Saturday, August 25, 2012

Land of the Lost Season One Re-Cap, Episodes 7 - 12

Episode #7: “Album”

"Album" (directed by Bob Lally and written by Dick Morgan) is the seventh episode of Land of the Lost's  This story finds a strange, hypnotic wind passing through the land, mysteriously drawing Holly and Will to a grotto in the lost city of the Sleestak.

There, in what appears to be a misty time door (beyond a matrix table), Holly and Will spy their dead Mother, as she beckons them. "Come home..." the beautiful, long-haired woman says. "Come tomorrow, don't tell..."

Will and Holly do return - almost against their will - but the whole enterprise is a lure by the Sleestak to capture the Marshalls. Rick finally figures it out, right before the kids can be sacrificed to the God of the Pit...

I rather enjoyed this episode of Land of the Lost, though I didn't quite buy the Sleestak plan. After all, why not just take each Marshall one-at-a-time, rather than trying to get them all together? Still, the story works better as a mood piece. It's eerie, strange and has a melancholy, almost depressing aura. There's a very ominous atmosphere here, and I don't know how many kid shows, frankly, would feature an episode dealing with a dead parent. "It can't be real. Mom's dead," Holly notes at one point. "She wasn't always," Will reminds her, and this a rather blunt conversation for a Saturday morning series. But I guess that's why Land of the Lost holds up despite the aged special effects and occasionally childish acting: there were powerful elements for adults to latch onto.

Finally, I enjoyed how this episode skillfully tackled the idea of contrasting "traps." At home in the cave, Holly attempts to trap an unwanted pest who's been getting into the Marshalls' food by night; Of course, Holly and Will are walking into a Sleestak trap too. That's a nice little dramatic trick, and handled with a degree of subtlety.

 Episode #8: “Skylons”

Now we're getting to the part of Land of the Lost that I've admired for years; the environmental message beneath all the prehistoric action.

In this episode, "Skylons," Will and Holly disrupt the "perfect balance" of the Land of the Lost pocket universe by (unwisely) tinkering with the crystal matrix table inside a pylon which controls the weather. Three pyramidal "skylons" float about the sky during various atmospheric anomalies (including thunder, lightning and freezing hail...) to warn the denizens of the land that something vital has been disrupted.

I love the characters and world of Land of the Lost for the environmental message underpinning both. Marshall is a ranger so he's used to his role as shepherd for the environment, and now -- in this strange universe -- he must also tend to things and keep things in balance.

Though you've got to laugh at the cheesy forced evacuation of the dinosaurs presented in "Skylons" (three dinosaurs from different breeds run together side-by-side in close quarters to escape a gathering storm...) but the message inherent in that visual is still valuable. Man, animal - sleestak - we all benefit from a healthy, balanced world.

Also, there's an instant in "Skylons" that surprised me with its honesty and bluntness. In one moment, Grumpy (the T-Rex) catches the friendly little carnivore named Spot and chews him up in his mouth, killing him. Holly and Marshall witness this act, and with some chagrin but realize "that's the way it is around here," meaning that nature and animals can be cruel. That's a good lesson, but also a fairly strong one for a kid's TV show.  Spot has been around since episode one…

But that's why the entertainment of the 1970s rocked. And Land of the Lost in particular. This was the age when we were still confronting problems; not trying to "spin" them away through public relations. This is the time when facts were presented clearly and believed based on science, not presented through the filter of either red or blue. Because -- can we finally acknowledge this? -- those colored filters from the far left and the far right only succeed in only doing one thing; blurring each issue, and causing confusion and inertia.

The Land of the Lost may be simplistic and designed for kids, but you know what they say. Out of the mouths of babes...

Episode #9: “The Hole”

This first season Land of the Lost episode boasts a familiar atmosphere, especially if you're a long time sci-fi fan. "The Hole" (by Wina Sturgeon and directed by Dennis Steinmetz) is that old, oft-revived chestnut about a hero and a villain (or enemy...) trapped together in a remote location and forced to put differences aside to escape a deadly situation.

