Sunday, August 08, 2010

In Defense of "Land of the Lost"

Land of the Lost

Directed by Brad Silberling
Written by Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas
Starring: Will Ferrell, Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Jorma Taccone
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Running Time: 1 hour and 42 minutes

3 stars (out of 4)

Last summer, "Land of the Lost" made its way onto big screens. Another mid year Will Ferrel comedy, how could it miss? "Anchorman", "Step Brothers", "Talladega Nights" were all former entries from the former SNL cast member that packed them in and were revered in their comedy and quotable lines ("Anchorman" is probably one of the most quotable in recent memory). Everything pointed to another hit for Ferrell. A funny thing happened (or unfunny in this case), the film tanked and was a box office bomb. Costing 100 million dollars to make, it only cashed in 49 million. The reviews, at the very least, were scathing, calling the film "a high concept disaster" and "resolutely uninspired". I, myself, left the film alone in theatres. Even when it made its DVD debut, I held off. How could everything that pointed towards the film being a steaming pile be wrong?

Even when I caught bits and pieces on HBO when it first premiered on the pay cable station, I hated it. Thought it was kinda lame, uninspired. But another funny thing happened...the film grew on me. Each time I caught a different part of the movie, I laughed a little more. It endeared itself to me, dug in like an Alabama tick. Watching it all the way through, from beginning to end, I discovered it is actually better than a lot of the Will Ferrell movies out there. In fact, I would put it above "Talladega Nights", "Step Brothers" and just a step below "Anchorman" as one of his best.

The keys to the success of "Land of the Lost" lay in a couple of different things. Will Ferrell does play his usual clueless man child (Dr. Rick Marshall) with the oblivious and slightly off look on his face. But his relationships with the other characters and the chemistry they possess together on screen make this film that much more enjoyable and funny to watch.

Will Stanton (Danny McBride) is a low rent attraction runner in the middle of nowhere who takes Dr. Rick Marshall and Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) into his tachyon rich cave. You see, Dr. Marshall was embarrassed on national television by Matt Lauer for his theories on time and space dimension travel. Holly convinces Rick to try out his gadget and prove that his theories are correct. What happens is what propels the film forward, the three get sucked into a space and time vortex shipping them off into an alternate universe.

This alternate universe consists of past, present and future. Dinosaurs crushing Hummer limos. A giant T-Rex and aliens from another dimension (the slow moving Sleestak from the television series). Chaka, a primate from a tribe that resides in this alternate reality, becomes a sort of "guide" (if you want to call it that...mostly he just gets them into trouble). While trying to find Marshall's gadget that will bring them back to their reality, the group run from the dinosaurs, fight the Sleestak and save our reality from Enik, leader of the Sleestak.

What makes this film a cut above the rest is the nuances. Ferrel's character, Dr. Rick Marshall, is mostly an idiot. But he endears himself to the audience - We root for him when the T-Rex is trying to prove that his brain is bigger than a walnut. We love it when he taunts Chaka and is describing how he would taste after cooking him. And we cheer when he gets to shove it in Matt Lauer's face at the end of the movie. This is a testament to Ferrell's comedic acting and timing. If this was in the hands of say Adam Sandler, the movie would have been terrible. But Ferrell pulls it off with his empty looks and pseudo-intellectualism.

The comedic timing is further improved upon with the inclusion of Danny McBride. While he was under utilized in "Tropic Thunder", McBride is on full display here. He also has his share of empty looks and idiot moments (my favorite - when he sings Cher's "Do you Believe in Life after Love" while being vibrated by a giant crystal). But the chemistry between the leads is the key to the movie. Anna Friel plays the straight "man" in the film for the others to play off of. She also helps move the film forward by suddenly developing the ability to speak Chaka's language. Chaka is an important part of the comedy. From giving Ferrell and McBride hallucinogenic juice to only really speaking his name (McBride point this out during a hilarious scene when they are swimming in a hotel pool), the primate is a vital part of the film and is at its best when he's around.

While the plot takes a back seat to antics and one liners, that doesn't take away from the overall joy of the ride this film takes you on. From one reality to another, from pterodactyls to primates, the comedy is always pitch perfect and always on time. The critical drubbing of the film was unwarranted, in my humble opinion. I can see, on face value, how this film can not be what someone expected. It is a change of pace from Ferrell's other films. I see what the movie was going for, but that doesn't mean that everyone will like it or get it. It's a campy, hokey comedy that is a remake of a campy, hokey television series. If you treat it as such, you will get the most out of it.

I must admit that hindsight is 20/20 and I have the luxury of writing this review well after the film came out. If I was to have initially reviewed it upon seeing it when it first came out in theatres, I probably would have given it 1 1/2 stars or 2 stars. But I can give a film a second chance, and I'm glad that I did because my initial reaction to it was less than favorable. I would have amended the review and re-published it as it stands and I am never opposed to admitting that a movie is a lot better (or a lot worse) then when first watched or reviewed. Will Ferrell is at the top of his game in the film, and that is in this dimension or any other.