My notes on Land of the Lost (2009).Studio execs tend to greenlight anything they remember through a stoned haze from their teenage years, though they then play safe by yoking old premises to currently-hot stars or modes of filmmaking. The Transformers movies are probably the most flagrant example of yesterday’s ephemera bloated into today’s blockbuster, but this Will Ferrell riff on Sid and Marty Krofft’s 1974 live-action fantasy-adventure series runs a close second. Like Gilligan’s Island (to which the premise – and theme song – are slightly indebted), the original show is often referenced in American pop culture and proves bewildering to Brits since it either didn’t air over here or was hidden away in regional ITV schedules in such a way that it made no impression. In the mid-70s, I watched every episode of The Fantastic Journey, so if there’d been an available show with dinosaurs and lizard people available I’d have seen it, no matter how poor it was.
The series — already remade for television with purportedly improved effects in 1991 – is remembered with fond contempt for its visible zipper monsters and various other shortcomings, and the mocking attitude is omnipresent here, defusing any attempts at exciting dino-action and frankly sabotaging most of the comedy too. It’s committed enough to check off elements from the memorably stupid theme song – ‘a routine expedition’, ‘the greatest earthquake ever known’ – and have Ferrell pick up a banjo while a huge tick is bleeding him white and strum a dazed improv version of the song. After a prologue with an astronaut being chased by a tyrannosaur, it opens with full-of-himself paleontologist Dr Rick Marshall (Ferrell) getting into a row with TV presenter Matt Lauer (as himself – which isn’t that much of a draw in the UK) and losing his reputation – rather than become a drunk, he’s a problem eater who binges on junkfood. Two years later, Marshall is hauled out of his slide by disciple Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel, using her natural Manc accent for a change – nice to hear, shame it’s a rotten part) and finishes his tachyon-based mcguffin doodad. They visit a cheesy tourist attraction cave and – along with redneck guide Will Stanton (Danny McBride) – are zapped via earthquake and rapids (as per the song) to the eponymous dimension where bits of detritus from Earth have fetched up. They fall in with monkeyish Chaka (Jorma Taccone), who does endless boob-holding and leg-humping schtick, and wander about – Marshall gets in a feud with the T-Rex, whom he names Grumpy, but wins him over while passing through his bowels, and the visitors opt to help out the wrong lizard person and nearly enable a tyrant (John Boylan) to lead an army of Sleestaks (Gill Man-Aquaphibian crossbreeds) in conquest of the universe.
It has a lot of hit-or-miss gross-out comedy (that huge tick, Marshall dousing himself with ‘hadrosaur urine’, dinosaur shit) and a mind-numbing running joke about the time machine which doubles as a boombox and plays ‘gay showtunes’ (a selection from A Chorus Line). Like most modern star vehicle comedies, it’s jittery and obnoxious, never letting a scene or a relationship build, filling in gaps with gratuitous eye-kicks (from Friel cutting her trousers into short shorts to an ice-cream man being amusingly rent apart by little dinosaurs), full of whining and complaining, borderline distasteful (Chaka seems to be one of those whacky comedy rapists) and proud to be dumb as a pile of rocks. The monsters are nicely-designed, if derivative (Grumpy is a very Jurassic Park design) but don’t really do much – that fearsome Sleestak army just stands around, mostly. It’s so relentless that it does force out a laugh every few minutes or so with an offhand remark or a double-take, but that’s really no excuse. Year One was funnier. Directed by Brad Silberling and written by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas, but this is one of those committee-made movies you suspect a ton of other folks stuck their oars into. The nice-looking part-animated end credits ought to have been on a better film. It has an early cave babe role for Pollyanna McIntosh, who stuck with troglodism for her turns in The Woman and sequels.