|JOHN KENNETH MUIR's RETRO TV FILES|
|LAND OF THE LOST
A Retrospective by John Kenneth Muir
|This Land of the Lost article was another Vintage Vision assignment for Cinescape in 2000-2001. When the magazine went out of business and new owners bought it, that was the end of Vintage Vision, and this story! . - John Kenneth Muir.|
|The year was 1974 B.C...
Decades before Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton ushered moviegoers through the gates of Jurassic Park, American children of the disco decade knew exactly where to get their fill of prehistoric action. For three seasons, from 1974 to 1976, every Saturday morning was reserved for NBC and the fantastic world of Sid and Marty Krofft's live action dinosaur romp, Land of the Lost.
A generation later, a big budget feature film is in the planning process and Rhino Entertainment has released a handful of original series episodes on DVD and VHS.
Linda Laurie's series theme music has become part and parcel of the American pop culture landscape and it acquaints viewers with the story of Land of the Lost better than any synopsis. To paraphrase, Marshall (Spencer Milligan), Will (Wesley Eure) and Holly (Kathy Coleman), on a routine expedition, experience the"greatest earthquake ever known." They plunge down a waterfall in the Grand Canyon and find themselves lost in a closed, prehistoric, pocket universe known to its bizarre denizens as - you guessed it - The Land of the Lost.
In this brave new world, the Marshalls encounter friends such as Cha-Ka, a brave little Pakuni ape-boy, and his baby brontosaur, Dopey. However, even as they attempt to return to their twentieth century home using the Land of the Lost's strange crystal technology (housed in pyramidal stations termed pylons), the family grapples with a T-Rex named Grumpy, his distaff opponent, Big Alice, and the nefarious Sleestak.
Hissing lizard people, the Sleestak are the devolved remnants of the once-advanced Altrusian culture and the inhabitants of a mysterious lost city hewn out of stone. On more than one occasion, the Sleestak seek to feed the Marshalls to their (off-screen) God, a bellowing monstrosity inhabiting a smoky pit.
Though all three Jurassic Park movies have deposited adults and kids in the path of rampaging dinosaurs, this was a revolutionary approach back in 1973 when the TV series was formulated; "We were trying to find a habitat that could feature dinosaurs and a family...and those two entities together worked out to be a really good combination," Marty Krofft remembers fondly. He is also quick to credit his creative team for its input. "Great things happen when you have imaginative people aboard, and we had Allan Foshko, who had worked with us on other things, and it was a very collaborative effort. You have a few nightmares and you come up with these wild characters and places."
According to Foshko, series co-creator and then-vice-president in charge of new programming for the Kroffts, all of the dino-mite excitement commenced with Sid Krofft's long-standing affection for dinosaurs and dinosaur movies. After that, however, it was up to Foshko to set the scene. "You can't go back in time as easily as you can create something new, so I thought about the possibility of how we could transport a team back into the prehistoric era," Foshko muses. "After some research, I discovered the Grand Canyon had been underwater at some time in history, and it is the most awesome of our natural monuments. There are so many things about the Grand Canyon we don't know, and one of which was that there could have been another land underneath it, because a stream had eaten its way down through all those layers of sediment for millions of years. And so it seemed to me a perfect setting."
From that provocative notion, Foshko and the Kroffts shot a live-action, 30-minute pilot featuring a combination of then-revolutionary special effects, including matte paintings and blue screens. Featuring voice-over narration and clips of actors interacting with what Foshko calls "gargantuan beasts and dinosaurs," the pilot was test-marketed by NBC and the response was overwhelming.
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|"The pilot had the feel of Alice in Wonderland or Journey to the Center of the Earth, with these people falling into another world," Foshko remembers with enthusiasm. "The story just flowed, and with these hand-painted storyboards and collages, it was an unusual approach to doing this presentation. We had music and special effects and all kinds of magic. For TV, it was revolutionary."
After the pilot was created, it was a job for the Kroffts (veterans of The Bugaloos, Liddsville, H.R. Pufnstuf) to prepare the weekly Saturday morning series for NBC. Linda Laurie, musician and composer, recalls that fertile period with enthusiasm. "The Kroffts had done these amazing puppet shows that kept going and going, and were known world wide. They were branching deeper into television. That's when Foskho brought Sid Krofft to meet me. We all liked each other very much and giggled and scratched and laughed...I just thought they were all magical people. Then they explained the series to me. I watched them sit there and act out this crazy story about Marshall, Will and Holly, and then I whipped out my guitar and started singing about this hole that leads to a place called the Land of the Lost. I repeated the word "lost" because you must have an echo if you're tumbling into the middle of the Earth. That's a requirement," she laughs.
