Our assignment this week was to watch the pilot for TV’s original Land of the Lost, which aired back in 1974. For how many of you was this like freebasing nostalgia? Were you suddenly transported back to your parents’ TV room, lying face-down on the shag rug, chin in your hands, perhaps coming down off a sugar high from eating too many Cocoa Puffs?
Considering I was 5 in 1974, that could have been me. But my parents were TV hard-liners. Up until I was around 6, my sister and I were only permitted to watch PBS. And when we were finally freed from the shackles of educational television, we were only allowed an hour of TV a day, and I had to mete it out carefully. I usually chose something in a live rerun, a la Gilligan’s Island, The Monkees, or The Brady Bunch. So “classic” Saturday-morning television is my pop-culture blind spot; the world of Sid and Marty Krofft was all new to me.
I suppose that makes all the difference. I was coming to this blind, so I just saw it as a cheesy relic, amusing more for all the clichés, like the dad wrapping up the episode by saying, “You know, it’s funny how things work out…” So that’s the position I’m coming from, but I’d be curious to hear the thoughts of those who knew the show way back when.
The first thing I’d like to address is the theme song. Man, I miss theme songs. As I was watching the episode, I kept wondering whether I’d screwed up and not posted the pilot, as it seemed to start in the middle of their adventure. But then I realized that they didn’t need an “origin” story; the theme song told us everything we needed to know: Marshall, Will and Holly, on routine expedition, greatest earthquake ever known, rapids struck tiny raft, washed them down to Land of the Lost. Well, I guess we’re all up to speed, and we got to tap our toes in the process.
There was other stuff to nitpick, like the actor who played Will and was billed only by “Wesley”; there’s a name that gives the opposite of mystique when it stands on its own. If anything, it needs a made-up last name, like Dangerton or Nightchopper. And the stop-motion dinosaurs now look laughably old-school; when Grumpy roared, it looked more like it was yawning. You people in that cave are lucky! If it wasn’t time for my nap, I would eat you all! As for Cha-Ka, he looked like someone had crossbred a primate from Planet of the Apes with one of the Little Rascals. But this was 1974, what did I expect? It does no good to nitpick this show. It was what it was and probably gave joy to millions of little children who didn’t yet know the wonders of 300 channels and overdone CGI.
But it does raise one modern-day question that is very relevant: Why make a big-budget adaptation? You may go to see it because you love Will Ferrell (as I do), or because you like loud blockbusters, but would you go because the title from your past calls to you with the siren song of childhood innocence? Not likely. So how hard is it to come up with your own time-travel dinosaur movie? They reconfigured the remake so it’s not about a dad and two kids, but rather a bumbling scientist and his two pals — if you’re veering that far from the original, why call it Land of the Lost at all? Sure, there seems to be a Cha-ka and some sleestaks, but it seems to be far more about loud dinosaurs who don’t look like they’re yawning at all.
Hollywood seems to think that it updates any childhood favorite, fans of the original will Pavlovianally rush to the theater, as if they had been told that their dead grandmother would be appearing there, baking her trademark chocolate chip cookies. That only works with larger-than-life franchises that still love on in reruns, like Star Trek or even The Brady Bunch: they’re still a pop culture force. But it doesn’t help obscure titles that haven’t been mentioned for years, except for the occasional, “Hey, remember that show ________?” “Yeah, dude, I do!” small talk moment at a beer bash. And if you only have vague memories of the original, you’ll have little curiosity in an update. Fewer people remember that the Beverly Hillbillies movie existed than remember the Beverly Hillbillies TV show.
Plus, if you look back fondly on a show like Land of the Lost, you like to remember it exactly how it was, because it reminds you of being a kid. If you wanted to see it again, you’d want to see it exactly as you remembered it, dopey special effects and all. You don’t want it cleaned up and modernized; then it’s something else. It’s like restaurants that serve gourmet macaroni and cheese: that’s not what makes you nostalgically salivate, the thought of eating it fresh from the Kraft box does. Once you doll it up with gruyere, it may be good, but it has nothing to do with your memories.
So what do you think? If you were a fan of the show, does that make you want to see the movie more, less, or does it have nothing to do with it? And if you’ve never seen the show before, did watching it on Hulu make you feel like you have a deep, dark hole in yourgrade-school memories where a show about a Cindy Brady lookalike and her monkey friend should be?
Before we begin the discussion, I’ll give next week’s assignment: Land of the Lost, the movie! What a follow-up, and great way to continue this conversation…damn you, synergy, you have tricked me into doing your bidding again!