Judge Victor Valdivia also went on a routine expedition. In fact, it was so routine that nothing happened.
Enik: That is not logical. Will Marshall: Now, Enik, if you've been in the Land of the Lost that much longer than we have, you ought to know by now that not everything here is logical. Enik: That is logical.
For the generation that grew up in the '70s and even part of the '80s, Land of the Lost was an important show. It's entirely possible, of course, that anyone who doesn't fall in that age group simply won't grasp the show's effect on that demographic—all they'll see are lousy special effects and acting that ranges from the wooden to the histrionic. Anyone who digs deeper will recognize that beneath the flaws lies some of the most captivating and unusual writing on TV, especially for what was intended as just a Saturday morning kids' show. Land of the Lost: The Complete Series compiles the entire three-season run of the show and though fans who already own the previous DVD issue of this show can probably pass, anyone else who is interested in surprisingly thoughtful sci-fi writing might find it intriguing.
Facts of the Case
Park Ranger Rick Marshall (Spencer Milligan, Sleeper) and his children, Will (Wesley Eure, C.H.O.M.P.S.) and younger sister Holly (Kathy Coleman), are mysteriously caught up in some sort of dimensional vortex and carried away to a place where the laws of time and space do not always apply. In a jungle world orbited by three moons, controlled by crystal-driven machines called Pylons, and populated by dinosaurs, ape-like creatures called Pakuni' and sinister reptilian humanoids called Sleestak, the Marshalls struggle to survive and find a way back home. Here are the 43 episodes collected on this set:
• "The Sleestak God"
• "Tag Team"
• "The Stranger"
• "The Hole"
• "The Paku Who Came to Dinner"
• "The Search"
• "The Possession"
• "Stone Soup"
• "The Zarn"
• "Fair Trade"
• "One of Our Pylons is Missing"
• "The Test"
• "Gravity Storm"
• "The Longest Day"
• "A Nice Day"
• "The Babysitter"
• "The Musician"
• "Split Personality"
• "Survival Kit"
• "The Orb"
• "Hot-Air Artist"
• "Abominable Snowman"
• "Ancient Guardian"
• "Medicine Man"
It's a shame that Land of the Lost has, for the most part, become some sort of campy pop-culture punchline, especially epitomized by the thought of the show being remade as, of all things, a Will Ferrell comedy. Much of that, of course, is due to the fact that visually, the show has definitely not aged well. The shoestring budget meant that the sets and special effects were, to put it generously, crude. The cast was appealing but not overly talented, combining Coleman's endearing inexperience with Milligan's and Eure's hamminess. Most of all, there was often a frequent clash between the producers' need to dumb the show down for kids and the writers' desire to tell interesting stories. That's one of the main reasons that the show went through no less than three different creative teams, one for each season. Nonetheless, while that did tend to sometimes undermine the overall quality of the series and result in characters and premises being abandoned, the best moments of writing were so strong that people still remember the show affectionately so many years later in spite of the cheap effects and clumsy acting.
Much of the reason for Land of the Lost being so well-remembered is due to the first season's writers and showrunner. While producers Sid and Marty Krofft (H.R. Pufnstuf) came up with an idea for a show that blended monsters, dinosaurs, time travel, and science fiction, by their own admission they didn't really have a story or characters—just a vague premise. It was David Gerrold, the writer of the famous Star Trek episode "The Trouble With Tribbles," who really came up with most of the lasting ideas behind the show. Gerrold, acting as the show's head writer, wrote most of the first season's best episodes, but even more importantly, brought in some of the most respected sci-fi writers of the genre to write others. That's how writers like Ben Bova, Larry Niven, Wina Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad, and D.C. Fontana (another Trek vet) were credited with scripts. Even Trek cast member Walter Koenig (Chekov) got into the act, writing the episode "The Stranger," which introduced one of the series' most beloved characters: Enik the Altrusian. The writers' efforts resulted in some surprisingly thoughtful and emotional moments for what was intended as just a kid's show. "Follow That Dinosaur," for instance, which tells the story of the first human who arrived at the Land of the Lost and named the Sleestak, is far more poignant than one might expect. Similarly, the revelation about what Enik's true nature is in "The Stranger" is more complex and unusual than most sci-fi shows on TV would have allowed. In many ways, for all that Land of the Lost sometimes suffered from clunky dialogue and unintentionally amusing visuals, it was arguably the real descendant to the Star Trek legacy of intelligent sci-fi TV more than any other show until Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In the second season, Gerrold and most of his Trek cronies were gone, although Theodore Sturgeon did contribute one solid script, "The Pylon Express." Donald F. Glut (Masters of the Universe) also wrote one of his first scripts, "Blackout," which was one of the best of the season. For this season, new showrunner Dick Morgan introduced a raft of new characters, including the duplicitous light creature the Zarn and the sonic manipulator called the Musician. These were interesting ideas hampered by the show's crude effects. Also, because Morgan left at the end of this season, these creatures were completely abandoned in the third season, leaving their mysteries unexplained. Still, though this season isn't up to the level of the first, with a higher ratio of clinker episodes (particularly the ones devoted to the Pakuni'—a little of them goes a very long way), it still contains some very good moments. The best episode, "The Zarn," is especially affecting. Not only does it introduce a suitably interesting antagonist, it addresses an unusual idea for the show: the effect that the family's isolation has on Rick, the adult. Here, Land of the Lost proves that it's more about characterization than cheap action and flash.
