Sunday, January 28, 2018

Land of the Lost: The Series Ahead of its Time

by G. Jack Urso

Marshall, Will, and Holly, on a routine expedition
Met the greatest earthquake ever known
High on the rapids, it struck their tiny raft
And plunged them down a thousand feet below
To the Land of the Lost.
     Land of the Lost Theme Song Lyrics Seasons 1 & 2
Season 1 & 2 opening credits and theme. 

In the judgement of many, Land of the Lost is Sid and Marty Krofft’s standout achievement. While a children’s Saturday morning TV program, the show introduced such heavy concepts as a closed-universe, relative time, and alternate dimensions. These are standard sci-fi plot conventions now, but new and innovative for the 1970s. While the special effects and stop-motion animation pales in comparison to today’s digital effects, it nonetheless represented a significant investment for a children's show at the time. Episode descriptions for the complete series are provided at the end of this article.

The premise is deceptively simple. As noted in the opening lyrics, a family out exploring is caught in a natural disaster and find themselves stranded in a mysterious land, but it’s more complicated than that. The Land of the Lost is an alternate universe — a closed parallel dimension from which there is no escape. If you try to walk or sail out, you’ll only find yourself going in circles. Climb the highest mountain and use powerful binoculars to look what’s on the other side of the Lost Valley, and you’ll only see the back of your heads (episode 16, “Hurricane”). These were big concepts for kids in the mid-1970s, but the show didn’t dumb-down its ideas.

There are forty-three total episodes which ran in three seasons from 1974 to 1976. The first season is tightly scripted and probably the best of the three. The writers included such talent as David Gerrold and D.C. Fontana, who both wrote episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series and The Animated Series; Walter Koenig, Ensign Chekov from Star Trek: TOS, who also wrote an episode for Star Trek: TAS; and more noted sci-fi luminaries such as Ben Bova, Larry Niven, and Norman Spinrad. Theodore Sturgeon contributed a second season script and Harlan Ellison wrote an episode that, unfortunately, was never produced.

While the show is credited to the Krofft’s, the basic storyline was largely the creation of David Gerrold. According to a July 1999 interview with the website Pop Apostle, Gerrold reported that the Krofft’s idea was little more than the title and a series of images, including “a waterfall, a jungle, a giant bee, Tarzan, dinosaurs, [and] monkey people.”

Gerrold kept some of the Krofft’s suggestions, discarded others, and added the core characters. “I created the idea that the Land of the Lost was a separate dimension, I created the characters of Will, Holly, and Marshall, added the lost city and the Sleestak,” according to Gerrold.
Beware of Sleestak!

The Kroffts hired Gerrold as the show’s story editor and called for a total of 17 scripts to be produced. I’m not sure the Kroffts had plans for more than that. The last first season episode, “Circle,” which involves a time paradox that both sends the Marshalls home and back to where the series picks up in the first episode, makes for a good resolution to the series. Further, other Krofft productions, such as H.R. Puffnstuff (1969), The Bugaloos (1970-72), and Lidsville (1972-1973), all had runs of 17 episodes each, so I’m inclined to believe that’s all the Kroffts had planned for and Land of the Lost’s success was not fully anticipated.

Nevertheless, Gerrold, who served as story editor, bolts at the end of the first season in frustration at the show's directors rewriting the scripts. With Gerrold also went most of the previously mentioned notable sci-fi talent. Story editing chores were turned over to Dick Morgan and Tom Swale, both of whom also contributed scripts (particularly Morgan), and the series continued on fairly respectably. By the third season, however, they disappeared as well along with the show’s adult lead, Spencer Milligan, who played the father Rick Marshall. Milligan left due to a salary dispute and because the actors were not being paid for the use of their images on merchandise — a situation that would not be tolerated today, but one on which the Kroffts at the time capitalized.
The actors were not paid for their images appearing on merchandise.
The quality of show dropped in the third season, and I can remember as a child that after the first few episodes I lost interest. The introduction of Uncle Jack to replace Rick Marshall seemed forced and sloppy, even to a 12-year-old. Putting on a show of this sort was not cheap, and only got more expensive to produce in each successive season. While the Krofft’s penny-pinching may seem to be “responsible” fiscal management, it deprived them of some of the best TV sci-fi writing talent — ever — and gutted the show in the third season.

