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"Marshall, Will, and Holly
DVD ReviewLand of the Lost debuted in September, 1974 leapfrogging over traditional Saturday morning animated television in favor of presenting a live action time travel adventure, combined with hokey Chroma Key effect dinosaurs. Part of the Sid & Marty Krofft empire, Land of the Lost was the story of adventurer dad Rick (Spencer Milligan) and his two children—hunky Greg Brady-esque teen Will (Wesley Eure, billed in the episode credits simply as "Wesley") and pigtailed 11-year-old Holly (Kathy Coleman)—who get sucked into the titular land and its capital, The Lost City, when a rafting expedition goes awry.
For now, let's not question why the theme song refers to Rick as Marshall (the family last name), and instead focus on the show itself. Aside from adjusting to their new surroundings without much muss or fuss (to say nothing of never having a change of clothes), they found themselves fending off ravenous dinosaurs, constantly outwitting the evil Sleestaks (a race of saucer-eyed lizard men) and making new friends, primarily chattering monkeyboy Cha-Ka (Phil Paley), a hairy little member of the Pakunis. Though the show ran until 1977, it had started to lose much of its initial luster by then, and purists (aka kids who grew up at the time) knew deep down in their heart of hearts that the first season would always be the best.
Each episode, week after week, treads across similar ground, usually involving one of the characters getting trapped somewhere (whether by menacing Sleestaks or hungry dinosaurs) requiring whoever wasn't trapped to overcome some obstacle and eventually save the day. Sure, every once in awhile magic crystals (such as the time travel powers of the Mageti in The Stranger) or glowing jewels (such as the one in The Album that allows bizarre mind-altering hallucinations) were the centerpiece, but those storylines usually seemed like filler until the next "trapped character" plot cropped up. As with most shows stuck in one locale with a set number of characters (which I refer to as "The Gilligan's Island Syndrome") Land of the Lost occasionally introduces a story involving a one-shot visitor to the Lost City, usually under the convenient guise of a time portal. There is a crazed Civil War soldier seeking treasure (Downstream), a hopelessly lost astronaut (Hurricane), and one of my personal favorites, the sexy-all-grown-up-Holly-from-the-future (Elsewhen), played by Erica Hagen.
Rhino—who always seems to have my kitschy best interest in mind—have collected all 17 episodes from the 1974 season and issued them as a snazzy three-disc boxed set, and there are more than a couple of initial surprises here. For one, the Pakuni language spoken by hairy little Cha-Ka, which sounds like made up babytalk, was actually developed by Victoria Fromkin, a major figure in the history of the UCLA Linguistic Department; and to think I thought Phil Paley was just making up sounds as he went along. Another thing that really reached out to sock me in the jaw was how stacked the show was with actual science-fiction writers, high profile names like Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, and Ben Bova especially. Anyone who has ever seen the show knows that it is not exactly steeped in deep scientific lore by any means, but the presence of writers like Niven, Sturgeon, Bova, and David Gerrold only makes the whole package seem even more surreal. Another strange element is the fact that Star Trek's Walter "Chekov" Koenig wrote a number of episodes, as well as perpetual Trekkie scribe Dorothy D.C. Fontana. It's quite a noteworthy stable of talent on a show that, watching in hindsight, seems to have been often made up on the spot.
Despite the wealth of noted writers, the plots weren't really the charm of the show as much as it was the presentation, with its constant use of miniatures and Chroma Key (sort of a primitive precursor to the smoother bluescreen effects of today) that brought together human actors with stop-motion dinosaurs. Though nowhere near as immortal as the work of Ray Harryhausen, in 1974 the effects were considered fairly groovy, at least by the audience of young viewers. Of course, by today's standards the effects are roll-on-the-floor funny, and when combined with the odd lumps of dialogue and stiff delivery (I love that dad Rick speaks LOUDER when trying to communicate with Cha-Ka, as if speaking English LOUDER will help break the interspecies communication barrier) Land of the Lost takes on a whole new level of entertainment.
If I may speak Pakuni for a moment, "Wesa, wesasa."
(Translation: "Good, very good.")
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: All 17 episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 fullframe aspect ratio, with colors looking natural and evenly balanced. I guess it's a testament to the quality of the transfer that the laughable Chroma Key effects look even more glaringly funny, but overall the episodes have seemingly held up rather well. There is, however, quite a bit of somewhat expected flicker and some minor ghosting, but for the most part the presentation is far better than I would have expected for Saturday morning television fare from the mid-1970s.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in a surprisingly well done, but equally no-frills Dolby Digital 2.0 mix. Character dialogue is pleasantly clean, without any of that telltale harshness that often occurs on transfers of early 1970s television programs. The downside is a rather static soundstage, without any noticeable directional pans to speak of.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 68 cues and remote access
10 Feature/Episode commentaries by Sid & Marty Krofft, David Gerrold, Walter Koenig, Wesley Eure, Kathy Coleman Bell, Phil Paley, Dorothy Fontana, Larry Niven
Packaging: Box Set
The commentaries are available on the following episodes:
Cha-Ka, Episode 1: creators Sid & Marty Krofft
Cha-Ka, Episode 1: writer/story editor David Gerrold
The Sleestak God, Episode 2: writer/story editor David Gerrold
Skylons, Episode 8: writer Walter Koenig
The Hole, Episode 9: actors Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman Bell
The Paku Who Came To Dinner, Episode 10: actor Phil Paley
The Search, Episode 11: actors Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman Bell
Elsewhen, Episode 15: writer Dorothy Fontana
Hurricane, Episode 16: writer Larry Niven, writer/story editor David Gerrold
Circle, Episode 17: writer Larry Niven, writer/story editor David Gerrold
Disc 3 contains a set of four interviews, shot in Chroma Key, with Walter Koenig (07m:25s), David Gerrold (20m:39s), Larry Niven (07m:59s) and Kathy Coleman Bell and Wesley Eure (13m:59s). Once again David Gerrold contributes the best all-around content, and thankfully he gets the longest segment, while Koenig once again appears overly serious. The curiosity factor of seeing Coleman and Eure as adults is probably the best part of their interview, and their touchy-feely rapport (including a strange moment when Coleman licks the nose of Eure) is a bit too giggly for my tastes, but again, seeing them is where the payoff is, more so than what they had to say.
One of the unsung comedic gems is the Land of the Lost Quiz with Phil Paley, a series of 12 multiple choice questions hosted by Cha-Ka himself. Paley hams it up, looking purposely bored, tossing off sarcastic eye rolls and "isn't this ridiculous" expressions in between questions; if you wait long enough before answering one of the questions Paley has to fend off an autograph seeker, and at one point gets his sweaty brow mopped. Speaking of Cha-Ka, there is also a Pakuni Language Dictionary, which is a series of text screens with the Pakuni/English translations needed for you to speak like your favorite hairy little monkeyboy.
Each of the 17 episodes are cut into four chapters each, and each disc comes in a thin NexPak case.
Extras Grade: A-
Final CommentsWhether this is a nostalgic trip down memory lane or first time exposure, Land of the Lost: The Complete First Season is the kind of tacky and cool retro entertainment that could only have been birthed in the early 1970s. Rhino has done a fine job on this three-disc boxed set, paying appropriate and well-deserved attention to detail and presentation.
Bad effects and unintentionally hilarious dialogue make this near perfect entertainment.
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