Running from 1974 to 1976, Sid and Marty Krofft's "Land of the Lost" television series seized the imagination of a generation tickled to travel to far off dimensions, populated by the finest creatures a five-dollar production budget could buy. Far be it from me to pooh-pooh the ravenous nostalgia of others, but "Lost" was also borderline unwatchable; a glacially executed kids show that appeared more interested in locating creative ways to stall for 22 minutes than pursuing the more fantastical fringes of its own fantasia. Now comedy kingpin Will Ferrell steps up to the plate to reimagine "Lost" as a slickly budgeted, thrill-a-minute summer extravaganza, and while the film cheerfully dusts off Sleestaks, Chakas, and roaring dinosaurs to enchant the faithful, it seems the new film somehow lost access to an adequate script along the way.
Disgraced and dejected, Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) has lost faith in his meticulous research to find a portal to another dimension through the harvesting of tachyons. Finding an enthusiastic admirer in Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), Rick sets out again to prove himself to the doubting world and "Today" show host Matt Lauer, employing Will Stanton (Danny McBride) to help on his mission. Venturing into unknown territory on a yellow raft, the trio is sucked through a vortex and brought to a sun-caked mystery world, where they meet a young, troublemaking ape-like creature named Chaka (Jorma Taccone). Chased all over the map by a vicious Tyrannosaurus rex, the gang stumbles into the lair of the reptilian Sleestaks, finding one of their banished leaders in dire need of Rick's scientific mastery.
Had Ferrell and director Brad Silberling gingerly ventured down the more obvious route of homage for their take on "Land of the Lost," perhaps any complaints leveled against the film wouldn't have mattered. Nostalgia would've replaced doubt; a cheese ball take on a cheese ball show would've been bulletproof against unfavorable comment. Unfortunately, the production decided to hip up "Lost" for the big screen, and the results confuse a great deal more than amuse.
As much as Silberling thirsts to modernize Rick, Will, and Holly's "routine expedition" for younger audiences, the contemporary "Lost" remains startlingly faithful to the original series. The production takes remarkable care to preserve creature designs and recognizable locations (enhanced here with extensive desert scenery), adding the occasional inside joke to please those with a vast Krofft education. There's obvious adoration for the source material woven throughout the feature, and the candy-colored ornamentation within the movie creates a convincing illusion of good-natured merriment.
Unfortunately, the reality of this updated "Lost" is sensing how mean-spirited the whole enterprise is, especially to family audiences. For reasons that are completely mystifying, Ferrell and Co. have gone the PG-13 raunchy route with the remake, introducing random and needless sex jokes, abrasive cursing, and a few unexpected bits of graphic violence to impart the material an edge that's completely foreign to the franchise. It's an alienating approach that is sure to charm teenage audiences, but few others. Sid and Marty Krofft did many a peculiar thing with their original "Lost" vision, yet they were always careful to provide a gentle environment for viewers of all ages. The updated "Lost" kicks aside all that goodwill and organizes consistently unimaginative ventures (e.g. Chaka loves to fondle Holly's breasts, masturbation one-liners, and Rick and Will observing the Sleestaks having sex) that polarize the potential four-quadrant audience gold rush for the feature.
Lest I sound like a crusty old man wagging my finger at the naughty attributes of "Lost," let me assure you, if the picture held a convincing comedic viewpoint, all would be forgiven. As it stands, this version of "Lost" feels haphazardly scripted on cocktail napkins and creatively fueled by paychecks and a series of dares. It's Ferrell harvesting the wilted fields of absurdity, turning mild '70's entertainment into a tuneless slapstick comedy complete with gross-out urine and fecal matter gags, dreadful "Chorus Line" show tune fixations, drug-induced stupors, and unsightly improvisational detours. McBride's flavorless presence only eggs Ferrell on further. For the devout, Ferrell's spastic reactions to the nightmarish world of hulking predators and black-eyed aliens will surely provide a steaming serving of comedic comfort food. For those already weary of Ferrell's shtick, "Lost" is salt in the weeping wound.
While "Lost" mimics the essentials of the Krofft creation (though abundant CG replaces endearing puppetry and shoestring ingenuity), much of the film diverts into new, unpleasant directions. "Land of the Lost" was never worthy of deification to begin with, but I'd take the Kroffts' crude filmmaking skills and limited coin any day over Will Ferrell sprinting ineffectively around a 100-million-dollar wonderland, making it up as he goes.