So, everyone probably remembers that period where most of the movies were just adaptations of older TV shows trying to cash into nostalgia. If you don’t remember it, congratulations on just being born, enjoy 23 Jump Street, and expect it to continue until the sun burns out. Some adaptations were pretty much the same as the series, like The Addams Family, some were updates, like Charlie’s Angels and Dukes of Hazzard, and then there were the rarer, and usually unsuccessful, category: the parodies. These were films that were simultaneously representing a series while also making fun of how ridiculous the series was, like The Brady Bunch Movie, 21 Jump Street, or Starsky & Hutch. For some reason, Will Ferrell, who made a cameo in Starsky & Hutch, decided to make two of these in a five-year period.
The first, Bewitched, was… interesting. It was a meta-film about re-making the TV show as another TV show which starred a normal human actor (Ferrell) as Darren and two actual witch actresses as Samantha and Endora. Basically, it tried to pull-off the series premise while also acknowledging the impact of the original series. This SHOULD have been a good idea, except that it wasn’t very funny and lacked direction… much like the show Bewitched (hey, I loved the show, but writing was not its strong suit). Maybe it was just too meta or, more likely, they focused too much on Will Ferrell who, as the surrogate Darren, is JUST NOT INTERESTING. Still, it tried something a little different than most of the remakes and actually capture the spirit of the show without being a direct copy and I give it credit for that. Four years later, Ferrell decided to try yet another adaptation…
*Warning: The above trailer is painful to watch. Much more than the film, even, and that’s bad*
Many of you probably remember the TV show Land of the Lost, either the original from the 1970s by Sid and Marty Krofft, the creators of Donny & Marie and H.R. Pufnstuf (and also Far Out Space Nuts) or the ‘90s reboot (also created by the Kroffts) that was re-run on Nickelodeon frequently. The first series is probably more well known because it had scripts by famous writers like Larry Niven (of Ringworld fame) and Theodore Sturgeon (of “Baby is Three” fame), plus some of the most ridiculous effects ever put on film which somehow were also entertaining as hell.
The basic premise of the series was that a father (later replaced by an uncle) and his two kids were… you know what, it’s all in the theme song:
Marshall, Will, and Holly on a routine expedition
Met the greatest earthquake ever known.
High on the rapids it struck their tiny raft.
And plunged them down a thousand feet below.
To the Land of the Lost.
Say what you will about the 70s, but the theme song always brought you up to speed. Basically, the family falls in a portal and ends up in a semi-magical land filled with dinosaurs (including Grumpy the T-Rex), aliens, Sleestak (which are reptilian monsters famous for being men in bad costumes), a crazy man with a cannon, and the early hominid Pakuni (including Cha-ka, their friend). It’s not in the past, but instead on a different planet where stuff randomly ends up from all around the universe due to random wormholes all around it. The 90s series was pretty much the same (but with better SFX and different names). Then, they decided to make this movie.
SUMMARY (IT’S LONG, FEEL FREE TO SKIP)
The movie starts off with an astronaut who appears to be lost on a different planet with three moons being stalked by something through a swamp. He looks up in time to realize that it’s a T-Rex, which promptly attacks him, leading to a horn-heavy sequence introducing the movie’s title.
It then shows us The Today Show with Matt Lauer introducing Paleontologist Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) who is there to announce the founding of “Quantum Paleontology,” which is the study of Time Warps. Lauer, as a rational host would, does not take this seriously at all and instead mocks the fact that Marshall spent $50 Million of tax-payer money to study something this insane. For his part, Rick is extremely off-putting and smug, but then walks off of the interview when Lauer brings up Stephen Hawking (Rest in Peace) calling Marshall’s theory “nonsense.” However, when Lauer tells viewers to look for Marshall’s book in the “I’m out of my freaking mind” section, Rick attacks him.
Three years later, Rick Marshall is now a laughingstock, working at the La Brea Tar Pits and giving lectures on Tachyon theory (again, he’s a paleontologist) and presenting his invention “the Tachyon Amplifier” to a middle-school science class. He’s met afterwards by Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), who is basically a blind fangirl of his. During this scene, Rick is eating an M&M-stuffed Doughnut, the sheer brilliance of which is glossed over. Holly shows Marshall a fossil which is millions of years old but contains the imprint of a cheap cigarette lighter as well as a crystal that radiates “Tachyon Energy.” She leaves the fossil with Rick, who realizes that it is, in fact, his lighter that was embedded next to a trilobite.
Holly returns a few days later to find that Marshall has finished his Tachyon Amplifier and also has been binge-eating everything in sight. Holly turns it on, revealing that it plays “I Hope I Get It” from A Chorus Line due to Marshall having to cannibalize his iPod for parts. She tells him they’re going to take it on a field test, which she describes as a “routine expedition,” something they humorously hammer home. They head to “The Devil’s Canyon Mystery Cave,” a cheap sideshow attraction where Holly found the fossil. There, they meet Will Stanton (Danny McBride), a perverted survivalist who runs the Canyon and its gift-shop. He agrees to take the pair on a rafting trip.
