The summer of 2009 saw a few behemoths of cinema blockbuster franchises locking horns, in the shape of new entries in the Transformers and Terminator series. Yet, sneaking in amongst these heavyweights was a film version of a popular old American TV series of the sixties called Land of the Lost. This new version was conceived as a vehicle for Will Ferrell, and perhaps the makers were worried about its appeal to the international market - hence the inclusion of actors from various other countries including our own Anna Friel. The result could have been a surprise success - a blockbuster comedy with state of the art special effects. It could equally have come across as a rather cynical effort to appeal to the widest possible demographic. We will see which possibility is closest to the truth........
The storyline is fairly simplistic. Will Ferrell plays Dr Rick Marshall, a scientist who has been investigating the possibility of time warps. His theories have been discredited, and he has endured public humiliation - at one stage on national television. He has resorted to teaching his theories to children, when Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) turns up out of the blue. She has been studying his theories at Cambridge University, and is the only person who believes in him. It emerges that Marshall's theories need the presence of Tachyon particles in order to be proved. The Tachyons will activate his machine and enable him to enter a warp. Marshall and Cantrell head off and find a tachyon hotspot in the middle of a river ride run by a redneck called Will Stanton (Danny McBride).
To great surprise, Marshall's theories are proved to be partially correct, and the trio are transported to a strange land where they run into intelligent dinosaurs, giant blood sucking mosquitoes, and lizard men. It soon becomes clear that the leader of the lizard men (the Sleestak race) plans to open a portal back to present day Earth and conquer it. It is up to our plucky trio to defeat these dastardly plans, and find their own way home.
I have never seen the series on which the film is based, so I cannot comment on how faithful to the original this is. However, I can comment on the quality of the movie as a standalone piece of art. To be quite frank, your liking of the movie is likely to depend on two things - your liking for Will Ferrell, and your tolerance for the rather “broad” sense of humour that is on show here. Let me give you two examples of the kind of humour you will find here. Our trio arrive in this strange land, and meet a simian friend. As they are introduced, Cantrell lays her hand on her chest to introduce herself. What follows is an extended scene where both the simian and Stanton proceed to grope her breasts under the pretence of trying to introduce themselves and teach their new friend to say his name. Another example is a scene where our heroes are being chased by a T Rex. They leap a chasm to escape and as the dinosaur walks away, Marshall talks loudly about how small his brain is. The dinosaur, of course, hears this - and is deeply offended. He then proceeds to chase them some more.
These are but two examples of the level of humour that is brought to bear in this film. If you find the above hilarious then it is likely that you will find much to enjoy in this film. I am afraid that I didn't, however.
As a part-time critic I probably shouldn't admit this, but I have not come across any of Will Ferrell's performances before. Having this as my first experience does make me wonder just what is so funny about him, and exactly why one of his characters recently appeared on my Empire “icons of the century” cover. The man just seems totally bland, and presents a character who is a cocky, arrogant, childish man - a strange combination that just didn't quite work for me. I found that Ferrell was out-performed by McBride who was really quite likeable as the redneck Stanton. His character seems to have inspired the writers more as well. He gets some of the best lines in the film, and the writing seems noticeably zippier and more involving when he is speaking. It is almost as if Marshall is an afterthought - a rather strange affair when he is the star of the movie, and the major character. This leaves rather an imbalance at the centre of the film.
This central weakness is a shame because the production design of the film is nothing short of breathtaking. The world they find themselves in is well realised, a desert like location with various artefacts and buildings from our world littering the landscape. There are times when this design truly amazes, not just because it is so well realised, but also because of the level of imagination that has gone into it. The look is most certainly high budget. The effects, too, are very impressive. We have seen dinosaurs many times in films over the years, but the T Rex here is very well realised - the skin rippling with muscle underneath.
Yet within this environment the action soon becomes repetitive. There are more chase scenes here than in an average series of Doctor Who, and that is saying something. The first few times, our heroes being chased by some nasty beast is quite effective, but when it happens again and again fatigue soon sets in and the film becomes boring.
So, however much there is to admire in the film, the result is not one that I particularly enjoyed. I found the humour too basic, and the main character quite simply unfunny. It is fair to say, though, that when it comes to comedy one man's meat is another man's poison. If you are a fan of any of the actors on show here, or of the original show - then I would certainly advise you give this one a rent. You are certainly unlikely to be disappointed with the production values on show. However, I feel there are too many fundamental weaknesses in order to make this a recommendation.
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