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Land of the Lost 2.6 – Gravity Storm

Season two is just wall-to-wall horrors for kids, isn’t it? Prior to this episode, Marie and I gave Daniel a short lesson in gravity so he’d have a better understanding of what the heck is going on in this episode. About halfway through, they make the educated guess that the reason everybody – human, Paku, and dinosaur – keeps getting pinned to the ground by an unseen force is that the Zarn is up to something in the Mist Marsh.

And up to that point, Daniel was doing just fine. There’s a very slight comic edge to everybody falling over, and again the animators gave so much character to the dinosaurs. When Spike finally gives up and stomps away, he cracks a tree with a grumble. But the Zarn is weird and off-putting at the best of times, and he’s in no mood to listen to the Marshalls. He doesn’t believe that a time doorway is necessary to return home; he thinks that the gravity drive of his spaceship can get him into space. He doesn’t understand that there’s nowhere to go; this Land is all there is inside the doorways.

When the Zarn gets bored of discussing physics with the Marshalls, he shoos them away with a robot guardian. Roughly dinosaur-shaped, about nine feet tall and lacking arms, he calls it Fred, and it scared the bejezus out of Daniel, especially when another gravity storm leaves the humans trapped on their backs as Fred, screeching, marches closer to them. Nobody has ever been so relieved as he was when Fred is struck by lightning and collapses, its circuits fried.

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Land of the Lost 2.2 – The Zarn

“It’s a… jingle man,” Daniel said, as the Zarn slowly made his way into the show with the sound of wind chimes. He found tonight’s episode curious as it unfolded, but was very quietly aggravated with the resolution. He didn’t like that “Sharon,” whom we thought was another stranded human from Indianapolis, turned out to be a robot sent by the Zarn to study the family. He didn’t like that at all, and quietly steamed, outraged on their behalf.

The Zarn is an incredibly interesting idea, realized with brilliant simplicity. The character is played by longtime Krofft puppeteer and actor Van Snowden, with the unmistakable baritone voice of Marvin Miller. Miller is arguably best known as the original voice of Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, and starred for years in a hit 1950s series called The Millionaire. Later, the Kroffts would tap him to provide the breathless, ridiculous narration on Electra Woman & Dyna Girl. Snowden played the Zarn on a blue screen stage, wearing a blue body stocking dotted with white circles and rhinestones. Some years later, Peter Gabriel would wear a similar “suit of lights” in the video for “Sledgehammer,” which MTV played approximately three million times, allowing every viewer in the United States between the ages of 14 and 21 plenty of chances to shout “The Zarn!”

But it’s not just the new recurring character that debuts this week. If the previous episode felt like a gentle reminder of dinosaur fun, this time out, everything is thunderously new. The lighting is radically different, and there’s a whole new bank of sounds and musical cues. The Kroffts invested in a new score, with a low, urgent guitar and twinkling piano, which also appeared on their new series Far Out Space Nuts on CBS this season, but there’s also a new stock of strange, ambient music, and I use that term specifically because it reminds me of Fripp & Eno’s No Pussyfooting.

Brilliantly, there’s an entirely new set for the creepy, dark Mist Marsh where the Zarn’s ship is parked, and it’s established that it’s all below ground level. Rick and Will, mapping out the area, take shelter in the mist when Grumpy chases a wounded Spot in their direction, and that’s when they introduce the new score, when the actors are in a completely new and alien environment, dotted with weird, petrified trees and mist. Wesley Eure is completely convincing as Will just wants to get the heck away from there, and Spencer Milligan really gets a chance to shine this week as he befriends Sharon and just feels complete relaxation and relief having somebody about his own age to talk to.

I think that’s what aggravated Daniel so much about the story. Even knowing that something was strange about Sharon, Rick Marshall was happy for a little while, and the Zarn is an arrogant bully who stole it away. Milligan completely sells the situation, and it’s telling that he can only just walk away from it, hoping that he never has to cross paths with this other visitor ever again.

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