Tag Archives: land of the lost

Land of the Lost 3.6 – Cornered

FIRE-BREATHING DIMETRODON!!!

So, what I was saying back with episode four… the cold light of adulthood showed the third season of Land of the Lost to be many leagues poorer than the previous two, but for kids, the excitement level went through the roof. And indeed Daniel could barely contain himself tonight, completely wild with the thrill of seeing this bad boy in action.

This episode is by some measure better than the previous few, even with Enik being downright hostile, the strange logic of a carnivorous animal wanting to chow down on coal, and the horrible coda – not the only one – of Wesley Eure picking up a homemade guitar and lip-synching to a pre-recorded teen dream “junior dance”-style song. It’s just wildly fun and exciting, and this fire-breathing beast makes all the difference.

By a bizarre coincidence, just three days ago, Daniel and I spent a few hours at Tellus Science Museum, just north of Cartersville GA, which is money incredibly well spent if your kid’s at the dinosaur age. And wouldn’t you know it, look what they have on display:

Now, to be fair, at no point in “Cornered” do they actually identify Torchy as a dimetrodon, but kids in the seventies knew exactly what that animal was, because every “Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals” coloring book or bag of plastic creatures had a dimetrodon in it. (Some of those bags also had rust monsters and owlbears, but that’s another story.) The actual dimetrodon, a creature that lived before the dinosaurs, in the Permian period, was a very big animal, but nowhere near the size of the gargantuan thing that’s onscreen in this episode.

And it doesn’t matter, because this thing is just crazy fun cool. About twelve years ago, I was watching some antiseptic children’s program with Daniel’s two older siblings and grumbled that what that show needed was a fire-breathing dimetrodon. I dug my old VHS copy of this out to show them what I was talking about, and it blew their minds, too. We thought about all the kid shows on Nick Jr. that would be improved by the inclusion of a fire-breathing dimetrodon (“Hola, I’m Dora…” ROAR!) and the evening concluded with what is still one of the funniest things I can remember my older son doing around that age (maybe seven) as he said “I’m Franklin, and I’m LOST!” in a truly perfect impression of that dopey turtle before bellowing “FIRE-BREATHING DIMETRODON! ROARRRRR!”

I did a quick check, however, and the stars of Sprout are safe and free to grow, as Daniel would rather not have the Doozers and the Berenstain Bears attacked by a fire-breathing dimetrodon. Shame.

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Land of the Lost 3.5 – Medusa

So, yes, this happened.

Medusa is played by an actress named Marion Thompson. She was unable to pronounce the word “mirror.” That is the most interesting thing about this episode.

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Land of the Lost 3.4 – Repairman

This is so strange. I remember, as a kid, being absolutely thrilled by the third season of Land of the Lost, and let down and betrayed when I came back to it in the cold light of adulthood to see how dumb it is. So what’s going on with our five year-old? After seasons one and two scared the pants off him upward of a dozen times and he treated the show with kid gloves, afraid of what mindfreaking horror was coming next, he is absolutely loving season three in an entirely new way. It’s tremendously exciting to him, and the new plot elements are introduced in a way I can only classify as safely.

This week, for instance, Laurie Main plays a mysterious repairman named Blandings who has come from somewhere to replace a crystal that the Sleestak have stolen from a black “sun pylon.” Yes, in another bout of Saturday morning villainy, their leader wants to rid the valley of the Marshalls. Now, compare how the Zarn was introduced in season two to this guy. The Zarn came with harsh ambient music and a very strong feeling that everything was very, very unsafe. Blandings is all smiles, kindness, and British politeness and “My, my,” and they reuse the musical cues that Dopey used to receive. It’s whimsical.

Objectively, there’s nothing wrong with this episode, I just think it’s flat and boring. I would quibble that the director, Joe Scanlan, didn’t have a clue how to shoot the Sleestak and make them threatening in the way that Bob Lally and Dennis Steinmetz did, but this was very early in Scanlan’s long career – twenty years later, he’d be shooting Lois & Clark, La Femme Nikita, and Brisco County Jr., so he definitely improved with time – but on the other hand, Daniel was jumping up and down with the awesome-to-him fight scenes with explosions in the tunnels.