When Laurie visited the Krofft Studios in the Buena Vista area of Burbank, she was amazed at the level of imagination going into the creation of the props and creatures of Land of the Lost. "With that series, you could not imagine a more exciting team around you, right down to every guy who painted fake rocks and made masks. Every single person was like a munchkin. And if you ever met Sid, you'd be sure he was a munchkin too. I think the Kroffts were moving to a level of experience where they were on the cutting edge of where children were going. They knew it was time to do a live-action adventure on Saturday morning."
With memorable music describing the series' central premise, it was up to young art director Herman Zimmerman, now a veteran of several Star Trek film and television series, to visualize it. "I built the opening miniature of the series: the rapids.; The show began with a group of young people, their father, and their raft, in Colorado, and I created this a large miniature, probably 25 to 35 feet long. I shot it on videotape with miniature figures and a life raft. And the letters that arose out of the mist and announced the title Land of the Lost? I carved those personally."
Another young talent (and fellow graduate of the Trek saga), make-up man Michael Westmore, landed an equally difficult assignment during the protean stages of Land of the Lost. "I inherited a conceptual sketch of the Sleestaks. It was my job to translate it into three dimensions and color." And though this strange planet was to feature a whole race of the nefarious creatures, the series budget could only accommodate the creation of three costumes. To produce the Sleestak, Westmore went to extraordinary lengths. "I had three wet suits made with a zipper up the back. The actors would stand inside them and I had to attach this yellow stomach plate and a big cookie-sheet of scales that would be applied one at a time."
As Walker Edmiston, who played the recurring role of the friendly Sleestak, Enik, can testify, the Westmore-created suits were not very comfortable. "As soon as I was in costume, those big eyes would start to fog up, so I couldn't read any cue sheets or prompters. Also, they hung this tiny microphone on the bridge of my nose, and if I spoke too loudly, the soundmen would experience this deafening feedback. After wearing the costume for hours, I could pull open the sleeve and sweat would just pour out." On one hair-raising occasion, the production team believed Edmiston was pulling a prank by pretending to be asleep on the set when in fact he had passed out from the heat.
Third season producer, Jon Kubichan, remembers the Sleestak and the problems they generated.; The creatures were all portrayed by oversized, future NBA stars such as William Laimbeer, and were difficult to manage in costume. "It was really funny, because these giant basketball players were wearing six-inch platform shoes inside their wet suits. After a short time under the hot stage lights, their feet would sweat and they would slip and stumble like crazy. It was hard to make the Sleestak menacing because they were so clumsy."
But creating a believable race of alien creatures wasn't Land of the Lost's only challenge. "The amount of effort going into creating the series was incredible," affirms Robert Lally, who directed a dozen episodes of the season during its first and second season. "A PhD in linguistics, Victoria Fromkin, invented the Pakuini language, and there was a very specific Bible of how the Land of the Lost operated...and you couldn't violate those rules."
Writer Joyce Perry, who penned two episodes of the series in its freshman and sophomore seasons ("Stone Soup" and "The Longest Day"), remembers being impressed with story editor David Gerrold and his attempts to keep the prehistoric world of the series consistent from episode to episode. "I'd seen the show and had some ideas,' Perry remembers of her introduction to the series, so they saw me, we talked, I got to see the Bible, and I sold them my first story ("Stone Soup"). I worked everything out with David. He's the kind of person that you can bring ideas to, you start kicking them around, and by the time you're finished - you've discussed a hundred things. He's very, very creative and very smart. It was a pleasure working with a story editor like David because he not only writes science fiction, he loves science fiction. That's a little different than working with your typical story editor."
When asked specifically about the series bible, Perry recalls only that it was a 'synopsis of episodes, the general ideas of the series, that kind of thing.; I remember that I loved the concept of the show and thought it was fun." On both of her episodes, Perry recalls that her scripts went through a series of permutations. "David was very particular and I believe Dick Morgan [second season story editor] was too. I did a second draft for both of them, and they insisted things were done right."