You may remember this familiar tale as the feature film Enemy Mine (1986) with Dennis Quaid and Lou Gossett, or, if you're a Trekker, as the Next Generation tale involving Geordi and a Romulan trapped on Galorndon Core, the third season entry called "The Enemy." At least "The Hole" arrives earlier in genre hitory than either of those two entries (though it comes after the Planet of the Apes story with Burke and Urko trapped in underground San Francisco...).

The idea here is that Rick Marshall - while exploring the Lost City - is pushed into the smoky Pit where the hungry Sleestak God resides. As he falls, we see the actor actually hit the matt beneath a bed of fog.

Anyway, Marshall teams up in the dark pit with another prisoner, a very verbal and intellectual Sleestak named S'Latch, who was born "with the genetic heritage" of his ancestors, and thus possesses "all the knowledge of the universe."

Anyway, Rick and S'Latch overcome their differences and escape the pit, and Rick also teaches S'Latch a lesson or two about life. "We call helping each other brotherhood," he suggests. Then Marshall tells S'Latch, "You must teach your people peace and understanding."  He takes the lesson to heart, apparently.

Of course, "The Hole" isn’t perfect. As the story opens, Will and Marshall are exploring the Lost City and evading Big Alice, but Holly is left at home at High Bluff to "clean the cave."  Why can't Will stay behind and do the housekeeping? It's amazing how a show can understand and explore some stereotypes, and then turn around and reinforce others, isn't it?

Keeping track of Land of the Lost story developments, we learn this week that the Sleestak call Big Alice "Selema," and that her job at the Lost City is to protect the Sleestak eggs before they hatch.

"The Hole" also reveals that Sleestak are hostile because of fear and ignorance. The city is "all" they have "left" after centuries of war and barbarism and thus their security depends on protecting it, so they are violent and dangerous.

Episode #10: “The Paku Who Came to Dinner”

The tenth episode of Land of the Lost's first season (by Barry Blitzer and directed by Bob Lally) is a bit of a time-waster, really. It begins with Holly and Rick "bird watching" dinosaurs as Emily the Brontosaurus eats some plants in the swamp and Grumpy, in turn, tries to get to her. Holly then reminisces about the first time she met baby brontosaurus Dopey and we transition into a flashback.

After that, the Marshalls invite Cha-Ka over for dinner and Holly adorns lipstick and perfume for the little missing link.  Anyway, everyone breaks bread together and Will quibbles over Cha-Ka's table manners....which aren't exactly Emily Post. Dad puts judgmental Will in his place. "Don't be intolerant, Will," says Rick. "The Paku have their own standards..."

After dinner, Cha-Ka's Paku friends Tah and Sah kidnap Holly because they like her perfume and Will and Marshall must rescue her. They do so in the nick of time, since Grumpy attacks and eats Holly's jacket (in a scene that carefully and nicely blends live-action with miniature sets...though I don't understand how the primitive Paku could build the enclosure we see them living in...)

Nothing much else happens in this episode, but the moment when Holly puts on make-up for Cha-Ka and Dad says "Our little girl is growing up to be a lady," has a high "ick" factor....something this splendid 1970s show usually avoids. That instant is followed immediately by an even more uncomfortable moment. Will sizes up his younger sister and says "You know, you don't look half bad."  Yikes!

Episode #11: “The Search”

The Search” arrives from the mind of sci-fi legend Ben Bova (and director Dennis Steinmetz). The story finds the Marshalls hoping to find Enik in the Lost City, but discovering their efforts stymied by Big Alice.

Will spots something shining and "glistening" in the distance, and the Marshalls discover a deposit of matrix crystals hewn into the side of a rock outcropping. They begin to test various crystal combinations (red & blue = explosion), but the last combination they try paralyzes Rick Marshall's nervous system "like lightning."

