Here is, with his permission, Grant
Goggans' essay on the original Land of the Lost, as published on his
The Astonishing World of Mr. Monopoly, Grant Goggans , in summer 1998.
Copyright 1994 Grant Goggans.
LAND OF THE LOST
Note: This essay was originally
written for the unpublished _Encyclopedia of American TV Fantasy_ in 1996 and is
the copyright of Grant Goggans. Any reproduction not for free and personal use
will be prosecuted.
In children's television terms, this
series is an unqualified masterpiece. "Land of the Lost," the best Saturday
morning series ever devised, is fondly remembered by millions today. Despite its
low budget and overuse of the emerging chromakey techonology (which can, in
itself, be praised as groundbreaking experimentation), it survives today as a
scarcely-dated relic of the days when Saturday was the most important day of the
Sid and Marty Krofft were already prolific producers before
collaborating with David Gerrold on the first of what would be three seasons
(each with a different batch of writers behind them) of their first dramatic
entry, one which came about when the Kroffts were asked by NBC to try their
hands at something with dinosaurs in it. The Kroffts already had their
footnote in the encyclopedia of American pop culture assured by such gems as "HR
Pufnstuf" and "The Bugaloos" when Gerrold gathered a team of "Star Trek"
associates and noted science fiction authors and creative energy was pouring out
instantly in the form of a series that not only presumed its audience had a
degree of intelligence, but, in a real first for Saturday mornings, would have
an enormous amount of continuity between the episodes.
No doubt some of you are shaking your heads over this praise.
You might recall the amazing dinosaurs, but isn't this, you ask yourselves, the
same program with the hopelessly fake waterfall in the beginning and the
annoying screaming girl and the monkey people? Yes, but you're remembering the
wrong things for the wrong reasons.
"Land of the Lost" began, as most Krofft shows did, with
everyday humans being sucked into another world. (None of them ever went home to
stay, which can be interpreted as the most frightening idea of all!) In the
opening titles, we see how Rick Marshall and his kids, Will and Holly, "on a
routine expedition," were jarred into a time doorway by an earthquake. They fell
down a waterfall that looked like toilet water (the only really inexcusable
effect of the whole series) and came to in a jungle world populated by
dinosaurs, ape people (Pakuni) and lizard men (Sleestak).
The world, actually the remnants of another planet called
Altrusia and not prehistoric Earth like many wrongly recall, was trapped in a
time barrier, cut off from the rest of the universe and the only way in, or out,
is via time doorway. Given that the program never had any "explanations"
episode, it is difficult to piece the history together coherently, but all you
really need to know is that once, Altrusia was the home of a thriving scientific
community that used crystals to manipulate their universe and that they
discovered the secrets of time manipulation. Whether because of an accident or
racial degeneration, Altrusia was the center of a massive disruption in time and
the Land of the Lost is one of the results. Now isolated from the regular flow
of time, the Land contains an old, perhaps the principal Altrusian city and
several miles of jungle. The descendants of the ancient Altrusians have grown
some inches and are now savage hunter-gatherers who fear technology. Coined
"Sleestak" by an earlier visitor to the land, the lizard creatures would become
the Marshalls' primary enemy. Their only link to understanding their situation
comes in the form of Enik, an Altrusian scientist who has been thrown into his
own far future to see the tragic results of what was once a proud culture.
The Marshalls adapt to their new world with understandable
effectiveness. Rick Marshall was a park ranger and his family experienced
campers, so they make do in a mountain cave (coined High Bluff) just out of the
reach of dinosaurs. They explore their new home with the understanding and
acceptance that they won't be returning to Earth for a long time. Will and Holly
honestly do take a while to get down to business and stop sniping at each other
like siblings on an overnight camping trip, and Holly's screaming remains pretty
obnoxious for the first two seasons, but it is all presented very realistically.
With only basic survival equipment to support them, they explore the world,
learning what they can about their surroundings and the crystal time technology,
manipulated by matrix tables in pylons throughout the jungle. The pylons also
control the weather and the power of the sun in the region.
The other intelligent race met in the series was the Pakuni.
