Friday, September 02, 2005

Cult-TV Friday Flashback # 8: Land of the Lost: "Follow That Dinosaur"

Sid & Marty Krofft's live-action adventure/fantasy series Land of the Lost (1974-1976) aired during the golden age of Saturday morning entertainment, the 1970s. The story of an American family - the Marshalls - trapped in a pocket universe of dinosaurs, ape-men (called Pakuni...) and frightening lizard people (Sleestak) - ran for three glorious seasons on NBC, and for many of us in Gen X, the series represents our first exposure to serious science fiction concepts. Thanks to the brilliance of story editor David Gerrold, the series revealed a universe (the so-called 'Land of the Lost') with consistent rules, a unique history, and more importantly, it was an initiviative of cleverly though-out plots and ideas. The series featured time loops, alternate universes, metaphors about caring for the environment, messages about tolerance, and much more more. To this day, I believe that a parent of a young child could do no better than to introduce his children early to Land of the Lost, a series that is highly moral, well-dramatized, and serves as a gateway to imagination. It is a great primer for Star Trek, Space:1999, The X-Files, Stargate, and other popular sci-fi adventures. (Which in turn, are great gateways to the works of Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, and the like).

For this Cult TV flashback, there's a particular episode of Land of the Lost that I'd like to highlight. It may not be the most inventive of the series' 40-something episode run, but it is one which I've always loved. "Follow That Dinosaur" is the series' thirteenth episode, and it originally aired more than thirty years ago, on November 30, 1974. Written by Dick Morgan and directed by Dennis Steinmetz, the episode commences with just another morning in the Land of the Lost, as the Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed Grumpy attacks the Marshall family cave at High Bluff. The Marshalls awaken from their nightly slumber and realize that Grumpy attacks so frequently because the make-shift curtain at the lip of the cave, designed to keep out flies, is actually constructed out of ferns that young Holly (Kathy Coleman) calls "Dinosaur Nip." Rick (Spencer Milligan), Will (Wesley Eure) and Holly thus begin to clear the High Bluff area of the Land of the Lost of the offending material, dumping it over the high crevice that leads to Sleestak territory.

But there in the rocks, Will and Holly discover a dummy dressed in knickers and Revolutionary War-era jacket. In a jacket pocket is one half of a diary belonging to Private Peter Koenig, a soldier in General Washington's Revolutionary Army. He writes of his plan to exit the Land of the Lost through a hole in the Sleestak Lost City that leads "straight back" to New England. In fact, he believes that his buddy, Harry Potts, has already used the exit to return home.

Will, Holly and Rick follow the clues in the journal to the Sleestak Lost City, where the Sleestaks are currently asleep because it is their dormant season. They find another piece of the journal and vrawl through a cave to a lava pit, only to realize that Koenig didn't escape, as they believed, but that he died when the lava pit warmed the city and awoke the monstrous Sleestak. His last entry reads: "This is not the way out of this miserable, God Forsaken land. Go Back! Leave the crawlie caves. The Sleestak awaken when the devil's cauldron bubbles up..."

The Marshalls heed the warning, and barely escape the reviving Sleestak, but needless to say, are deeply disappointed that they have not found an escaped from this perfectly-balanced pocket universe.

"Follow That Dinosaur" is a splendid example of Land of the Lost's excellent story-telling for a number of reasons. First of all, it adds to the "lore" of the land, and reveals how the Altrusians came to be known as Sleestak. It was Pvt. Koenig who named them, after an officer in the army he disliked, one "Joshua Sleestak." The episode also reveals it is Koenig who wrote the warning on a pillar near the lost city: "Beware of Sleestak," which was revealed in the first episode. These touches reveal more background about the Land of the Lost, and also uncover a great deal of its history. People have been getting "trapped" there for centuries.

Beyond revealing some great background about the Land of the Lost, "Follow that Dinosaur" is a pretty suspenseful and dark 22-minute adventure for a show that aired on Saturday mornings. The Marshall family (including two children...) happen upon the corpse of their would-be savior, Pvt. Koenig, and the episode doesn't candy-coat his failure to escape this alternate world, or the details of his death. Furthermore, the episode is quite tense (and even a little scary...) as the Marshalls' realize their predicament in the lava cave, and try to flee the city. All around them, the frozen Sleestak begin to awake, ripping out of their cobwebs, and beginning that trademark "hissing" sound. I, for one, will never forget the sight of these leviathans awakening, like juggernauts, moving from their sleep pedestals and going after the family. Tolerable terror, no doubt, for an adult, but as a kid, this kind of thing was really fear-inducing, and I appreciate Land of the Lost for aiming high; not being a "kiddie" show in any conventional sense.

