Friday, February 10, 2012

From the Archive: Sci-Tech #2 Altrusian Edition

In Sci-Tech 2, I turn the attention to Land of the Lost (1974 - 1976), an inventive Saturday morning program set in "Altrusia," an artificial (?) planet positioned inside a closed pocket universe. 

According to the mythology of the program created by celebrated science fiction author David Gerrold, advanced humanoid Altrusians once lived peaceably in this strange habitat, and boasted a great science and high sense of technology. 

But the Altrusians ultimately de-volved into barbarian Sleestaks, and their technology -- in the time of the stranded Marshall family --  has been largely left untended and in disrepair.  To the Sleestaks, their repository of  race knowledge -- the Library of Skulls -- might as well be magical.

Interestingly, there are Star Trek connections here beyond the presence of story editor Gerrold. Walter Koenig (Chekov) wrote one of the earliest and best episodes -- "The Stranger" -- which introduced Enik (Walker Edmiston), the Altrusian.  He was a time traveler from the land's more civilized  past; a character shocked by how primitive (and superstitious) his people had become.

Also, Herman Zimmerman -- who went on to design several Star Trek TV series and films -- served as the art director of Land of the Lost.  I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Zimmerman some years back, and he told me: "I built the opening miniature of the series: the rapids.; The show began with a group of young people, their father, and their raft, in Colorado, and I created this a large miniature, probably 25 to 35 feet long. I shot it on videotape with miniature figures and a life raft. And the letters that arose out of the mist and announced the title Land of the Lost? I carved those personally."

Zimmerman designed and created many of the mechanisms and strange devices of "Altrusia," which seemed based on a crystalline-technology.    "Saturday morning TV was not blessed with much money, so we built all the Sleestak caves out of heavy-duty tin foil," he also reported.  "A good bit of my time was spent repairing holes in the foil when someone leaned against it and tore it open."

And yet despite the grievously low budget, there remains great visual consistency to the world of Altrusia, as you will hopefully detect from the selection of photos below.  From the miniatures to the live action sets, from matte painting to the props, Altrusia seemed like a real living place...a place you could reach out to touch and explore.  It's amazing how far that "tin foil" goes when creative minds are at work; creative minds determined not to talk down to children.

I've always maintained that at its heart, Land of the Lost offers a powerful environmental message.  Frequently, the various races inhabiting Altrusia (Human, Sleestak and Pakuni) must work together to maintain the balance of the environment so that life there is beneficial for all the species.  The series goes to great lengths to depict how in a single eco-system, all life-forms are intimately interconnected. 

For instance, in one episode, Sleestak attempt to modify Altrusia to exist in perpetual night, so they can hunt for the nocturnal Altrusian moths which fertilize their eggs.  The Sleestak neglect to remember that in the coldness of perpetual night, the moths will die from the low temperatures.

Several episodes of Land of the Lost deal with the "natural" mechanisms of Altrusia that cause an environmental imbalance.  The land seems to get an "irregular heart beat" in "One of Our Pylons is Missing."  Devices called "Skylons" warn of weather anomalies in "Skylons" and "Hurricane."  And so on. 

If only on Earth, it were as easy to correct such problems of environmental imbalance.  If only a re-shuffling of a planetary "matrix table" that could set everything right...

Anyway, here are some photos that reveal the lost world of Altrusia, one of sci-fi television's most unique but memorable destinations.

The Lost City of Altrusia, after the fall of civilization.

An Altrusian "maghetti," a kind of divining rod for locating time doors.

From "Album," a time-door.  Lots of mist in Altrusia.

An Altrusian Pylon catches the attention of Grumpy, The T-Rex.


The beating heart of the Land of the Lost/Altrusia.

A more advanced Altrusian matrix table? Mysterious tech from "The Musician."

More Altrusian architecture; from "After Shock."

Altrusia's repository of Knowlwedge: The Library of the Skulls.

An Altrusian Matrix-table (interior Pylon).

An "ancient" Altrusian guardian.

An Altrusian spirit dwells inside a Pylon ("The Possession").

The Altrusian city before the fall of civilization.


  1. Anonymous6:04 PM

    A a boy of the '70s, Saturday Morning televison was a must see. LAND OF THE LOST 1974-76 with dinosaurs and Altrusia was an instant favorite. VALLEY OF THE DINOSAURS 1974-75 animated series was also fun, but lacked the fascinating Altrusia setting.


  2. SGB: We are so much alike, you and I! I also loved Land of the Lost as a kid, and I still love it today. Sure the effects were cheap, and today look dated: but they are all part of a magnificently coherent and interesting world. I also liked Valley of the Dinosaurs, but as you say, the setting was not as wonderful as the magical, mystical Altrusia!