Linda Laurie adds that the Kroffts had an edict to be obeyed at all times. "Don't patronize children. We were to take them on a ride, but never talk down to them." That mantra was part of the reason why episodes were written by the likes of TV and science fiction veterans such as Dorothy Fontana, Walter Koenig, Larry Niven, Norman Spinrad and Theodore Sturgeon.The series may have aired on Saturday mornings, but each adventure was designed to be provocative, illuminating entertainment. Episodes featured time paradoxes ("Circle," "Elsewhen," "The Stranger"), dopplegangers ("Split Personality"), possession ("The Possession") and other solid genre concepts.
Despite such good stories, Zimmerman speculates that Land of the Lost might have been so popular for another reason. "On Land of the Lost, it may be the actors as much as the writing that gave it such charm. They were great." Spencer Milligan, for instance, is still recognized as patriarch Rick Marshall, a fact he finds both amazing and rewarding. "Though Marshall was a stoic character, he was capable of a full range of emotions and audiences connected with that. He was a father-figure who cared about his children and their behavior...and that's something we don't often see today."
Edmiston also enjoyed playing his character, Enik, but felt that the Altrusion intellectual was not as well-rounded as he might have been. "I thought Enik was kind of funny. He was such an emotional dead-head.; You know, Will would run into a cave and shout at Enik, 'Dad is hanging by his thumbs over the pit and you've got to save him!!!' Well, Enik would reply, deadpan, 'Do not disturb me, Will Marshall, I'm searching for the vortex back to my time.' He wasn't a big help. He didn't have much humor, that's why they literally wrote the script "Downstream" for me." In that episode, Edmiston was permitted to shed his cumbersome Sleestak costume and portray a century-old Civil War veteran trapped in the Land of the Lost. "Now that old codger was really wild...he drank fermented fish juice." Edmiston remembers with glee.
Director Lally has high regards not only for Edmiston and Milligan but for the young stars of Land of the Lost as well, Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman. In particular, he highlights his experience with them on one particularly difficult episode. "We were doing a show ("Album") that involved Will and Holly walking into a grotto and seeing their dead mother.They were supposed to have gone to this strange world and they miss her mother, and since they're children, they're supposed to be very emotional. We shot it once and it wasn't working. So we decided to play a little game with them.We worked really fast in those days, and I didn't have time to do a lot of fancy internalizing and so forth, but I took the two of them aside, behind the set, and we talked for quite a while.; What I said to Kathy, who was really having trouble with it, was 'you have to think of something in your past that was a very sad thing. Ever have a dog or a cat?' She said she did, so I asked her to visualize the animal being struck by a car. As you can imagine, Kathy was quite upset, but I assured her the pet was fine. Then I said I wanted her to understand how she felt when I told her about her cat dying.; Then I told her that when she walked into that room, that was the emotion I wanted to see on her face. Well, we went back inside, everyone was quiet, and I called action. The take was absolutely brilliant, on both of their parts.When we finished shooting, we went behind the set and hugged each other."
Despite such bonding moments, acting in a TV series that featured so many complex special effects was no picnic.; Specifically, Land of the Lost utilized a now-archaic (But then new fangled...) time-consuming technology called chroma-key that blended the live action footage of the actors with the stop motion photography of the show's lumbering dinosaurs. "We worked on a completely empty stage." Edmiston reveals of the process. "When we had to walk down the path, the crew laid down little poker chips that were the same color as the background, so we could feel through our shoes where we were supposed to walk."
Milligan found the chroma-key frustrating. "There was nothing to look at.The crew would say, 'look over there - that's where Grumpy is' - but it was difficult to visualize. We all hated the chroma-key. When we knew it was coming, we'd say, uh oh, it's a blue day."
Lally had extensive experience with chroma-key before directing the series and knew it was a problematic technique. "It required a great deal of preparation and a skilled crew. The scenes had to be properly lit, colors had to be adjusted and wardrobe had to be coordinated so certain colors would not fade into the background. It was a lot of technical detail work. And in addition you have to work with actors who are capable of looking up at a blank wall and appearing terrified because there's an imaginary dinosaur there."
But even the blue days had a lighter side, as Edmiston remembers. "Once Spencer threw this spear at a T-Rex and it stuck in the blue backdrop. When you combined the footage, the spear lanced the dinosaur's shoulder. We looked at the monitor and the crew said we couldn't have planned it that way in a million years.But then these two women from the network came on the set and said 'oh no, you can't show that! It's injuring the animal!' Spencer and I were stunned. It was a dinosaur for goodness sake!"