It's here that "The Search" gets interesting. Holly must get Marshall back to safety at their High Bluff shelter, while Will must convince Enik to heal his father. It's a test for both kids -- a family crisis wherein each must grow up enough to face heavy responsibility. To save their father (and survive the day...) Holly and Will must each display creative thinking, problem solving, and persistence. And they must do so completely independently.

And it's not always easy. Holly realizes she can't lift Marshall's weight up to the mouth of the High Bluff cave, and engineers a "counterweight" to him (in a basket...). All the while, Grumpy the T-Rex looms nearby.

As for Will, he is tempted when Enik opens the time doorway and it happens to flash on the Marshall's time period. Enik urges Will to jump through; to take this single opportunity to return to his life. But Will can't leave his family behind and Enik is shamed by his self-sacrifice. "Your self-control cannot be stronger than mine," Enik notes haughtily.

In the end, Marshall is healed, and realizes that the younglings aren't so young anymore. "Both of you saved me." "Both of you are growing up."

"The Search" has some good character moments, but my favorite was no doubt the instant at High Bluff when a dying Marshall talks seriously and emotionally with Holly. "You're just as headstrong as your mother was...bright, strong, never took a back seat to anyone, including me..." he says. This is a nice humanizing moment, though we know - of course - that Rick isn't really going to expire.

The only weird moment in "The Search" involves Enik's last scene. He has just healed Rick Marshall using two blue crystals and then he speaks with the Marshalls for a moment. Suddenly, he begins to gesticulate wildly and exaggeratedly...totally unlike the cool, calm Enik.

I wonder, was Walker Edmiston unavailable for that scene, and replaced by a lesser double? That's my best guess, because Enik isn't usually so effusive with the body gestures...

Another strange moment: Early in the episode, when the crystals explode, it looks very much to me like Spencer Milligan is standing too close...and is a little singed by the detonation. Go back and watch, and you'll see. During the next scenes, his eyes are tearing and his voice is shaking. And the explosion certainly looks dangerous...

Episode #12: “The Possession”

It's the "dormant season" for the Sleestak during "The Possession" (by David Gerrold and directed by Dennis Steinmetz), but that doesn't mean it's safe for the Marshalls in the land of the lost...

"The Possession" opens with a scene inspired, apparently, by Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Paku (Tah, Sah and Cha-Ka) go about their monkey-man business (eating grapes) when suddenly a pylon appears nearby, and beckons them with a mechanical hum; not unlike the curious apes in 2001 and the strange Monolith (during "The Dawn of Man")

The similarities soon end, however, as Cha-Ka enters the pylon and becomes possessed by the "Great and Powerful" One, the "sleeper who has awakened"…"the watcher of the pylons." This entity takes control of Cha Ka and gifts him with a power wand or baton that sucks the power from crystal matrices and such.

Before long, Holly also becomes possessed by the Great and Powerful One, and after zapping Will  heads to the Lost City to drain more crystals. Rick Marshall intervenes at the last possible moment, and learns that the watcher of the Pylons appears to be an Altrusian, one of Enik's people. Furthermore, this entity believes it is his destiny to "rule all."

"No one has the right to rule all," Rick Marshall counters in true Captain Kirk fashion, before cutting the Watcher off from his crystals and stopping him once and for all...

"The Possession" is a kind of ho-hum episode from Land of the Lost's first season. Besides the early, obvious nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey, not much of interest really happens, and the final battle is dull too. Everyone seems to be having a bad week here, and I'm not sure how this episode "jibes" with others about the pylons and their nature and power.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:45 PM

    John insightful reviews. These episodes of Land Of The Lost season one are yet more examples of the intelligence of the scripts that enthralled us watching Saturday mornings in the ‘70s. For those that reject the whole series because of the special effects limitations should realize it is the written words that matter. I do not think that the special effects need to be replaced as was done in the re-mastered original Star Trek series.