I’ve always said that it’s fascinating to watch shows with children to see how they view them. I didn’t enjoy the Colin Baker years of Doctor Who until I watched them with my older kids when they were about eight and ten and saw what they were seeing and loving completely. Watching this through a child’s eyes is much, much more fun than watching it alone.

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Land of the Lost 3.3 – The Orb

A couple of entries back, I mentioned how the characterization of Walker Edmiston’s Enik in season three is all wrong. It feels for all the world like the new producer Jon Kubichan understood that this show was created by people with a Star Trek background, remembered that Mr. Spock was all about logic, and concluded that would be a good hook for Enik. It doesn’t work, and just leaves the character saying “That is not logical” constantly. It’s pretty obnoxious, actually.

But the really obnoxious bit is the Sleestak leader in season three, played by Jon Locke. Now, back in season one’s “The Hole”, we met a Sleestak called S’Latch, who could speak English and explained that every few years, a “freak” Sleestak, born with intelligence, language, and an understanding of their history, is born. I’ve always figured that there is a gap of many months between “Blackout” and “After-Shock,” and during that gap, a new “freak” was hatched, and this one managed to not aggravate everybody else with talk of compassion, because he was instead a big bully with dreams of conquest. It’s still a massive miscalculation, going from “weird hissing monsters who don’t talk” to “we want to conquer the valley and rule everybody,” but that’s really the only explanation that makes any sense.

Giving the fiction of the show a sizable gap between seasons also covers the fact that Kathy Coleman grew about five inches between the second and third production block, and that the Sleestak plan in this episode – eternal night – was one that they just freaking pulled three episodes ago. Even Daniel piped up and said “Their moths will die and their eggs won’t hatch!” If a five year-old is pointing out your plot holes, you have a problem. This only makes sense if enough time had elapsed since “Blackout” for the new leader to be hatched, grow to maturity, and take over the tribe. It’s not as though we really know how long it takes for Sleestak to mature, or what their life span actually is.

But even though Daniel saw the flaw in their plan, he still really enjoyed this one. He liked the exciting bit where Will, made invisible for most of the episode via some pylon shenanigans, pulls an Orb out from the Sleestak God’s pit and snatches it away from the Leader, and said there weren’t any bad bits. Perhaps toning down the horror in favor of kid-friendly excitement might have been the right idea for the target audience, even if it resulted in something more tame and dull for grown-ups.

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Land of the Lost 3.2 – Survival Kit

They made thirteen episodes in the third season of Land of the Lost. Three of them are absolutely brain-hammeringly godawful. This is one of those three.

For those stumbling through, this is the episode in which the gigantic Richard Kiel, who’d later battle Roger Moore in a couple of James Bond movies, plays a loudmouthed “cro-magnon” and battles the Sleestak. Since their leader now speaks English, we now suffer the indignity of watching the baddie plea for mercy because the caveman has diverted a river(!) to flood their egg chamber. You want to know how to instantly remove all the menace from a villain? Make them grovel. For two seasons, the Sleestak were the greatest monsters of all American television. You could scarcely communicate with them and only make bargains if somebody interceded on your behalf. You didn’t know what they wanted, they just made horrible hissing noises and leapt at you from shadows. And now this. This episode should never, ever have been made. It cheapened everything done in the first two seasons.

So I’ll talk about something different.

Back in the VHS trading days, season three of this show was incredibly difficult to source. It was something that nobody owned but many people had on their wants list. CBS had shown most of, or possibly all of, seasons one and two in 1985 and 1987, so those were out there, but finding season three meant finding somebody who had taped it on the syndicated Krofft Super Stars package between 1979 and 1983 or so.

So there was this one guy who finally landed a set. This guy was everything bad about tape traders. He parlayed his collection into this magazine that was nothing but episode guides on the cheapest newsprint available, his plot descriptions plagiarized shamelessly from old issues of Files Magazine and Time Screen. I started buying them from the dollar boxes at Titan when he started adding these long, paranoid, hilarious editorials about how various interns were screwing him over, and how the massive economic recession that Bill Clinton created to personally destroy his publishing empire meant that his magazine wasn’t selling what it used to, and how the Sci-Fi Channel was ruining his life by (a) putting that little planet logo in the bottom corner of the screen and (b) not purchasing the Mel Brooks sitcom When Things Were Rotten.