On the rafting trip, Will tells them that there are rumors of “lizard men” who appear in the caves and even has his partner, Ernie (Ben Best), toss a fake one (comprised of a fake Sleestak from the old show) at the group. Marshall detects tachyons and tries to amplify them, resulting in “the greatest earthquake ever known,” which creates a series of rapids (it’s revealed that the canyon’s stream is actually just industrial run-off from a soap factory, so Will is unprepared for the whitewater). They end up going over a waterfall into a swirling vortex.
The group awakens in a desert on the planet from the intro, which is populated by random objects from human and alien history. When confronted with the grandeur of his discovery and the fact that he has effectively re-written human understanding, Marshall utters the most succinct celebratory phrase he can:
Matt Lauer can suck it!
They wander through the desert until they find two humanoid primates about to execute a third. Will tries to subdue them by showing them a lighter, but the two steal it and run away, leaving the third, Chaka (Jorma “I’m in the Lonely Island, don’t pretend you don’t know who I am” Taccone). Holly befriends him and seems to understand him somewhat (though seems unable to realize he’s pervertedly groping her), while Chaka pretty much mocks Marshall until Holly tells Chaka that he’s a great chief. They are all pulled into a sand pit, something that only Will seems bothered by (even pointing out that the other two are taking all of this way too casually), until they are ensnared by living vines. They try to escape the vines but are attacked by a T-Rex.
They run for it and are almost free, but then Marshall and Holly stop running to take a picture of the T-Rex, forcing Will to stand in front of it for scale. They then barely manage to make it across a small bridge over a chasm (which Chaka was trying to sabotage to save himself and not them) and the T-Rex stops. However, after Marshall makes several (completely inaccurate) comments about T-Rex visual ability and then says that it has a brain the size of a walnut, the T-Rex gets pissed off and jumps over the chasm to chase them. They make it into a cave, barely escaping the T-Rex they name “Grumpy.”
Inside the cave, Chaka explains that he’s a prince of the Pakuni who was overthrown for pooping in the water supply. Will tries to block up the entrance, but Rick says it’s better not to draw attention. Will counters that the T-Rex already knows they’re there, but Rick says the T-Rex has a brain the size of a walnut. In response to that, the cave is hit by a hurled object, revealed to be a giant walnut, wrapped in leaves and launched by Grumpy as a “f*ck you” to Rick.
The next day, the group sees a blinding light and Rick hears a voice telepathically asking for help. He runs off to find the source, Will follows him because he believes that Rick needs to be mercy-killed for “jungle madness,” Chaka follows Will for fun, and Holly follows to stop them. They find themselves in an abandoned city that contains a giant crystal in the middle. The group then mocks the inspirations for the architecture.
Chaka starts to warn them about Sleestak, but they think it’s just a word they don’t understand, somehow missing a giant warning, IN ENGLISH, that says “Beware of Sleestak.” (This is a reference to the warning written by a Revolutionary Army soldier saying the same in the show). The Sleestak then begin emerging and they are one of my favorite parts of the movie. Despite being mostly CGI, they still look like cheap costumes, with one even having a visible zipper (that is apparently actually part of the monster in-universe) and several with clear seams where the headpiece meets the suit. The group is almost eaten, but Rick randomly figures out how to activate the crystal based on a balls-out guess and they escape into the portal it generates.
They end up in a tesseract-like void that contains the alien Enik the Altrusian (John Boylan) who says he is a fan of Rick (having seen the Matt Lauer interview) and asks for his help stopping the Zarn (Leonard “Thou shalt have no other Spocks before me” Nimoy), another alien bent on universal conquest. Rick immediately agrees after Enik flatters him, despite Will warning him that he has one rule: “Never trust a dude in a tunic.” They are told they have to find the Tachyon Amplifier to stop the Zarn and return home.
Rick comes up with a plan to find the Tachyon Amplifier and also to hide from Grumpy using “hadrosaur urine” that he had collected (he compares gathering it to fly-fishing). The first plan is immediately rendered pointless because Chaka knows where it is. Along the way, they find the main portal entry point, which is littered with stuff from throughout time and space. They witness Grumpy and an Allosaurus fight, until they smell the urine on Rick, making this “one of the rare situations where dumping piss on yourself is a bad idea.” They eventually escape the two dinosaurs, killing the Allosaurus and retrieving the amplifier inside of it, which is immediately stolen by a Pteranodon.
Rick starts to give up, leading the others to abandon him. Chaka and Will bond over the fire, with Holly translating, until Rick comes back to apologize. He then sings the theme song to the show while a giant mosquito sucks out a ton of his blood, causing him to pass out. Waking up the next morning, he has a huge bite mark and a renewed spirit. They find a lava caldera filled with Pteranodon eggs and the amplifier, which requires Rick and crew to sing “I Hope I Get It” in order to keep the eggs from hatching, with Chaka performing a wonderful solo. They get the damaged amplifier back.
