Review - Latest Big-Screen TV Adaptation a 'Lost' Cause

If Land of the Lost doesn’t deliver last rites to the TV series adaptation genre, it won't be for lack of effort.

Universal’s $100 million treatment of Sid & Marty Krofft’s mid-70s Saturday morning show is a big silly mess of a movie that meanders its way through its 106 minutes, losing any traces of fun along the way. It is less an exercise in nostalgia than it is a showcase for the improvisational skills of Will Ferrell and co-star Danny McBride.

Ferrell stars as self-absorbed quantum paleontologist Dr. Rick Marshall, who has banked his entire professional reputation on his alternate universe theories. After a disastrous appearance on the TODAY show makes him a walking punch line in the scientific community, Marshall goes into his version of exile: Teaching elementary school science.

Then a Cambridge-educated lab assistant named Holly (Pushing Daisies star Anna Friel) finds him and proclaims she’s found proof his theories are sound. Marshall snaps himself out of his food-induced coma (he binge eats when he’s depressed, which is often) and digs out his greatest invention, the tachyon amplifier. It’s the device he believes will direct him to the dimensional portal.

The two head out to the Devil’s Canyon and after meeting fireworks salesman Will Stanton (Danny McBride), the three find the portal inside a Tunnel of Love ride and wind up in the World Where Time Stands Still.

Everything from a Viking ship to a Bob’s Big Boy litters the desert landscape where people, places and things from our world drop in.

As they try to find the lost tachyon amplifier -– their ticket back home – director Brad Silberling quickly runs through his checklist of references to the original show. From the cave on the side of the mountain to Chaka and Grumpy the Dinosaur, the nods to the original show’s fans are plentiful, and quickly tiresome.

The one exception is the clever campfire scene where Ferrell breaks out into the famous theme song, unaware a weird blood-sucking bug has attached itself to his back.

The Sleestak of course, show up, in brand new, zipper-free costumes but with the same lack of quickness.

Ferrell tones down his trademark pompous-ass persona here. Dr. Marshall hews closer to Buddy in Elf than Ron Burgundy. Friel is game but is basically relegated to the short-shorts girl role, while McBride once again proves quick with the uncomfortably funny quips.

The give-and-take between Ferrell and McBride offers up the occasional inspired moments, especially whenever Will points out how inaccurate Marshall’s dinosaur research turns out to be.

The two actors seem to be winging it throughout the movie. It’s either the height of arrogance to think even two gifted comedic actors such as these two can carry a picture without script support, or simply an act borne of desperation on behalf of the filmmakers. Either way, it makes you wonder how bad the script was that the actors felt the need to deviate so much.

It doesn’t help the film’s identity crisis, either.

There’s one sequence where the two share a mind-altering drink with Chaka (SNL writer and ‘Lonely Island’ member Jorma Taccone) while taking a dip in a desert pool, which leads to hallucinations and hints of a particularly disturbing threesome. Not the sort of thing you’d expect to find in a movie based on a kids TV show.

You say it's PG-13? Fine. So then why is much of the rest of the picture clearly targeting a much younger audience? The scene where Grumpy is chasing Marshall as he serpentines his way across the dunes won’t scare anyone old enough to go potty on their own.

And just like last year’s big TV-to-Movie remake Get Smart, Land of the Lost fails to find the tricky action-comedy middle ground.

The action isn’t good enough to thrill us, and the humor is too broad to not pull us right out of the moment.

No one is expecting much plausibility or plot coherence in a movie starring Will Ferrell based on a camp classic. However, you want a reason to care even a little bit about the characters – any reason - and while you laugh along with them at times, Marshall, Will, and Holly are as developed as the characters in one of Ferrell’s old SNL sketches.

Even worse, the film seems to be ridiculing its source material. Not to say there aren’t reasons to poke fun of Land of the Lost – the low-budget goofiness is part of its nostalgic charm – but it’s certainly not the basis for an entire movie.

Self-parody has worked in the past for TV show adaptations, with The Brady Bunch Movie being the best example by a mile. Intentional camp however, is a different matter, and in this case especially, it’s not entertaining.

This also may be the most egregious waste of GE shareholder dollars since NBC greenlit Kings and its $4 million per-episode price tag. Dropping a nine-figure budget on a film that’s essentially a send-up is not only egregiously poor money management, it's pointless. Who cares if the CGI T-Rex is impressive if the rest of the set pieces look chintzy?

Studios don’t appear to know how – or care to -- remake these properties in a way that puts a fresh spin on the subject matter. The only options seem to be to bastardize them to the point where they are unrecognizable...or to spoof them.

“Look, HAHA, we’re poking fun of that funny scene from Season 3, episode six. How self-referential!”

Sadly, even if Land of the Lost meets its deserved fate at the box office, this particular well still may not have dried up. While there aren’t very many ‘classic’ shows – and I use that term cautiously, given the varying nature of that term in regards to TV shows – left to adapt, that’s not stopping producers from giving it the old college try.

A Sigmund and the Sea Monsters film is reportedly in the works. I suppose “Danger Island: The Movie” won’t be far behind either. Can’t wait.

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