The three-strong tribe of ape people consisted of Ta, the agressive leader, Sa,
who never did much, and the young Cha-Ka, who befriends the Marshalls and
gradually learns some English. Their chattering is actually a language developed
by linguistics professors at UCLA for the series and viewers can learn aspects
of it without too much difficulty--and years before speaking Klingon was
We'd be lying, though, if we didn't say the dinosaurs were
the most popular things about the show when it was on. Created with meticulous
stop-motion work, they were still looking pretty impressive before "Jurassic
Park" had to come along and spoil everything. The dinosaurs are given nicknames,
each has a character of its own and it's even interesting to consider their
distinct territories (for the first two years, the Marshalls lived across a huge
chasm from the Sleestaks' "Lost City"). The tyrannosaur who plagues the Marsalls
the most is called Grumpy. The allosaur who "guards" the Lost City is called
Big Alice. These two "hate" each other and their sporadic territorial fights
across the chasm look beautiful. In "Follow That Dinosaur," Grumpy pursues the
Marshalls across the chasm for a spectacular fight with Big Alice in the Lost
City's plaza. Other creatures include Dopey (a baby apatosaur), Spike (a
triceratops), Lulu (a two-headed pleisiosaur) and Spot (the name given to any
coelophysis Grumpy chases). In the last season, Torchy, a fire-breathing
dimetrodon, is introduced. How this creature got his power is, joyfully, never
explained, but he makes a splendid new threat.
The first seventeen episodes were designed to stand as a
single run in the event the show was never renewed and it even has a "final"
episode, which actually cannot exist in the continuity of the continued series!
The Pakuni are introduced in the premiere, establishing the high moral values of
the characters when they rescue Cha-Ka after Grumpy nearly mauls him and he
injures his leg. They try to nurse him back to health, but sadly, his fellow
tribesmen cannot understand this act of kindness and think Cha-Ka has been
abducted by this new, rival tribe. It's an intriguing story with a high ethical
premise. In the second story, a healed Cha-Ka is still wearing his leg brace,
the first indication of the brilliant attention to continuity the show would
The series moved along, more memorably than anything else
seen on kids' TV, but did not rise to genius level until the sixth episode. "The
Stranger" was written by Walter Koenig and not only introduced Enik and
explained some of the background of the show, but also worked beautifully as a
morality play. Enik criticizes the Marshalls for being creatures of emotion and
not logic, the same flaw that destroyed his race. Will steals the magetti, a
device Enik claims will help him get home, in a bout of selfishness that seems
to prove the Altrusian's point about humans until Enik uses his mind powers to
force the humans to confront their fears. When Rick forces Enik to own up to his
own inaedquacies of passion and morality, it is a humbling moment for both the
principals and the audience, and Spencer Milligan's performance is flawless,
easily making up for the inadequacies of his young co-stars. It's a shame Koenig
did not write for the show again.
Enik only appeared twice more in the season and the Marshalls
took their time exploring their world. It is this slow discovery of the land
that many people argue makes the show, as a whole, look so great, particularly
with so many other American programs ("Time Trax" and "Mann and Machine" being
two ugly examples of note) giving you all the backstory up front, as quickly as
possible. The pylons were not discovered until episode eight and the Marshalls
didn 't experiment with crystal power until the eleventh episode, yet these were
important plot elements. It's hard to imagine a show doing this today.
"Circle" concluded the first season, and is the episode
mentioned earlier that, in the continuity, never happened. In this episode,
Enik learns that he is kept in the Land by a logical quandary: his time doorway
focuses only on the Marshalls' fall into the land, the trio caught in a time
loop. In order for the loop to be broken and his doorway focus on his own time,
the Marshalls must enter the doorway and leave the land at the exact moment
their doppelgangers enter. To explain it all would take pages, suffice it to say
that the first season ends with the Marshalls arriving, where they would
re-experience all of the previous season again, with the exception of this
episode, for the first time. Enik plans to go home, but strangely never makes it
Gerrold and his primary cohort Larry Niven both left after
that, so it is amazing to realize that when new episodes began the next fall,
the show was actually better than it was before. Following a strangely subdued
and by now commonplace dinosaur adventure, "The Zarn" aired. The story
introduced us to a new threat to the Marshalls: a telepathic and egotistic alien
made of lights whose spacecraft had crashed in the Mist Marsh. The Zarn treats
the humans with contempt and breaks Rick's heart when Rick realizes that what
appeared to be a woman from his own hometown also swept into the land, with whom
he was becoming attached, was actually an android sent by the Zarn to study his
emotions. The Zarn only appeared three times, but each appearance is very
worthwhile and his dialogue superb.
The more mature subject matter introduced in Rick's tragic
friendship was expounded on further in "The Longest Day." This exceptional story
featured the Library of Skulls, an archive room in which the Sleestak talk to
the spirits of their ancestors, who answer only in riddles. After the Clock
Pylon malfunctions, Rick and Enik forge a temporary truce with the Sleestak in
order to learn how to make the sun set, but he is also given a whiff of a
chemical which causes him to suffer violent hallucinations. It's remembered as
the "drugs" episode, and made all the more terrifying by the way the
hallucinations slowly start and the viewer is at first lost as to what is real
and what the ramblings of Rick's mind.
