Saturday, February 25, 2006

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Land of the Lost: "Cha-Ka"

Our journey into Land of the Lost begins with the "Cha-Ka," the first episode of the three-season series (an an installment which aired in September of 1974). "Cha-Ka" was written by Tribbles creator David Gerrold and directed by Danny Steinmetz.

The opening montage (and theme song) set up the premise of the series, for us, and this episode begins at least one day after the Marshalls (Rick, Holly and Will) have arrived in this seemingly-prehistoric world. The viewer first meets the Marshall family as it is peering over a swamp, and Holly has just named a small dinosaur "Spot." Will protests that a better name is required, but the debate is ended when a Tyrannosaurus, Grumpy, enters the scene with a roar. While Rick goes into the woods to gather supplies, Will and Holly happen upon a strange, construct in the forest, a pyramidal device "made by intelligent beings." This is a pylon. It's cold to the touch, Holly tells us, and Will says it feels like it's not even there.

The examination of the pylon is interrupted when Grumpy attacks three Pakuni - small ape-men creatures - nearby. The youngest of the Paku, Cha-Ka, falls and is injured in the escape, and Holly and Will rescue him. When Rick returns, they determine to bring Cha-Ka back to their cave at high bluff, and set his fractured ankle with a splint. Unfortunately, Grumpy is still around, and he's hungry...

"Cha-Ka" introduces the TV viewer to the world of Land of the Lost, including all the main characters. Holly, Will, Marshall, Cha-Ka and even Grumpy each get their moment in the sun. With the help of stop-motion photography and chroma-key composites (the overlaying of live-actors on highly-detailed miniature landscapes), this unique kid-vid series comes to life with a bang. One thing I noticed this time, watching the series, is Land of the Lost's unique sound-design. It literally sounds otherworldly, and between the music and dinosaur roars, you've never heard anything like this on any other television series. It's a distinctive, individual sound model, and that makes the show truly seem individual. Often, sound is ignored in favor of visuals, so I wanted to make note of this here. Turn on Land of the Lost anywhere in a house, and without looking at the TV, you'll know exactly what program is on the tube.

While blogging Land of the Lost, I'm going to try to keep track of the Marshalls' equipment, because they seem all kitted up for having been on a raft ride! I noticed in 'Cha-Ka" they have at least one canteen, a lighter, a grill (!), three sleeping bags, a pot, a plastic water jug, a yellow drinking mug, and at least seven back-packs (ostensibly half-emptied, since these supplies must have come from somewhere). At this point, they don't appear to have a change of clothes...

Because Land of the Lost was produced for little kids to enjoy on Saturday mornings, it's filled with valuable moral messages about the way people should treat others. After Holly makes fun of Grumpy the dinosaur, Rick admonishes her: "Don't call Grumpy names. It's not his fault he's stupid." Later, when Holly asks if she can keep Cha-Ka, this is the stern reply: "People don't own other people. Cha-Ka will stay with us just as long as he wants to."

Finally, the episode "Cha-Ka" introduces us to the Marshall's first (and only...) line of defense at High-Bluff, the "fly-swatter." This is a thick spear, carved to be more pointy (but not actually sharp...) at one end. When Grumpy tries to stick his toothy snout into the cave (and it's right at mouth level, unfortunately,..), the Marshalls get a running start and jam the fly swatter into his mouth. By the end of the episode, Grumpy has gotten smart to this trick. "He can learn things!," Holly notes. Yes, but he'll be back in future episodes...

You'll also note that there's a brief sojourn to the pylon in this episode, setting up future storylines. And Cha-Ka has now been well-established as an ally, since the Marshalls have set his injured leg. At episode's end, he returns the favor by bringing them fruit and vegetables from the forest.

Next week - "The Sleestak God!"

3 comments:

  1. Big Daddy7:23 PM

    Me think Cha-Ka really really lame. Cha-Ka bad. Me want kill Cha-Ka. Me put hands around Cha-Ka neck and squeeze. Cha-Ka very dead now.

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  2. The sleestak will get you, Big Daddy, if you're not careful.

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  3. Big Daddy9:27 AM

    Me think sleestak even more lame. Me yet to see sleestak maul Cha-Ka or Holly. Me want see sleestak eat live flesh. Me want see dead bodies. Me no see any cojones on lame stupid sleestak.

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