Well, his whining about the Sci-Fi Channel must have come later, because my friend Mike finally worked out a deal for the third season of Land of the Lost from this guy, and of course Mike had to pay hand over fist for them, because that’s what kind of trader this guy was. Mike probably had to send the guy nine or twelve blank tapes in exchange for three with the episodes, and if he had to include a small monetary donation for “wear and tear” on that guy’s VCRs, I would not have been at all surprised.

So he got these in on a Thursday and I came back to my parents’ house from Athens the next day, and that is what we did Friday night: we watched all thirteen episodes of season three, and I think that about the time this episode ended, I must have put my head in my hands because I could barely make it through this turkey and yet I was pretty sure that at least one episode coming up was even worse. (It is.)

About a year later, the Sci-Fi Channel started running edited copies of this (and Stingray and Captain Scarlet) on a morning block called “Sci-Fi Cartoon Quest.” We could finally get off-air copies, but these fourth- or fifth-generation copies we got from the trader were still handy. I was so annoyed by the edits that I reconstructed the episodes, dropping in the chunks that the Sci-Fi Channel cut. What really annoyed me was that the episodes weren’t being cut for commercials, they were being cut for these dimwit twenty second bumpers in which three models wander around a post-apocalyptic music video set in silly costumes chasing a little Sci-Fi Channel logo.

As tedious as “Survival Kit” is, it’s not half as tedious as watching it side-by-side on two monitors looking for cut footage. I can promise you that.

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Land of the Lost 3.1 – After-Shock

They made thirteen episodes in the third season of Land of the Lost. Three of them aren’t bad. This is one of those three.

Analyzing what in the name of heaven went wrong with this show would take forever, but it all comes down to the writing. Most people remember that Spencer Milligan did not return as Rick Marshall, possibly because of a salary dispute and possibly because he wanted a cut of merchandising money and possibly because he hoped to star as the lead in a CBS series called The Keegans, and some recall that the Marshalls got a new home because the program was moved from one studio (General Service, now called Hollywood Center Studios) to another (Goldwyn) and new sets had to be built.

So this is the year where Ron Harper’s character, Uncle Jack, Rick’s brother, joins the cast, and they pick up a new home in a temple near the Lost City. But there’s so much more than that, and almost all of it is wrong. Just wrong.

Most obviously: Ta and Sa are gone. There’s a throwaway explanation, to coincide with the fact that Cha-Ka has learned a whole lot more English than he ever spoke before (thanks, I suppose, to the events of “The Musician” in season two), but their absence robs the show of the very fun antagonism between the humans and Ta. Less obviously: all the writers and directors are gone. This is a mammoth, mammoth problem, because Jon Kubichan, who wrote this episode, and his principal colleague Sam Roeca only had a loose understanding of what the show was actually about, and did not know all the careful continuity that David Gerrold and his team laid out, and which Dick Morgan and Tom Swale carefully nurtured and developed. In seasons one and two, the Land of the Lost was a pocket universe accessible only by time doorways, with no space outside its ground and atmosphere. In season three, it might as well be a valley in some uncharted South American rain forest.

The tone is wrong, the geography is wrong, the technology is wrong, the characterization of Enik is wrong, the sudden English vocabularies of Cha-Ka and a Sleestak leader is breathtakingly wrong.

For a while, I petulantly wished that Wesley Eure, Philip Paley, Kathy Coleman, and Walker Edmiston had spoken up and pointed out the big continuity flaws. Eventually, I got a little more sympathy for the realities of actors’ jobs. They had a million lines to learn and new directors in charge and eight months of looking for commercials and guest star parts before coming back to work on the show; the script minutiae of time doorways and how Enik reacted in a situation that they had performed once a year and a half ago wasn’t their responsibility to remember in detail, certainly not in an age before home video. Plus, as the absence of Spencer Milligan, Sharon Baird, and Scutter McKay must have reminded them: actors can be replaced.

I did reach out to the Kroffts’ social media team hoping for an interview and to learn more about the changes between seasons but I have not heard back from them. Sid and Marty were, to be fair, unbelievably busy in the summer of 1976: they had set up an amusement park in Atlanta that was losing money hand over fist, and their midseason Donny & Marie variety show had become a mammoth hit and ABC not only wanted another 26 episodes immediately, they wanted a variety show for children on Saturday mornings as well, a show that would incorporate three separate new series (one of them Electra Woman & Dyna Girl, which we’ll be resuming here shortly). The blunt, dumb reality is that the Kroffts had more work than they ever had before, and they took their eyes off the jewel in their portfolio in order to manage much larger projects.

