movie review: land of the lost (vs star trek)


There’s been so much attention focused on Star Trek this summer, people have barely taken notice of the other popular sci-fi television franchise that has been rebooted into a big-budget feature film: Land of the Lost.  Despite the disparity in popularity, these shows sit pretty much right next to each other on the “memory lane” shelf for a lot of folks.  Anyone in their late thirties to early forties probably grew up watching both simultaneously, since Land of the Lost aired at around the same time that Star Trek was reaching its apex of initial popularity.*  It makes sense that sci-fi fans would enjoy both, since, while on the surface, the shows appear to be entirely different, they have a lot more in common than you might think…

At their best, Star Trek and Land of the Lost give you action/adventure, strange new worlds to explore, high concept science fiction and something to wrap your brain around.  Both series used many of the same writers and relied on visual effects to help tell their stories (ironically, both shows also had two great seasons and one so-so third year).

Most of you probably remember Land of the Lost as a low-budget kids’ show with really bad dinosaur effects.  Well, I recently re-watched the first two seasons on DVD and came away with a brand new opinion – wow.  First of all, I literally said “wow” every time I saw the writing credits – we’re talking A-list SF authors:  Ben Bova, DC Fontana, Donald Glut, Larry Niven, Norman Spinrad, Theodore Sturgeon and many more.  Do these names look familiar?  They should – these people essentially wrote the first season of classic Trek!  How did a “kids’ show” manage to pull that off?  Easy – David “Trouble With Tribbles” Gerrold was the series’ show runner & story editor, so he simply hired his pals.

Gerrold was also responsible for (more or less) creating the Land of the Lost  universe.  Sid & Marty Kroft provided the basic premise: a family goes over the falls and ends up in a strange, prehistoric world – but nearly everything else was Gerrold at work.  In an interview with The Pylon Express, he explains:

I created the idea that the Land of the Lostwas a separate dimension, I created the characters of Will, Holly, and Marshall, added the Lost City and the Sleestak to the LOTL, and essentially created the whole mythos. I hired the writers, decided which stories would be written, got them approved by NBC, and guided the writers as best I could. I also did whatever rewriting was necessary — which wasn’t much. I picked the best writers I could find.

Gerrold also explains how he almost had a script from Harlan Ellison:

He submitted two-thirds of a brilliant outline… It involved the discovery of a vast underground cavern.  The first act got us into the cavern. The second act gave us hints at the dangers below.  There was no third act… he refused to give me act three unless I bought the outline without it… Harlan typed, “I tie up everything neatly in the third act, trust me.”  He was joking, and it was a brilliant joke, and I was this close to putting my butt on the line and buying it and making him write it — but I couldn’t see myself fighting with the network vice president on an incomplete outline. To this day, I regret not going for it.

Also of note to Trek  fans is that the episode which introduced Enik, the ever popular “good but self-serving” Sleestak, was written by none other than Walter “Chekov” Koenig!

* Quick history lesson for the under-30s out there:  When Star Trek first aired on NBC in the late sixties, the groundbreaking series received only a lukewarm reception and barely made it to a third season; it was only years later in syndication that it slowly but surely found its audience and grew to mass popularity, peaking in the mid 70s – then Star Wars came out and anyone reading this blog should  the rest!



sleesmallWith so much talent behind the typewriters, it’s no wonder that Land of the Lost  featured some of the best science fiction television of all time.  That’s right, I said of all time.  Just last week I reacquainted myself with season two on DVD and was absolutely astounded at the level of imagination, intelligence and “sense of wonder” in this oft-maligned “kids’ show.”  I found myself wondering: what other television series have achieved this same level of sci-fi storytelling?  The original Trek, to be sure… but what else?  Next Generationand onward focused on character stories, so the episodes that truly delved deep into hard sci-fi were few and far between – and the ones that were really imaginative were even fewer.  Lost In Space was a joke, Space: 1999’s heart was in the right place but never quite got there and Battlestar Galactica simply wasn’t that kind of show.   Max Headroom is the only series I can think of in recent memory that was truly original and intellectually stimulating, but it’s debatable if it qualifies as science fiction.

For these reasons and more, I maintain that Land of the Lost is on par with Roddenberry-era Star Trek  for the best sci-fi storytelling ever to grace the small screen.  In addition, I’d wager twenty quatloos that every person out there raising their eyebrows at that statement hasn’t actually watched Land of the Lost recently.   I mean fer chrissakes, this is a show that took place in an alternate universe and regularly dealt with time loops, parallel dimensions, weather control, organic technology, robots, spaceships, gravity manipulation and mind control – not to mention the complex development of two alien species, one of which had a complete language created from scratch!

