Land of the Lost film review: modern slacker comedy meets retro stodgy sci-fi
Last week I reported the spectacular tanking of Land of the Lost at the U.S box office, describing it as a movie “snubbed by audiences and smoked by the critics.” What I didn’t report – and what I could only deduce by actually, god forbid, watching it – was that while Will Ferrell’s tongue in cheek sci-fi romp may well be a bona fide flop, an often borderline brainless mash of half and quarter baked ideas and throwaway punch lines, a turkey it is most certainly not.
Based on a 1970s TV show of the same name, in which a kooky scientist falls into a space/time vacuum and gets spat out in an alternate universe of dinosaurs and strange creatures, Land of the Lost is too amusing and too giddily self-aware to be considered synonymous with animals that gobble. It’s a post-modern Planet of the Apes infused with Ferrell’s distinct breed of limp, laid-back humour, the script littered with piss takes and the sets spangled with intentionally gaudy artifice: tacky looking plastic props, dodgy costumes, hokey CGI. There is no way to approach it other than with a grain, rock, wheelbarrow of salt.
Where Land of the Lost primarily goes wrong is in its muddled target demographic. The movie’s title and marketing and the oeuvre of the show on which it is based suggest this is one for the kids – a sort of all-ages theme park ride, a toy-conducive exotic looking sit-com for children. It isn’t. Groin and bodily fluid gags, profanities, drug references, mild schlock gore and alien sex jokes make Land of the Lost far too irreverent for family entertainment, and while it’s not intended for young audiences it also looks too child-like for adults. The mistake, at least financially, was building the film around the persona of its star when the audience expects it to be built around wacky set pieces and special effects ala Night at the Museum. The movie represents many things for Will Ferrell – namely his first sign-on to a production with overtly blockbuster pretences – but a sell-out it is not, for his signature style remains unchanged and he is as dopily charming as ever.
Ferrell tends to play the same character again and again – a sort of arrogant, delusional doofus – and it’s an appealingly low energy act. If you find Ferrell funny, you’ll find many moments in this fumbling adventure funny too; amazingly, it’s the spectacle elements that seem to get in the way. A few lines of dialogue had me in belly-ups, many of them riffs on the sort of dumb shtick pronounced in that scene in Anchorman when Ron Burgundy literally jumps into a lion’s den and says once he hits the ground “I immediately regret this decision.” I guffawed in Land of the Lost when the characters encountered their first caveman/ape-like primitives and one of the humans tries to scare them away with a zippo – “the power of fire!” he intones before burning his hand and dropping the lighter, which is quickly snatched up by one of the primeval confronters. “Well done,” Ferrell says. “You’ve now just given murderous criminals the power of fire.”
The downside is that Land of the Lost is fickle entertainment – ridiculous, forgettable, expendable stuff. But despite its faults it has character: a sort of slacker comedy mixed with Ed Wood-esque retro-flavoured self-conscious stodginess. Since the movie has been built around its dippy star’s persona, Will Ferrell fans aren’t likely to be greatly disappointed. Everybody else might be.
Land of the Lost’s Australian theatrical release date: June 11, 2009.