Written by Matt Bowes
When we laugh out loud, we make a declaration of who we are to the people around us and many of today’s best comedies exist in a special nexus of brilliant and stupid that is hard for us to process in groups. This explains why we might sit in a theatre and watch silently that which would cause us to laugh out loud in the safety of our own homes.
This nexus is where the majority of Will Ferrell’s comedies live or die. There are those who passionately insist they are amongst the funniest films they have ever seen and those who just as passionately dismiss them as some of the stupidest to have ever existed. This isn’t an accident. It’s the natural result of a comedy style that specifically requires its intended audience to be both smart and immature enough to appreciate the aggressive absurdity of the kind of characters Ferrell prefers to play.
Ferrell’s films acknowledge the fact that the only reason his characters triumph is because cinematic cliché demands it…
It’s a strategy that lampoons our cultural preference for unambiguous heroes. Ferrell’s films acknowledge the fact that the only reason his characters triumph is because cinematic cliché demands it and, for many audience members, this mockery borders on the personal—as it questions what they value in popular entertainment. As broad as his films can be, to laugh with them, you have to often be willing to laugh at yourself as well.
What happens, then, when he is tasked to take on the hero role in a big-budget science fiction/fantasy TV adaptation? What happens is a film that fails to gross even half of its estimated $100,000,000 budget.
Yet, the failure of Land of the Lost cannot be fully explained by a mass cultural rejection of the Ferrell archetype being placed front and centre in a big budget studio blockbuster. There was at least another factor at play that led to the film’s critical and financial defeat.
That is, it was a TV adaptation that no one really wanted. Perhaps more than any other film of its kind, its mere existence served as inescapable proof of Hollywood’s increasingly farcical reliance on previously branded ideas. A low-budget Saturday morning live action show produced by puppeteer brother’s Sid & Marty Croft, the original Land of the Lost is a show best remembered nostalgically—where the dim haze of memories allow us to ignore its otherwise unavoidable flaws. And the problem with exploiting this nostalgia 35 years later is that the only people apt to harbour it would likely resent having their beloved show (and by proxy themselves) spoofed by smartasses—alienating the only audience interested in seeing it.
Which is why I believe Land of the Lost is a film that never had a chance to succeed. It was doomed to fail the minute the contracts were signed.
And I love it.
At times, Land of the Lost seems like [Brad Silberling’s] middle finger to the kind of films his career has been spent making.
Because there’s something exhilarating about a mega-budget summer blockbuster that tacitly acknowledges the pointlessness of its existence—one that spends an obscene amount of money to recreate one of the cheapest live action TV shows ever made.
Director Brad Silberling is a Spielberg protégé who’s never been able to catch a break. His more personal efforts (Moonlight Mile, 10 Items or Less) were largely ignored and his studio work has ranged from impersonal remakes like Casper and City of Angels to a genuinely great adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events that still managed to be a box office disappointment.
At times, Land of the Lost seems like his middle finger to the kind of films his career has been spent making. Why else would he fill it with the kind of language, violence, and sexual and drug references sure to turn away the family audience a film of its kind would require to turn a profit? Rather than being unwittingly pushed by Ferrell, he clearly was an enthusiastic participant and the result has apparently doomed him to working in TV for the foreseeable future.
Which is kinda badass. Land of the Lost is the rare “sell-out” movie that actually refuses to sell-out and is instead true to itself in a way that was certain to ensure its becoming a financial disaster. It is as artistically authentic as the director’s cut of Heaven’s Gate, while also featuring a plot point where Ferrell’s character is pooped out by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Maybe I’m weird, but I find the sheer chutzpah of this to be praiseworthy.
But this would mean a lot less if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a film that genuinely makes me laugh—at least in the privacy of my own home. Rather than serve as an example of what not to do, cinema would be better off if future filmmakers looked to it as a perfect example of the fun you can have when tasked with making a film no one actually wants to see.
CC photo credit: Universal Studios