15 Years Later, Maybe We Treated Land of the Lost Too Harshly

A pair of Sleestaks at Rich Correll's Icons Of Darkness VIP Celebration
A pair of Sleestaks at Rich Correll's Icons Of Darkness VIP Celebration / Michael Tullberg/GettyImages

There was a time when there were so many comedy movies hitting theaters that, inevitably, multiple comedies had to open on the same day. There were only so many Fridays in one year, after all. Certain comedies would have to share release dates. So it was the first Friday of June 2009, June 5, when The Hangover and Land of the Lost both hit theaters. The latter title had Will Ferrell, a familiar brand name rooted in a 1970s kid’s show, and lots of special effects. On paper, Land of the Lost would’ve seemed like the easy victor against The Hangover, which was anchored by a trio of then-unknown leads. Instead, The Hangover became a pop culture phenomenon. Land of the Lost, meanwhile, became an instant box office bomb and garnered some of the worst reviews for a mainstream movie in 2009.

In the intervening years, Land of the Lost’s reputation has only gotten worse. The Hangover spawned two sequels that kept the original film on people’s minds while Lost faded deeper into obscurity. that Land of the Lost was one of the worst movies ever made at the studio. There was no happy ending for Land of the Lost and it doesn’t look like it’ll get any kind of creative redemption arc any time soon. And yet…maybe we were slightly too harsh on Land of the Lost. More precisely, 15 years later, certain elements moviegoers took for granted in 2009 now seem easier to appreciate.

Adapted from the 1974-1976 Sid & Marty Krofft TV show of the same name, Land of the Lost concerns disgraced figure Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell) seeking out a way to prove his widely mocked theory about "quantum paleontology." Alongside Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel), one of the few people who actually believes in Marshall, he travels to an abandoned theme park that might hold the answers he's been looking for. This duo, along with the owner of this theme park, Will Stanton (Danny McBride), eventually find themselves in a mysterious "Land of the Lost," a nexus point of all kinds of weird creatures. Fighting off dinosaurs and a nefarious race of critters known as Sleestaks, these three are now scrambling to get back home.

Writing down this plot summary, it occurred to me that one key flaw ingrained in Land of the Lost is its complexity. Screenwriters Chris Henchy and Dennis McNicholas opted to overhaul the original TV show's dynamic of a father and his two kids into three adults with no familial relationship to one another. There was also an attempt to provide greater context for how these figures got to the Land of the Lost, a backstory that the TV show largely ignored in favor of dinosaur and Sleestak mayhem. This means Land of the Lost spends too much screentime trying to justify its eventual descent to the titular location and why these three people are sticking together. Compare that to The Hangover, which had a very simple premise (“three men wake up one morning after heavy drinking…they don’t remember what happened”) that people could latch onto.

A greater problem hindering Land of the Lost in both 2009 and 2024, meanwhile, is how it crystallizes the shabby roles afforded women in male-led 2000s comedies. Like countless other yukfest’s from this era, Holly doesn’t get to be goofy, silly, or enjoyably deranged like the boy characters. She’s usually a “straight man” to the shenanigans of Marhsall and Stanton. Worse yet, Henchy and McNicholas keep resorting to an obsession with her breasts for jokes in the film, including an early gag where Stanton says Holly “may get wet” riding down dangerous rapids. Land of the Lost was just one of many 2000s comedies (including The Hangover!) to engage in such reductive roles for lady characters and miss out on opportunities for more exciting gags

Given these problems, what makes Land of the Lost notable 15 years after its release? For one thing, it’s easily one of the weirder Will Ferell box office bombs out there. Other flops from this leading man like The House and Holmes & Watson are incredibly calculated affairs. You can easily see how then-recent comedy hits informed their existence. Land of the Lost isn’t devoid of derivative elements itself, of course. Even the choice of director Brad Siberling to update this 1970s kids' show feels like an attempt to mimic Siberling’s box office success helming a 1995 film adaptation of Casper.

However, Land of the Lost has way more weirder flourishes than The House or even lucrative Ferrell movies like the dismal Daddy’s Home. Take the sequence where an ice cream vendor gets devoured on-screen by a bunch of dinosaurs. A sequence where the showtune "I Hope I Get It" helps get our lead characters out of a jam involving a pack of pterosaurs is also a lot more bizarre than any of the gags in something like Get Hard. Even the mere sight of a rubber-suit Sleestak speaking with the gravitas-infused voice of Leonard Nimoy is a much more peculiar sight than anything in The Campaign.

After Land of the Lost, Ferrell would mostly be on autopilot save for incredibly enjoyable supporting performances in The LEGO Movie, Quiz Lady, and Barbie. At least Land of the Lost took some chances in its merging of stoner humor with grand VFX spectacle. Similarly, the visual elements of Land of the Lost are much easier to appreciate in our modern comedy movie landscape. Today, comedies are dumped on Netflix with stale overly bright cinematography that just makes everything look like it belongs on CBS. Titles like Strays, Tag, Stuber, and countless others have such lifeless digital camerawork, which inevitably dilutes the impact of their gags.

Land of the Lost, meanwhile, was filmed on 35mm film on hordes of practical sets and costumes (including the rubbery outfits for the Sleestaks). In an era where the average Kevin Hart or Adam Sandler movie feels like it was filmed with no real consideration, the tangibility Land of the Lost‘s spectacle is way easier to appreciate. Even when a gag falls flat (and many jokes do crumble), it’s easy to appreciate massive crystals or pretty foliage in the background. Plus, the best Land of the Lost jokes juxtapose sets that could belong to a straightforward adventure movie with amusingly nonchalant Danny McBride line deliveries. Look at what exciting humor possibilities unfold when you actually give your comedy movie some visual heft!

It doesn’t hurt that Danny McBride and Will Ferrell are a solid comic duo in what’s shockingly their only time collaborating as on-screen actors in a movie. Ferrell appeared on McBride's HBO show Eastbound & Down and helped get McBride’s first big movie, The Foot Fist Way, domestic distribution. However, Land of the Lost would be the only major motion picture where Ferrell and McBride shared the screen. A pity they never collaborated more as the two do have solid chemistry playing off one another. Colliding the easily flustered nature of Ferrell with the relentless boneheaded candor of McBride informs the greatest jokes in Land of the Lost, including one running gag about “never trust a man in a tunic.”

Land of the Lost has its fair share of charms, even if they’re often smothered by the kind of easy misogyny and over-convoluted narrative impulses that many 2000s comedies suffered from. 15 years removed from its debut, it’s easy to see why the more compact down-to-EarthThe Hangover resonated with people. It’s also equally easy to get bummed about how far American comedy movies have fallen in their cinematography in just 15 years. Even a title like Land of the Lost had clearly more care put into its camerawork and sets than the majority of modern yukfest’s. Considering those better-than-expected visual flourishes, maybe there is something modern comedies could totally stand to learn from the Land of the Lost.

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