Yes, the stories were simplified so a young audience could understand them, but only just.  This is a show that did not talk down to kids and wasn’t afraid to challenge them intellectually or scare them to death (and I’m not just talking about dinosaurs and Sleestak – the episode I watched last night featured a menacing, stop-motion robot that relentlessly pursued our heroes with intent to kill (who wants to bet that James Cameron was a fan?).



Sleestakstoy-smallMany people refer to the series’  “cheesy special effects” but, as a professional visual effects artist, I hereby declare that the effects aren’t bad at all.   Sure, they are primitive by today’s standards, but the most important thing in FX work is consistent quality and the work’s ability to tell the story; on these levels, Land of the Lost exceeds.  Despite being a little choppy (remember this was low budget), the dinosaur stop motion is surprisingly nuanced and the creatures behave realistically.  And while the green screen work is obvious, it’s well thought out and does what it’s supposed to do – put the characters in an environment that would have been impossible to visit or too expensive to build.

Ultimately, I give Land of the Lost high marks for deciding to tell ambitious stories and refusing to back down because of budget – they just found a way.  How many episodes of Star Trek (in all its iterations) frustrated you by not “boldy going” anywhere or backing out of showing key story points (i.e. space battles over the intercom) in an attempt to save money?  More than I can count.  I’d rather skimp on eye candy if it means challenging my brain any day (think early Doctor Who).

So if Land of the Lost was as good – or better – than Star Trek, why has it not enjoyed a long history of TV series and movies?   Well, in a sense it has – the show did return in the 90s as a reboot, but whomever was in charge failed to grok what made the original work so it was short-lived (if they had brought back David Gerrold like Trek brought back Roddenberry to kick-start Next Gen, it might have succeeded).

And, of course, now we have a big budget Land of the Lost movie, just like Star Trek.  But which does a better job at capturing the flavor of the original?



LOTL-rick-enik-smallTo some extent, Land of the Lost made me feel more like I was watching the show I grew up on; Dinosaurs, Sleestak, Pakuni, Enik, extra-dimensional theories and quite a few moments from the series (even banjo music) make appearences in the film.  As we left the theater, Daren remarked “now this was a movie made by people who actually watched the show!”  Land of the Lost didn’t feel like it was purposely sacrificing everything in the name of action nor was it trying to reinvent the wheel just so the producers could call it their own.  On the other hand, because it was an action-comedy, the lighter tone prevented you from taking anything too seriously, nor did the film try very hard to invest you in the mythos.

It’s a shame, because had the studio taken the subject matter seriously, Land of the Lost could have easily become “the next big” franchise for the Harry Potter crowd.  Looking at the series, it has everything you need to create a complex, textured universe full of adventure, excitement and imagination gone wild – not to mention a legitimate excuse for dinosaurs!  Sadly, Universal decided to focus on the kitch value and a Will Ferrel vehicle, which pretty much doomed the possibility of an ongoing series (I don’t think anyone is excited about a Land of the Lost sequel (unless they hire David Gerrold and reboot the reboot)).

And that’s what ultimately gives the new Star Trek an edge – it leaves you wanting to see more.  For all it’s flaws, it ultimately focused on what made the original series beat Land of the Lost for longevity – the characters.   I’m not sure if it was because Gerrold wanted to focus on plot or if it was the dramatic limits of Saturday Morning or the limits of the actors, but I was never too emotionally invested in Marshall, Will and Holly.  Make no mistake, the characters matured and you did care if they lived or died, but they didn’t capture anyone’s hearts the way Kirk, Spock and McCoy did.   In fact, despite the debates over everything else, one thing pretty much everyone agrees on is they like the cast and the portrayal of the characters in the new Trek  movie.  Even if you hated the plot and the ham-fisted storytelling, you still want to see what these guys are going to do next.

If you want to see what the Marshalls are up to next, you’ll need to rewatch the DVDs of the original series again (but just the first two seasons).




————————- WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE? ————————-

 Here are two great fansites for Land of the Lost:

The Pylon Express

Land of the Lost


Premium Hollywood has in-depth looks at season one, two and three of the original series


Watch  THIS video interview with the cast of the new movie.  Trust me.


If anything proves that Land of the Lostendures, it’s how our most famous celebrities have been trying to look like Sleestak:




A little digging around has revealed that Sleestak Photoshopping is fast becoming a subculture of its very own:





But, for my money, a twisted individual by the name of YARBZ

wins the no-prize (click images for hidden secrets):




Click HERE to see more of Yarb’s genius


 How do you know when you’re on the pop-culture radar?

