Marshall, Will, and Holly: These three simple names are a generational mantra of sorts. Recite them in front of any American who was reared in the ’70s and you’re likely to elicit an immediate (sung!) response: ”On a routine expedition…”
I am referring, of course, to the opening theme to Land of the Lost. This classic Saturday-morning series was created by Sid and Marty Krofft, the creative juggernauts behind H.R. Pufnstuf, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and Donny & Marie. The Kroffts’ peculiar brand of wholesome psychedelia defined an era in which no pattern was too bright, no print too nauseating. But more on those two geniuses later. Land of the Lost is currently being remade as a feature film starring Will Ferrell (as Dr. Marshall), and I got to visit the set. OWNAGE!
For those who weren’t parked in front of the wood-console Zenith from ’74 to ’76, here’s a Lost primer: The aforementioned explorers Marshall, Will, and Holly are accidentally transported to some kind of prehistoric dimension where dinosaurs roar, humanoid creatures (called Pakuni) roam, and waterfalls look incredibly fake. The rubbery villains of this world are called Sleestaks — picture the Creature from the Black Lagoon armed with a crossbow. Very effective, especially if you’re 8 years old and hopped up on Frankenberry.
Upon arriving at the Universal lot, I’m directed to an airplane-hangar-size soundstage tricked out to look like a Sleestak temple. It actually takes my breath away; I’ve never been on a set of such massive scale. The first thing I notice is how the production design, extravagant though it may be, manages to retain the camp charm of the original show. Rocks look like fantasy rocks, in the best possible way. Storybook moss creeps across rugged stone paths. A suspended iron cage intended for poor Holly (played by Anna Friel) evokes those great Chuck Heston-style adventure movies of yesteryear. Best of all, there’s a menacing lava pit surrounded by a bay of talking Sleestak-head oracles. ”When they’re turned on, their eyes glow. It gets totally Vegas in here,” director Brad Silberling says, pleased.
Take heart, geeks — Silberling is a bona fide LOTL fanboy. He’s also an incredibly Zen dude; on the day of my visit, Silberling is months into a complicated shoot, and yet he’s still grinning behind the monitor. I was really hoping to witness a David O. Russell-esque meltdown, so I am somewhat disappointed. Aren’t directors supposed to throw things? When do the writers get lowered into that lava pit? Where’s the off-camera Sleestak melee?
NEXT PAGE: ”The ’70s show only had three Sleestak suits to outfit an entire race. The new movie has an entire Sleestak-only wardrobe tent.”