Moriarty Visits The LAND OF THE LOST, Part 1! Sleestaks & Temples & Will, Oh My I'm Hard!
Published at: April 20, 2009, 5:51 p.m. CST by headgeek
Hey folks, Harry here... Moriarty just won't go away. He sends me like 6 pieces a week and I keep rejecting them because usually he spends 2/3rds of the columns talking about his inflamed hemmoroids and the exact manner in which to apply the ointment - and then the cleaning process before handling his precious Blu Rays. But this time it was actually an article I was interested in. LAND OF THE LOST. Earlier today on my wife's Facebook, she listed her favorite childhood shows. Besides the immediate dirty old man feelings that it gave me, I realized how much luckier I was to grow up in a period where my Saturday mornings spanned 1973-1984, which I consider to be the golden age of Saturday morning - where the repeats were great, the new shows were mostly awesome - minus the crap video game cartoons, but most of all - there was the strange weirdness that was LAND OF THE LOST. And I'm dying of curiousity to see what Brad, Will, Danny & Anna have in store for us. That... and well, I have a pterodactyl hanging in my living room... life size. Yes. I'm lucky to be married. Here's Mori...
Hey, everyone. “Moriarty” here.
I drove down to Universal Studios from my house in Northridge, and on the way, I was talking to a friend. “Hey, guess what I’m doing today,” I said. “And unless your guess involves a couple of dozen Sleestaks, you’re wrong.” I always love being on the Universal lot. I was a tour guide there in the early ‘90s, and I love walking by a tour tram and waving at the tourists as they try desperately to figure out if I’m famous or not.
It was a warm day in July, and I’d been invited to spend a day by myself on the various soundstages being used to bring “Land Of The Lost” to the bigscreen for this summer. Claire Raskind, the publicist who was my host on the “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” set in Hawaii, greeted me as soon as I walked out of the parking structure and steered me directly over to the stages. No fooling around, since I was on a fairly tight schedule and so were they.
My first impression as I walked into Stage 27 was surprise. I’m so used to everything these days involving minimal builds and giant greenscreens to add in digital sets later that it was a shock to find myself standing in the middle of Sleestak Plaza. And since the production designer on this film is the great Bo Welch, the sets were full-scale and fully-functional. If you don’t know Welch by name, you know his work. He worked on films like “Joe Versus The Volcano,” “Edward Scissorhands,” the “Men In Black” movies, the ravishing “A Little Princess” and “Batman Returns,” which featured some of the greatest soundstage creations I’ve ever seen in person. Welch is from the school of thought that if you can build something, you build it, and this film is a great example of that. They took over a big chunk of the Universal lot last summer and built as many full-sized sets as they could. My guess is that any one of those soundstages represented a larger investment than any complete season of the original Sid and Marty Krofft “Land Of The Lost” series, and there’s something really crazy about that.
I spent a certain chunk of my childhood watching the Sid & Marty Krofft shows, and I enjoyed them. However, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to see me wax on and on about how special and perfect and inviolable those programs were, because that would be ludicrous. At some point, I’m hoping that my fellow web movie reporters who were fans of things as children realize that just because the six-year-old version of you liked something, that does not make it Shakespeare, and it doesn’t mean that it was brilliant. Kids like garbage. It happens. Sometimes, kids are even very passionate about garbage. And so what? They’re kids. Everything’s new to them. When they see a rip-off of a rip-off of a copy of a steal of a hack job, they don’t know that. They don’t care. They like what they like, and they’ll watch almost anything if they’re even remotely interested. Nostalgia has made an entire generation incredibly stupid, and at some point, it’s okay to let go of those childhood memories, let them be memories, and look at some of this source material with clear eyes.
“Land Of The Lost,” for example, was fucking ridiculous.
