Monday, February 09, 2009

A Total Failure of Imagination

I try hard not to pre-judge movies that I haven't seen. To do so makes no sense...what am I judging if I haven't seen the final work of art?

I've counseled patience on the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek, for instance.

I want to wait and see what that experience will bring...and hope it will be something wonderful. I'm heavily invested in Star Trek as a long-time fan, but if I were to choose between another Next Gen movie or J.J. Abrams vetting a Batman Begins-style re-boot, I'd be for the latter. Nemesis cured me of any delusion that the Next Gen movies were on anything approaching the right track.

I can't honestly tell you that Rob Zombie's Halloween was worse than Halloween: Resurrection, either. Even if I had problems with Zombie's re-interpretation of the classic Carpenter material.

I'm also open-minded about the Friday the 13th remake, and was favorably impressed by the trailer for the remake of Last House on the Left. I even liked the re-imagination of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as a pure "scare" experience, if not as the stunning work of art that Tobe Hooper so artistically crafted.

See? I try not to pre-judge. But I don't always succeed.

Case in point: Will Ferrell's Land of the Lost movie. I just feel grim, and a bit demoralized that a TV show I grew up has been transformed into that most horrible of mongrels: the Will Ferrell comedy of the week. Could it have been worse? Well, I guess it could have starred Adam Sandler. Or - shudder - Rob Schneider.

Yes, yes I know the Sleestaks look just like they did on the 1970s show. I realize there's a clear attempt in the film's production design to maintain fidelity to the look and feel of the original series. But frankly, that's the wrong kind of "faithful." It's faithful only to be...jokey, to point out how fake and campy everything crafted in the 1970s looks to us today. It's smug superiority masquerading as "faithful."

As my snarky brother-in-law said to me over the Christmas holiday: how does it feel to see your dream turned into a nightmare?

It seems to me that the one reason to undertake a remake of a TV show or movie is to improve and update it. I love the original Land of the Lost, but the special effects are indeed dated and it is clearly designed "for children." There's nothing wrong with that. I'm just saying that a Land of the Lost movie -- a movie faithful to the spirit of original series but made for adults, could be an incredible thing.

Imagine the awe of seeing those dinosaurs for the first time on the big screen. Imagine the terror of first encountering updated Sleestak. Imagine Land of the Lost's environmental message (about various "tribes" getting along to take care of the planet), re-tooled for an age in which that message is really and truly important. I remember how Land of the Lost fed my childhood obsession with all things dinosaurs, and wonder if the new movie will have that same impact.

For all those reasons, a serious, adventurous, exciting and scary Land of the Lost movie -- along the lines of Jurassic Park -- could be a wondrous thing. The series offers a great premise, after all, and there are some great locations, creatures and characters to be mined.

But the best our slick pop-culture age can muster is a jokey Will Ferrell comedy.

A product that makes fun of the original show, and that plays Chaka, the Sleestak, the pocket universe...even the dinosaurs, for easy, cheap laughs. It's easier to mock something people have nostalgia for, I suppose, then go that extra mile and write a good, serious script, and shoot a believable fantasy adventure.

We've all heard that fanboy comment about our collective childhoods being raped by modern Hollywood. That's certainly an over-statement, but this Land of the Lost remake represents a total failure of the imagination on the conceptual level, a cheap shot for easy money. Am I pre-judging the movie? I guess I am: I'm saying that any movie called Land of the Lost shouldn't be a Will Ferrell Anchorman/Blades of Glory-style comedy. The movie may prove to be a very funny comedy, but that won't change the fact that the entire enterprise was conceived in cynicism.

Will Ferrell's Land of the Lost isn't going to rape my childhood this summer, but it certainly is..pillaging it.


  1. Perfectly stated, John. I'm disappointed that it's going to be a comedy. I'd much prefer to see a mature take on the Land of the Lost concept. I love the old TV show for it's sci-fi underpinnings and melodrama, not the goofiness that occasionally crept in.

