Want Shameful Fun? Get 'Lost'
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
I was initially dreading the thought of "Land of the Lost" when I heard that Will Ferrell was signed to star in a big-screen version of the time-bending action-fantasy series. I don't have any memory of Sid and Marty Krofft's Saturday morning "Land of the Lost," which aired in the '70s -- I can only recall plenty of green-screen effects and lots of underripe acting -- so my dread wasn't the clenched-fist fury of the fan worried about the faithfulness or feel of the big-screen adaptation. It was instead the shrugged-shouldered numbness of the apathetic. Really? "Land of the Lost?" Really? Every image, every trailer following that news didn't help, and only seemed to suggest that "Land of the Lost" would be a bloated, slick hollow hump of nothing. The interesting thing, though, when you actually see "Land of the Lost," is that it knows all of that, and essentially functions as a high-cost, high-gloss parody of itself. And once you get into that spirit -- and you can get into it pretty quick, thanks to Ferrell's and the film's early-and-often approach to the jokes -- there are laughs in "Land of the Lost," and they aren't unwelcome.
Part of me feels shame -- deep, burning and painful -- for saying that out loud, but it's true. The fact that "Land of the Lost" makes no pretense that you should take it seriously is incredibly liberating, and you can just sit in the air conditioning of the theater and feel your IQ drop along with the temperature.
Ferrell is Dr. Rick Marshall, a quantum paleontologist -- whatever that means -- who's obsessed with his theory of warp-holes to parallel dimensions. Anna Friel is Holly, a Cambridge-educated scientist obsessed with Dr. Marshall's theories and, to a certain extent, Dr. Marshall. And Danny McBride is Will, the roughneck redneck owner of the scary-carnival cave that happens to be over a portal between worlds. These are not characters; they're barely cartoons. But when they're suddenly plunged into an extra-dimensional primitive land of wonder and terror, they ... make completely random jokes about the Latin Grammys or the American musical theater or Auto-Tune or how you can't trust anyone who wears a tunic.
Ferrell's mythic moronic-brash-buffoon shtick should be getting old by now -- Dr. Marshall is, like Ricky Bobby or Rod Burgundy, so stupid he doesn't even recognize how stupid he is -- and yet Dr. Marshall has a little bit of innocence and competence to him, a touch of Buddy the Elf, that makes him a lot easier to take than other Ferrell characters: "I'm gonna miss this place that proves I'm right," he notes at one point, and the mix of wistfulness and arrogance is pure comedy. Friel handles exposition and cutoffs with equal skill, and McBride gets a few rich riffs of bizarreness in between Ferrell's long manic solos of crazy.
Director Brad Silberling ("Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events," "Moonlight Mile") knows how to use all the big-budget stuff on sale here -- a CG T-Rex, lizard-men in creepy costumes, an extra-dimensional zone of strangeness where three moons rise over flotsam and jetsam from throughout the time stream. Our heroes have to try to get home, and along the way they will make new friends and enemies, like Chaka (Jorma Taccone), a local hominid with opposable thumbs and wandering hands; Grumpy, a T-Rex who takes Dr. Marshall's line about "a brain the size of a walnut" personally; and Enik (John Boylan), an Altrusian lizard-man who is not very altruistic.
The real credit for the film, though, goes to screenwriters Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, ex-"Saturday Night Live" scribes who seem to have written a movie version of the sort of sketch they would have written satirizing another movie for their old TV job, full of self-referential awareness, non sequiturs, nonsensical moments and, yes, laughter. "Land of the Lost" the TV show had a few great writers, a few distinct images and a few moments best recalled in the past tense and not analyzed in the present moment; the big-screen adaptation takes all of that with no goal other than going, shamelessly, for laughs, and the only thing that forgives it is how we, shamelessly, wind up laughing.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.