Great theme song. And kids love dinosaurs and monsters, so the combination of stop-motion dinos and hissing green men-in-suit aliens was pretty irresistible. And the show even employed some writers I love, like David Gerrold, Norman Spinrad, Ben Bova, Theodore Sturgeon, and Larry Niven. And, yes, when the show came out on DVD, I bought the complete season box sets. And when I rewatched the show, it became incredibly clear to me that despite the ambition, despite the names involved, and despite some occasionally engaging ideas, as an actual show to sit down and watch, “Land Of The Lost” is a repetitious and shoddy bore. And the performance work in particular is nigh unwatchable. This is definitely a case where my memories were very kind to something that has not aged well at all.
And did it bother anyone else that the song begins “Marshall, Will and Holly/On a routine expedition,” when Marshall is the family’s last name and the dad’s first name is actually Rick? Guess it fit the meter, but it makes no sense.
Even having said all of that, I will confess that when the first Sleestak walked by me in full costume, his head-to-toe suit in place and the mask over his head, I got a huge smile on my face and I asked if I could shake his crazy pincher hand, all three fingers of it. And looking around the set at the remarkable detail that had been poured into every corner of it, it was apparent that someone took that source material very, very seriously. More seriously than I would have taken it, which is a strange thing to say about a film that stars Will Ferrell and Danny McBride, but it’s true. Screenwriters Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas and director Brad Silberling have worked to make sure that this film absolutely respects the batshit crazy mythology that the original show created, right down to using the same Pakuni language that was created for the series whenever Chaka (Jorma Taccone) shows up.
Remember… the show wasn’t set in Earth’s past. It was set in an alternate dimension, and there were all sorts of SF ideas introduced over the course of the three seasons of the show. So although the ad campaign so far definitely plays up the dinosaur side of things, and rightfully so, there is also a whole lot of wacko going on in the film, and that seems fully appropriate considering the source.
They’ve tweaked things, of course. Rick Marshall (Ferrell), Will (McBride), and Holly (Anna Friel) are no longer related in any way. Now Holly is an assistant to disgraced researcher Rick, whose theories on time/space portals have made him a laughing stock. They meet Will when they stop at a roadside exhibit that he owns and operates, and as they’re on his cheesy fake river ride, one of those time/space portals opens, and the three of them are pulled into this alternate dimension where the movie takes place.
On the day I was on-set, Rick and Will were trying to rescue Holly from the Sleestaks, using a cunning plan involving discarded Sleestak skins. The film obviously gives these comic actors a lot of room to improvise within the structure of a SF adventure, and that collision of styles is what should hopefully pay off for Universal when the film finally hits theaters in July.
As we were waiting for them to set up the first shot for the afternoon, Claire walked me through the Sleestak wardrobe tent. Racks of costumes, all identical, with one special rack for the dozen “hero suits” that actually have moveable articulate mouths. Each of the Sleestak actors was required to stand 6’4” or taller, and they were basically sealed into their suits in the morning, a process that required each of the performers to go through two full tubes of KY jelly every day, one to get them into the outfit, and one to help get the costume back off. That’s how skintight the costumes are, and they actually had to build in special removable crotch pieces so that the actors could use the bathroom without taking the entire costume off each time. I watched a few of the actors suiting up.
Before any filming could take place, Claire told me that Sid and Marty Krofft were on-set and that they were actually available to talk if I was interested. And again… nostalgia is a powerful thing. I didn’t just watch their shows as a kid… I actually made the pilgrimage to Atlanta to attend their short-lived amusement park. So the chance to sit down with the two of them to chat for a while was impossible to pass up, and that interview will be part of my coverage for the film over at HitFix.com.
I’ll say this about the two of them together… they’re a fascinating team. Sid is the dreamer, and Marty’s the businessman, and I get the feeling they couldn’t exist without each other. It’s a great dynamic to observe, and the two of them have an obvious love for all of their shows and for the audience that has been in touch with them over the years. They told me that they’re excited to get started on both “H.R. Pufnstuf” and “Sigmund And The Sea Monsters” as soon as “Land” is in theaters. I imagine both of those will hinge on this film being a success, of course, but even at their age, Sid and Marty both seem like they’re 100% ready to start the next stage in their careers.