Another favorite, "The Test" was, on one hand a simple
dinosaur story (Ta forces Cha-Ka to steal an allosaur egg in a ritual of
manhood), but it managed some serious shocks as Will and Holly tried to help
him escape from Big Alice with it. In a surprise twist, the egg hatches and a
baby allosaur called Junior emerges. It's adorable, and impossible not to be
charmed by it. The story also paved the way for "The Musician" by introducing
new temple ruins.
To say that "The Musician" is the best 25 minutes of
children's television ever made in this country is to damn it with faint praise.
It's extraordinary storytelling, stunning the audience with the greatest threat
the Marshalls have yet faced, while opening even more cracks in the backstory of
the series, indicating that perhaps not only was the establishment of the Land
of the Lost and the arrival of the Pakuni planned, but that humans, not Enik's
people, were responsible for its creation. Opening the new temple, the Marshalls
and Cha-Ka find it filled with technology never seen before, including something
similar to a matrix table. Holly puts on an ornamental ring she finds, but it
sticks fast and the visitors depart, while an enormous red humanoid creature
appears in the room. It departs, and dinosaurs back away, terrified of it.
At High Bluff, efforts to remove the ring fail and Holly
begins to lose circulation in her hand. She starts channeling someone who
informs them that "Builder wants his ring back." When they ask her what Builder
has built, she waves her frozen arm to indicate "everything." Meanwhile, the
weather grows violent and strange lights appear in the sky. The Pakuni all give
some assistance in helping the Marshalls get Holly back to Builder's Temple, but
Holly is losing feeling in her entire body and the red figure is closing in on
them, and nobody knows what it wants. To give away the ending would be a crime.
To be perfectly frank, the series should have ended with that
season, but it continued into a third. Spencer Milligan left the series, not
entirely of his own accord, and a new production team took over, but this one
didn't pay as close attention to the earlier episodes as they should have. In
an intriguing third season opener, Rick investigated a matrix and opened a time
doorway just as an earthquake pulled him through it, destroying High Bluff and
killing the elder Pakuni in the process (They weren't dead, Cha-Ka insisted,
"...just gone," but we know better) Ron Harper joined the kids as their uncle
Jack Marshall, who had been looking for them since their disappearance. They
take up residence in a temple similar in execution to Builder's Temple (and on
the Sleestak side of the chasm) and have to fight the Sleestak for control of
it as the tremors have rocked the Lost City and they are also searching for a
new home. (They eventually stay put.)
This third season brought greater changes to the structure of
the show. While clearly the quake opened up new areas of Altrusia, thus the new
monsters, it apparently also rattled one of the indisputable facts of the first
two years: the only way in or out of the Land of the Lost is through a time
doorway. While guest stars wandered through a full half of the stories, they
generally seemed to leave of their own volition and never had any trouble
getting home, whether on foot or by hot air balloon or sailing ship!
Even the Marshalls seem to have forgotten that Altrusia's
river flows in a circle (as established in "Downstream"), as, in "Medusa," they
try using it to escape. (Perhaps it's another river in one of the newly
accessible areas?) "Medusa" is the only really embarassing episode of the whole
show. The notion of struggling with a Greek myth was wholly at odds with the
concept of the series shown up until then. It didn't help that the acting was
risible throughout the program.
There were some gems, including "Cornered," which introduced
Torchy, and "Timestop," which felt more like a second season story, but no one
would deny that the series was slipping hugely. This is not to suggest that the
third season was bad, but that in comparison to what had preceded it, it was a
major disappointment. There probably hasn't been a Saturday morning series
since 1980 as good as the third season of "Land of the Lost," but there hasn't
been a Saturday morning series ever as good as the first two. Introducing a new
recurring "menace" (read: irritant) in the form of an Iron Age warlord named Malak didn't help matters and letting Wesley Eure plug his musical career by
singing (pre-recorded) songs to his family at the end of a few episodes was a
very bad move.
NBC certainly noticed the slipping attention to the show and
reacted. Many factors came into play in its cancellation. First, the third
season was scheduled much earlier than previously, and second, the show just
wasn't as good as it used to be. After 10 weeks, the show was moved to a noon
slot, where many NBC affiliates would pre-empt it for local programming. From
there, it joined most of the other Krofft productions in a syndicated package
called "Krofft Super Stars," which ran in most markets to great success after
live action series had been effectively shut out from Saturday mornings. In
1985 and 1987, CBS dusted off a few first and second season tapes for their
Saturday morning schedules to great effect. ABC noted the high ratings and
started talking to Sid and Marty Krofft about a revised series, but that is
another story, and one not quite as pretty, either.
In the final analysis, we believe that "Land of the Lost"
deserves far more than the minor, poorly-researched mention found in most
television reference books. A brilliantly made series, TV has not seen its like