Land of the Lost

Sid and Marty Krofft, known for their child-friendly full-sized puppeteering (HR Puffenstuff, etc.), created an exotic land of adventure in their Saturday morning children’s show, Land of the Lost.  This series ran from September 1974 to December 1976.  The series followed the perils faced by the Marshall family, consisting of Rick the dad, Will the son and Holly the pig-tailed daughter, all of whom were trapped in – you guessed it, the Land of the Lost.

Geared and produced for children, this series, sandwiched between Saturday morning cartoons, introduced some remarkably adult adventure themes.  The pilot showed how the family, while on a camping trip, fell victim to a great earthquake that sent their their little yellow raft plummeting down a huge waterfall into a lost land akin to Edgar Rice Burrough’s “The Land that Time Forgot”. 

Their new home was filled not only with dinosaurs but also with uncertain ape cavemen called Paku and an ancient and dangerous race of reptilian men called Slestaks.  The Slestaks used advanced crystal technology and employed crossbows with such hideous aim that would even make a Star Wars stormtrooper grimace.  Obviously, no studio wanted video of little Holly skewered in the skull with a lizard’s crossbow bolt.

The series managed to draw in an amazing pool of talent.  Marty Krofft enticed authors Larry Niven, Ben Bova, David Gerrold, and Walter Koenig to author the bulk of the scripts and Linguistics Professor Victoria Fromkin developed the Pakuni language.  The miniature sets used for stop-motion animation were top quality, well beyond anything expected to be used in a children’s television show.

Foremost in its accomplishments was a full array of stop-motion animated dinosaurs.  To maintain this ambitious stop-motion schedule, the production team led by Gene Warren had a studio divided into sections with animators moving from station to station across several sets to simultaneously film different animation sequences.

A key character in the series was a gold Sleestak called Enik who was a time traveler from the past who took the show out of the realm of classic pulp fiction into the lap of science fiction.  He represented the ancient more advanced civilization whose ruins inhabited the Land of the Lost.  Like the Marshalls, he became trapped and sought to use his advanced crystal technology to escape before his more primitive descendants destroyed him. 

Enik could employ what was called a “matrix table”, a control panel contained in a small gold pyramid for safekeeping.  With these he managed to perform such miracles as controlling the weather.  He would undoubtedly have escaped the Land of the Lost far sooner if not for the Marshalls who always seemed to inadvertently screw up his escape plans.

Another resident of the region was Chaka, a Pakuni who befriended the Marshalls, although his parents, Ta and Sa distrusted them.  They all feared the dinosaurs, especially the T-Rex whose only purpose in life was to roar and chase things.  Holly adopted a pet dinosaur named Dopey that they used to pull carts and perform other meaningless tasks.

The father, Rick Marshall, vanished from the show after the second season for reasons never disclosed.  A new character, Uncle Jack Marshall, appeared.  He was Rick’s brother, come to find the lost family, although too late to do Rick any good.  He took up the parental role in the series.

Most who watched the show as children remember it fondly in adulthood although if they saw it now (it’s available on DVD) their memory could be spoiled.  Even for a children’s show, the acting was very, very rough.  The scripts were heavily sanitized to appeal to and protect a very young audience.  The stories can only be taken at face value.  Yet, somehow, though all of this roughness, this series has charm.

In 1991, Disney obtained the rights to the show and produced a second Land of the Lost series. This had a different cast, showed updated Sleestaks, and totally lacked the appeal of the original show. The producers hoped it would inspire nostalgia.  It didn’t and Disney, disappointed by the failure of the 1991 series, allowed Sony Pictures to assume the copyright.  Sony immediately began efforts to make a Land of the Lost movie.

According to the given plans, this was intended to keep the same basic elements of the original Krofft show but was geared for an adult audience. The plans for the movie remake included far more vicious dinosaurs, fierce Skeestaks with claws and fangs who pose a very real threat, and grand computer-generated environments.  Sid and Marty Krofft reviewed the draft script and loved it.

Sony released this description of the premise of the Land of the Lost movie:

“Before Mom dies, leaving the Marshall family shattered, she makes one last request that her ashes be brought to a Mayan archaeological site in Mexico, where she was working as an archaeologist to discover how one of the greatest civilizations known to mankind (the Mayans) simply disappeared. Once in Mexico, Rick, Will and Holly Marshall stumble into a wormhole, the same one through which the Mayans left our Earth, and journey to an alternate parallel universe, one in which the dinosaurs never perished 65 million years ago and have continued to evolve all this time. It is there that they are tasked with traveling through this strange world, encountering bizarre creatures along the way (Pakuni and Sleestaks, of course), so that they may find their way back home.”

The movie was to be produced by Randy Pope with a script written by Teddy Tenenbaum.  At last report, it was having problems securing a final budget.