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Non-Review Review: Land of the Lost

What an odd film. Part buddy comedy, part adventure movie parody, Land of the Lost is a chronic mess of a film. However, I see cult appeal looming on the horizon. At the very least, it should become a solid stoner movie.

The only thing scary than one lumbering extra in a fake-looking reptile costume is five lumbering extras in fake-looking reptile costumes...

I think that critics might have been more than a little unfair to the film on initial release. I’m not making the case that the movie is an ill-appreciated classic or anything so radical or crazy. Merely that the movie is quite entertaining, if approached in the right frame of mind. I certainly got more than a few giggles and a constant smile on my face.

I will concede that the movie is not for everyone. In an audience of five, two people hated it, one was indifferent and two quite enjoyed it. It is a jumble and mess – simply put, it’s not a very well put together film. It’s jumble of ideas which don’t particular fit well together and two contrasting elements (Will Ferell comedy and epic fantasy adventure) which probably don’t share much of an overlap in fandom and which – to be entirely honest – don’t necessarily compliment each other. And then there’s very simply the issue of the movie’s self-awareness, which is a tough thing to play just right at the best of times. Unless you accept that the Sleestak are meant to look cheap and trashy (albeit in an effectively stylised manner) or that the CGI used in the dinosaurs is meant to look endearingly fake, you’ll likely spend most of the movie’s runtime shaking your head.

And that’s the truth. It isn’t a movie for everyone. On the other hand, I quite enjoyed it.

I quite enjoyed it’s deconstruction of the epic mystery land fantasy movie – think King Kong, both original and more modern versions – populated with creatures who can’t make sense and effects that can’t truly be effectively realised by the technology at the time. Witness the was that the Sleestak are certainly more effective creations than they were in their original form, but they maintain their rustic appeal – their ‘narm charm’ as it were. This is what might be termed stylised suck – an intentional attempt by the filmmakers to reference an entirely ridiculously construct that isn’t poe-faced. Think of it as the next evolution of the Gorn race from Star Trek.

At the same time, the movie gleefully plays with the tropes of the epic adventure movie. Will Stanton spends the movie trying to get his two steadfast companions to react in a less stoic way to the highly improbable world that they are presented with. Or when Will and and Rick infiltrate the Sleestak in that way that most heroes infiltrate a large faceless organisation – by camoflage (resulting in a ridiculous sequence where they both end up wearing shed skin). And then there’s the fact that the actual plot – a fairly conventional tale of misplaced kings and locked-away leaders and planned invasions through time-and-space – is generally ignored by the characters (and the movie itself), as if to suggest that the whole thing is so ridiculously formulaic, you don’t need us to focus on it to follow it along. Or a moment near the end of the film where Will passes on a bag of explosives to a doomed Rick, who astutely observes that there were at least a dozen earlier scenarios where they would have come in handy. But such is the plot structure of a fantasy epic: items are only revealed when they are directly relevant to the situation at hand (and the movie subverts that one too).

The eponymous ‘Land of the Lost’, a cosmic lost-and-found is a fantastically tacky creation. And I mean that as a complement. It is composed of realms, as many fictional worlds are – desert, forest, volcano – and each looks endearingly fake. Like a soundstage. Notice how the trees are all identical and positioned in a grid formation. Or how the cave or volcano look like sets from the original Star Trek. The desert region itself is an incredibly imaginary construct, populated with items lost in time itself, where the Golden Gate Bridge sits aside a Viking ship or an ice cream van or a desert motel. It’s trashy, high-concept fantasy – like something you’d see on a cover of a cheap paperback – but it is endearingly so.

The rest of the film’s comedy arises from the standard buddy comedy formula. Will Ferell plays the sort of arrogant know-nothing (who thinks he knows it all) that he normally does and Danny McBride is the same sort of sleazy wheeler-dealer that we’ve come to recognise him as over the past few years. Admittedly some of the routine feels a little staid and unamusing – as I remarked in my review of Step-Brothers, it seems to be present in every comedy we see these days – but it works when it is combined with the ridiculous fantasy sequences. One of the film’s best gags has Will asking Rick if he ever gets tired of being wrong. Seeing Rick being chased by a T-Rex in the background while shouting “I do – I really do!” just works. Maybe Will Ferrell’s films just need more dinosaurs.

The involvement of Ferrell and McBride does cause a bit of a conundrum for the film, to be honest. As much as the two may be cast in familiar roles, this isn’t a typical film from them. It feels like they never really have free reign to indulge the more over-the-top character-based comedy which they areboth famous for. I am personally quite happy about that, but I can see a good few fans turning up and leaving scratching their heads wondering what they just paid to see. Still, neither is really doing anything too far outside their comfort zone, it’s just that they don’t have a huge amount of room to work, given everything else going on.

Anna Friel is the real revelation of the cast as Holly. Despite not really being given much to do or by way of personality, she manages to fully embrace the campy and kitsch value of the script (wasting no time fashioning hotpants, for example). Jorma Taccone (of The Lonely Island) is great as a pervy Monkey King.

I don’t think the film is by any means an unappreciated masterpiece. I do, however, think it is a significantly stronger film than, say, Starsky and Hutch (not that that is too difficult) and that it certainly deserves a lot more credit than it has received. Yes, it certainly deserved to get trounced by The Hangover and Up – two far superior films – but it is a unique mainstream production and an affectionate bit of nostalgia for the campy kitsch of the 1960s. I’ll concede that it doesn’t entirely succeeding in merging the modern buddy comedy with that retro-chic (for example a scene of Ferrell dancing through a volcano), but it is interesting and endearingly earnest. The artistic design alone at least makes it worth a look.

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