In retrospect, the best thing about Land of the Lost is that not all the mysteries are explained. We never learn who created it. We never learn how the pylons and skylons work — we know what they do, but not how. Who was “the repairman?” Did the Pakuni and the Sleestak come from Earth’s past, or were they genetically engineered by whoever created the Land of the Lost? What were the Sleestak like at the height of their civilization? We never learn the answer to these questions. If the show was written today, a whole detailed backstory would be created, but by keeping some elements of the story a mystery the show is then liberated to more freely introduced ideas, even seemingly contradictory ones, and keeping a potentially limited scenario from getting bogged down in its own mythos.

Sid and Marty Krofft revisited the concept in 1991-1992 for twenty-six episodes when they revamped the series for a new generation. The visual and stop-motion special effects were limited, repetitious, and derided by viewers when compared to the original series. The writing was inferior to that of Gerrold and his colleagues, and they dispensed with key elements of the mythos, such as eliminating the Marshalls and Enik from the story, and weakened other elements, such as the Sleestak. A feature film starring Will Ferrell was produced in 2009 and took a humorous approach to the material. Derided by both critics and fans, it failed at the box office and the less said about it, the better.

Today, Land of the Lost still maintains a healthy Baby Boomer fan base, but as time goes by it will likely be regarded more and more as a “quaint” effort with cheesy special effects. Indeed, the effects today could be bested by any 12-year-old with a laptop. While modern technology also allows us to see these episodes virtually any time we want, something is lost in that translation. Although I have the entire series on DVD, when the show turned up Saturday mornings on a retro-TV channel, I found myself tuning in, eating a bowl of cereal, and wondering what next week’s episode would be like. In doing so, I find that the Land of the Lost has yet another time-altering power — the ability to send its fans back into the past to a moment when they were young and for thirty minutes their imaginations ran wild.
When I look all around
I can't believe the things I've found
Now I need to find my way
I'm lost . . . I'm lost . . . find me
Living in the Land of the Lost
Living in the Land of the Lost

                                                   Closing Theme Lyrics Seasons 1 & 2
The rockin’ Season 1 & 2 end credits theme!

Descriptions by G. Jack Urso. 

Cast (left to right): Wesley Eure as Will Marshall; Kathy Coleman as Holly Marshall, 
and Spencer Milligan as Rick Marshall.

Season 1 (1974)  
Episode 1: Cha-Ka | Airdate: September 7, 1974 | Writer: David Gerrold
The Marshall family falls into the Land of the Lost and encounter a human-like primate named Cha-Ka.

Episode 2: The Sleestak God | Airdate: September 14, 1974 | Writer: David Gerrold
Enter the Sleestaks.

Episode 3: Dopey | Airdate: September 21, 1974 | Writer: Margaret Armen
Turning a young dinosaur into a pet proves more challenging than anticipated.

Episode 4: Downstream | Airdate: September 28, 1974 | Writer: Larry Niven
People from other times co-exist alongside the Marshalls, including a Confederate soldier.

Episode 5: Tag-Team | Airdate: October 5, 1974 | Writer: Norman Spinrad
A battle between a tyrannosaur and an allosaur forces the Marshalls and the Pakuni to work together.

Episode 6: The Stranger | Airdate: October 12, 1974 | Writer: Walter Koenig
The Marshalls meet Enik, a Sleestak from the future who has the knowledge to help the Marshalls return to their own time.

Episode 7: Album | Airdate: October 19, 1974 | Writer: Dick Morgan
The Sleestak hypnotize Will and Holly to see an illusion their deceased mother.

