Sunday, June 7, 2009

Land of the Lost 90s style...

This weekend the first official stinker of the 2009 movie season hit theaters with the release of Will Ferrel's version of Land of the Lost. With a budget of over 100 million dollars the film opened nationwide to a meager 17 million dollar take at the box office.
I, like many other fans of the previous Land of the Lost shows did not go see it for the simple reason that it's just not the Land of the Lost I grew up with.

I was not even alive when the original show aired, but when the 90s version premiered back in 1991, I tuned in and soon became hooked. Many fans of the original have bashed this version to no end, but I was only around 11 years old when it aired and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I tuned in every Saturday morning to ABC for the continuing adventures of the Porter family as they tried to figure out a way back to their world week after week.

This version of Land of the Lost followed the Porter family ( their Dad Tom, son Kevin and daughter Annie) a they become trapped after their Jeep falls through an earthquake fissure in the ground during a vacation trip. A time portal appears right in front of them immediately after falling into the opening in the ground. After arriving in this new realm they meet a beautiful human girl named Christa who came from 1960's San Francisco. Christa was also trapped in the Land of the Lost when she was very young and grew up alone.

They also meet up with "Stink", a chimp-like Pakuni, and the lizard-like Sleestak. Annie rescues a dinosaur egg and soon the baby dino Tasha is born. Three exiled Sleestak criminals named Shung, Keeg and Nim offer plenty of problems for the porter family as well as a one-eyed T - rex named Scarface. The family ends up building a tree house and settling into their new digs, without giving up hope of some day finding their way back to their true home. The show ran for two seasons as part of ABC's Saturday morning line up.

Only 13 episodes were produced each season and ABC continued re-airing them for another year after the show had ceased production. The new version of Land of the Lost came about when ABC executives asked the famed kid show producers Syd and Marty Kroft to fill a half hour slot in the Saturday morning schedule. After thinking about it they decided to go back to their most popular creation and re-envision it. At the time they were also developing a film version of the concept with Steve Guttenberg attached. The show proved very popular during its initial 13 episode run and ABC was quick to order a second batch of episodes for the following season.

The special effects for this version of the show were light years ahead of the rough stop motion and video composites from the original series. This new version of the show featured stop motion effects from the Chiodo brothers, who also served as producers on the show. The Chiodo's were well known stop motion animators whose previous credits included such films as Critters, and even the Tim Burton directed short Vincent. The original show was always shot on soundstages using video cameras, but the new show was entirely shot on location in the Descanso Gardens forrest in southern California utilizing film cameras instead of video tape. Each episode was shot over the period of four days.

According to the Chiodos the FX technique utilized in the original show was to animate the stop motion puppets in miniature sets, then composite the live action footage onto that -- ending up with a frame that was 90% miniature and 10% live action. For the 90s version the stop motion dinosaurs would be composited onto live action plates shot on location with the actors, reversing the technique and ending up with a frame that was 90% real instead. The arsenal of FX techniques employed by the Chiodo's on the show wasn't limited to stop motion animation. They also utilized animatronics, performers in suits, perspective shots, blue screen shots, and puppetry.

The Toy Line...

During the show's second season Tiger Toys picked up the license to produce toys and games based on the show. Known for their handheld electronic games Tiger went on to produce an extensive product line for the show which included their usual electronic games, as well as board games, and a line of action figures, playsets, vehicles, and accessories.

The action figure line consisted of two assortments. The basic and the deluxe electronic assortment which included backpacks with prerecorded dialogue for each character.

As part of the toy line multiple vehicles and plaseyts were released including the Porter family tree house and the exiled sleestak's lair. Both playsets featured some sort of electronic compoenent.

Scar, the T-rex was also released as a 9 inch electronic toy which could roar, move it's head and arms, and with a light up feature in his eyes.

some of the vehicles and accessories included the Porter's Jeep, a catapult known as the boulder bomber, a sailing raft, and a Pterodactyl which would serve as a glider.

Tiger also released a "stink" doll and a role play weapon based on the Sleestak crystal sword.
It was a pretty impressive assortment for a show that only lasted two seasons. I remember seeing the action figures at my local Toys R Us, but they weren't around for long.

Other companies released more items based on the show such as JusToys which released a line of Bend-Ems figures and Republic pictures which released the first season's worth of episodes on VHS at a rate of two episodes per tape. I still remember many of the shows storylines and how much I enjoyed it back then. With the release of the new film and the re-release of the original series on DVD I really thought we'd finally get the 90's version on DVD, but so far it hasn't happened nor have any announcements been made regarding a future release. This would be a perfect show for a company like Shout Factory to release as a complete series collection. I'm crossing my fingers, but with the failure of the new film to attract a wide audience at the box office it seems rather unlikely.


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