Monday, June 14, 2010

Land of the Lost

I had an interest in dinosaurs way back in Kindergarten. While the teachers were having us read "Run, Spot, Run", I was reading dinosaur picture books and learning the names - Brontosaurus, Stegasaurus, Triceratops, Trachodon, Ankylosaurus, Dimetrodon, Allosaurus, and of course, Tyranosaurus Rex. In fact, I even loved looking at my Dad's natural history books that had lots of great dino pictures even though I could not read the text. Nowadays kids know these things better, but back then I was quite alone among my peers.

So I was naturally thrilled when, just before entering third grade, I heard about a new show to be aired featuring live action dinosaurs (well, claymation and puppetry actually), the first of its kind for kids. The show was called Land of the Lost about a father and his two kids who fall through a portal that lands them in a strange world. The show revolves mainly around them surviving and trying to get home. I got more than I bargained for as the show had more than just dinos, but a whole set of strange and interesting creatures and concepts. The idea was that the place collected things that were lost and dinos were there because no one knew why they went extinct. The claymation dinosaur battles were not bad for their time. One of my favorite concepts was the crystal system. The land had these obelisk structures called pylons which contained tables with an array of crystals. They were like the control centers of the place and had various mysterious properties. By touching these in various combinations, you could control various weather patterns and things. In fact, the crystals, which appeared naturally in the cave systems, had their own energy like properties. Touch a blue and a red together and get an explosion. Another combination might produce a force field, light flash, heat, electric shock, or battery power.

In an early episode, the family tries to escape by rafting down a perilous river, only to find that the river is an endless circular flow that never leaves the place. The series is filled with wonderful story ideas written by several authors. In fact, I recently discovered that the introduction of Enik, one of the more popular characters and a personal favorite, was in an episode (the only such one) written by Walter Koenig, the actor who plays Chekov in Star Trek. These stories were probably my first exposure to sci-fi as a kid.

One of the more surprising things about Land of the Lost is that it was created by Sid and Marty Krofft, a pair of guys who produced numerous popular live action puppetry kid shows at that time. All of their other offerings were modeled like sitcoms for kids, complete with goofy jokes, laugh tracks, and people dressed up in all sorts of silly costumes. These included Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Lidsville, and H.R. Pufnstuf. Land of the Lost was their only project meant to be dead serious - no laugh tracks, no silly jokes. These characters were in real peril just about every episode.

Thanks to the internet, I am now the proud owner of the DVD set. After 35 years, I watched the entire first two seasons with glee (in the third season they replaced Spencer Milligan with an Uncle figure and it didn't quite measure up). Even though it was only my second viewing, I remembered the episodes vividly. Of course, my wife thought I was crazy. I never realized as a kid how bad the acting was and all that, so it's not something I would recommend to my friends, but I reckon it might still work for young kids today. And the silly movie spoof by Will Ferrell and company is probably only fully appreciated by those of us who knew it back then.

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