Sunday, September 07, 2014

Land of the Lost: Outré Intro

In September of 2014, the Sid and Marty Krofft live-action series Land of the Lost (1974 - 1977) celebrates its fortieth anniversary. 

I still remember tuning in to the first episode of the series and immediately falling in love with both the overall concept -- of a family "falling" into another world -- and the execution, which involved (at the time...) impressive stop-motion dinosaurs like Grumpy (a T-Rex), Big Alice (an allosaur), and Dopey (a brontosaur).

As you may recall, there was no "opening" episode of Land of the Lost featuring the Rick (Spencer Milligan), Holly (Kathy Coleman) and Will Marshall (Wesley Eure) in their "normal" life in California. 

Instead, the inaugural episode, "Cha-Ka" (September 7, 1974), began with the Marshalls already ensconced in their strange new, prehistoric environs.

The series could begin so quickly with the action, in part, because of the splendid Land of the Lost introductory montage, which -- when paired with Linda Laurie's unforgettable theme song -- depicted the opening chapter of the Marshall saga.  

In short, the theme and introductory montage shared with viewers everything they needed to know about how the Marshalls had become stranded in the pocket universe of Altrusia, and what threats they would face there.  

"My song just recreates the experience of watching that fun show," Laurie told me in an interview several years ago. 

As the Kroffts explained the series to Laurie for the first time, inspiration came to her. "I whipped out my guitar and started singing about this hole that leads to a place called the Land of the Lost.  I repeated the word "lost" because you must have an echo if you're tumbling into the middle of the Earth. That's a requirement."

As the Land of the Lost montage commences, pictured below, we get a long-distance view of the Grand Canyon under golden sunlight. 

The sun's rays are visible in frame, which suggests that this place -- home, for the Marshalls, essentially -- is a kind of veritable paradise.  

The image is natural, or pastoral, and suggests peace and light. These qualities will contrast with the dangers of Altrusia, as we see further on.

The next frame finds the Marshalls -- Rick, Will and Holly -- in an inflatable raft, navigating a winding river. 

Significantly, the family is at the center of the action here, and clustered tightly together in their small, confining craft. 

This is an important blocking choice, because the family is at the center of the action in the entirety of the series as well, dependent on one another for survival and companionship. The blocking might have featured them in a line, one after the other, three in a row. 

But to have them positioned as they are (in the image below) more aptly suggests a unit, or a family "together."

Now an earthquake starts in the next frame, and the mountains and rocks around the Marshalls begin to rumble ominously.

All the effects in this sequence, as you may note, are achieved using miniatures. They were created by art director and production designer Herman Zimmerman, a long-time veteran of the Star Trek franchise. 

"I built the opening miniature of the series: the rapids," Mr Zimmerman told me in an interview.

"The show began with a group of young people, their father, and their raft, in Colorado, and I created this large miniature, maybe 25 to 35 feet long. I shot it on videotape with miniature figures and a life raft. And the letters that arose of the mist and announced the title Land of the Lost...I carved those."

In the next sequence of shots, we see the effects of the earthquakes on the mountains, the river, and the imperiled Marshalls.

In the next shot, a mountain actually parts, and the Marshall raft goes through a new opening.

I have always found this image to be one of the most fascinating in the introductory montage, because the opening of the mountain doesn't look random, or like an accident.

Instead, it looks like the mountains are parting at a pre-determined point, and that suggests, to me, anyway, an ancient portal...perhaps one built by extra-terrestrial (Altrusian?) or otherwise non-human hands.

The same feeling is fostered in the next shot, as a giant rock door, essentially, slams down behind the Marshalls.

They are in a new, long-unseen part of the river now, and about to go down a waterfall...

As the small raft careens down the colossal falls, the entire screen turns to white mist.  Out of the mist comes a credit: Sid and Marty Krofft Present...

Now, the mist clears, and we get our series title, which appears to be carved out of the same mountain or rock-type as what we witnessed on the river, at the onset of the quake.

The Marshalls awaken soon, and find themselves in a new place, and a new world.  The roar of the rapids is replaced by the roar of...a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

The Marshalls look up in terror, even as the creature -- shot from a menacing low-angle -- gazes down at them hungrily.

Next, we meet our series stars, as the Marshalls come to their senses...and run for their lives.

The T-Rex (Grumpy) pursues...

Finally, the Marshalls unexpectedly find sanctuary: a cave on "High Bluff."  

This cave becomes the ad-hoc "home" of the series, as the Marshalls move in and attempt to establish a new life there.  

As the following images reveal, the humans are safe inside the cave, even from rampaging, hungry dinosaurs. None too pleased about this fact, Grumpy turns away from the cave -- and toward us -- and lets out an earth shattering roar.

Welcome to the land of the lost!

Below, the montage in action:

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