    If you're interested in Land of the Lost, you might want to visit my fan site with coverage of both versions of the TV series and the latest news on the upcoming movie.

  2. Anonymous10:46 AM

    I find it pretty easy to pre-judge a Will Ferrel comedy. They are all the same after all.

  3. Anonymous3:33 PM

    Couldn't agree more, John. My heart sank when I heard Will Ferrell was attached to the project, before I ever saw one clip or production still, because I knew what his presence meant: that LotL would be treated as a joke.

    In the current pop-cultural climate, it seems it's not possible to update something without somehow disparaging the original, either by remaking it as an outright spoof or by taking every possible shot at the old in the press because the new "grown-up" version is supposedly so superior (I'm thinking of neo-Galactica now). That's one big reason why I'm far more dubious of the Star Trek reboot than you, because I'm bracing myself for the ritualistic trashing of the original...

  4. Oh please people, grow the frack up and stop being whiny babies.

    The Land Of The Lost was a hoary concept when it was introduced back in the '70's, and its still hoary now. Having the characters act the same way they did in the '70's show would have it laughed off of the screen, to say nothing of the fact that the serious treatment you want to see on the big screen in a Land Of The Lost movie was done in the Jurassic Park movies already. A jaded audience isn't going to care for the same thing again, so it was done as a comedy for laughs (not that Jurassic Park doesn't need to be spoofed itself, but still..)

    Besides, I do seem to recall a Land Of The Lost revival show back in the late '80's/early '90's on ABC (pre-Disney buyout and pre-Disney takeover of Saturday morning program block, which was as serious as the original.) How come you didn't watch that show and/or like that? And what's your take on it? Since it was done as a serious show twice, maybe it's time to do it as a comedy, and who knows, maybe it will work as a comedy than the same serious romp it's been done as twice.

  5. Well, Lionel,

    Everyone's entitled to express their opinion. and I disagree with yours 100 percent.

    Couldn't disagree with you more, actually.

    But while we're disagreeing, let's maintain civility. No need for name calling just because someone happens to have a different viewpoint.

  6. Anonymous8:43 AM

    The original Land of the Lost show had scripts far superior to most of what comes out of Hollywood these days. Go back and look at some of the writers who contributed to this so-called children's show - D.C. Fontanan, David Gerrold, others - the list reads like a who's who of great sci fi writers. It fueled the imagination of children like no other show. I will never understand why Hollywood thinks it smart and sophisticated to make fun of something just because it looks 'dated'. The original plots on the show demonstrated imagination and intelligence, something I fear this remake will lack.

    I'd much prefer to head over to T Lex and read the fan fiction, which honors the original show's concept, characters and content.

  7. Land of the Lost never talked down to its audience in the 1970s. It never talked down to children. Instead it introduced them to adult science fiction concepts (and authors like Theodore Sturgeon and Larry Niven did the introducing!).

    It's a tragedy that such a noble legacy is being undermined and betrayed.

    Land of the Lost isn't broken. And Will Ferrel is not the person to fix it.

  8. Lionel,
    Really? They did a Land of the Lost movie called Jurassic Park? I saw that movie and, though I loved it, I don't recall anything in common with LOTL besides kids and adults trapped in a jungle with dinosaurs. Where were the pylons? Where was Enik, who thought he had travelled to the primitive, savage past of his race only to discover he was in the future, one in which his race had de-evolved from it's height. When did young Lex meet a woman who helped her conquer her fears and then realised the woman she'd met was her own adult future self? Where was the alien being, also trapped in the Land, who could not be harmed physically but who felt pain from the emanation of human emotions?

    Dinosaurs were just the hook that brought kids in to watch it. The memorable sci-fi concepts kept us hooked into adulthood. To treat all that as merely laughable instead of kinda sad instead.

    Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a good send-up as much as the next Cylon. But if Will Ferrell had some parodies of LOTL he wanted to do, why not a series of skits on Saturday Night Live? That would have been great! I'm surprised Sid and Marty agreed to this particular take on their classic show.


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