I picked this up solely because Larry Niven wrote three episodes. I had no idea what I was getting myself into at the time.
Cast and Crew
Starring Wesley as Will Marshall, Spencer Milligan as Rick Marshall, and Kathy Coleman as Holly Marshall.
Written by Ben Bova, D.C. Fontana, David Gerrold, Walter Koenig, Dick Morgan, Larry Niven, and Norman Spinrad. (At least; there may be a couple of other names I don’t recall.)
Directed by several individuals whose names I don’t recognize.
This, the first season, aired in fall of 1974.
The theme song pretty much covers it:
Marshall, Will and Holly,
on a routine expedition,
met the greatest earthquake ever known.
High on a rapid,
it struck their tiny raft,
and plunged them down a thousand feet below,
to the Land of the Lost.
This show aired Saturday mornings. It’s not a cartoon, but has several puppet and stop motion dinosaurs throughout.
The best single episode is “The Search,” written by Ben Bova. There was a significant amount of tension in the story, even for a kids show.
In general, the best thing about this series was the writing staff they managed to get together. It’s incredible that so many of these writers chose to participate.
The kiddie-fication of the scripts was unavoidable, given the intention of the show’s producers. The part that should have been avoidable was the poor visual effects. Stop motion shouldn’t get blurry, nor have double images appearing on the screen, but this does. The blue screen use is obvious, as well. The effects are bad enough to ruin some episodes entirely.
The only originality comes in selecting the writing staff by choosing established sci-fi writers. Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” covers the rest of the show. I give it 2 out of 6.
The effects are awful. There’s just no other description, and no effect that looks convincing in any way. I give it 1 out of 6.
The stories being told had issues. Some were just the cornball stuff that we saw in the worst of Star Trek: The Original Series, while other material was actually pretty good. The Ben Bova episode and Larry Niven episodes were quite well written, as were some others, but most were heavy-handed and lacking subtlety to the point that they would seem disrespectful to the intelligence of even the intended audience. I give it 4 out of 6.
The acting is only marginally better than the effects. Each cast member has natural seeming moments, but they are all infrequent. I give it 3 out of 6.
The emotional response in episodes like “The Search” and “Hurricane” is good, being strong and as the writer intended. Other episodes were just a source of laughter and irritation, with effects that detract from an already weak script. I give it 3 out of 6.
The production was awful. Dry ice, styrofoam, and cheap rubber suits must have been a significant portion of the budget, with uniform area lighting covering much of the rest. There’s a scene in “The Search” in which Enik leaves the cave, and casts a shadow on the sky on his way out. In “Hurricane,” two people on a mountain top are discussing future plans, while a seam in the background (through sky and mountain) is clearly visible centered between them. There are times the characters point in one direction as the direction they must travel, only to walk another way to avoid hitting the background of the set. It just shows poor or inadequate planning all around. I give it 2 out of 6.
Overall, it’s not highly recommended. I picked up a copy because I feel compelled to own all that Larry Niven has written. Otherwise, you’ll need some pretty strong nostalgia for the title, or some very young children, to make this worth your while. (If you have kids, it is worth your while; it’s as badly produced as most kiddie shows, it’s true, but this one has limited violence, and it’s all treated as serious business. Problem solving is far more valued, which is a good message to be sending out.) I give it 3 out of 6.
In total, Land of the Lost: Season One receives 18 out of 42. The second season is also available, but that one didn’t manage this writing staff, so I doubt I’ll ever pick it up.