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Land of the Lost


by Yoda
posted on 6/10/09
Land of the Lost is the type of movie where the lead is the main attraction. The poster ought to place Will Ferrell's name above the title, and in a larger font, like the movie posters of old: "Cary Grant IN Arsenic and Old Lace", "Will Ferrell IN Land of the Lost." Or, better yet, go the Snakes on a Plane route, and make the title and the synopsis one and the same: Will Ferrell and a Bunch of Dinosaurs. In both cases, you know when you hear it whether or not it's something you'd want to see.

Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a self-proclaimed "quantum paleontologist," which means he believes that he can open doorways to parallel universes. He's laughed out of the scientific community and hits rock bottom, before being pulled out of his funk by the encouragement of Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), a believer in his work. Marshall builds the machine he needs to test his theories and the two of them pick up a man of questionable integrity and hygiene named Will (Danny McBride), and a few minutes later they're running from a T-Rex.

In the commotion of traveling through space and time and being attacked by dinosaurs, they lose the device that brought them there, and set off to find it so they can return home. During their search they meet an ape-man named "Cha-Ka" and encounter the Sleestaks; bipedal lizard-like creatures that move with roughly the same urgency as your standard pre-2002 zombie. They'd never exist in a modern-day adventure-comedy, but they were staples of the television show, so their inclusion is obligatory. Decidedly nonobligatory is the decision to give them rows of razor-sharp teeth, which is about as frivolous as Joel Schumachers' decision to put nipples on the Batsuit. It's one of many instances in which the otherwise lighthearted film makes a token effort at generating some actual excitement, though it rarely works.

Another way in which it attempts to generate excitement is with the use of loud, sudden noises. You would not believe how many loud, sudden noises are in this film. If they were any louder or sudden-er, they'd reach the threshold of pain and occur before the event which caused them.

This is not the first television show from the 1970s to be adapted into a film, and it won't be the last. It is, however, likely to end up being the least interested in its source material. Ferrell doesn't have an official writing credit, but his fingerprints are all over the production. Whether it's the result of ad-libbing or scenes being written with him in mind, the movie is just an excuse for him to do what he does. Fans of Ferrell, step right up; nostalgia seekers should probably look elsewhere.

The idea of this parallel universe as a sort of interdimensional dumping ground is a screenwriter's dream: it allows them to summon any random object they want at any time. Things merely zap into existence as they're needed. Ice cream trucks, giant crabs, swimming pools; whatever's needed for the next gag. Many of these feel like something you'd find among the deleted scenes on the eventual DVD.

The film's humor consists almost entirely of Ferrell's character confidently declaring something, and then nearly dying while learning that the exact opposite is true. The formula is repeated a dozen times throughout the film's 101-minute runtime. Marshall's ineptness juxtaposes strangely with his apparent brilliance, though it feels more like contradiction than contrast.

Ferrell's humor has always been a mix of understatement and histrionics, and the formula hasn't been tampered with here. In one scene, he quietly attempts to smoke a pipe in the middle of a television interview. Later, he covers himself in urine. I can only marvel at the fact that these different conceptions of humor manage to co-exist inside a single person.