When Robot Chicken jumps into the fray:



And last, but far from least, the two best music videos of the last ten years:



20 Responses to “movie review: land of the lost (vs star trek)”

  1. June 22, 2009 at 5:29 am

    Never having seen “Land of the Lost” (I believe it might never have aired here in Uruguay), I agree about the character interaction and development.
    At one point I said, and I still maintain, that if they made a Star Trek movie were we will only see the original crew hanging around, maybe in a coffee shop, and talking about themselves and whatever, I would watch it, and probably enjoy it a lot.
    The ship and the SFX are just an excuse, and that’s what makes great Trek… great.

  2. 2 ety3
    June 22, 2009 at 8:13 am

    Yeah, LotL might have been better without Will Ferell. I still enjoyed most of it — 3 out of 5 stars, I guess.

    I, too, recently re-watched the show when SciFi was having a marathon. I was dumbfounded by the sci-fi elements I just plain didn’t remember from when I was kid. My six-year-old thinks it’s the greatest show ever forged, by the way.

  3. June 22, 2009 at 8:23 am

    Totally with you on LotL TOS. I remember being fascinated and excited to slowly realize they weren’t in ‘the center of the earth’ at all. The world was totally engaging, although the Marshal family wasn’t so much. Enik was a great character, though, and the revelation of his relation to the Sleestaks stuck with me to this day. Actually, the family dynamics of the hominids were more interesting than that of the humans, now that I think about it. I wonder if there was some kind of end-run around the censors going on there.

    Also, I’m loving this mini-trend of “compare every movie to Star Trek” you’ve got going on. Hope to see more.

  4. June 22, 2009 at 10:02 am

    OK, I’ll admit it: I had no idea David Gerrold was the showrunner for LOTL or that he’d hired some of the most recognizable names in science fiction to write the episodes.

    Thanks Mojo… you’ve convinced me to add Land of the Lost to my Netflix queue (but only seasons one and two ;)).

  5. June 22, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Nicely put, Mojo.

    I hope you’ll forgive a mid-20s person when I say that I grew up knowing nothing about Land of the Lost outside of the 1990s rendition. Ya, pretty low coming from me, but at least I liked Tasha. :)

    While I can certainly say that Star Trek did put effort into making it’s characters stand out on their own as characters and not rely on an actor’s name like this LOTL movie did, I’m not really on the boat to say that I prefer the characters from Star Trek 09 more than the characters from this movie.

    I don’t know. I just don’t understand why so many people love the characters in this new Star Trek film. Since you make good observations and critiques, what is it about the new characters that you liked besides the fact they were playing characters we’re already familiar with? I just don’t understand.

  6. 6 Matt Wright
    June 22, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    Being in my late 20s I didn’t grow up watching Land of the Lost and only knew of it in a very vauge sense. I knew of the talent that went into it, but never really watched it. So I’m now rather intreagued to see what it is all about.

    For others who want to get an idea if they’d like the show Hulu has Season 1 up for streaming until Novemeber. http://www.hulu.com/land-of-the-lost

  7. 7 Brandon W
    June 22, 2009 at 6:11 pm

    I watched it when it originally aired in the 70’s, watching it on a t.v. in my bedroom from the top of my bunkbed. Loved the show. It inspired my imagination, made me run around playing “Grumpy’s after me!” and gave me my first crush … Holly, of course!

    Then I saw it again here and there during the mid-80’s and all I could concentrate on the time was how silly it seemed. I remember liking the stories, but the acting really threw me off and I lost my crush on Holly.

    Then about 2 years ago I got the first season on dvd, to give it a whirl as an adult who’s studied stories, theatre, acting, etc. And I was flabergasted by how well written the episodes were. Highly thought-provoking and written remarkably well, just like you said, for kids and not down to them.

    What’s amazing to me is how that sense of wonder and exploration of the imagination stayed with me through my entire life. Land of the Lost, Star Trek, Space: 1999 and Rocky & Bullwinkle (I know, random!) all defined my imagination’s boundries.

