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Home > Sci-Fi > When I Look All Around, I Can’t Believe The Things I’ve Found

When I Look All Around, I Can’t Believe The Things I’ve Found

May 27th, 2009

I had a chance to reconnect with a bit of my childhood on Monday, courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel’s Land of the Lost Memorial Day marathon. They ran all 43 episodes in chronological order, and while I missed most of the first season, I was able to settle in for nearly the entire second season’s run.

Land of the Lost premiered in 1974, and was highly unusual compared to other Saturday morning fare. Produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, best known for acid-trip phantasmagorias such as H.R. Pufnstuf and Lidsville, it was a full-blown sci-fi adventure. The Krofft brothers hired Star Trek scribe David Gerrold (“The Trouble with Tribbles”) to flesh out the concept. In turn Gerrold commissioned scripts from fellow Trek talents D.C. Fontana, Margaret Armen and Walter “Chekov” Koenig, as well as established sci-fi authors Larry Niven, Ben Bova and Normal Spinrad. (Theodore Sturgeon wrote a second season episode, but that was after Gerrold had moved on.)

Gerrold was responsible for much of the quirkiness of the series. Rather than a lost island or other terrestrial locale, he set it in a “pocket universe” with three moons in the sky. This otherdimensional world was so small that its single river looped back to its own beginning. In one famous scene, the Marshalls (a family trapped in the Land after plunging over a waterfall and through a “time doorway”) stood atop a mountain and peered through their binoculars…only to see themselves from behind!

lotlThe Land of the Lost was both prehistoric and alien, with a mixture of dinosaurs, ape-like Pakuni and lizard/insect creatures known as Sleestaks. Strange “pylons” dotted the landscape, leftovers from the technologically-advanced Altrusian race that devolved into the primitive Sleestak. These pylons controlled weather, time and whatever else the writers felt would cause the most trouble for the Marshalls.

Land of the Lost was pretty ambitious in terms of its production values, with makeup effects by Michael Westmore and stop-motion dinosaurs by the Oscar-winning team of Gene Warren and Wah Chang. The show even hired a linguist to create a language for the Pakuni. And yet, like ’70s-era Doctor Who, it often bit off more than it could chew, as its cheap studio sets and cheesy video effects clashed with Warren and Chang’s detailed miniatures.

The end result was both nearly unwatchable and utterly fascinating. On the unwatchable end of things were the performances of the main cast. During the show’s initial season, I found myself watching competing dino show Valley of the Dinosaurs because I could. not. stand. Kathy Coleman as Holly Marshall. She got a little better as the series progressed, but not much.

But what made it fascinating was the at-times unfathomable strangeness of it all. The first season ended with a Niven/Gerrold collaboration named “Circle,” which was meant to give the series some closure while allowing for further adventures. In it, the Marshalls learn that the only way for them to use the time doorway to escape the Land of the Lost is if three other people replace them (according to the “law of conservation of temporal momentum,” no shit). And the three people they choose are…themselves! The episode ends with one set of Marshalls exiting the Land as the others plunge down the waterfall to repeat their adventures. Or something. It was all rather brain-melting at the time, and people are still debating the paradox.

My favorite episode is a second season entry called “Gravity Storm.” It features the Zarn, a snarky, alien scientist who is composed entirely of lights and is physically hurt by human emotions. His attempt to use his spaceship’s gravity drive to blast off from the Land dangerously increases everyone else’s weight and threatens to tear apart the pocket dimension. When the Marshalls complain, he sics a robot dinosaur (named “Fred”) on them. Amusingly, it’s one of the stop-motion model armatures outfitted with light-up eyes, but the effect is oddly creepy.

In the third season, the wheels came completely off the wagon. Rick Marshall (the dad) abruptly left the show, to be replaced by “Uncle Jack.” A massive earthquake changed the topography and released such unlikely creatures as a two-headed dinosaur and a fire-breathing dimetrodon. And then Medusa, the Abominable Snowman and the Flying Dutchman showed up.

In hindsight, I can’t help but feel that Land of the Lost has more than a little to do with the recent prime-time series Lost. Both shows are about people trapped in a small, isolated location. Both greatly exceed their mandates by introducing ancient advanced technology, time paradoxes and complicated physics. And both have Sleestak. (Oh, you didn’t notice the Sleestak on Lost? Guess you’ll have to stay tuned to season six!)

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