However, most fans consider the show's third season to be its weakest, and when comparing those episodes with the ones from previous seasons, it's hard to disagree. Milligan left before this season began and was replaced by Ron Harper, playing the kids' Uncle Jack, in a plot contrivance that really doesn't make sense. Many of the show's previously introduced characters were either abandoned or changed significantly. Cha-ka became the only Pakuni' and Enik turned from a cold but reliable fellow traveler into a selfish jerk. Even worse, new showrunner Jon Kubichan emphasized the action and effects, never the show's strong suit, over the writing and characterization. This was especially evident in all the new characters introduced this season, such as the Medusa, the Abominable Snowman, and Malak the Cro-Magnon. Not only are these characters all rather silly, but they all take away valuable screen time that could have been used to flesh out some of the interesting characters previously established. Also, viewers should not expect any kind of closure to the series; the last episode, "Medicine Man," concerns warring human visitors to the Land of the Lost and barely has much to do with the Marshalls at all. There are still some good bits and pieces here and there but overall, it's obvious that the show simply could not have survived after this season.
So definitely, each season has its distinct strengths and in compiling all three seasons into this set, Universal has indeed done viewers a favor, allowing them to compare and contrast the differing styles and pick out their favorite episodes. However, this is not nearly as comprehensive a set as it could have been. The show was previously issued on DVD in 2003 by Rhino, in individual season sets that came packed with extras, but those are now out of print. The audio and video quality on this new issue is identical to the previous one. It's cheap 1970s fullscreen videotape with a stereo mix, so it's not visually dazzling in the slightest. The video is grainy and tinged rather heavily with red, and there are a few video glitches and distortions scattered throughout. This is probably as good as it can look and sound, so remastering probably isn't going to help much. At least the limited edition of this set comes encased in a replica of a 1970s lunchbox with scenes from the show painted throughout, making this package something of an improvement from the previous issue in that regard.
Where fans will really be disappointed is that not one of the previously issued extras from the Rhino sets has been ported over for this version. None of the commentaries by cast and writers, none of the extensive interviews, none of the text-based extras or exhaustive liner notes. Apart from the lunchbox, this is actually a meager package. The only extra is a new featurette (9:10) in which Brad Silberling, the director of the new movie version of the show, chats with Sid and Marty Krofft. It's a lightweight puff piece that says little about either the show or the movie. Fans who want some real information about the show will either have to search online sites or try to track down the Rhino sets. It's deeply disappointing that Universal didn't make the effort to license the Rhino extras or even commission some new ones that are more than EPK fluff. For all its flaws, this show deserves much better than that.
If you already own the previous Rhino DVD issues, there's not much reason to buy this set unless you really want the lunchbox packaging. In fact, fans who already know and love the show should really hold out for the Rhino sets, as they represent better value for money. Anyone else might want to preview a few discs first, especially from the first season. There are elements of the show that seem hokey by today's standards, but if you're willing to overlook them and not approach the show as pure camp, you'll find some impressively sharp writing and characterization. Universal should have done better in compiling this set's extras, but at least it's good to have the original Land of the Lost available again.
Land of the Lost: The Complete Series is found not guilty through clever writing, although the court does concede that the execution isn't always top-notch. Universal, however, is found guilty of not putting enough effort into this collection.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Review content copyright © 2009 Victor Valdivia; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.