The script for this Will Ferrell vehicle has some good laughs, but it gets way too serious in its second half.
ALERT: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas’ script for a big-screen spoof of Land of the Lost is so bad it makes me want to murder Sid and Marty Krofft just so they could roll in their graves when it hits theaters. And when I suggest that the Kroffts would roll in their graves, I’m not suggesting that this script desecrates the hallowed mythology they laid down in the cheesy original Saturday-morning series. That show had no mythology – it was so bad it was un-desecratable. No, I just think this movie will suck because – of all things – it’s not obnoxious enough.
I barely remember the original show, but if memory serves, a family of three gets pulled into an alternate Lost World-style dimension populated by dinosaurs, cavemen and insectoid creatures called the sleestak. The script keeps most of these elements intact, but instead of a family, the updated story focuses on a disgraced, fringe scientist who doggedly supports the existence of time warps and dimensional portals. During the movie, he meets his two fellow castaways in the Land of the Lost – an attractive scientist who actually believes his crackpot theory, and a small-town kook who runs a fireworks stand and gets caught up in the action. The word on the street is that Will Ferrell and Anna Friel have been cast in the two leads, and this bodes very, very well for this movie. Before I go on, let me explain my affection for Will Ferrell.
I imagine that most moviegoers of the last couple generations got to know Will Ferrell through his willingness to run around in his tightie-whities. I haven’t seen every Ferrell movie out there, but I know he pulled that stunt in Old School and Talladega Nights.
Fortunately, though, Ferrell found some success onscreen, and we got to see that he can listen as well as he can mug. It turns out that like Jim Carrey – who channeled Jimmy Stewart for his wonderfully understated performance in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – Ferrell’s “eager-to-please doofus” persona is merely the breadwinner for a totally respectable character actor.
To wit, I offer this clip from Talladega Nights. It’s a famous scene from the hit comedy – the “baby Jesus prayer” scene, where Ferrell’s airheaded NASCAR hero debates the finer points of Southern Baptism. Check it out:
I praise Ferrell’s performance in this scene because it would have been easy to ham it up, but instead he wisely underplays everything and is only too happy to let his scene-mates (like John C. Reilly) have all the fun.
I haven’t seen Ferrell’s big dramatic turn in Stranger Than Fiction, but personally, I don’t need to see it to know he’s a capable character actor. He shows solid control over his voice and physicality in Talladega Nights and Anchorman, and the middle act of Talladega Nights – where he’s in exile and dealing with his ne’er-do-well father – plays like a quirky indie comedy. It’s surprising stuff across the board.
In any event, I read about 30 pages of Land of the Lost before it dawned on me that I was reading a Will Ferrell vehicle. He plays the main guy, of course – the aforementioned wacky scientist – and the character comes off like the same petulant, self-aggrandizing man-child that Ferrell has made a mint playing.
For example, the movie opens with Ferrell’s character, Dr. Marshall, on Anderson Cooper 360. Marshall is being interviewed with other eminent scientists, including Stephen Hawking. Somehow Marshall winds up attacking the quadriplegic and wheelchair-bound Hawking, who kick-starts the fight with the movie’s wannabe catchphrase: “Let’s light this candle.”
The whole fiasco turns Marshall into an overnight YouTube laughingstock, destroys what’s left of his reputation and sends him crawling toward the only science job he can get: tour guide at the La Brea Tar Pits. While working there, Marshall complains about the name of the famous L.A. landmark:
You know what “La Brea” means
in Spanish? “The tar”. So all
these signs that say The La Brea
Tar Pits? They’re just saying The
The Tar Tar Pits. Bugs the shit out of me!
Later we see Marshall leading a tour group of smart-ass kids in a scene reminiscent of Ferrell’s famous viral video The Landlord.
Yes, thank you. You know, one
reason I serve as director here at
the “T-pits,” is to meet you, the
scientists of the future, to show
you that world of science is
exciting. Some might even say…
He puts his hand on a Van der Graf generator (metal
sphere with floating electricity). He instantly receives
a huge and obviously painful electric shock. This is
clearly a malfunction. Marshall doubles over.
Sonuvabitch! God-damn! I felt
that in my groin!
Jesus, Barry. What are you running
this thing on?!
Okay, “science”, just the word,
conjures up images of excitement—
I’m sorry, what?
Blows? What? You don’t even know
what that means.
You do not! It’s sexual. Did you
Sure he did.
Nuh-uh. At fifth grade? There’s no
Your mother does.
Marshall stares the kid down.
Oh yeah? Maybe she learned it
from your mother.
Oooooh! It’s on!
OK, let’s pause for a minute and look at what’s happening here. The writers start the script with a gag that places this movie in the same go-for-broke league of comedies as the Farrelly brothers, Judd Apatow and the American Pie franchise. Fair enough – but even though I like how Hawking winds up kicking Marshall’s ass, it’s just too damn obvious.
