Saturday, August 25, 2012

Land of the Lost Season One Re-Cap, Episodes #13 - 17

Episode #13: “Follow that Dinosaur”

Written by Dick Morgan and directed by Dennis Steinmetz, this 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 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 crawl 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 smack-down with Big Alice. 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.

Episode #14: “Stone Soup”

Written by Joyce Perry (who also wrote "Time Trap" for Star Trek: The Animated Series) and directed by Bob Lally, this installment finds the Marshall kids growing increasingly combative as a long draught -- and electrostatic storms -- continue to wreak havoc in the land of the lost.

Instead of watching Will and Holly squabble, Marshall re-directs their attention. He starts making something called "Stone Soup," a terrible concoction (a stone in hot water...) that needs new ingredients (like potatoes, carrots, and onions...) to taste edible. Holly and Will get roped into their Dad's stone soup ruse and start working together to make a palatable dinner. While collecting ingredients out in the jungle, they are nearly run over by a dinosaur stampede, and the two Marshall kids seek shelter in a Pylon. To their horror, they find the matrix crystal table has been disrupted by the Paku.

In fact, the terrible draught in the land is being caused by the Pakuni, who "are territorial by nature," according to Marshall. Being good shepherds of the land, the Marshalls realize they must negotiate with the Paku to get the crystals back and fix the pylon. However, the only thing they can negotiate with is...stone soup.

In the end, as apocalypse grows near ("it looks like the end of the world," says Will...), the Marshalls succeed in their quest and once again balance the forces of nature...causing a much-needed rain storm. The Marshalls have achieved their goal of restoring the environment not by strong-arming, not by attacking, but giving the Pakuni something they want and need (food). Diplomacy, not saber-rattling, saves the day.

Along the way in this episode, we also earn a few Pakuni words. "Opira" is Cha-Ka's word for "salt" and "opima" is the word, apparently, for stone soup.

Episode #15: “Elsewhen”

"Elsewhen" by D.C. Fontana (and directed by Dennis Steinmetz) has always been one of my favorite episodes of the 1970s kid-vid series, Land of the Lost. Even today, more than thirty years after it first aired, I feel it poignant, intelligent and endlessly fascinating.

This story finds the Marshalls exploring the Lost City of the Sleestak. The family heads to Enik's cave to open the time doorway there (or to attempt to, anyway...). Rick Marshall's experimentation at the matrix crystal table seems unsuccessful, or so it appears. He opens up a misty gateway...but to which world? It's unclear.

Meanwhile, Holly wanders off by herself. After an encounter with Big Alice, she discovers a deep cavern leading hundreds of meters below the stone city. She spies a pylon key ensconced on a cave wall by the entrance, and brings back Will and Rick to investigate this anomaly. The Marshalls quickly find a "black hole" in the cave and wonder if it will lead to a time doorway. The hole appears to be bottomless.

While her brother and father research the black hole further, Holly returns to Enik's cave and is surprised to encounter a beautiful young woman, Ronnie. Ronnie lovingly tells the young girl things about herself and her future; things that Ronnie couldn't possibly know, and Holly is able to use this knowledge to save Will and Rick from the Sleestak, as well as survive a trip into that black hole (and conquer her fear of heights).

In the end, Holly comes to realize that Ronnie is actually an older or "future" version of herself; that she came through the time doorway that Rick Marshall opened. "Cherish your father and brother, Holly," Ronnie warns the young girl in closing. "They won't always be there."

That message - that loved ones die - is a powerful one that has always resonated with me; since I first saw the show in 1974-1975. It seems like a particularly strong message for a kid's show, but that's one of the things I love about Land of the Lost. Say what you want about it being a "kiddie" program, but it deals with real issues in an intelligent fashion, like the notion that friends, pets, and family don' forever.

I had the good fortune to discuss "Elsewhen" with its creator, writer D.C. Fontana, back in 2001. "The idea had been on my mind that it would be nice to know things as children that we do as adults," Fontana said. "They[the producers] wanted to do a Holly story because they didn't have too many. And so Holly's adult self came back to give her younger self a warning, which was like 'If I knew then what I know now...'"

I remember commenting to Ms. Fontana that this was all "pretty heavy stuff" for a childrens' show, since it implied Holly would lose both Will and Rick -- that they would die and apparently leave her to fend for herself in the Land of the Lost.

Watching "Elsewhen," all this material comes through so clearly (and not cheesily), and I must say, I also appreciated the notion of that inexplicable pylon key showing up. It is never explained why it is there, what it is connected to, or what the purpose may be. I've always enjoyed the fact that this mystery is not resolved. We are not always privy in life to answers, after all, so why should the Marshalls figure it out? "I can't explain the unexplainable, Holly," Ronnie wisely tells Holly, and I think that's one of the undercurrents in this episode as well.

