) Stern, yet never scolding, he patiently explains everything to his kids without ever losing his cool. It is a sign of the times that in the Hollywood remake he is to be played by Will Ferrell as a “has-been” scientist with “few skills” and “questionable smarts to survive in an alternate universe full of marauding dinosaurs” as the film’s production notes puts it.

The rest of the main cast is Will Marshall (Wesley Eure who at 23 looked too old to be playing a teenager boy) and the blonde pig-tailed Holly Marshall (Kathy Coleman). Will’s shtick seemed to consist entirely of the “gee Holly, I don’t think we should be doing that” variety whereas the spunky Holly always got them into trouble. But this sort of life-threatening behavior never really got dad Rick hot under the collar or anything. Like the Hardy Boys books there is no over-concerned killjoy mother figure around to get in the way of all the weekly adventures.

In the new movie Holly and Will aren’t related to Will Ferrell’s character. Holly (Anna Friel) is instead Ferrell’s “crack-smart research assistant” while Will (Danny McBride) is “a redneck survivalist.” Surely a sign of the times - or a reflection of how much the material has been retooled as an ironic-minded Will Ferrell comedy vehicle that is no longer aimed at small children unlike, let’s say, last year’s Brendan Fraser vehicle Journey to the Center of the Earth.

The 1970s may have been a decade marked by societal turmoil, the oil crisis and terrorist violence, but the sun always shone on TV as the song goes. Today we have pretty much the same problems but alas it would seem that even in our entertainment the wide-eyed innocence of the Land of the Lost has also been, well, lost . . .



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