During their celebration, Will, Marshall, and Chaka all consume bad-trip hallucinogenic fruits and are left too high to function. Meanwhile, Holly fixes the amplifier and follows its signal into a cave, pocketing a dinosaur egg and finding a message from the Zarn and his corpse, revealing that he’s a police officer and Enik is actually a criminal who has an army of Sleestak. She’s captured by the Sleestak and taken to Enik.
Rick and Will track her to the Sleestak caverns and steal the shed skin from some mating Sleestak to sneak in. It’s revealed that these Sleestak are servants of the Library of Skulls, a group of aliens who sentenced Enik to exile and put him in a tunic, “as a symbol of his deceit.” They rescue Holly, who kisses Marshall. It’s revealed that they sent Chaka to Enik with the amplifier, allowing him to mind-control all of the Sleestak and open portals to anywhere in time and space. He then sics Grumpy on the group.
Marshall decides to face the T-Rex mano-a-dino and sends Holly away. He asks Will to help him, but Will declines gracefully. Marshall fights poorly, culminating when he decides to try and pole vault onto the T-Rex’s back, but instead is swallowed whole. Holly yells at Grumpy for eating a paleontologist just because he mocked Grumpy’s intelligence. Holly, Will, and Chaka go to stop the Sleestak, but, despite the fact that Sleestak can actually just be pushed over and stay down, are overwhelmed by numbers.
They are saved when Marshall returns riding Grumpy. It turns out that Marshall swam through the T-Rex’s bowels and fixed the constipation that was causing his angry demeanor. The T-Rex quickly destroys the army, something that amuses the hell out of Will. The four follow Enik back into the pillar and attack him. They accidentally shatter one of Enik’s crystals, closing the portal to Earth. Rick grabs a crystal that Holly found in the first act and shoves it in as a jury-rig. Will holds Enik in a headlock, agreeing to stay behind to keep Enik from taking over the world. Holly and Rick escape, leaving the other two behind. Rick then confusingly delivers a line from the show that was originally from Marshall to his daughter, Holly. Back in the Land of the Lost, Will discovers that the females in Chaka’s tribe are actually beautiful naked women who immediately take a liking to him.
Back on The Today Show, Marshall is debuting his new book, Matt Lauer Can Suck It, which has changed every aspect of society and become a massive bestseller. Marshall even points out that he actually asked Lauer’s attorney for permission to call it that, something that causes Lauer to attack Marshall. Meanwhile, a Sleestak egg that Holly picked up hatches, ending the film.
This film has a 26% on Rotten Tomatoes and an audience score of 32% and its Metacritic isn’t any better. It was nominated for 7 Golden Raspberry Awards and even won “Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-off, or Sequel.”
AND I F*CKING LOVE IT.
I love this movie. I love almost every scene of it. I think it’s a solid parody of a ridiculous but loveable property that’s been aged up because all of the fans of the series, even of the re-runs of the re-make series, would have to be in their 20s by 2009. It’s different enough that it doesn’t feel like it’s just repeating the series, but familiar enough that it still has some of the key similarities. The effects look intentionally cheesy, the lines are sometimes intentionally awkward, and the rules of the universe change fairly often, all of which are just like the show. Yes, these all happen in different ways than the show, but it’s still a tribute.
The biggest change, though, is the characters. This isn’t the semi-wily and likeable Marshall family from the original series. These are three of the most incompetent people in history, in their own ways. Rick believes himself to be an expert at everything, including combat, biology, and history, only to be constantly wrong. Holly, rather than being the more assertive and headstrong character from the series, is basically a submissive fangirl, despite being clearly the most competent person in the group. Will is so socially awkward, he even ends up telling them that he doesn’t need to go back to Earth at the end. These aren’t really normal protagonists and I think that’s part of what hurts the movie. They worked so hard to subvert audience expectations and parody the original series that it actually makes the audience uncomfortable during a movie that’s filled with adult humor and strange visual gags.
And that’s exactly why I like it. This movie isn’t typical, but if you can get past that and accept it for what it is, a subversive parody of a property that it actually still shows a lot of love for, then the movie is actually pretty funny. Is it the funniest movie I’ve ever seen? No. But I’m usually laughing just from the interactions of the characters dealing with the fact that they’re in such a ridiculous situation. All of the actors really give their all, too, and they play off of each other perfectly. There are a ton of scenes were you can tell that Friel is about to burst out laughing because of how seriously Ferrell is delivering such ridiculous lines, and I’m right there with her.
I know that this movie will probably never be a hit, but I think it doesn’t deserve to be called the failure that it usually is. It just was trying to do something different and, honestly, it was marketed horribly. But I think it works a lot better if you go in with no expectations of the film, because then you can appreciate it for what it is. I think this movie is just misunderstood, not bad, and I wish that people would give it another shot. This is the weird hill upon which I will die. And, for the record, one person who did appreciate this film was Roger Ebert, who gave it a favorable review. So, at least I’ve got company.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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