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."

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.

Land of the Lost Season One Re-Cap: Episodes 1 - 6

Episode #1: “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. 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 unique. 

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 rid. 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 children 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 pointed (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. 

Queue the stock footage.

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.

Episode #2: “The Sleestak God.”

In our second installment of the 1974-1976 Sid and Marty Krofft live-action Saturday morning TV series, Land of the Lost, the stranded Marshall family is introduced  -- a bit unwillingly -- to the other race of "people" inhabiting this unusual pocket universe: the fearsome Sleestak.

"The Sleestak God" opens with Holly and Will being tasked by their Dad, Rick Marshall, to get a refill from the nearby watering hole. The watering jug we saw last week ("Cha-Ka") has miraculously reproduced, and now the Marshalls have two of them. Will and Holly head off across a bridge and over a chasm (and Cha-Ka follows them...) as they find an amazing forgotten city carved into the side of an imposing mountain. Our first view of the city and the ancient temple dominating it is a nice, long, revealing pan left across the grounds (and it's actually a highly-detailed miniature). Before long, however, Holly and Will get chased by the guardian of the campus, an Allosaurus they name "Big Alice."

On one wall near the city is scrawled in chalk the warning: BEWARE OF SLEESTAK. Since the message is written in English, this is our first inkling that other humans have before been trapped in the Land of the Lost.

When Will and Holly are captured by the hissing, reptilian Sleestak (who also adorn cross-bows as side-arms), Cha-Ka brings Rick Marshall to the temple. But will they arrive in time to save the kids from being a sacrifice to the hungry, bellowing (and unseen...) Sleestak God that inhabits a misty pit?

Since this is only the second episode of the series, it's clear that many of the concepts and people on the show are still being developed, and other than the dinosaurs, the Sleestaks may be the most important component. We don't know it yet, but they have a fascinating history (and future?)

My only problem in this installment is that the Sleestak are supposed to be cave dwellers who can't stand light (and can be fought with the only weapon the Marshals have: fire!). However, three Sleestak attack Will and Holly outside the city in broad daylight, which seems inconsistent.

This week also provides the first glimpse of another Land of the Lost native, the Triceratops named Spike. And we get more of Cha-Ka's language. "Osu" is the Paku word for water.

On the Gilligan's Island list of devices and instruments made by the Marshalls to make their stay in the Land of the Lost more "civilized," we see in "The Sleestak God" that Marshall has fashioned a basket out of twigs, and that Holly has built a broom out of straw (so she can do housework in the cave!)

Finally, each of the Marshalls is now also wearing a small square mirror around their necks (where did they get these?) They can communicate using the mirrors -- across vast distances -- in Morse Code, as Will and Rick do in this episode.

As for the geography of the Land of the Lost, this is the first episode in which viewers see the ravine separating High Bluff (and Grumpy's territory) from the Sleestak City (and Big Alice's territory).

Episode # 3: “Dopey”

On the third episode of Land of the Lost, written by Margaret Armen (Star Trek: "The Paradise Syndrome," and "The Gamesters of Triskelion"), Holly and Will tug an elaborately-built wagon (one made of logs and twine and with wheels made of tree trunks..) through the jungle, transporting a gaggle of oversized strawberries back to the cave at High Bluff, where Rick Marshall waits.

However, what occurs next in "Dopey" serves as the introduction of one the series' recurring dinosaur characters (and we've already met Spike, Grumpy, Spot and Big Alice.) Holly and Will spot a cracked-open brontosaurus egg and then meet a newly hatched brontosaur baby, which Holly promptly names Dopey. The kindly dinosaur (which mewls like a kitten) follows the duo home and Holly predictably asks Dad, "Can we keep him?" Marshall's smart response is that "a 5,000 lb. dinosaur stays where ever he wants."

Now that's practical parenting!

Holly teaches Grumpy to fetch a stick, kind of. The dinosaur retrieves the stick and then eats it. Then Holly rides Dopey like a horse and trains him to pull the cart. However, when Grumpy attacks High Bluff and nearly gets his sharp teeth on Dopey (who hides...), Holly realizes that her desire to own a pet could endanger Dopey's life.

"We'll have to find a good home for him...a place where he'd be safe," Marshall recommends - and with great difficulty, Holly returns Dopey to the swamp, where he can be with his own kind, including the adult Brontosaurus, Emily. The episode ends with the brontosaurs nuzzling.

