Universal // 2009 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // November 2nd, 2009
Right place. Wrong time.
Easily this summer highest profile flop, Land of the Lost has had a tough route to DVD. The film is currently sitting on just under $65 million worldwide having been made for closer to $100 million, whilst the critics and vast numbers of the general public scorned it as a lackluster and ridiculously over budgeted slice of Hollywood drivel. Such is the negativity surrounding the picture that Will Ferrell's once unquestionable fan base has been called into question, though it is debatable whether he had the star power to make such an expensive picture a success in the first place. Basically the movie tanked and all associated with it will likely want it to disappear from their professional memories as quickly as possible.
However, I on the other hand really rather liked it.
Based on the 1970's TV show of the same name, Land of the Lost tells the story of Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell, Step Brothers) a disgraced scientist who three years ago was laughed out of the intellectual community due to his unorthodox ideas surrounding time warps. Now working as a part time school teacher, Marshall is cajoled into giving his theories one last shot by Holly (Anna Friel, Pushing Daisies), who believes Marshall's ideas surrounding "parallel dimensions" might be correct.
Arriving at an acceptable test area, they encounter Will (Danny McBride, Pineapple Express), a redneck survivalist who offers them his canyon for use in their time travel experiment. The trio is then transported into another dimension, one populated with monkey men, dinosaurs, and a villainous race of lizards knows as the Sleestak. Marshall documents the groups' attempts to return home whilst evading an angry T-Rex nicknamed Grumpy and attempting to stop the Sleestak from traveling back with them to Earth.
I've only seen a few episodes of the original TV series (I'm a little on the young side) and so the only link I had with Land of the Lost circa 2009 was my admiration for Will Ferrell. I'm a self professed fan of the man and leaving aside a few of his works (Semi-Pro anyone?), I have pretty much enjoyed the vast majority of his 21st century output. I'd say from the outset that those with a disliking of Ferrell had better move on, nothing I can do or say here will allow you to enjoy the movie if you hate its star. Ferrell's fingerprints are all over Land of the Lost and so a tolerance of him is at least required if you're to mine any fun out of this venture, since there is simply too much Ferrell on hand here for you to work around. It's also worth noting at the get go that whilst several facets of the TV show have remained and some of the cheesy effects been embraced, this is a pretty different beast from its predecessor. Adventure still remains the dish of the day but the whole character dynamic has been shifted and the humor takes a far more risqué path with Ferrell and Danny McBride onboard.
If you're still reading I'll consider you interested, the idea of deviating from the source or Will Ferrell's presence clearly hasn't revolted you to the point of abandonment. Well you're in luck because by letting those things slide, it's easy to have a good time with this movie. Land of the Lost is a fantastically wacky adventure with a hearty offering of laughs and colorful set creation, the movie looks and acts like the wet dream of an explorer on meth. The film starts silly and keeps on chugging with the same unapologetically goofy tone, finding a nice balance between comedy and action in the process. Nothing about Land of the Lost is going to radicalize either of those genres but it's a solid example of when the two combine and the results end up as a perfectly decent time at the movies.
Will Ferrell is in his element as Rick Marshall, it may just be Ron Burgundy without the wig, but the arrogant buffoonery and improvisation still hit the spot. Together Ferrell, Friel, and McBride make a tasty comedic team, sparking off each other beautifully and letting the silly dialogue rip between them with energetic spunk. Friel and McBride are no further outside their comfort zones than Ferrell, but each plays strongly to their strengths, ensuring the three actors are doing what they like to do best. One can't help but feel that this empowers the movie and keeps the performers in a state of ease that allows them to seek out laughs elsewhere and frees up their minds for some indecently irreverent and occasionally hysterical improvisation. Jorma Taccone is given the part of Chaka, the group's chimp-like guide through the parallel universe, but is commended only for not annoying the audience excessively.
