The Story Behind Land Of The Lost

How a blockbuster evolved from a cheesy kids’ show

Out in the UK this week, Will Ferrell and director Brad Silberling are venturing into the Land Of The Lost.

But, like so many recent Hollywood productions, it’s an update of a 1970s TV show from across the pond, a kids’ adventure series that many of us in Blighty have never seen.

So just what is Land Of The Lost? And how did it go from nostalgic, low-budget telly to summer blockbuster?

Our story begins in the 1950s…



1. Kicking Off With The Kroffts

Land Of The Lost was grown in the brain-garden of Sid and Marty Krofft, a pair of brothers who developed a flair for puppetry at an early age.

It was Sid who first got into making and performing puppet shows, with his father – a clock salesman, not a puppeteer himself, despite their legendary, erroneous biography – joining him on tour around the world.

While they were away, younger brother Marty began to rummage through trunks containing some of the older puppet creations and started to make money putting on his own shows.

In 1958, the pair got a gig working on a show at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, opening for Judy Garland, which also went on a successful tour.

Following that, they mixed things up by creating an “adult” puppet show - "Les Poupees de Paris" - at a dinner club in Los Angeles called the Gilded Rafters. Mae West, Richard Nixon and Liberace were in the audience on opening night.

Plenty more work followed, with the Kroffts accepting commissions from fairs, amusement parks and such famous names as Walt Disney. The man behind the Mouse House even gave them some good advice, which is paying off today.

“He told me", Marty recalled to the LA Times, "'The one thing to remember is, don't ever sell anything you create and always put your name above the title, whatever you do. They'll fight you off from doing it, but stick to it...'”

 

Next: Pufnstuf And Other Stuff

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2. Pufnstuf And Other stuff

In 1969, the brothers scored a contract with US TV network NBC to work on a children’s show.

The result was H.R. Pufnstuf, a brightly coloured tale of Jimmy (played by a young Jack Wild, who got the job off the back of his role in musical movie Oliver!), a lad who ends up shipwrecked on a magical island ruled by the titular mayor, and threatened by a nasty witch named Witchiepoo.

Given the psychedelic colours and wacky, OTT characters, many people figured the Kroffts were on drugs when they dreamt up the concept and look of the show.

“No drugs involved. You can't do drugs when you're making shows. Maybe after, but not during. We're bizarre, that's all,” Marty Krofft has said about their working methods.

“That was our look, those were the colours, everything we did had vivid colours, but there was no acid involved. That shit scared me. I'm no goody two-shoes, but you can't create this stuff stoned.”

The show became a hit and the pair would go on to work on more series, including Lidsville (a land of talking, living hats), the Bugaloos and Sigmund And The Sea Monsters.

Then, in 1974, they decided to get a little more serious. Well, as serious as they could get…

 

Next: "The Greatest Earthquake Ever Known"...

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3. “The Greatest Earthquake Ever Known".

For Land Of The Lost, the Kroffts hit on a concept that has fuelled stories from before the show was created right up to the likes of Jurassic Park.

"When I was eleven years old, my dad took me to see One Million BC with Victor Mature,” remembers Sid.

“It scared the hell out of me, because we'd never, ever seen a Dinosaur moving before. Yeah, in the old King Kong or whatever, way back in the '30s, but nothing like One Million BC. It made such an impression on me, that every year when we came up with a new show I always thought “Dinosaurs, wow, wouldn’t that blow everybody away?

“Especially as kids are so in love with them. And like The Swiss Family Robinson, every single show has a family, or a little boy or a little girl that is lost in a strange world - like The Wizard Of Oz. And you just root for them because you love them and you can relate to them and you can’t understand why they can’t get home.”

Land has a basic concept - Park Ranger Rick Marshall and his two kids, Will and Holly, are on a “routine expedition” in a raft when a massive earthquake sends them tumbling over a waterfall and through a portal in time and space to the titular world.

"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.

“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."

Of course, given the extremely low budget they had to work with (Marty often jokes that it cost “$1.98 a show”), the series has the air of camp about it, with the actors over-reacting to stop-motion dinosaurs blue-screened in later and plastic props.

But for all the cheese, it became a beloved show in the States and has long since snatched the title “cult classic”.

Plus, it attracted some serious talent behind the scenes…

 

Next: Famous Pen-Wranglers

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4. Famous Pen-Wranglers

For what was effectively a kids' show, Land managed to score some hefty talent to write episodes.

Literary SF heavyweights Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon and Ben Bova all contributed episodes, while a number of people who had been involved with Star Trek, including Dorothy "D.C." Fontana, actor-turned writer Walter Koenig and David Gerrold also bashed out scripts.

This might be attributed to the fact that the show was markedly different from the garish colours and weird puppet creatures of other efforts.

It was the Kroffts attempt to break into newer, more epic, and – for them – more reserved territory while still keeping the kiddie appeal.

The three main characters faced danger from the dinosaurs and also from slow-moving, hissing lizard-men creatures known as Sleestaks, who nevertheless lived up to typical bad-guy behaviour by never quite defeating our heroes (or being able to shoot straight with crossbows).

The Marshalls also encountered the Pakuni, a race of ape-like humans, and made friends with Cha-Ka, one of the creatures.

One element that marked the series out was commissioning linguist Victoria Fromkin to create a language for the Pakuni, which she based on the sounds of West African speech and attempted to build into the show in a gradual way that would allow viewers to learn the language over the course of many episodes. Talk about details…

The show went off the air after three seasons in 1976, and lay dormant for a while…

 

Next: Journey To The '90s

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5. Journey To The '90s

In 1991, the Kroffts were approached by ABC, who wanted them to recreate the show with a bigger budget and a lighter tone.

