When Will Ferrell starred in Semi-Pro, I was starting to wonder if his act was just becoming old among mainstream America, that he was flogging around on the same joke. But when I heard that he was cast as Dr. Rick Marshall in Land of the Lost, I did hold out a little bit of hope. It was a story that, with the right mix of comedy combined with an already established action line, could become a huge film, financially and popularly. When I saw an early trailer in 2007, I was looking forward to the film. Then I finally saw the entire film and, well, some thoughts come to mind.
Based on the '70s television show from Sid and Marty Krofft, Chris Henchy (I'm With Her) and Dennis McNicholas (The Ladies Man) wrote the screenplay that Brad Silberling (10 Items or Less) directs. As opposed to the show, Marshall is not the father of Will and Holly in the film; he plays a scientist laughed at and mocked for his theories on space and time travel. Holly (Anna Friel, Pushing Daisies) has been following Marshall's work and thinks he should continue it, despite his current position of presenting slide shows to pre-teens at the La Brea tar pits. He eventually gets back to his research, and goes to an isolated spot in the desert where Will (Danny McBride, The Foot Fist Way) hosts a gift shop and quasi-amusement park. By touring the park's cave, the trio enters an alternate universe, where they meet the ape-boy Chaka (Jorma Taccone, Hot Rod). They encounter dinosaurs and a species of lizard men called "sleestaks" who attempt to restrict Marshall's trip back home and hope to kill the group.
Now Ferrell is an actor whose improvisation skills are normally outstanding, but in Land of the Lost they seem truncated, even neutered. His back and forth rapport with McBride, something that could have been the funniest part of the movie, is only marginally present. And when Ferrell's improvising is at a minimum, the jokes are painfully long and not funny whatsoever. He'll even repeat the joke sometimes, as if perhaps the viewer may have missed it the first time. Sorry Will, I didn't laugh at you dumping dinosaur urine on yourself the first time; I'm sure not laughing at it again.
This leads me to another frustration with the film; as a slightly grown-up take on the show, it could have been a joyful romp down the mythos of the show. Instead, we get jokes that could have been put in any children's movie. Ferrell's dinosaur urine scene is the first of several pee and poo-related jokes in the film that not only are humorless, they're borderline demeaning, considering the comedic talents of Ferrell and McBride. Honestly, if these two were recast and the film was strictly a direct to video joint, this probably could have been much cheaper to make and possible moneymaker. At least Friel tries her best to keep the film up; her face and personality keep you involved in the film for a little while, but as the jokes get dumber, she can't stop you from bailing on this.
This all leads me to a serious thought about Land of the Lost, or at least its star. Ferrell is getting close to the point where his movies can't open a weekend anymore (this one opened in third). He's tried his own stories, he's appeared in others, and now he's taken a known commodity and both killed the franchise and further damaged what was once a decent comedy career. I think he needs to evaluate what he wants to do next because he's become an actor whose movies you can decide to go to based on the trailer, and he's losing that. One more egg and his next film could be The Love Guru 2. Come on Will, come back to the funny.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Universal presents Land of the Lost in 1.85:1 widescreen viewing, in 1080p high definition and with the AVC MPEG-4 codec, a departure from their normal VC-1 encodes. And things look good - flesh tones are reproduced accurately, the detail in many shots was excellent and the desert shots make you feel the heat without the whites being blown out. Blacks are kept in generally excellent shape and the film takes the look of the television show and gives it a glossy finish that fans will be sure to enjoy.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound option gives you a great workout for your subwoofer. And for a comedy, it's a pleasant surprise. Starting with the cave sequence, you feel as if you're in the raft with Marshall, Will and Holly as they go into their travels. The dinosaurs roaming the planet pounds out bass in every step, and in more aerial shots (with the pterodactyl, for instance), speaker panning can be made out easily. Dialogue sounds excellent and doesn't lose anything in the center channel. Say what you will about the quality of the movie, but it sounds excellent on Blu-ray.
David Prior, who's been responsible for the excellent David Fincher DVDs, produced this one. Prior does a fine job, but I feel like more ground could have been covered. Silberling does a commentary for the film that covers a lot of ground; his affinity for the show and the work in getting a feature-length production realized for cinema. He touches on the inspirations and decisions in the casting process, and how the writers/SAG work stoppage in 2008 factored in the shooting schedule. The differences between the show and film are discussed along with the inspirations for how a scene was shot (Children of Men? Really?) It's an active track and well worth the time to listen to.
Strangely though, most of what he talks about is made redundant in "This is Not a Routine Expedition," a three-part look at the production which when played together (1h 23m) runs almost as long as the film does (1h 42m). There's quite a bit of footage from the show incorporated into this extra, which includes deleted scenes and a bevy of test and rehearsal footage, including some of the first table read. The cast shares their thoughts on one another, and this is the part where I say Ferrell is funnier here than in most of the movie. The crew talk about working with the stars and getting them used to wire work, and the creature/makeup effects are given some time too. Taccone's audition tapes are shown and the cast spends loads of time being interviewed, along with some time on-set goofing around. It's an enjoyable piece and if you're a fan of the film you'll find this worth your time, as Prior puts together another awesome behind-the-scenes look for a DVD.
From there, you have ten deleted scenes with optional Silberling commentary (20:23) which probably could have been subbed into the final cut. They're all funny, many of which provide more laughs to Marshall and Holly, and the scenes appear a little more focused. An ending shot with the real Will and Holly is included as well for tribute's sake. "Dr. Marshall's Food Diaries" (5:49) are three video diaries Ferrell recorded in character which should the last "regular" food he has before turning to what the land may have. "A Day in the Life of a Big-Time Movie Star" (11:12) follows McBride around the set as he's universally scorned by the cast and crew, all part of the gag for the bit. Like the film, it could have been funnier than it was, and it was too long. "Bradley, Sid and Marty" (23:21) is a conversation between Silberling and the Kroffts, as they discuss the show. Things like the challenges in making it, the inspiration for the characters and other aspects are covered. It's a nice piece, but 23 minutes? "Devil's Canyon Gift shop Commercial & Tour" (6:49) is just that, featuring in-character joking around from McBride. Oddly enough, the commercial looks like Kenny Powers' comeback video, go figure. They are the last things on this BD-Live and D-Box enabled BD-50.
I thought Land of the Lost would have been enjoyable and funny. What I got was tedious and didn't bust my gut. A great concept seemed to have been horribly executed here, and I'd normally encourage people to skip it at all costs. That said, Prior's work on the supplements saves it from being a complete disaster and technically it's outstanding. You would be fine with renting this if you wish, but don't say I didn't warn you.