Friday, January 17

Escaping to Another Place

About a week ago I was feeling somewhat stressed and decided to relax by watching something light and fluffy. In the past couple of weeks I had watched the first episode of MacGyver but found myself underwhelmed. What had enchanted me years ago - the resourceful and highly intelligent adventurer - seemed like a smarmy egomaniac. I only watched the first episode and it probably gets better...but that wasn't what I was in the mood for.

I had also recently watched the first episode of Tabitha - which was a Bewitched spin-off. Cute young magical Tabitha all grown up and working as a TV producer. But it not only seemed dated (think WKRP in Cincinnati) and syrupy sweet...I was horrified to see how blatant the sexual harassment from her boss was! It made me cringe whenever they were on screen together.

So - I was pondering what to watch. I wanted something "classic" (read: old) and nothing that would be too heavy or violent. Finally my mind wandered to H.R. Pufnstuf. My Google search brought up a brief interview with Sid and Marty Krofft, the creators of the series. In the interview they denied being on drugs while creating the show (concept, writing, filming, etc...they claim that they were not under the influence). Once that interview was done, YouTube suggested several more similar interviews where Sid and Marty Krofft discussed some of their other creations: The Bugaloos, Sigmund and the Sea Monster, The Brady Bunch Hour and much more.

Then I saw it. The Land of the Lost. And I was transported back to Saturday mornings...

It was like pulling on that pair of sneakers that fits just right...they may look like hell, but the comfort level is off the charts. Yes, the opening sequence - which is a tremendous 1 minute and 8 seconds - looks like it was shot in somebody's bathtub. Yes, the stop motion of the dinosaurs is so jerky in the first episodes...heck, it doesn't really get feel bad for the dinos. And yes, the green screen effects are downright pathetic. But I was surprised to find that the stories and performances still held up after all these years.

The weakest link in acting is the youngest of the Marshall family - Holly. Kathy Coleman pretty much has only this series in her listing on the Internet Movie Database. Looks like she did a guest spot on Adam 12. And the first year of the series she gets pretty whiny...but if you were suddenly snatched from your middle class life and dumped in a world that is a cross between Jurassic Park and the original Star'd probably be pretty whiny too. Holly reminds me of me at that age - I feel sure that I would have made friends with the monkey-people (Pakuni) and the dinosaurs who didn't want to eat me.

The Dad, forest ranger Rick Marshall, portrayed by Spencer Milligan doesn't have many more credits in his IMDB list. Looks like he was on General Hospital for a bit, the movie Sleeper and a long string of guest spots on various shows. But his performance is very enjoyable. In fact, the series is largely produced like a stage performance...there are long scenes without a lot of cuts between camera angles which allows the scene to unfold like a play. I love the way that Rick Marshall is portrayed as a really good Dad (with lots of homespun advice to his kids) who enjoys the adventure of the great outdoors (he and his kids spend a lot of time methodically mapping out this strange world they find themselves in) but has his flaws. Sometimes he gets short tempered, but he is more likely to yell at a dinosaur than his kids...until their bickering makes him say "Hey! That's enough."

Will Marshall, played by the stunning Wesley Eure (credited in the opening sequence as "Wesley" - maybe he was trying to be like "Cher" or "Sting"), was the most awesome brother ever. He pulled his weight with chores around the cave, was smart enough to save their hides a few times, and even though he picked on Holly, in the knew he loved her. Strangely, when they went over the waterfall and through the time doorway - it seems that all the buttons on his shirts fell off. His shirt is always open to his navel. Not that I'm complaining - just an observation.

The show ranges from campy fun - getting to know the Pakuni, dealing with who does chores like cooking, and running from dinosaurs; to other-worldly encounters with beings from other times and other worlds, like the Zarn who just wants to repair his spaceship and escape. The most memorable creatures that the Marshalls have to survive are the Sleestack. And they are just as terrifying as I remember them being in my childhood. The lizard-people live in caves and try many times to capture the Marshalls to feed to their god who lives in a pit full of smoke/fog. They have great bulbous eyes which helps them see in the caves but keeps them from being able to tolerate the light. They go into hibernation during cold periods - but invariably awake and attack as soon as the Marshalls go into their caves searching for something...

There is a Sleestack in the Land of the Lost that is from another time period - when the race has evolved into deep thinkers. Enik wants to return to his own time. Evolution has not increased his sense of compassion or empathy though...when Holly and Will ask for his help when their Dad is captured, Enik has to be convinced to give them any assistance at all - and the help that he gives is minimal. The further along in the series you watch, the bigger jerk Enik becomes.

I've watched all of Season 1 and 2 - and last night started watching Season 3. I know I'll finish all of the episodes, but Season 3 is a tremendous letdown. Apparently Spencer Milligan couldn't come to an agreement on salary because in the opening scenes of the new season he either dies or goes home - you're never really sure. Almost immediately, Holly and Will's uncle Jack arrives. It isn't that Ron Harper does a bad really DO want to like Uncle Jack. But the whole series is lacking...suddenly the Pakuni Cha-Ka is able to speak broken English, the plots seem to swing wildly between the pedantic happenings around their home base to incredibly far-fetched Sleestack stories. It's like they suddenly wanted to out-Star Trek the original Star Trek series. Maybe Season 3 will get better. The reviews of the series don't give me much hope...but I'm going to enjoy the rest of the ride.

Sometime...when you need to escape the perils of your day-to-day life...pull up the series on YouTube (all 43 episodes are out there) and remember that no matter how bad your day is - at least you didn't have to battle Sleestacks.

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