Episode 16: “Hurricane”

Land of the Lost's "Hurricane" is one of the series' finest (and fastest...) entries. Written by David Gerrold and Larry Niven, the story finds a parachutist named Beau Jackson falling into the pocket universe after Will fools with a pylon's matrix table. This particular pylon is stationed atop a mountain peak, at the highest point in the land...

This geography is important, because in the episode's most exquisite image (and indeed, one of the series' best moments...), Will, Holly, Marshall and Beau gaze across the snow-covered peaks of the land of the lost (using binoculars) and spy something interesting: themselves! Yep, they see themselves (from the back!), looking across the land...a view which beautifully sells the concept of a world that twists around itself, closed off, with no end and no beginning.

In this inventive episode, the Marshalls must find a way to re-direct the floating time doorway (which is cruising 50-60 meters in the air...) closer to Mr. Jackson, so he can be returned home to his life in the far off 1990s...when we have space gliders and space stations....

Also, there's another problem. The time doorway opened while Mr. Jackson was on his space glider - directing an atmospheric re-entry. That means that all the wind and turbulence from the earth's upper atmosphere is gushing into the Land of the Lost and creating the mother of all hurricanes. The environmental watchdogs of the closed universe, the skylons thus put in an encore appearance to help out.

"Hurricane" also boasts a great line from the Texan space pilot Beau (played with the right amount of disbelief and humor by Ron Masak...).

Will tells him that one of the dinosaurs, Spot, is "omnivorous," and Beau replies, "I don't much care where it goes to church..."

Episode 17: “Circle”

The episode finds Will, Holly and Rick Marshall at a swimming hole by the swamp when Will locates an underwater cavern that looks a lot like a chamber in the Lost City. The Marshalls explore it and find the Sleestak...hibernating. Apparently, it's the dormant season for the giant lizard people.

Then comes one of the episode's highpoints: the monstrous Sleestak suddenly awake and chase the Marshalls through the catacombs. If I were a little kid watching this sequence, I'd run right up to bed and hide under the covers. The best moment in the dramatic chase occurs when one Sleestak pursues Holly out of the cave and swamp, and rises up out of the water like the shark in Jaws!

After escaping from the Sleestak, Will makes it to the Lost City and finds Enik, who is "unable to leave" the Land of the Lost. It turns out there's a problem with the time door. The "law of conservation of temporal momentum has been reversed." Nothing can leave the Land of the Lost unless an object of equal temporal mass leaves.

This imbalance must be corrected, and it involves the Marshalls. Enik explains that they never really fully entered Altrusia at all. Simultaneously, they are both stuck on the rapids and stuck in the land of the lost - in essence straddling two "realities." Let me just say that the manner in which the writers resolve this temporal problem is quite clever, and essentially "re-boots" the whole series.

When "Circle" ends, our set of Marshalls have escaped from the Land of the Lost, and returned home. But another set of Marshalls -- those trapped on the rapids -- have entered. At the time, this was the writer's way of explaining a season of reruns. A "new" set of Marshalls (without memory of their captivity in the land...) would have all new adventures. Get it?

Of course, there are some problems with this conceit. One is: wouldn't Cha-Ka be confused? Suddenly, the Marshalls wouldn’t remember him or the other Paku and he'd have to start his friendship with them from scratch. And wouldn't they wonder why he knows their names, and speaks pidgeon English?

Another problem is the cave at High Bluff. So far as I can tell, the first set of Marshalls didn't clean up their cave before evacuating the Land of the Lost. That cave -- from evidence in earlier episodes -- would have a broom, backpacks, pots and pans, and all kinds of homemade Gilligan's Island style gear. So technically, when Marshall family # 2 arrives at the cave, they should find all of their stuff already there. But this doesn't happen, for some reason.

Still, this is an intriguing episode of Land of the Lost, because it deals with the concept of a time loop; but more succinctly a notion that is growing more accepted in quantum mechanics today. Which is simply this: identity is not linear...only our memory and concept of time (which is unreal) makes it feel that way.

So therefore, the Marshalls on the rapids are distinct and different entities from the Marshalls in the land of the lost. This is called the "timeless" theory in quantum physics, and it's come a long way since 1975, but still, it's amazing that Land of the Lost - a kid's show from thirty five years ago - plays with the concept.

Next Saturday, we begin Land of the Lost, Season Two, with "Tar Pit."

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:57 PM

    John I love the reviews of the original Land Of The Lost episodes. The Altrusia Land Of The Lost world that was created by the writers and production designers was truly believable. I was a boy in the ‘70s and I think that the live-action Saturday morning series back then were extremely impressive even by today’s standards. I appreciate that it was made intelligent. Your example of “Follow that Dinosaur” perfectly defines a rich history of the Land of the Lost. "Circle" was fascinately. Moreover, the live-action series Land Of The Lost(1974-1977), Ark II(1976-1977), Space Academy(1977-1978) and Jason Of Star Command(1978-1980) were milestone Saturday morning children dramatic programming.