Back a few years ago, when I interviewed some of the cast and crew of Land of the Lost, I learned that the series had an interesting template: the stories were separated into three categories. There would be Cha-Ka stories, Sleestak stories and dinosaur stories, and these three types would rotate over the weeks so that each consisted of one third of the series.

Naturally, "Dopey" is a dinosaur episode, and one that requires more special effects than some. Dopey is depicted both in miniature stop-motion form, and with an on-set mechanical head that doesn't look quite so convincing, though he does have nice, affectionate moon-eyes.

Thematically, like the other stories featured thus far, Land of the Lost's "Dopey" includes a lesson for the kiddies about responsibility and taking care of pets. It's about doing what's right for the animal, not for the master's comfort.

The Gilligan's Island quotient of this Land of the Lost episode (meaning the incredible instruments, devices and tools built with primitive measures...) reveals the Marshalls eating dinner out of giant carved bowls. They look to have been made from giant shells of some type. And then there's that wagon, which must have taken weeks to construct.

But then again, what else is there to do in the Land of the Lost?

Episode #4: “Downstream”

How many Saturday morning TV shows in the 1970s had episodes written by the great science fiction author, Larry Niven?

Or saw their dramatis personae face death week-in and week-out?

Or made knowing jokes about mushrooms with hallucinogenic properties?

Or pondered such ideas as a "closed universe" - a so-called "locked room in space?"

Well, the Star Trek animated series was pretty impressive too.  But these are just a few of the reasons, I believe, why Land of the Lost has continued to impress and convert new fans. Sure, it's a kid's show with 1970s special effects, but there's something convincing, even adult, about the show's consistent approach to drama and science fiction.

Take the fourth episode of the first season, this week's installment, "Downstream." It's authored by Larry Niven, and finds the Marshall family seeking to escape the Land of the Lost by building a raft and heading downstream.

The plan is to take the swamp to the river and -- sooner or later -- reach the ocean. The family flees on its make-shift raft, says its goodbyes to Grumpy and Dopey, and heads off, only to find a waterfall ahead. The family barely manages to escape to a subterranean cavern before their raft is destroyed.

There, in the cavern, the Marshalls discover Jefferson Davis Colley III (Walker Edmiston), a Civil War soldier, from the Confederate Army. He and his cannon have been prospecting a jeweled cavern. Thus this is the episode that introduces the Land of the Lost's power source: those colored crystals that power the matrix tables in upcoming episodes and can provide a light source or explosive, depending on how they are used in combination.

The discovery of this natural resource is an element of Land of the Lost's ongoing and recurring environmental theme. This closed universe, a microcosm for Earth, possesses everything it needs for its denizens, if only the resources are allocated wisely. The Marshalls will become the stewards of the land in upcoming episodes, maintaining balance and keeping the land harmonious, but the hardest thing about this task is dealing with other people (Paku and Sleestak, respectively), those who have a different philosophy about how the resources should be shared and allocated.

Anyway, Jefferson keeps the Marshalls hostage for a time, and Rick points out to him the error of his ways. "You fought a war because you didn't want other people telling you what to do," he reminds the Confederate, pointing out his hypocrisy.

"Downstream" also features some great, under-the=surface humor that no doubt went over the heads of many youngsters. Colley takes one look at the Marshalls and says "There are some mighty strange folk in California," a joke about the West Coast and the Entertainment Industry.

There's also a joke about television. Will complains while prospecting that he hasn't seen a TV show in a long time and Marshall quips that it doesn't seem to have done him any harm.

And later, Marshall makes a funny reference to drugs. "Some mushrooms have funny chemicals," he informs Will and Holly. Indeed, Rick Marshall. Indeed.

The best element of this episode is the ending, which finds the Marshalls discovering precisely where the river ends: where it started. There is no escape from the Land of the Lost. It's a pocket universe with no end and no beginning. There's no way out.

Again, this seems like a fairly advanced concept for a time bloc in which marketers were selling Cocoa-Puffs. But that's why I like Land of the Lost. It's easy to dismiss the show as kid's stuff, but there's more going on in this series than in many adult series from the same era.

Episode #5: “Tag Team”

Nothing too Earth-shattering occurs this week on Land of the Lost. "Tag Team" (by Norman Spinrad and directed by Dennis Steinmetz) simply finds the Marshalls in a vegetable patch contending with Dopey, the Pakuni, and --- inevitably -- Grumpy the Tyrannosaurus.

