Land of the Lost used to be an American television series for children, airing for three seasons between 1974 and 1976. The show featured a park ranger and his two children as they explored a parallel world filled with anachronistic dinosaurs, cavemen, obelisks and time portals. It is now, according to the immutable laws of Hollywood, a massive motion picture that cost nine billion Jamaican dollars to make (that’s the actual budget), and casts Will Ferrell as the intrepid explorer, Rick Marshall. However, the title could equally well refer to the audiences conned into sitting through this atrocious movie.
A lot of children’s entertainment, including the original Land of the Lost series, is designed around the principle of recreating, or reflecting, the supposedly fantastical, untethered worldview of children themselves. Hence the talking puppet monsters of Sesame Street, the androgynous playmates on Teletubbies and so on. Whatever the merits of this approach for kids (a subject open to debate), pitching the same material at adults is insulting.
And Land of the Lost—the movie—is made for grown-ups, albeit grown-ups who haven’t quite grown up. It aims for the college fraternity humour that currently dominates American film comedies—the province of Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Michael Cera and, naturally, Will Ferrell. This aesthetic, where men in their twenties and thirties are stuck in a perpetual adolescence, thrives on scatalogical jokes, male bonding with an undercurrent of homophobia, and the misogynistic pairing of pasty, paunchy men with attractive women.
Two men, on either side of the camera, epitomize this trend. One is Judd Apatow, with a hand in every recent entrant in the genre—writer of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan and Funny People; producer of Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Pineapple Express and a half dozen more.
The other is Will Ferrell, who has marshalled a long list of not-so-funny comedies—Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory, Semi-Pro, Step Brothers and now Land of the Lost. The Ferrell type remains static—slightly dimwitted, overly masculine, out of shape, untanned, lacking social etiquette, childless, immature and overconfident. In other words, a suburban teenager, just older.
Ferrell, like fellow alums Sandler, Schneider and Mike Myers, honed his craft on the sketch show Saturday Night Live, whose stock-in-trade is the five-minute skit. But five minutes, stretched to fill 90 minutes, should only get you one or two movies. After cashing in with a few easy hits, the comedians struggle to stay fresh and relevant. Adam Sandler has had mixed success with more serious roles (Punch-Drunk Love, Reign Over Me). Ferrell’s attempts to escape his persona (Melinda and Melinda, Stranger than Fiction) failed at the box office—thus more tired retreads like Land of the Lost.
In addition to (or perhaps subtraction from) Ferrell, Land of the Lost has Danny McBride as yet another pudgy deadbeat, and Anna Friel as cheesecake (she spends most of her time in pigtails, a tank top and cut-offs). This one should be deliberately lost in the Universal film archives.