Episode 8: Skylons | Airdate: October 26, 1974 | Writer: Dick Morgan
When Will and Holly explore a pylon and accidently unleash storms, it’s the skylons to the rescue.

Episode 9: The Hole | Airdate: November 2, 1974 | Writer: Wina Sturgeon
Rick Marshall and an outcast Sleestak must work together or die!

Episode 10: The Paku Who Came to Dinner| Airdate: November 9, 1974 | Writer: Barry Blitzer
Holly attracts the Pakuni with perfume — and a tyrannosaur.

Episode 11: The Search | Airdate: November 16, 1974 | Writer: Ben Bova
Will can either save his father or return home to his own time, but not both.

Episode 12: The Possession | November 23, 1974 | Writer: David Gerrold
A mysterious life-form uses a pylon to control Cha-Ka and Holly.

Episode 13: Follow That Dinosaur | Airdate: November 30, 1974 | Writer: Dick Morgan
Will and Holly find a diary that may help them get out of the Land of the Lost.

Episode 14: Stone Soup | Airdate:  December 7, 1974 | Writer: Joyce Perry
A drought forces the Marshalls and Pakuni to cooperate to survive.

Episode 15: Elsewhen | Airdate: December 14, 1974 | Writer: D.C. Fontana
Holly encounters her future self.

Episode 16: Hurricane | Airdate:  December 21, 1974 | Writers: David Gerrold and Larry Niven
An Earth astronaut enters the Land of the Lost, which causes a hurricane.

Episode 17: Circle | Airdate: December 28, 1974 | Writers: Larry Niven and David Gerrold
Enik discovers that the Marshalls can only leave the Land of the Lost if they are replaced with versions of themselves from an earlier point in time. Enik helps them escape and parallel time versions of the Marshalls appear as they did at the beginning of the series, to start their adventures all over again. The paradox: The only way to escape the Land of the Lost is to never leave it. [This episode was meant to be the series' last episode, but it was renewed.]
Season 2 (1975)
Episode 1: Tar Pit | Airdate:  September 6, 1975 | Writer: Margaret Armen
Dopey gets stuck in a tarpit and the Marshalls work frantically to save him.

Episode 2: The Zarn | Airdate:  September 13, 1975 | Writer: Dick Morgan
The Marshalls find an alien ship in the Mist Marsh, and a woman Rick once knew.

Episode 3: Fair Trade | Airdate: September 20, 1975 | Writer: Bill Keenan
When Rick is caught in a Sleestak trap, Will and Holly must seek help from Enik.

Episode 4: One of Our Pylons is Missing | Airdate: September 27, 1975 | Writer: Bill Keenan
A missing pylon leads to the discovery of a massive power generator underneath the Land of the Lost.

Episode 5: The Test | Airdate: October 4, 1975 | Writer: Tom Swale
Cha-Ka comes of age in a Pakuni ritual.

Episode 6: Gravity Storm | Airdate: October 11, 1975 | Writer: Dick Morgan
The Zarn’s ship's gravity drive plays havoc with the Land of the Lost.

Episode 7: The Longest Day | Airdate: October 18, 1975 | Writer: Joyce Perry
The Sleestak blame the Marshalls when a pylon malfunctions and the Sun stops moving.

Episode 8: The Pylon Express | Airdate: October 25, 1975 | Writer: Theodore Sturgeon
The Marshalls discover a pylon connected to Earth, but the portals move too quickly for them to find their way home.
Holly, Rick, Enik, and Will at a matrix table inside a pylon.
Episode 9: A Nice Day | Airdate: November 1, 1975 | Writer: Dick Morgan
Rick and Will seek help from the Pakuni when Holly is poisoned by a plant.

Episode 10: Baby Sitter | Airdate: November 8, 1975 | Writer: Bill Keenan
Holly and Cha-ka encounter the Zarn; Cha-ka learns to be brave.