    As for the film, it was fun. I totally wish they had been a bit more “serious” in the attempt to fully realize the world without dumbing down some of the inherent humour. And I’m a fan of having made Grumpy a bit more than just a hungry dinosaur (I know it wouldn’t have happened in a more serious take on the story, but the walnut joke was friggin’ funny). I loved all the references to the original series. It’s too bad we can’t really expect a newer version or reboot. And despite what people might think of Will Farrel having been in it, he’s a way better choice than Steve Guttenberg. ;)

  8. 8 Colonial Warrior
    June 22, 2009 at 10:11 pm

    Well I have not seen the movie yet. Mainly because Will Farrel is in it. I’ve never been a big fan of his stuff. He was fair at best on SNL, does alright as a second fiddle to any real Actors, but lets face it he can’t carry a movie on his own. I’m actually dreading seeing how he has destroyed the character of Marshal. I’ve never considered that lead character as a bumbling fool at any point during the TV series run. Now with the movie and Will Farrel a whole new generation of potential fans will think this guy is a big loser and serves him right to get lost in another dimension. Now this is just based on the clips alone that have been shown in the trailer but it’s basically Farrel being Farrel and I just don’t think he’s that great.

    Now it’s just my opinion so take it for what it’s worth, but the Marshal character deserved alot better than Will Farrel. That definately clinched it to become a Non-Sequel generating Movie. I would have much preferred to have seen Dan Akroyd in that part. He could at least sell it, play it whatever their term is nowadays and do it justice.

    Yea I’ll probably see it but I’ll let my roomie bring it home from their video store. I just can’t spend money on Farrel stuff.

  9. 9 darthmojo
    June 23, 2009 at 12:26 am

    WARRIOR: Give us a break, you’ve essentially torn down Will Farrel’s performance and went on a diatribe about how wrong he is for the role WITHOUT ACTUALLY SEEING THE MOVIE. We’ve come to expect better from you than that! Don’t you hate it when special interest groups ban a movie they haven’t seen because they “just know” it’s offensive? Like when the church denounced “Passion of the Christ” without seeing it?

    Do you really want to be a part of that?

  10. 10 Colonial Warrior
    June 23, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Point well taken and your right.. My apologies to any and all that were or have been offended by my Farrel rant.. Sometimes it seems my passion on television classics gets a sorta tunnel vision take on things. I’ll strive to keep that in better check in the future. Normally I’m rather diplomatic about stuff. I’ll still probably see the movie but all I’ve seen so far is the trailer for it.

    Again everyone sorry really, I should have realized what I was typing.

    Colonial Warrior…

  11. June 23, 2009 at 9:42 pm

    “I found myself wondering: what other television series have achieved this same level of sci-fi storytelling?”

    Aeon Flux.

  12. June 24, 2009 at 4:55 am

    “I found myself wondering: what other television series have achieved this same level of sci-fi storytelling?”

    Space Cases!

  13. 13 Colonial Warrior
    June 24, 2009 at 6:25 am

    The was a short lived Saturday morning live action series around the same time of LoTL called Ark II. Loved the vehicle it was reminiscent of the LandMaster from the Movie Survival Run. Basically a team of young scientist trying to bring back civilization to earth after Pollution destroyed the planet. There is a DVD out from Filmation with all 15 episodes.


  14. 14 The Lobby Lurker
    June 24, 2009 at 7:19 pm

    The old LOTL series was much better than most people give it credit for- it contained a lot of decent stories and lessons/morality plays within the subtext of the amusing costumes and sometimes cheesy effects… just like Star Trek, amazingly enough. Like many things (Warner Bros. Cartoons and Trek, for example) it was great to see as a kid and great to re-watch when older, for different but equally compelling reasons.

    While I’m not a massivley huge fan of the ‘Trek reboot, I think it did a basically decent job. LOTL the movie did not.

    It blew.


    Massive ones.

    Then it ate those chunks and regurgitated them again.

    The best thing about the film was Grumpy and the Sleestacks (sounds like a great band name) and the cheap attempts at cornball laughs and Will Farrel playing THE EXACT SAME jerk he plays in every single movie he does did not really help. I cared less about these people than I did the original characters in the TV show as a kid, and the story was barely passable as writing. I walked out of the theater feeling like tep, they watched the old show a few times and then everyone said, but how can we do this bigger, funnier and with more money, not better.

    In the end, it was a little pile of dry Pakuni pellets and not sequel-worthy based on quality or box office, which is sad because there was a rich source material and fanbase to build on.

    This was Sci-fi’s version of Charlie’s Angel’s- all flash and hype, but no substance or story worth watching.

    BTW, the Catholic Church didn’t attack “Passion of the Christ”- that was Scorcese’s “Last Temptation of Christ” that they didn’t like, to set the record straight. It was certain Jewish groups that went after Mel’s “passion” and as it turns out, they might have been right. Octomel, indeed. ;)

    Ark II was pretty cool for it’s day, as was Jason of Star Command (which had Jimmy Doohan in it) and I’m still waiting for the big screen reboot version of Buck Rogers and Quark.

