And so the 70s TV show remake bandwagon rolls on. You know the bottom of the barrel is getting scraped when little-known-to-modern-audiences, but supposedly cult, shows like Land Of The Lost get the green light. What’s next, B.J. And The Bear? Gripes aside, Land Of The Lost‘s premise is intriguing enough (more on that later) and with a big name comic like Will Ferrell on board, there are moderate hopes for an anti-blockbuster palette cleanser to sooth our shredded nerves after a summer of Wolverines, Terminators and Transformers. Unfortunately, this is not the case, because this is a film with a serious case of cinematic schizophrenia.
Ferrell stars as Dr. Rick Marshall, a ‘quantum palaeontologist’ whose crackpot theories on time warps have made him the laughing stock of the scientific fraternity, with his career-ending appearance on The Today Show a YouTube sensation. Marshall has been floundering, teaching children at the La Brea Tar Pits until British scientist Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) arrives and convinces him to finish his reality-bending tachyon amplifier.
For reasons unknown, Ferrell and Friel head out to a two bit roadside attraction called The Devil’s Cave, where they meet the film’s third lead, redneck tour guide Will Stanton (Danny McBride), to turn their tachyon-thingy on. The resulting earthquake sucks the three through a space-time vortex into a parallel universe full of ape-men, intelligent dinosaurs and a smorgasbord of other phantasmagorical creatures and situations.
The aim of Land Of The Lost is clear enough: to be an action-comedy that could appeal to both adults and children alike, with Ferrell and McBride – definitely a star in waiting, in his first big role here after bit parts in Tropic Thunder and Pineapple Express – riffing of each other in Ferrell’s trademark expressive over-exclamatory way (“Captain Kirk’s nipples!”, for example). Friel seems content to act sweet and for some reason, once again unknown, acting as translator for Cha-ka (Jorma Taccone), the group’s resident ape-man mascot. Meanwhile, the dinosaurs are there to keep the kids amused and distract them from some of the more risqué gags.
It was probably pitched as ‘Jurassic Farce’ or ‘Planet Of The Japes’, but Land Of The Lost gets so wrapped up trying to be all things to all men it forgets to the most important thing: to be anything much at all.
For example, the 12A rating is confusing. The comedy starts off very much kid-centric (“Do dinosaurs have boobies?”), but becomes much more adult as the film progresses. This would have been easy enough to fix and bring the rating down to PG, but you get the sense that the film has lost its way, Ferrell has thrown the script out the window and started improvising every scene, while the editors have just stuck in all the best takes – regardless of continuity.
The hiring of Brad Silberling (Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events) as director definitely points towards family appeal, and the villainous Sleestaks – lumbering bug-eyed lizard men – are rubbish-but-sinister in a Doctor Who type way. And there is far too much money on screen for this ever to have been conceived as a vanilla Ferrell vehicle.
Ferrell and McBride don’t quite click and an organic comedy dynamic is never established. Anyone other than Ferrell would have been happy to let McBride be the wacky comic relief, but he’s too used to using his sidekicks as straight men, meaning the two interchange roles and neither character ever gets properly defined. Once again, this is probably down to the improvisational nature of Ferrell’s style – which can be great when the whole film is geared around it, but Land Of The Lost is forever reining him back, only for his innate Ferrell-ness to break loose.
Aesthetically, the film has a certain low-fi charm, using giant polystyrene sets, old school animatronics and actors instead of green screens and CG Land Of The Lost looks, and feels, like an homage to 50s B-movies and Saturday matinee creature features. This retro style exudes a warm aura of irony, but could have had more made of it.
Land Of The Lost is not a turkey. It has its moments, and there are some genuine belly laughs towards the end. But those hoping for a straight-up comedy should be wary and those looking for something to amuse the kiddies should be warned – the humour here gets pretty adult in places. Even Ferrell fanatics will feel slightly bemused as to where the whole thing is leading.
A mixed-up, out of kilter film that lacks cohesion and purpose, Land Of The Lost tries to sit on the fence but ends up getting lost in translation.
Land of the Lost arrives in UK cinemas on 31st July.