Saturday, October 05, 2013
Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost: "Tasha" (September 7, 1991)
In 1991, producers Sid and Marty Krofft revived the popular Land of the Lost (1974 – 1977) concept for a new era. This new version of Land of the Lost aired for two seasons on ABC, and the run ultimately came to 26 half-hour episodes. The series was popular enough during the early 1990s that a considerable line of show-related toys was released from Tiger Toys.
Like the original Land of the Lost from the 1970s, this new version of the story begins after a family has already arrived in the hostile pocket universe of three moons.
In the original series, the first episode was called “Chaka” and involved the Marshalls -- Rick, Holly and Will -- meeting a friendly denizen, a Pakuni child. The first episode of the re-made Land of the Lost “Tasha,” duplicates that template. Here, the stranded family -- Tom, Annie and Kevin Porter -- encounter a newly-hatched, baby dinosaur. This dinosaur is named “Tasha” after Annie’s dead mother. And, as another point of connection, the Marshall children had also lost their mother at some point before arriving in Altrusia in the original series.
This new version of Land of the Lost demonstrates how much times had changed since 1974, to be certain. Specifically, the Porters arrive with far more amenities and technological assets than did the Marshalls. The Marshalls spent their early years in the Land of the Lost in a dusty cave called High Bluff. When we first meet the Porters in “Tasha,” they have already constructed and furnished an elaborate tree-house which stands high off the ground, and which boasts a separate kitchen (replete with sink) and sleeping area.
Furthermore, the Porters have their car with them, which is still operable, plus Sony Walkman radios, and a hand-held video camera. They also have a boom-box and a box garden. In other words: all the comforts of home, a planet away. I have not seen episodes of this series in many years, so it will be interesting to note, going forward how the Porter’s technology plays a role in their adventures.
In terms of production, the 1990s Land of the Lost does not rely on chroma-key matting, dinosaur miniatures, or sound-stage shooting. There’s a great deal of exterior work instead, and the dinosaurs – designed by the Chiodo Brothers -- are depicted with much more detailed (and much more menacing-looking) puppets. Personally, I prefer the look of the dinosaurs in the original series, but that’s my own sense of nostalgia speaking, and not a reflection on the Chiodos’ work. I suspect these new dinosaurs will just take a little getting used to.
In “Tasha” we also meet the dinosaur antagonist of the series. The original series had the T-Rex named Grumpy, and here we meet “Scar,” the T-Rex responsible for murdering Tasha’s mother and eating all her eggs, save for one. Scar also attacks the Porter tree-house twice during this episode, but is finally repelled when the family rigs their car to deliver the dinosaur an electric shock.
The greatest drawback I detect at this early stage of the re-made Land of the Lost (1991 – 1993) is that it possesses no coherent or distinctive sound-design, one of the most amazing qualities of the original series. You can turn on the original Land of the Lost and you won’t mistake it for any other series ever produced. The sounds of the jungle-world of Altrusia are highly-distinctive, and make the alien world seem very real, and consistent from installment to installment.
Similarly, the visualizations of the Land of the Lost in the original series -- while clearly done on the cheap -- also created a kind of cohesion or unity of thought in terms of technology (like the pylons and the crystal matrix tables) and the locations in terms of the lost city of the Sleestaks, and other subterranean and above-ground constructs. I’ll be looking hard during this retrospective of Season One of the 1990s remake to see if I can make the same observations about its production design.
In terms of the characters, the Porters are pretty obviously a recreation of the Marshalls, only updated for the 1990s. Annie is a little more forthright and independent at the beginning than Holly was. Indeed, that sense of dawning independence became Holly’s character arc, and I’ve often insisted the series is really about her, not Will or Marshall. Meanwhile, Kevin seems more obnoxious and snarky than Will ever was, but again…this is the 1990s we’re talking about so I guess that’s to be expected. The Dad, Tom, much like Spencer Milligan’s Rick Marshall, seems a paragon of patience and wisdom.
Next week, we learn much more about this new land of the lost and its denizens in episode #2, “Something’s Watching.”