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Here is, with his permission, Grant Goggans' essay on the original Land of the Lost, as published on his website, 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Note: This essay was originally written for the unpublished _Encyclopedia of American TV Fantasy_ in 1996 and is the copyright of Grant Goggans.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 te rms, 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 p raised as groundbreaking experimentation), it survives today as a scarcely-dated relic of the days when Saturday was the most important day of the week.
    Sid and Marty Krofft were already prolific producers before collaborating with David Gerrold on the fi rst 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 th e ir 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 R ick 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 jung le world populated by dinosaurs, ape people (Pakuni) and lizard men (Sleestak).
    The world, actually the remnants of an 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 th e 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 s a vage 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 scient ist 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 t hem, 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 marketed, too!
    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 cha r acter 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 a l losaur 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 dimetrodo n, 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 take.
    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 t hat 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 hap pened. 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 t ime, 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 back.
    Gerrold and his primary cohort Larry Niven both left after that, so it is amazing to realize that when new episod es 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 at tached, 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 te m porary 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 p aved 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 w ith 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 f ast 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 cha nneling 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 giv e 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 episod e s 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 si de 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. Whil e 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 wander ed 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 Satur d ay 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 M alak 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 f o r 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. I n 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 in years.