Much of the afternoon was spent watching Brad Silberling try to choreograph some difficult Sleestak action, and also allow Will and Danny room to play within the scene. Although I was originally set to speak to both Will and Anna, it didn’t happen because of scheduling. I did sit with Danny for a few minutes, the second time we got a chance to speak after a brief “Foot Fist” interview.
Seems strange that was in July, before “East Bound” or “Tropic Thunder” or “Pineapple.” At that point, I was just excited because of “The Foot Fist Way” and my near-lunatic love for the film. And Danny seemed a little surprised to find himself on the set for a $100 million blockbuster type film, fighting dinosaurs and lizard creatures. He talked about the importance of the production design and the effects in creating a reality that allowed he and Will to be the comedy against some sort of concrete reality, and how hard everyone on the production was working to find the balance. Certainly Anna was playing everything as real, and there was a sense of danger that Silberling was working to create which would hopefully make the comedy a release instead of just non-stop jokes. We talked about how different comic performers work, and how Danny likes being thought of as a comic character actor and not a movie star. We also talked about the spoiler for “Terminator: Salvation” that I had just run as a rumor and the fallout from that decision, and why I ran it in the first place. One of the things that I love about talking to Danny and Jody Hill and that whole North Carolina gang is that they’re film fans first, and a conversation with them turns into a free-ranging film nerd reference fest. Danny couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of “Terminator: Salvation” as an “El Cid” rehash, and that kicked us off into a conversation about original work versus remakes and sequels versus homage, and the idea of risk aversion in Hollywood filmmaking. I don’t know that I’d even call it an “interview,” since we spent so little time talking about “Land Of The Lost.”
Back on the set, I ran into Bo Welch, and I had a chance to tell him how overwhelmed I was by the sets of “Batman Returns” when I visited them back in the early ‘90s. They remain one of the most impressive builds I’ve ever seen, and on a scale that I’ve only ever seen a few films top. Welch struck me as a guy who has been through the wringer in Hollywood. His one film as a director was the wretched “Cat In The Hat,” and I still feel like it’s unfair to judge him as a filmmaker based on such an obviously studio-driven piece of cynical garbage. His episodes of the live-action “The Tick” were plenty funny, and he’s obviously got a huge visual imagination. Right now, though, my guess is that he was so beaten up by the experience behind the camera that he won’t direct again.
Frankly, I’m happy to see him still designing big movies, and I’m dying to see what his version of Asgard’s going to look like since he’s been hired to be the production designer on “Thor” for Marvel and Kenneth Branagh. That’s exciting.
Finally, before I wrapped for the day, I ran into Brad Silberling. I’ve met Brad before, and the last time we spoke was in the editing room for “Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events.” I’m fascinated by Brad, and I think he doesn’t get enough credit as one of the first guys to ever incorporate a CGI character into a feature film. And I’m not talking about a creature or a CGI single effect, either. When he directed “Casper,” no one even knew if a CGI-animated character could really work in a film, and he ended up making a film that starred four of them. ILM considered “Casper” a landmark when they made it, and for good reason… it was a proving ground for them, and much of what’s followed was because of the work they did there. Brad has a real eye for how to mix his effects and his live-action, and on a film like “Land,” that’s essential. My interview with Brad will wrap up my coverage of “Land” when it runs here at Ain’t It Cool on Friday.
For now, I’ll just say that I’m curious about the movie, and I am optimistic that at the very least, the people who worked on it were ambitious and determined to make something strange and crazy and different. Yes, they’re tapping into that same nostalgia that every studio is chasing these days, but they seem to understand that they have to make a movie, something we never could have seen on television, and that with this particular cast, they have permission to make it crazy without necessarily treating the world itself like a joke. It’s a tough nut to crack, but I think this is the right team to try, and the trailers so far look to me like they pulled off the film that everyone on-set described to me.
Look for the Sid & Marty interview on HitFix on Wednesday, and then I’ll see you back here on Friday to wrap things up with Brad.