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Land of the Lost

The tune was ridiculously infectious. Marshall, Will and Holly… An entire premise summed up in a few lines with a hint of banjo…on a routine expedition… So maybe it wasn't the greatest adventure ever known, but the most straightforward adventure series from Sid & Marty Krofft, Land of the Lost, must have done something right to stick in the memories of kids in the '70s.

It wasn't just the theme song. It was that golden combination of monkey men, lizard men and, of course, thunder lizards, all variously threatening or befriending the Marshall family trapped in an otherworldly jungle. While it wouldn't have occurred to me that the only thing missing from that combination was Will Ferrell's patented know-it-all know-nothing, it doesn't hurt.

In this update, directed by Brad Silberling, the family dynamic has been thrown away. That doesn't hurt as much as you might think. Instead, the script by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas takes a more adult approach, crafting as solid a sci-fi adventure as one could from a Saturday morning television show. (Yes, despite fond memories, I admit that part of its coolness came from us being six at the time.)

As a plot, Land of the Lost works fairly well. Discredited scientist Rick Marshall (Ferrell) has been reduced to lecturing to children at the La Brea Tar Pits. Resigned to failure after his theories of tapping into time-traveling tachyons to solve the energy crisis made him into the wrong kind of YouTube sensation, Marshall has a hard time believing that Australian grad student Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) actually hero-worships him.

Her interference doesn't so much shake the cobwebs off as make him just a little bit curious, so the two set off to prove his theories at Devil's Canyon Cave. Accompanied by tourist trap owner Will Stanton (Danny McBride), they get sucked into a time vortex and all hell breaks loose.

Maybe we don't need so much explanation beyond that "…routine expedition," but it works. Throughout, the movie offers crumbs of something much darker, especially as the Marshall group finds the remains of those that have gone before.

But with Ferrell, McBride and Lonely Island's Jorma Taccone as monkey prince Chaka, there's no way that this could be dark. Silberling lets them run rampant across the script, with a lot of adjustments made for Ferrell and McBride's personas, making a sometimes awkward combination.

Instead of being tense and driven by shame, Rick Marshall might as well be Ron Burgundy, bumbling his way into successes as well as failures. Nobody plays that eerie and undeserved self-confidence as well as Ferrell, and that keeps the movie from veering into too many dark places. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since Land of the Lost was a children's show.

For those remembering the show, however, this movie isn't really for children. Will mutters a stream of innuendoes, and Chaka spends an inordinate amount of time finding excuses to feel up Holly. And though the movie has moments of devolving into outright silliness (gags which shouldn't work but dangit, they do and I won't spoil them), the modern Sleestaks may just be too intensely scary - at least at first - for kids.

Silberling does try to strike a balance with the old memories. One of the hallmarks of the series was how cheesy everything looked, and despite having a lot of CG at their disposal, the filmmakers don't work too hard at making it seem realistic. Grumpy the Tyrannosaurus Rex needs to be slightly more cartoony to make the plot work, and ultimately the horror of the Sleestak race gets undercut by the intelligent Enik (John Boylan) having an over-animated mouth. These choices seem purposeful, a nod to how the effects didn't quite match up with the actors in the original series.

Honestly, Land of the Lost doesn't offer up many surprises, but it's solid. If you're not into Ferrell, this movie isn't going to change your mind, and maybe that's a shame. The premise was strong enough that Silberling might have pushed the comic actor into striking a different tone. But it is what it is, and it's funny, without ruining the elements of the original series.

Derek McCaw

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