Land of the Lost

LandOfTheLostPosterstarring Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, and Danny McBride
written by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas & directed by Brad Silberling
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, and for language including a drug reference.

Eccentric scientist Dr. Rick Marshall (Ferrell) has been laughed out of academia because of his radical theories about space, time, and parallel universes. Undaunted, he embarks on a voyage of discovery with beautiful British research assistant Holly Cantrell (Friel) and indomitable redneck Will Stanton (McBride) and winds up in a dimensional dumping ground populated by all sorts of strange and dangerous creatures. Soon it becomes clear that Marshall has stumbled on a secret that may leave the fate of the entire multiverse dangling in the balance.

It’s not at all difficult to see that this adaptation of a cheesy 1970s television show is a disastrous misfire almost from beginning to end. A far more interesting question to consider is why exactly it fails so miserably. The problem is not really that the story and characters make no sense, or that the production values are poor, or even that the humor is too whimsical and self-aware. All of these things are true, but none of them really sums up the reason that Land of the Lost is such a painful viewing experience. So where does the blame lie?

Despite reasonable suspicions to the contrary, Will Ferrell and his co-stars are not entirely to blame here. Although he is often notably excellent in supporting roles, movies in which Ferrell plays the central character are rarely received so favorably. His brand of comedy is generally loud and crude, revolving around a series of extreme situations which repeatedly deflate his brashly (or naively) overconfident persona through a combination of physical pain and gross-out humiliation. In this movie, Ferrell falls off of things and things fall on him. He deliberately douses himself in urine, downing a few swigs for good measure. He is excreted by a dinosaur (mercifully off-screen).

Ferrell is actually a funny guy, and Friel and McBride both endearing and entertaining. Many of the gags are not fundamentally and inherently unfunny. Unfortunately, in Land of the Lost the humor has a lot to accomplish and very few resources to work with. There is no context for any of these jokes, and they do not flow naturally out of or into anything. It is not entirely important that there be a coherent plot to make this idea work, but events must be connected by something more than simply the sequence they are shown in. Most of the scenes in this movie could have been scrambled into a completely random order with no loss of meaning. Perhaps they were.

Worse yet, the humor is not allowed to succeed or fail on its own merits. Instead, each joke must be hammered mercilessly into oblivion until the audience can no longer remember why they might have chuckled initially. It is not enough for Rick to be swallowed by a dinosaur and then reappear after having obviously emerged from the other end. Will must pretend to be unbelievably thick and question him for some minutes about how he escaped until Rick is forced to spell everything out. I shudder to calculate how much of the movie’s run-time consists of having its jokes meticulously explained until they have no hope of being funny (if they ever did).

The fault clearly rests with the lazy, shoddy writing. With a concept like this, the possibilities are literally almost infinite. Why then should the writers have needed to fall back on an endless string of poop jokes? It’s sad to see the opportunity wasted, because there are so many hints at what might have been. Among the movie’s producers were Sid and Marty Krofft, the creators of the original television series (which was aimed primarily at children). Throughout Land of the Lost we see people in rubber suits so cheap one can almost spot the zipper and poor computer-generated effects that the actors barely pretend to be interacting with.

There is a sustained camp aesthetic at work which seems to indicate an awareness that it is possible to tell a fun, engaging story without state-of-the-art digital effects and zillion-dollar pyrotechnics. I’m not always sure whether anyone making summer blockbusters knows that anymore. Unfortunately, a fun and engaging story never shows up, and the reliance on scatological humor signals an abandonment of the younger audience of the show and of good taste in general. Not even a late-night screening and the desire to be amused could force any genuine laughter out of me, and I was left wishing I’d stayed home and gone to bed instead.

~ by Jared on June 5, 2009.

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