But when I kept reading, I found myself chortling more and more. Marshall’s “The The Tar Tar Pits” line is just the kind of uber-dork observation I might make in a fit of literalism, and when that Van der Graf generator shocked Dr. Marshall’s nuts, I laughed out loud. What can I say? I’m a sucker for scenes where everything goes to shit in an instant. In any event, the script’s pleasant daftness surprised me, and the role suits Ferrell, for better or worse.
When I heard that someone was making a Land of the Lost movie, I wondered how they would approach it. In the wake of the Sci-Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica series, which transmuted barrel-bottom sci-fi sludge into a drama stout enough to go 12 rounds with Six Feet Under, I figured anything was possible. If memory serves, the original series had some weird, elaborate storylines – perhaps a Ronald D. Moore or a J.J. Abrams could use this insanity as a basis for a trippy thriller set in a parallel reality? Check this shit out:
Upon reflection, one truth about this project asserted itself: It either had to be as serious as King Lear or as stupid as an armpit fart, and given the show’s widely mocked production values, going for the boogers-and-farts-are-funny demographic (which includes me) was probably the best choice. In case your memory is foggy, here’s the original opening for the show:
Not getting any credit? The original show’s lead actor had the audacity to go by one name: “Wesley as Will Marshall.” Awesome.
Also not getting any credit? The way the raft-on-the-rapids scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom looks about as shitty as the opening sequence from Land of the Lost.
Anyway, back to the script: The story kicks into gear when a young, hot scientist tracks down Dr. Marshall and persuades him to go with her on an expedition. This is the counterpart to the Holly character from the show, thankfully made into a love interest, and to be played by one of the most luminous talents working today: Anna Friel.
Are you kidding me? Anna fucking Friel is going to be in Land of the Lost?
I first saw Friel as Hermia in Michael Hoffman’s underrated film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where she thundered through her role as the lovesick, short brunette.
(Side note: Do you remember who played Lysander and Demetrius in Hoffman’s film? Christian Bale and The Wire’s Dominic West. What a cast!)
Back to Friel: I didn’t see her again until I started watching ABC’s excellent new series Pushing Daisies, where she plays a dreamy, goofy, slightly undead heroine. (Be sure to check out CC2K’s spoiler-filled Pushing Daisies season two report from Paley Fest 2008!) Between these two performances, we’ve seen Friel body-slam a great Shakespeare role and thread the tricky tonal needle of a cheeky, self-aware, magically realistic fairy-tale dramedy. It’s impressive work, and it makes her totally overqualified for the thankless piece-of-ass role she’s got in Land of the Lost.
But I don’t want to contradict myself here. I argued earlier that Ferrell is a good actor. I don’t know if he’s as talented as Friel, but whether he is or not, I expect to see him in movies like Land of the Lost. I didn’t expect to see Friel.
That said, the prospect of Friel’s involvement raises my hopes for this movie, especially seeing as how she’ll get to perform in her native British accent as a hot young scientist and former football hooligan. For our British readers out there, rest assured that Friel’s character charges into a gang of sleestaks shouting, “Awright. I’ve had it. We’re gonna do this Manchester United style!”
But you remember the pleasant daftness I mentioned earlier? The writers largely jettison it in favor of – gasp! – a plot that bogs down the whole second half of the movie. I won’t bother to go into the gory details, but suffice it to say that Will, Cha-Ka, Grumpy the Dinosaur, the sleestak and a villain named Zarn all figure into our heroic trio’s efforts to get back to their home dimension.
And it all goes completely off the rails. I’m not kidding. To wit, try to imagine this gem of a scene onscreen:
Over at the matrix table, Enik adjusts the crystals. He
holds the Tachyon Meter, adjusting it.
Enik, it’s over. You’re not going
(Side note: Who the fuck is Enik? I read this script, like, two days ago and I can’t remember.)
Enik spins, shocked to see the threesome alive.
Damn you! You’re still alive. The
door will remain open and I will
(re: tachyon meter)
And that? That is mine!
(Side note: A tachyon meter? Really? This is going to be a movie with a tachyon meter? No offense to the legions of meatheads who will flock to this one, but do we really want to hit them with a plot device centered around a theoretical particle that travels faster than light?)
(Side note: “Makan nankata.” Awesome.)
Marshall lunges for Enik. They fight.
All that’s missing is “exit, pursued by a bear.” Don’t get me wrong – it’s not like the script dives into full-on drama, but reading the script, I got bored very fast with the pages and pages of action, especially after enjoying the insanity of the first 30-40 pages.
Let’s hope that the filmmakers can make the second half of this movie work, because if they don’t, they’ll be responsible for one of the worst movies of 2009.
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.