Movie Review: Land of the Lost | Science | Smithsonian
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Movie Review: Land of the Lost

When I walked into the theater to see the big-screen adaptation of Land of the Lost, I wasn't expecting high art. Indeed, with a cast starring Will Ferrell and a story featuring dinosaurs, "ape-men," a high-tech device that plays tunes from A Chorus Line, and Matt Lauer, the big-budget summer comed...

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When I walked into the theater to see the big-screen adaptation of Land of the Lost, I wasn't expecting high art. Indeed, with a cast starring Will Ferrell and a story featuring dinosaurs, "ape-men," a high-tech device that plays tunes from A Chorus Line, and Matt Lauer, the big-budget summer comedy is little more than an irreverent take on a cult classic. The problem is that it just isn't very funny.

The plot of the film can be summed up fairly easily. The discredited "quantum paleontologist" Rick Marshall (Ferrell) is inspired to finish a machine by Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) that can detect time warps; she is a scientist who was kicked out of Cambridge for believing in Marshall's ideas. With the device complete they go out for a field test, but this requires that they hire the services of the crude fireworks-salesman Will Stanton (Danny McBride). Together they plunge through a time warp where they quickly meet the ape-like Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone) and their nemesis, "Grumpy" the Tyrannosaurus, along with the reptilian Sleestaks and other dinosaurs.

There is a larger plot that holds the film as a whole together, but it largely seems secondary to the film's main purpose: providing Ferrell and McBride opportunities to ad-lib and goof around. Ferrell, at least, is not so much acting as being himself and reciting the lines given to Marshall's character, and it is a little painful to watch him phone it in for the duration of the film. This is made even worse by the fact that there are more misses than hits when it comes to the movie's humor. There are a few clever sight gags, like the fate of a giant crab that menaces the travelers, but many of the jokes center on bodily functions of one kind of another. Despite the presence of dinosaurs and the kid-friendliness of the source material, this is not a kids' movie.

But, more importantly, what about the dinosaurs?

There are certainly a number of relatively minor points I could pick out, but when a critical part of your film is Will Ferrell riding a Tyrannosaurus, it might be best not to get too aggravated over scientific accuracy. Indeed, while the dinosaurs are more realistic than their stop-motion counterparts from the show, they are still embellished to have a bit of personality, and that often works well. Grumpy, in fact, was my favorite character in the entire film (but maybe that's because he was trying to eat the unfunny folks and thus bring the movie to a quicker end).

There are two scientific points that did bug me a bit, though. During one scene we briefly see Compsognathus and non-descript "raptors," two coelurosaurian dinosaurs closely related to birds. We now know that these dinosaurs were probably covered in feathers, and as paleontologist Thomas Holtz pointed out in his own review, it is time for Hollywood to stop showing us naked dinosaurs. Secondly, there are a LOT of predatory dinosaurs in this film, but scarcely a herbivore to be seen. The explorers would be nearly constantly running into plant-eating dinosaurs in an area with so many predators, and while the existence of at least one hadrosaur is alluded to, we never see it or it veggie-loving companions. Maybe I'm just a little sore because I wanted to see more dinosaurs, but ecology teaches us that there would have been many, many more herbivorous dinosaurs than rampaging, carnivorous ones.

While Land of the Lost might appeal to some (namely 12-year-old boys who think bathroom humor is the best kind of comedy there is), I would recommend waiting for the DVD. The idea had a lot of potential, and the visual effects team did a great job of making a strange lost world, but some of the dinosaurs had more personality than Ferrell did. Perhaps the studio execs were hoping that this movie would re-vitalize the franchise, but I think this film might mark its extinction instead.
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About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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