Episode 11: The Musician | Airdate: November 15, 1975 | Writers: Dick Morgan and Tom Swale
While exploring an ancient temple near the Lost City, the Marshalls and Cha-Ka find a mysterious ring and encounter “the Builder.”

Episode 12: Split Personality | Airdate: November 22, 1975 | Writer: Dick Morgan
Earthquakes create a time shift and the Marshalls encounter alternate versions of themselves.

Episode 13: Blackout | Airdate: November 29, 1975 | Writers: Donald F. Glut and Dick Morgan
The nocturnal Sleestak use a portal to keep the sun from rising; Rick and Enik go to the Library of Skulls to find out how to set things right. 

SEASON 3 (1976)

Season 3 opening credits theme lyrics reflect the absence of father Rick Marshall. 
Episode 1: After-Shock | Airdate: September 11, 1976 | Writer: Jon Kubichan
When an earthquake hits the Land of the Lost, Rick Marshall accidently falls through a temporal portal and Will and Holly's Uncle Jack, who was looking for them, enters and takes his place.

Episode 2: Survival Kit | Airdate: September 18, 1976 | Writer: Sam Roeca
When Holly gets sick, Jack must bargain for medicine stolen from them by the barbarian Malak (Richard Kiel).

Episode 3: The Orb | Airdate: September 25, 1976 | Writer: Jon Kubichan
When a pylon turns Will invisible, Enik, captured by the Sleestak, compels him to use his new-found ability to retrieve a sacred orb and trade it with the Sleestak for his release.

Episode 4: Repairman | Airdate: October 2, 1976 | Writer: Jon Kubichan
When the Sleestak again mess with the sun pylon, a “repairman” appears to fix things — with the Marshalls' help.
Grumpy considers attacking a pylon.
Episode 5: Medusa | Airdate: October 9, 1976 | Writer: Greg Strangis
Holly finds a garden filled with statues and am unusual woman who keeps her from going home.

Episode 6: Cornered | Airdate: October 16, 1976 | Writer: Sam Roeca
When a fire-breathing dimetrodon wounds Will, Jack, Holly, and Cha-Ka must work together to rid the valley of the menace.

Episode 7: Flying Dutchman | Airdate: October 23, 1976 | Writer: John Cutts
The captain of a mysterious sailing ship says he can return the Marshalls home, but he has an ulterior motive.

Episode 8: Hot-Air Artist | Airdate: October 30, 1976 | Writer: Jon Kubichan
“Colonel" Roscoe T. Post, a showman from 1920, arrives by hot-air balloon to the Land of the Lost. While his craft offers the Marshalls a way home, the Colonel has his own plans.

Episode 9: Abominable Snowman | Airdate: November 6, 1976 | Writer: Sam Roeca
The Yeti-like Tapa captures Holly’s pet unicorn.

Episode 10: Timestop | Airdate: November 13, 1976 | Writer: Tom Swale
The Tapa, the Pakuni name for the Land of the Lost's resident Abominable Snowman, captures Holly’s pet unicorn.

Episode 11: Ancient Guardian | Airdate: November 20, 1976 | Writer: Peter Germano
The Marshalls inadvertently set loose a monster from the mountains, earning the wrath of the Sleestak.

Episode 12: Scarab | Airdate: November 27, 1976 | Writer: Ian Martin
After being bitten by a beetle, Cha-Ka becomes hostile, steals the Skull of Wisdom, and leaves the Marshalls to get the blame.

Episode 13: Medicine Man | Airdate: December 4, 1976 | Writer: Jon Kubichan
From the old American West come Lone Wolf of the Nez Perce and Captain Diggs of the U.S. Cavalry. The Marshalls must convince them to work together if they want to survive in the Land of the Lost.
Season 3 end credits theme. The previous seasons' end credits rock track now replaced with a tinny synthesizer pounding out the melody from the opening credits.

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1 comment:

  1. I agree with your view in the above paragraph about keeping the big questions of the show a mystery. Where there are no answers, there are possibilities.