Land of the Lost 1.1 – Cha-Ka

“THIS IS THE SCARIEST SHOW EVER!” shouted Daniel. And he’s right. Four year-olds can totally get what’s happening when a mean twenty-foot tyrannosaur is stomping around after you.

I am really glad that we waited a few months to start this show, and get him used to some frights, because having Grumpy the tyrannosaur chase the Marshalls around the jungle while they try to see to a young ape-man, a Paku called Cha-Ka, really is stunning the first time you see it through small eyes. I’ve seen this episode sixty-eleven times already; I spent most of the twenty-five minutes watching not the set but my son, whose eyes were as big as dinner plates when they weren’t hid under his blanket or on the other side of the couch.

This was awesome.

The show was created, at different levels, by Sid and Marty Krofft, Allan Foshko, and by David Gerrold, who did the heavy lifting and the world-building. There are weird hiccups in this first script that sound like earlier drafts, unfinished, made the final cut. (For example, did the Marshalls really spend time building a basket-lift elevator, and prep “flyswatter” log deterrents for Grumpy before they talked about where they might be, and that there are three moons in the sky?) But it’s a heck of a good first script overall. Gerrold was absolutely right to start this with a simple story of rescuing Cha-Ka and running around trying to get away from the dinosaur. It establishes the immediate dinosaur threat with quite a lot of great stop-motion animation, establishes the Marshalls as resourceful, good people who believably squabble and have legitimate fears, and establishes Cha-Ka, smallest of them all, as a downright fantastic audience identification figure for the youngest viewers.

But Land of the Lost is an astonishingly neat series that is a whole lot more than the sum of its parts. It’s completely unlike anything that was on television for kids in 1974 because it has continuity and a story that unfolds across multiple episodes. I’ve been so looking forward to watching this again. Yes, many of the acting performances are weak, and yes, the chromakey effects are woefully dated, but the slow, week-by-week revelation of a great big world, a great big history, and the presence of great big questions is just so damn fun. It will all end in tears, it’s true, because season three is so head-trauma awful in missing the point and missing opportunities, but we’ll have so much fun getting there.

If we can get past the next episode. I’m still a little concerned about the Sleestak. Actually, a lot concerned.

(Note: Universal’s complete DVD set was released to coincide with the Will Ferrell movie from 2009, which is better than you have heard [if not by much], but the episodes were not remastered. These are badly color-washed, very old tapes with a lot of bleeding and blurring. I don’t get the finest results pausing for screencaps with my equipment in the first place, but I fear that this show’s going to drive me to distraction to get good illustrations for you. Please bear with me in case of poor pictures!)

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