Sunday, July 5, 2009

Land of the Lost (2009)

The key to decoding Land of the Lost comes from a 70's pop song, played three-fourths of the way into the movie, that croons, among other lyrics, “summer breeze makes you feel fine.” The movie is nothing more or less than a summer breeze, a sweet-and-sour candy confection, lightweight, insubstantial, and not at all good for you. The movie takes the basic concept of the cult-favorite 70s show (and the mostly forgotten 90s series remake) and turns it into a freewheeling, goofball Will Ferrell plot with googly-eyed pop-art set design by Bo Welch and stylish direction from Brad Silberling. This isn’t a great film but it works, at least some of the time, on its own terms.

Ferrell plays Dr. Rick Marshall, a washed up paleontologist who lives in shame from his outburst on The Today Show, a scene that opens the movie with a funny performance from Matt Lauer and great callbacks to a certain movie star’s appearance on the same program. Marshall is encouraged by Holly (Anna Friel), the only scientist who believes his theories about time warps, to test out his theories. They meet up with Will, an ambitious redneck carny (the always funny Danny McBride), for a routine expedition that soon encounters the greatest earthquake ever known. The three of them end up in the Land of the Lost, a funky world where lizard-people, monkey-people and dinosaurs coexist with other strange flora and fauna, not to mention the copious cultural detritus like a hotel, mannequins, and an ice cream truck.

There’s an off-kilter charm to the set design and special effects. I was thoroughly delighted by Enik, a lizard-scientist who greets our heroes and agrees to help them return home. The plot seems almost incidental to these characters that stumble and bumble around this strange land. There’s no real reason for them to be there, so thoroughly ill-equipped to handle the zaniness around them. There’s a palpable disconnect to the style that has these people starkly standing out from the background, the semi-fake scenery and the collision of the kiddy humor and adult innuendoes. It is this very disconnect that provides an uneasy tension and a source of humor. This doesn’t play out like a good-natured spoofing of a classic show, nor does it roll out as a slick fantasy thriller. Rather, the film shuffles through a combination of the two with truly odd commitment to both halves. It’s a film that never really comes together, but the odd tension at its center (driven by a bongo and banjo score by Michael Giacchino) makes it compelling and entertaining.

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