The screenplay features some fine jokes and very much creates an anarchic and crazed atmosphere, throwing the characters from set piece to set piece with only a slight nod to the concept of plot. Many of the best laughs come courtesy of Ferrell's and McBride's whiplash way with a punch line and utterly unpredictable comedic sensibilities, though in fairness to the writers, several of the big CGI-fuelled moments also solicit chuckles. Nearly every encounter with the angry T-Rex is good for a few titters whilst a sequence involving a volcano, Pterodactyls, and a show tune is borderline brilliant. A complaint has to be made of the movie's comedic balance, at times it's all very innocent and loony, on others the movie jumps into seemingly more mature subject matter. Whilst these more adult jokes aren't unfunny, they do seem a little awkwardly placed alongside the more universally suitable material, meaning parents might want to be careful about showing it to very young kids. I doubt the average seven year old is going to latch onto gags sourced from masturbation and vibrating structures yet more visual jokes such as Chaka's constant fondling of Holly's breasts might leave a more obvious impression.
The aesthetics of the movie are beautifully realized, capturing the groovy vibe given off by the 70's original whilst also incorporating in some very neat CGI effects. The dinosaurs and landscapes are particularly cool to look at, only on a very few select moments do the digitals leave anything to be desired. The $100 million budget is clearly spread over the expansive sets and lavish CGI because nearly everything else retains a cute and retro charm. Those with an affinity for the original series will probably feel repaid for other artistic liberties taken with the project on the grounds of the rubbery Sleestak costumes alone. Director Brad Silberling has housed his career alongside big spectacle-driven event movies like Casper and A Series of Unfortunate Events, as a result he seems comfortable in the realms of the tech heavy filmmaking from which Land of the Lost stems.
The film looks and sounds sharp on DVD and comes complete with a handful of funky extra content. The most substantial feature is a peppy commentary with Silberling who makes for a thorough and engaging host, displaying an enthusiasm for the project from start to finish. He discusses several of the key deviations from the TV show and seems on the whole to have had a good time making this film. Only three deleted scenes are included which was a little disappointing given that to receive a PG-13 rating the movie had to make several cuts. All of the snippets are amusing but they aren't any raunchier or risqué than anything in the movie which makes me suspect these aren't the offending sequences that nearly landed the enterprise an R rating. Two short comedy based featurettes are also included, one in which McBride provides a silly guided tour around the set and another which is shot as a commercial for McBride's trashy trailer park ride from the movie. Combined they run for around 16 minutes and throw up a few laughs but ultimately feel a little like filler. Whilst it's clear more bonus material and a longer cut of the feature exist somewhere, given the box-office failure I doubt we'll be seeing another release anytime soon. As a result fans might as well go out and pick-up this version.
As much as I had a fun time with Land of the Lost, the movie undeniably has faults. The most prominent of these problems is the final 20 minutes, the movie slackens up, and it would appear the script runs out of creative steam. Land of the Lost ends on more of whimper than a bang, albeit the very last joke is amongst the best. It's a pretty threadbare story anyway but the ending seems particularly stretched and messy, Silberling almost certainly would have been better to wrap it up earlier and leave some of the padding aside. The movie is also relentlessly immature, a fact I had no great problem with, but I know others very well might. Still I've already discussed the whole Will Ferrell thing so you should know by now if he's in it; don't expect too much highbrow humor.
I realize many people hated it, but I genuinely enjoyed Land of the Lost. It has its flaws and panders exclusively to one sort of comic sensibility, but as a popcorn movie, it left me entertained and cheerful. It's really quite a pity the movie did poorly financially as I would really like to see more of this sort of wacky blockbuster. For fans of Ferrell it's a no brainer of a recommendation, but even for those willing to pass on the critical beating and make up their own minds, I think you'd be wise to at least give this film a rental.
Matt Lauer can suck it, because Land of the Lost is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2009 Daniel Kelly; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Official site
* Wikipedia: Land of the Lost (2009)