There's more to like in the episode too, including a brief message about equality of the sexes (Holly's comment to Will that "Girls can do anything a boy can do,"). I also love how Rick Marshall demonstrates his trust in his children and encourages them to clear the offending ferns by themselves. His message is clear: he has belief in their abilities, and trusts them to be safe and get the job done. It's a positive role model of how parents can treat children, and in the process build self-esteem (rather than infantilizing them...). As a dinosaur buff and long-time fan of the series, I also like the fact that this is the episode where Grumpy crosses the crevice and finally has a smackdown with Big Alice, the allosaur who guards the Lost City. As a kid weaned on King Kong, The Land That Time Forgot and other such ventures, I was thrilled to see some dinosaur-against-dinosaur action.

But most of all, I love "Follow that Dinosaur" because I enjoy the (old) idea of finding a journal, following written maps, and exploring new and dangerous terrain in a jungle world. Derivative, perhaps of Journey to the Center of the Earth, the story is still very exciting, and its grim conclusion is chill-inducing. "Follow that Dinosaur" reveals new Land of the Lost history, involves its characters in a stirring adventure, features some creepy chills, and ends on a dark, even grim note. What's not to love?

They just don't make kids' shows like this anymore. The entire series is available on DVD, and if you have young children, you should purchase it right now! If you want to a foster a life-long love of science fiction in your kids, this show will spark their imagination. And the stories are so good, you won't even mind the dated special effects (which were quite good in their day...).

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Thursday Retro-Toy Flashback # 8: Power Records

In the 1970s and 1980s - the age before DVD box sets - young fans of movies and TV shows had a different outlet to explore their favorite franchise. To wit, there was Power Records, a division of Peter Pan Industries, which released a bevy of full-color comic-book stories to go with 7 inch (45 rpm) audio albums. Here, you truly got two toys for the price of one.

At home, you could read along to the soundtrack on the record player, and on the way to Grandma's house, you could just read the comic book in the book seat. These Power Record items were called "BOOK AND RECORD SETS" and were advertised with the line "It's fun to read as you hear!" Or, to put it another way (as the comic book covers did...) "The Action COMES ALIVE As You Read!!" Or, as the backs of the books read, these are adventures that are "fun AND educational."

The great thing about these American-manufactured toys (from 145 Komorn Street, Newark, N.J. 07105), was the variety of adventures you could purchase. In fact, there were several distinct series from which you could choose a Book and Record Set. You could read from "THE ADVENTURE SERIES," or "MONSTER SERIES," which included tales of Dracula ("Terror in the Snow"), Frankenstein, The Wolf-Man ("The Curse of the Werewolf") and the comic-book character, Man-Thing ("Night of the Laughing Dead.")

Or, if you were so-inclined, you could choose "THE SUPERHERO SERIES" ("Crime takes a beating...") with the stars of both DC and Marvel Comics. Among the choices in this category were: The Amazing Spider-Man (The Mark of the Man-Wolf!") , The Incredible Hulk ("At Bay!"), The Fantastic Four ("The Way it Began"), Conan the Barbarian ("The Crawler in the Mists!"), Captain America & The Falcon ("Who is the Phoenix?") and even Batman ("Stacked Cards" and "Robin Meets Man-Bat!")

If you were more into the TV/movie arena (like myself as a kid...), you could choose to bring "HIGH ADVENTURE AND SPACE EXCITEMENT TO BREATHTAKING" life with adaptations of four of the most popular Apjac Planet of the Apes films (Planet of the Apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes), and books from Star Trek ("Passage to Moauv") or from - you guessed it - my personal favorite, Space:1999.

