Land of the Lost
Directed by: Brad Silberling
Written by: Chris Henchy, Dennis McNicholas
Starring: Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel, Jorma Taccone, Ben Best
The transition from R to PG-13 is not always an easy one for comedians, particularly ones who base their humour on crass jokes and shock value, but it’s a transition that is necessary in order to become a true A-list Hollywood star. When formerly edgy funnymen turn to family-friendly fare (that’s a lot of f-words), they typically risk alienating their original audience and watering down their act. However, if they can pull off these films without losing their identity and credibility (ahem… Eddie Murphy), they just may have a long and profitable career ahead of them.
Will Ferrell, for his part, has always done a decent job of balancing his career between movies for general audiences (Elf) and the college crowd (Old School, Anchorman). However, he is now dealing with an inevitable backlash due to overexposure, and the prospect of a kid-friendly summer blockbuster based on a campy ’70s TV show does not seem to be garnering him a ton of respect. Still, with Ferrell’s penchant for the bizarre, and Danny McBride (Eastbound & Down, The Foot Fist Way) in a supporting role, is Land of the Lost really as innocent and corny as it might seem?
The original TV show Land of the Lost was created by Sid and Marty Krofft (H.R. Pufnstuf), and like many children’s programs from the ’70s it is known for its low-budget special effects and psychedelic undertones. Will Ferrell stars as Rick Marshall, a quirky scientist who has been exiled from the scientific community due to his study of time warps. When a grad student named Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) offers to be his research assistant, together they set out in search of a dimensional portal with the help of redneck tour guide Will Stanton (Danny McBride). It isn’t long before they are sucked into a fantastical world where dinosaurs rub shoulders with giant insects, ape men and reptilian humanoids known as Sleestaks. The trio must survive long enough to recover their lost Tachyon amplifier if they hope to return to their own world and prove to Matt Lauer that Rick Marshall was right all along.
While I’m not very familiar with the original show, Land of the Lost seems to maintain a lot of the original concept and characters. That said, this movie is mostly an exercise in absurdity, and it has been entirely repainted as a Will Ferrell vehicle. It reminded me of Starsky & Hutch in the sense that it uses the framework of the original mainly as a set up for laughs (although it’s not as much of a direct parody as Starsky & Hutch was), and there’s also not a ton of action in the movie either.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is the fact that the movie is pretty edgy for something that is rated PG-13… to the point where I could see some parents being a little upset about it. There is plenty of swearing (although only one whispered F-bomb from what I remember), crude sex jokes, a trippy drug scene, and lots of Danny McBride doing what he does best. Admittedly, it did feel like he had to hold back a lot, but it was still funny. Heck, there was even a somewhat risque ethnic joke that kind of came out of nowhere — certainly not something I would have expected from a movie based on a Saturday morning TV show for kids.
Ferrell plays another oblivious man-child, so if you’re growing tired of that act, you might want to steer clear. Not everything works — there are some scenes that go nowhere, jokes that are repeated too often, and some slapstick stuff that is simply forgettable. Jorma Taccone’s portrayal of the ape man Cha-Ka can be grating at times. Still, I think that fans of Anchorman or Step Brothers will definitely find enough comedy here to make it worth their while.
The look of the movie stays true to the cheap, low budget aesthetic of the TV series, which enhances the goofiness, but also seems like an easy excuse for bad CG work. The Sleestaks are men in rubber suits, while the dinosaurs are computer-generated. Some of the sets use giant, cartoony-looking props, while other backdrops are entirely digital. Perhaps if the art design wasn’t so uninspired, they could have meshed the two together well, but as it is they probably should have committed to one or the other. A lot of people are going to question the $100 million budget, but the bottom line is that the movie was not made to wow us with cutting edge FX anyway.
What I think ultimately holds this movie back from being a classic is the lack of an appropriate director or a solid script. The movie is written by Chris Henchy (Entourage) and Dennis McNicholas (Saturday Night Live), but it feels like Ferrell and McBride are the ones providing all the laughs through performance and improvisation alone. Director Brad Silberling (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, Casper) clearly knows his way around a family-oriented fantasy film, but he doesn’t quite know what to do with Will Ferrell’s off-the-wall humour and how to integrate it properly.
Land of the Lost is a movie with an identity crisis of sorts, but I do think there is an audience out there who will appreciate it once they find it. Parents expecting another Elf or perhaps something in the vein of Jumanji will obviously not be impressed, but fans of Will Ferrell’s other work should be able to dig it, assuming they can get past the campiness and questionable special effects. Unfortunately it looks like this will go down on record as a Will Ferrell bomb, but I don’t think it deserves to be viewed as such. It’s certainly not his finest work to date, but it’s also a far cry from Semi-Pro. — Sean
Recommended If You Like: Zoolander, Hot Rod, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy