Land of the Lost

Land of the Lost
NBC - Premiered 9-7-74

Land of the Lost Marshall, Will, and Holly
On a routine expedition
Met the greatest earthquake ever known
High on the rapids
It struck their tiny raft
And plunged them down a thousand feet below
To the Land of the Lost...

The Marshall family - consisting of widower Rick Marshall and kids Will and Holly - are on a camping trip out West when the raft they're riding in plunges over a waterfall and apparently through a time-and-space vortex, depositing them in a pocket universe populated with creatures from several different times and places. 'Native' species include a variety of dinosaurs (few of which actually lived together during the same era of Earth's own history); semi-intelligent ape-men called 'Pakuni', who speak their own language; and a barbaric, devolved species of marginally intelligent, tall, hissing green creatures dubbed 'Sleestaks' by a long-since-dead soldier also trapped in the Land (conflicting accounts define them alternately as insects and lizards, while they have also been likened to lobsters and mutant human-lizard-crabs).

The Marshall family struggles to survive in their hostile environment, searching for a way to return to their own time and world. Along the way, they encounter bizarre time and space anomalies, alien technology, explore the ruins of a once great city, occasionally meet new friends and foes (most of whom also accidentally passed through a time doorway), and learn many lessons about working together and with cultures very different from their own.

Such was Land of the Lost, one of the greatest and most fondly-remembered children's shows ever to grace Saturday morning television. For those of us lucky enough to be around - and be the right age - when it premiered, the show offered a weekly foray into a far-out world where anything goes - a world full of mysteries and adventure, and enough danger to satisfy any thrill-seeking kid.

The dinosaurs were wonderful; though sometimes clumsily animated (especially the case with the childlike brontosaurus nicknamed 'Dopey'), they still presented enough thrills to excite us kids who tuned in - many was the time when we watched anxiously as the Marshall family struggled to climb back up into their cave before the local meat-eating monster (usually a Tyrannosaurus called 'Grumpy') could lumber over to gobble them up. The Pakuni were interesting enough, though they tended to become annoying after awhile.

And the Sleestaks - hoo boy, did those skinny sauropods invade our nightmares with their crytalline eyes and hissing voices! These menaces were smartly introduced almost right away in the show, providing a constant and fascinating danger for the main characters. They would become even more fascinating when we were introduced to Enik, one of their advanced progenitors, who could speak and who lacked the warlike tendencies of his ancestors. Enik helped the Marshalls to understand that, although the Land of the Lost seemed very strange to their mortal human eyes, there was an almost infinite amount of strangeness of which they never could learn.

And that was one of the main draws of the series. Unlike most children's - and adults' - TV shows, LotL not only had a continuity, its fictional world sported a backstory that went on - well, forever. Each week we learned a little more about this little pocket universe, but that was offset by the fact that the more we learned about the place, the more mysterious it became: the more questions that needed to be answered. Geeky kids (like me) who were really into this sort of thing, or who simply paid attention, could soon amass a certain amount of knowledge about this fictional world and its various anomalies.

But the coolest thing was, it didn't stop there - our imaginations wouldn't let it. In our minds we could continue to explore the Land, meeting various foes and allies both established and made up by us on the spot. I remember riding my bike on old dirt roads that wound through an undeveloped neighborhood, pretending I was careening through the Land of the Lost and dodging dinosaurs at each curve. Pals got together and divided ourselves up as humans and Sleestaks (it helped if the latter kids were taller) and chased one another around the block. Rocks became power crystals that we could throw together at the feet of our enemies to cause massive explosions. The Land of the Lost, despite its myriad fantasy and sci-fi elements, held together well enough that we could do that. It was a beautifully realized fictional universe.

Though somewhat laughable now, the effects on the show were actually pretty good for the time - very good, in some cases. Stop-motion animation was used to convey the dinosaurs' antics (I remember being fascinated by the 'Old City' and wishing I could go there and look around - without all the dangers, of course), except for a few moments when hand-held puppets were used (such as the Tyrannosaurus's famous roar that ended the opening credits). College basketball players were used to fill out the tall, skinny Sleestak outfits - and as an adult I was stunned to learn that, besides Enik, there were only two regular Sleestak suits in use during the series. It always seemed to us kids that there were more Sleestaks running around than that, but in fact it was a trick of memory (and clever cinematography).

It is noteworthy that the language of the Pakuni ape-people was developed by linguist Victoria Fromkin, both for internal consistency and to help bring a slight dose of credulity. The speech was a modified form of a West African language, and was introduced gradually so that young viewers could become familiar with its usage.

The Land of the Lost lasted only three seasons, for a total of 43 episodes. During the third season, dad Rick (Spencer Milligan) was replaced by the conveniently-also-Lost uncle Jack (Ron Harper, who had previously starred in the Planet of the Apes TV series). The second season saw a slight decline in quality; perhaps due to demands from parents and the network, the shows were no longer truly scary. Some episodes still provided intelligent adventures and moral challenges, but others had tacky humor apparently to cater to more dim-witted kids. Some of the special effects got cheaper (cave floors were unrealistically flat and clean), and too many episodes dealt with the Pakuni (Chaka's character developed quite well, but Ta's declined into a rude antagonist). Season three saw yet another slight drop, but it always remained interesting to say the least.

All in all, Land of the Lost lives on in the memories of thousands - perhaps millions - of adults, those who sought entertainment full of mystery and thrills, far-out fantasy and incredible enemies. In the backs of our minds, I think most of us imagine that such a weird and wonderful place exists somewhere out there, between worlds, outside of our normal bounds of time and space, a little self-contained world where all manner of creatures become trapped and live out a twilight existence. Who knows - in an infinite universe, maybe it does... patiently awaiting its moment to trap even us.

Rick Marshall - Spencer Milligan
Will(iam) Marshall - Wesley Eure
Holly Marshall - Kathy Coleman
Uncle Jack - Ron Harper
Chaka - Phillip Paley
Enik - Walker Edmiston

Land of the Lost Episode List

Season One:
The Sleestak God
Tag Team
The Stranger
The Hole
The Paku Who Came To Dinner
The Search
The Possession
Follow That Dinosaur
Stone Soup

Season Two:
Tar Pit
The Zarn
Fair Trade
One of Our Pylons is Missing
The Test
Gravity Storm
The Longest Day
The Pylon Express
A Nice Day
Baby Sitter
Split Personality

Season Three:
Survival Kit
The Orb
The Repairman
The Medusa
Flying Dutchman
Hot-Air Artist
Abominable Snowman
Ancient Guardian
Medicine Man