In the world of Space:1999, you could read the adaptation of the first episode, "Breakaway," describing how the moon was torn out of orbit, and then read (and listen to...) the entertaining second installment, "Return to the Beginning," which crossed Moonbase Alpha with the Biblical story of Noah's Ark. It was all great fun, and the art work was really very good overall.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Power Records was that they only cost $1.49. Talk about a deal!!! Today these items are highly collectible; some lines more than others, and if I'm not mistaken there may be more TV/movie characters too, including Kojak and The Six Million Dollar Man. But I'm not a hundred percent sure about that, so don't quote me. I credit these Power Records with - like colorforms and Little Golden Books - making reading a part of the "TV" and "movie" adventure; a nice ancillary product. I also remember thinking that the audio productions (like radio shows...) were well-cast and overall, very ably performed. I know for some people, these Power Record versions of superheroes rank very highly in their memory/affection.

For more information on Power Records, check out "The Power Records Project" at This is Pop. They're trying to record some of these albums for posterity and history, and I wish them all the best with the effort. These Power Records are gems of the 1970s, and that's why I'm celebrating them today in this eighth Thursday toy flashback.

Enjoy here some images from my personal collection. I have the Batman "Stacked Cards" one hidden away with my superhero collection in storage, but - as you can see - I own Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Space:1999 Return to Beginning and Breakaway (the latter not pictured), and at least one Star Trek adventure. Please write in and leave comments if you recalls these great record/book toys. I'd love to share your memories of 'em! Which ones did you have? Do you still have 'em? Why did you like them? Do you remember who did the voices? Let me hear from you...

Hurricane Katrina: The Ripple Effect

This is a non film/tv post, but I just wanted to extend my best wishes for the safety and security of all the people in Louisiana and Mississippi who have been displaced by the terrible tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. We hope your nightmare will soon end, and you can return home. I know that people around the country are donating time, labor, blood and funds to help, but that the months ahead are going to be heartbreaking and difficult.

I live in Monroe, North Carolina, just south of Charlotte, and we are actually feeling the ripple effects of Katrina here. Since the storm, when gas supplies were disrupted because of two downed pipelines on the Gulf Coast, there have been over ninety "incidents" at area gas stations. And that was before rush hour this morning.

Police have been deployed to metropolitan stations to maintain order, there have been 67 car accidents, 23 incidents (such as fighting) and 9 arrests in the city. People are advising Charlotteans to conserve gas, but the opposite seems to be happening, and the city is engulfed in what appears to be a full-fledged panic.

The pipelines are supposed to be repaired today, but if they aren't, the gas shortages will increase until this city is virtually frozen early next week. Charlotte-Douglas Airport has enough jet fuel to keep planes flying for a week, and already, 30+ area gas stations have closed because they've run out of gas. I fear a ripple effect here. If trucks can't get gas, they can't deliver food....let's just hope things don't get any worse and that the two pipelines (Colonial and Plantation, I think...) are repaired in a timely fashion.

It is past time for our federal government to seriously begin investigating alternate fuel supplies. Should have happened 30 years ago with the OPEC crisis, but we've all been lulled into a false sense of security and encouraged to buy SUVs. This kind of thinking just has to stop, and we have to become less dependent on oil. A city hundreds of miles from the hurricane is coming to a stand-still because of the oil problem. If this continues, we can say goodbye to the automobile utopia we've enjoyed for almost 100 years.

The "suffering" in Charlotte is like .0000000001% of what is occurring in New Orleans or Gulf Port, Mississippi, but our city's borderline-hysterical reaction to this shortage sure isn't pretty. Imagine if a real apocalypse had come instead?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Catnap Tuesday # 8

This is Penny, named after the first cat I ever raised (1976-1988). She's the neighborhood kitty who lives outside, and goes from house to house on our street. As you can see, she's a beautiful calico with what appears to be a broken lip. Penny is very sweet, but doesn't like to be touched - naturally, considering her circumstances. I feel (and fear...) she's been abused by neighborhood kids over her lifetime (and we think she's at least 9 or 10.)

We put out a bowl of water and food for Penny every day, and we consider her our "outdoor" cat, our fourth "adoptee." She likes to sleep on our car at night, and spends a lot of the day on our front porch. We love Penny a lot, but can't get her to come inside, so we respect her boundaries and just take care of her as an outdoor cat the best we can. She meows for attention and rubs our legs incessantly, but scrambles away when we try to pet her, so we have played it hands-off, for fear she'll run across (our busy street).

We just like to keep her close, because we know she's safe here.