They created the story of the Porter family, who were travelling the wilds of America when their truck falls through one of the show’s trademark time portals into the parallel world of Land Of The Lost.

There, the family encounters Sleestaks, Pakuni and sexy cave-girl Christa, a young woman who fell through the portal as a child and grew up alone in the Land.

This new version ran for two seasons, but never quite gained the popularity of the original.

Even back in 1991, the Kroffts were trying to get a deal in place to turn the concept into a movie. But nothing came of it until…

 

Next: Enter Disney...

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6. Enter Disney...

In June 1995, the Walt Disney Company announced that Sid & Marty Krofft Productions had entered into an agreement to produce a theatrical film based on the original 1970s TV show.

Very little detail emerged about the Mouse House’s plan for the show, and there was no sign of a script for a long time.

In 1999, Ain’t It Cool reported that, “Sid and Marty Krofft have wrestled the Land Of The Lost movie rights away from Disney, and have raised finances themselves to make the film, presumably independently, although there's no confirmation of a new studio being involved or if they're shopping it around.

“The Krofft bros. are now working with Adam Rifkin, who co-wrote Small Soldiers, on the screenplay, and claim to be in ‘active preproduction.’

“They say the film won't be heavy CGI, but rather, a combination of FX techniques, and that the story will be more faithful to the original '70s show than the crappy '90s remake, and will include the Marshall family and the Sleestaks.”

They might have broken away, but they didn’t get anything going until 2002, when Sony stepped in…

 

Next: Sony Takes A Stab

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7. Sony Takes A Stab

Entering into its own deal with the Kroffts, Sony tried in 2002 to get another version of the movie made.

Sony immediately began efforts to make a Land movie.

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 Sleestaks with claws and fangs who posed a very real threat, and grand, computer-generated environments. Sid and Marty Krofft reviewed the draft script and loved it.

Sony released a synopsis: "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, 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 travelling through this strange world, encountering bizarre creatures along the way (Pakuni and Sleestaks, of course), so that they may find their way back home."

But funding issues meant it never quite found its way to the screen. At least not until another studio picked it up…

 

Next: Universal Finally Cracks It

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8. Universal Finally Cracks It

While Universal bought the rights – with the Kroffts staying cannily aboard as producers – in 2005, it still took a while for the film to come together.

Back when the company first took aim at the property, it attached the Anchorman team of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay to develop something that would play to Ferrell’s strengths.

It wasn’t really a surprise, given that the pair had a habit of sneaking references to the show into Saturday Night Sketches they’d written.

But scheduling – and yet more budget - issues meant that the early incarnation never gelled, and the studio went through several further attempts, including a flirtation with Robert Rodriguez, who was deciding between Land and an updated version of The Jetsons.

The Jetsons won, though we haven’t seen that film either, which seems to be the director’s habit.

But, undaunted, Universal kept trying, eventually snagging Ferrell back again.

Which brings us almost up to 2007…

 

Next: Silberling Is Announced

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9. Silberling Is Announced

In October 2007, Variety announced that Will Ferrell would indeed play Dr Rick Marshall, albeit as a much more bumbling, Ferrell-like character.

The man responsible for finally getting the film off the ground was Lemony Snicket director Brad Silberling, who was approached by Ferrell and his manager, Jimmy Miller, a producer on the film.

“When Will told me what they wanted to do, I peeled with laughter because I used to watched the show on Saturday mornings back in its original run and I thought it sounded like a completely brilliant idea if you could be ballsy and take the things that you loved and bring to it this real slant on the humour,” says Silberling.

“So I read some material they were playing with at that point and came back and told them what I thought they needed to do to make it a movie and it was all very quick.

"I sat down with the studio and hit them over the head, and said, 'Here's what you need to do, and what you need to secure.'"

With a script provided by Entourage’s Chris Henchy and SNL veteran Dennis McNicholas, the film entered production in March 2008 as one of the biggest ever seen at the Universal lot.

Dispensing with the idea of casting kids as Will and Holly, the filmmakers opted to turn them into a redneck attraction operator who gets sucked into the Land with Marshall, and an enthusiastic British research student who idolises Marshall and comes along for the ride.

Tropic Thunder’s Danny McBride nabbed the Will role, while Anna Friel – complete with her proper accent for a change – would play Holly.

And despite the comic tone, Silberling is quick to point out that it’s respectful of the original. Well, mostly…

 

Next: Keeping The Flame

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10. Keeping The Flame

“There are people out there who will never be happy. Some people want things fixed in time and space, others want to see a sense of humour about what the experience of the original was,” admits Silberling.

“So I'm not worried about it. It works for me and I think it'll work for people who haven't seen the original series. I wanted to build more and not shoot on location to echo the original show. We've improved the lighting, but it still feel handmade...”

The movie’s plot features a lot of what made the original show fun – dinosaur characters Grumpy and Alice, plus ape-boy Chaka, played in this version by SNL Digital Short regular and Hot Rod co-star Jorma Taccone.

While the first trailer showcased some distinctly dodgy CGI, the FX improved for the final version - although reviews haven't been exactly hysterical.

Still, if you’ve never seen the show (which many of us here in the UK have not), you can find it on DVD. Or just skip it and try the film on its own terms…

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