What matters now is this: for thirty episodes over two seasons, the team behind Land of the Lost produced the very best adventure show for kids that was ever made for American television. Then there are thirteen mostly forgettable episodes of some entirely different series with some of the same cast. Three are okay, and three are absolutely brain-hammeringly godawful, and the other seven are just mediocre and forgettable kids’ TV. That’s certainly not the way this show should have concluded.

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Land of the Lost 2.13 – Blackout

If the previous two episodes were horrifying because of their alien strangeness and lack of answers, then this one is a more conventional creepy, with a pretty epic battle against the Sleestak. They apparently figured that if a malfunction in a pylon earlier in the season would keep the sun from going down, then some deliberate sabotage would keep the sun from coming up. They had asked the Library of Skulls how to obtain “eternal night,” and the Skulls showed them precisely that. The Sleestak want it to be night to be able to hunt their moths – important for their eggs’ fertilization somehow – but the longer it’s dark, the colder it gets, killing all the moths.

This turned out to be Spencer Milligan’s last episode of the show, but he went out on a high note. It’s written by Dick Morgan and Donald F. Glut – and I’m pretty sure that everybody in the United States who was under the age of twelve in 1980 owned a copy of Glut’s Empire Strikes Back novelization, which was a whole lot better than Mel Cebulash’s Love Bug novelization – and directed by Bob Lally, who did an amazing job making those three Sleestak costumes look like dozens this time out. Turning down the studio lights to represent darkness worked pretty darn well, too.

So that was it! That was all the Land of the Lost they made. It was more than just a great show, it was absolutely the best of its genre, but it ended after thirty episodes, and that’s all there is of that, yes.

No. No, that’s not true at all. I’m lying. There’s more to come. I’m sorry. There’s more.

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Land of the Lost 2.12 – Split Personality

This episode is horrifying. It’s completely amazing and it’s completely horrifying. I can’t imagine anything like it being shown on kids’ TV today. We can make some pretty good guesses about what happened, but, like last week’s episode, we don’t get any kind of definitive answer. But this time, unlike “The Musician,” it’s not just the unknown alien nature of the situation that’s frightening, it’s the amazing acting job that Kathy Coleman pulls off.

What seems to happen – and this is the most obvious explanation, built on the assumption of decades of media fantasy and SF, but by no means the only one – is that another Marshall family in another universe met a horrifying accident. They attempted a way home just as an earthquake hit, a quake so powerful that, with a time doorway open, it merged their Land of the Lost with ours.

In the mid-1980s, there was a popular computer game called Wizardry, the only one of its genre I ever played. If you cast your teleportation spell wrong, then you and your party would be trapped in rock. I swear the game’s writers got that from this episode. See, the “other” Holly, fading in and out of our reality, begs them for help, using our Holly as an anchor to speak, and leave mixed memories. Our Holly explains that she’s inside the rocks, and the rocks are inside her. And then there’s that image. The merging of dimensions is so scrambled that their floor becomes our wall.

But between those two moments, there’s one of the most shocking scenes in the entire series. Our Holly won’t go in the cave, slowly panicking, tears running down her face as the other Holly’s memories fade. “I’m losing her, Daddy, I’m losing her…” The implication is obvious: the other Holly has died of her injuries. You might could read that another way – after all, the beauty of this episode is that we are not given specific answers – but I can’t, not with Coleman’s stunning acting. It’s a heartbreaking moment.

Daniel was so scared by this episode he refused to acknowledge liking anything about it except Grumpy falling into a crevasse when the earthquake hits. Just about anything can be forgiven when a tyrannosaurus falls in a hole, I guess. I didn’t get the chance to ask him what he thought about the other Holly trying to explain that they should not trust the black Sleestak.

It’s natural to want answers, and to think that maybe had Dick Morgan stayed with the show into the next season, we’d learn more about the Zarn (and have him meet Enik!), and the Builder, and the black Sleestak, but another part of me kind of enjoys how, like the Marshalls, we never got those answers. All we can do is speculate in the dark.

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