  15. 16 Colonial Warrior
    June 25, 2009 at 4:12 am

    Ah yeah Quark with Richard Benjamin, Tim Thomerson and Conrad Janis who later went on to do things like V, Mork & Mindy and a slew of other stuff. I got to meet Tim Thomerson back in the early 90’s at a convention. I asked him if he remembered his old stand up routine of Stage Coach The Entire Movie. Now granted it had been many years since he had done any stand up comedy and at the time he was doing work on Zena, but he did remember it and performed it for the fans. Later on in an autograph session he told me that he’s been doing the convention circuit for several years and that I was the first and only fan that remembered he did stand up comedy before getting the acting bug.

    Yep I have the Quark DVD set and it’s still a fun show after all these years. I miss Ergo and Andy. Unfortunately I have not seen every episode of Jason of Star Command but what I did see was good it had a younger Buck Rogers feel to it as I recall. I did notice that Julie Newmar ( yes the CatWoman) was in that show. And lets remember that during that same time frame there was Space Acadamy with Johnathan ( Dr. Smith ) Harris, another good show.
    I’ve always been a fan of the Sid & Marty Kroft shows they were always fun to watch. Does anyone remember “The Lost Saucer” with Jim Nabors and Ruth Buzzi?

  16. June 27, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Land Of The Lost holds a special place in my heart. I still have my early of Starlog that has Land Of The Lost’s dimensional animation as it’s cover story.

    I purchased the first season DVDs a couple of years ago, purely for nostalgic reasons and was surprised to find that the whole show was actually pretty sophisticated for all the reasons listed above. The first season DVD is wonderful because of all the commentaries and short documentaries. It’s a little scary to see Will and Holly all grown up… especially Holly but please give this show a second chance!

    Be warned though that the third season changed tone quite alot. The father is gone, only to be replaced by an uncle and the stories become more episodic and juvenile. The first season is great, the second less so, and the third season is really not so great. Unfortunately, it seemed that everytime I caught LOTL on the SciFi Channel recently, a third season episode was being aired.


  17. 18 Buckaroo
    July 1, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who remembers who incredibly good the original show was. I recently found myself defending it in another forum:

    “Also, something that gets overlooked when the cynical, vapid Hollywood hipsters are pointing and laughing at the seventies-era production values is that:

    1. It was a groundbreaking show for television; its special effects, particularly the extensive use of chromakey, were cutting-edge at the time. No regular series had made such extensive use of high-quality stop-motion animation up to then (not including stuff like Gumby or Davy and Goliath, since these were not special effects meant to blend with human actors). At this point of the seventies, the show had no peer in the technical arena.

    2. It was REAL SCIENCE FICTION. It was a show about ideas. The story editor was David Gerrold, and it was written by respected SF authors such as Larry Niven. It wasn’t a simple time-travel scenario as many remember. The Land of the Lost was a closed, artificial universe created by a technically advanced lost civilization who were the ancestors of the Sleestak. The Marshalls frequently found themselves having to mess with the controls of the universe that were inside the pylons, affecting things like weather, the duration of the day/night cycle, and in one memorable episode, gravity. Other beings were trapped with them — including aliens (the Zarn, and his terrifying pet robot “Fred”) and the Pakuni, who spoke a language created by a UCLA linguist, and were a damned convincing take on the Australopithecenes. Until season three, there was a clearly defined story arc, and we learned more about the world and its mysteries with each episode (in that sense, it anticipated Lost) It was my first taste of real sci-fi. Imagine being a 6-year old watching an episode where the main characters stand on the peak of a mountain, looking at another peak across the valley, and see the backs of the own heads since the light has travelled full circle through the pocket universe they’re living in. Saturday morning was never better than that.”

    You’ve already hit most of these points in your blog, but it bears repeating! :)

    What’s most frustrating about the new movie is that the 50% that they NAILED makes the other 50% even more irritating. The first two minutes, for example, give a hint of what COULD have been. Damn it.

  18. 19 Pres
    July 31, 2009 at 2:25 am

    > and see the backs of the own heads since the light has travelled full circle through the pocket universe they’re living in.

    This is the exact scene that has stuck with me the most since I saw it at age 8 or 9. Little pre-pubescent minds that get bent by concepts like that (fueled by a crush on Holly) never go back to thinking normally again…

  19. 20 whatthef
    December 31, 2009 at 4:08 am

    ok.. first of all you’re comparing star trek to land of the lost..thats stupid. It’s like comparing the second world war to a water gun fight.

    they are completly different.

    I personally liked Land of the lost and am hoping that they do make a sequel – good job Universal.

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June 2009

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