Land of the Lost's budgetary limitations also raised problems. Though the series' standing sets stretched across two studio buildings and included much of the Marshalls' cave shelter, the production could not afford more than one make-up artist.Westmore, the man on the spot, had a very busy tenure. "I went to work in the morning, made-up Holly, Will and Marshall, put together three Pakuni and then got three Sleestak into suits!"
Zimmerman likewise feels the low budget resulted in a hectic pace and some corner cutting. "Saturday morning TV was not blessed with much money, so we built all the Sleestak caves out of heavy-duty tin foil. A good bit of my time was spent repairing holes in the foil when someone leaned against it and tore it open."
Not long after its premiere, Land of the Lost became a monster hit, the most popular show on NBC's Saturday schedule. Nonetheless, a series of changes were to come in the third season. Spencer Milligan departed from the show over a salary dispute with the Kroffts and was consequently replaced by Ron Harper (of TV's short-lived 1974 Planet of the Apes series) as Rick Marshall's brother Jack, who happened to fall into the Land of the Lost just as Marshall was falling out. Sam Roeca, veteran of the animated series Valley of the Dinosaurs, signed on as the third season story editor, and producer Jon Kubichan became the series' new producer. "The first thing that Sam and I did was watch all the episodes," Kubichan explains. "I wanted the series to be more fun and do something in every episode that was instructive in terms of science."
Roeca was on the same page and shared a mutual enthusiasm for mythology with Kubichan. Together, the new team sought to present in each installment "something from the past, from some literature or children's narrative." This shift in focus resulted in a third season that saw the Marshalls grapple with mythological creatures such as Medusa, The Flying Dutchman, a unicorn, a fire-breathing dragon and the yeti.
A primary concern for Kubichan in the third season was the series' look. "When I came aboard, some incredible footage had not been used. I wanted to use it, so every show didn't look so much alike.There was this wild panorama of the Land of the Lost with all three of its moons, panning left to right, and I don't think it had ever been seen."
Unfortunately, the third season revamp proved controversial with long time fans who felt that new episodes contradicted material presented during Gerrold's tenure In particular, the first two seasons had defined the land of the lost as a closed pocket unverse from which escape was not possible unless;balance was maintained. For every person who came in, another had to leave. In the third year, this concept was dropped and a balloonist and other guests came and went, sometimes merely by flying away or by navigating a river (which in earlier years had been depicted as circular, and thus a dead end).
Though the ratings remained high during the third season, Land of the Lost was cancelled in 1976. Executive Producer Albert Tenzer explains what happened. "Saturday morning was an important revenue source for NBC, and they were happy with the show.; But right around that time, they began airing sports on Saturdays and so the morning became far less critical. Also, it was expensive to broadcast Land of the Lost reruns, unlike cartoons, because you had to pay royalties to the live-action performers.Simply put, there were less expensive alternatives."
Of Land of the Lost's untimely cancellation, Roeca notes that "there is an algebraic factor determining the life and death of a series: how much will the build up of residuals affect the profit margin?" In the case of Land of the Lost, that equation was more fatal than Grumpy, the T-Rex.
Marty Kroftt is delighted that the home video venue ";keeps what we created back in the 1970s in the forefront of the public eye," and feels it "assures that the audience who grew up on our stuff won't forget us. More than that, it means they're telling their kids, their nephews and their siblings about us too."
A thoughtful Tenzer understands why the series survives, even in the age of CGI. "People who love the show remember that time in their lives. That's the attraction of nostalgia. Seeing Land of the Lost again today is like reviewing a film reel of your life." Laurie continues to credit the Kroffts for the series' longevity. "We were part of an innovative approach to Saturday morning TV; we were taking kids' minds out for a walk.";
A gracious Krofft counters that any program's success results from a collaboration, a synthesis of many talents."We had some incredibly imaginative people help us do that show. If we took credit, we'd be lying.We had great writers, great music, the whole nine yards." --(c) John Kenneth Muir, 2003.
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|John Kenneth Muir is the author of fourteen books in the fields of science fiction and horror film and television. His first original novel, Space:1999-The Forsaken has been published by Powys Media. John's other titles include An Askew View: the Films of Kevin Smith, An Analytical Guide to TV's One Step Beyond, A Critical History of Dr. Who on TV, Terror Television, Horror Films of the 1970s and Wes Craven: The Art of Horror. John has written for magazines including Cinescape, Filmfax, Collectors News and Farscape: the Official Magazine. He has appeared on Sciography and Destinies: the Voice of Science Fiction. Visit him at his web site, or read his latest monthly column at Far Sector.|