While Marshall, Will and Holly spend time collecting oversized carrots and turnips from the patch, the Paku steal their loot. There's a stand-off until Grumpy shows up and chases everyone off to their separate directions. Will, Holly and Cha-Ka get stuck on a ledge at the crevice, and Grumpy and Big Alice shout at each other over opposite sides of the precipice. The stranded kids have three choices: go up and play tag with Grumpy; jump down into the river far below; or stay where they are until Rick can manage a rescue.

"Well, I'll be a dinosaur's uncle," not much else happens here in terms of narrative, except that neighbors (Pakuni and human) learn to trust one another. I've always thought it' is neat how the human population balances the Paku population, and felt it was some kind of comment on how everything on Earth is balanced so that every population boasts an equal chance of survival.

Here, the populations must share the bounty of the Earth (or rather the Land of the Lost), rather than fight over it. The kindly Marshalls thus give the Paku a "lesson in harvesting vegetables." Even Dopey gets into the act, munching on an oversized carrot.

Episode #6: “The Stranger”

"The Stranger" is one of the most important episodes of Land of the Lost because it introduces so many key series concepts. This is the first installment to feature Enik (Walker Edmiston), the friendly "Altrusian" seeking to find his way home through a time portal. This is also the first episode that establishes the back-story of the Sleestak race. So it's critical, no doubt.

Unfortunately, "The Stranger" (written by Star Trek's Mr. Chekov, Walter Koenig) is also one of the talkiest and over-dramatic episodes of the series so far. In fact, it doesn't even seem to fit logically in the canon at this point, since the installment opens with the Marshalls in search of non-poisonous fruits. Last week, in "Tag Team," as you may recall, the human family taught the Pakuni how to crop oversized carrots and turnips so it seems like this crisis has already been solved. Thus we can only assume that this episode ("The Stranger") aired later, but was designed to occur earlier in the continuity. This also makes sense for another reason; because the performances are exaggerated and less-nuanced, as though the actors haven't quite found the right notes yet.

Still, "The Stranger" is one of those Land of the Lost episodes you always remember because of the storyline. Here, the Marshalls are introduced to the brown, talking Sleestak, Enik, a time-traveler from the Altrusian race who assumes that he has traveled into the distant past because the Sleestak are barbarians.
He thinks they're his primitive we might view Neanderthals. Of course, he's wrong: the Sleestak are actually his descendants, and this world is his "future," a Dystopian, post-apocalyptic place. Enik realizes this fact when he first sees the Lost City in a state of ruin.

But Enik is now a man with a mission: he wants to return to the past and warn his people that if they do not learn to control their anger, they will devolve into the monstrous Sleestak and live both metaphorically and literally in darkness.

Enik's tool to complete that critical mission is a temporal "divining rod" called a Meghetti; a device that can "locate and fix" dimensional doorways. However, the Marshalls realize that the Meghetti can also get them home safe, though Enik informs them he does not know "the combination" to locate their world.

Still, the Marshalls fight Enik for possession of the instrument. Will's aggression burns out the Meghetti, leaving Enik with only one alternative to save the Altrusian civilization: his small neck pendant can serve as a Meghetti too, if powered by an external source, the "fourth dimensional nodes" that dot the Land of the Lost and have been mistaken as crystals or jewels by the Marshalls.

Again, Will fights Enik, however, and the telepathic Altrusian forces the Marshalls to hallucinate, generating a mist consisting of their "worst fears." "These are the monsters that sleep within your minds," he tells a terrified, paralyzed Marshall.

Marshall finally saves the day, however, when he reminds Enik that by hurting the human family the Altrusian is succumbing to the forces of hate and anger that destroyed the once-advanced civilization. "It's all right to destroy," -- Marshall taunts -- as long as it is done "dispassionately," without emotion...
Okay so I've always had a soft-spot for "The Stranger" for introducing Enik and for featuring that great wrinkle about the past being the future. But so much of this episode is talky exposition that it doesn't work as effectively as most of the previous tales. This story had to appear early in the continuity -- it's absolutely critical to the series -- but The Stranger is ham handed and melodramatic instead of extraordinary and emotional.

Still, with Enik on board, all the elements and characters are in place for some of the Land of the Lost's greatest stories.