Monday, February 21, 2011

Land Of The Lost S1 Ep2: The Sleestak God

Land Of The Lost was particularly noteworthy and special for establishing a real sense of place. Nearly every location shot in its pocket universe is so well designed and storyboarded the series created one of the most memorable worlds ever committed to television. Further, they did it on a shoestring.
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The continuing adventures of Marshal, Will and Holly pick right up where they left off. Writer David Gerrold returns for his second scripted installment and brings a bit of continuity to the proceedings with the return of a splinted Cha-Ka. Gerrold properly sets the tone in the series by really establishing a mythology and a sense of place right from the start. He would return later in Season One for three more scripts.
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Land Of The Lost, Season One, Episode 2, The Sleestak God really builds upon the universe first established in the opener. The images included really speak to some of those classic sites from the series often revisited.
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Apart from Cha-Ka's ongoing fascination with water, we are introduced to Allosaurus Big Alice, a Triceratops, the Sleestak temple and other dry ice-laden props and goodies. Honestly, how Cha-Ka knows "ota!" [fire], but appears intrigued by water seems a bit incongruous. After all, there does appear to be running water in this world for sustenance. Truthfully, I don't expect Land Of The Lost to get it right every time. It was hardly intended for ruthless dissection by the adult mind to be fair. But, Land Of The Lost establishes its own rules and its own special guidelines and is fairly consistent in playing within its framework. Moments like this have The One To Be Pitied wishing I was taking on something a little more challenging like Daniel Defoe's A Journal Of The Plague Year [1722].
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Land Of The Lost is a fully immersive experience because of the "bottom-up" storytelling established in the first two episodes by Gerrold. The adventure begins and sets the tone of the lost Marshall family as they are clearly making the best of a clearly very bad situation and wisely making that little cave their home away from home in the meantime.
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Siblings Will and Holly are sent on the daily water run and Will eludes to getting to the water hole via a shortcut. It's just like kids to find the quickest route in their neighborhood or surroundings to get home and these folks are getting to know their terrain well. The creators are also establishing this lost pocket world and its dangers very quickly, but it's never rushed.
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Will and Holly stumble upon our first real look at the lost city and Sleestak temple and their first run-in with Big Alice on their trek for water. Cha-Ka shadows the siblings. Cleverly adapting, Will and Holly communicate in code, via mirror and light refraction, to their father informing him they have found a lost city and are okay.
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The one flaw in the writing early on by Gerrold is making Will dumber than he appears. Given his age he should be a little sharper as tools go. Some of his retorts to Holly are just plain stupid. Holly deserves better intel, but he's a great big brother.

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So, walking in circles Holly continues to sound smarter than her elder brother. This may have contributed to my belief that girls were smarter than boys growing up, well, that, and a girl from my elementary school. Anyway, both surprise Cha-Ka who has been following them. Cha-Ka runs and Will gives chase smack dab into the loving arms of Spike, the resident, friendly, neighborhood Triceratops. The cheesy effects are amazingly believable. Even today I still enjoy what they were able to pull off once upon a time despite the horribly low budget.
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It's also worth noting that whoever mixed the audio track on these video to DVD transfers did a horrendous job as sound effects and music, including a moment in the initial theme song all slow down and speed back. That's unforgivable. You'll laugh out loud. It's audibly clear to the human ear and is simply unconscionable in this day and age.
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Will, Holly and Cha-Ka duck off behind a rock and evade the pursuing dinosaur. Will removes Cha-Ka's splint established in Episode 1, Cha-Ka.
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Will and Holly stumble upon some spray-painted writing on a rock, "BEWARE OF SLEESTAK." Who could have written those words in this crazy world? Of course, someday we'll find out more. Until then, suddenly, the bug-eyed Sleestaks swarm upon the kids with their scary hissing sound and abduct them. Cha-Ka runs off to find Rick Marshall to inform him of their abduction with his crazy Pakuni speak. Saturday morning adventure just got a whole lot more exciting with the arrival of one of the 1970s scariest creations. This was the stuff of nightmares for children the world over. NO BLOODY QUESTION ABOUT IT!

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Genuine Alien abduction!
Cha-Ka expresses with great fear and excitement that Will and Holly have been abducted. "Sareesa tacca! Sareesa tacca! Two sassa!" [translated as "Sleestaks! Sleestaks! Two children"- that's my take]. It's something to that effect, but see for yourself as Rick himself finally gets the hint that he needs to drop the conversation with monkey boy and move along from this first of many wildly frantic Cha-Ka pleas to come his way.

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The creepy accompanying score provides a good bit of mood to the series. The soundtrack is a wonderful accompaniment throughout the series, which is why it's so maddening to see the DVD producers paid little mind to getting it right. Truth be told, it doesn't appear much care was given to the video or audio mastering and was more or less a one shot deal at getting the series onto DVD with no budget. Adherence to a standard appears to have been a non-option.
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Will and Holly are ensnared in a net and hanging over a smoking pit where far below a great beast bellows a frightening, grumbling growl. It is none other than the Sleestak god. As a child the Sleestak god was more frightening than the dinosaurs. It was even more frightening than those horrifying Sleestaks. As kids we were scared of the Sleestaks to be sure, but here they were worshiping a faceless creature dubbed the Sleestak god. It had to be monstrous! It had to be uglier and worse than those green humanoid bugs if they were attempting to satiate its anger with the promise of human meat. Our youthful imagination ran wild over the potential that lived inside that smoking pit. We kept imagining a great beastly hand rising from the dry ice smoke below the net. But as Holly put it best, there was a "what's his name down there" and that was enough for us.
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Will finally proves to have some wit about him as a daring escape is made, but foiled by the nasty old Sleestaks.
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Against some extremely convincing mattes of this lost world and mysterious forgotten city, Rick Marshall and Cha-Ka band together complete with "torcha!," as Cha-Ka knows it, to ward off the incoming Sleestak and save the kids. Inside the creepy city's dark passageways and seemingly deep into the catacombs, Will and Holly are once again strung up netted and hanging over that pit of smoke in dire straits. Admittedly, quiet moments like this, in any great series, where the characters offer a bit of themselves, are the ones that lure us in with our affection for them.

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As Rick and Cha-Ka proceeded into the dark catacombs those bright, cheery, Captain Crunch-infested Saturday mornings quickly became a terrifying place. No amount of Franken-berry or Boo-Berry could lighten the mood from those few terrifying moments until you knew the Marshalls were safe in that cave once again.
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One thing is certain Sleestaks do not like fire or bright light, thus I'm not exactly sure why they were prowling about in the middle of the day abducting Will and Holly. Perhaps it is the heat and not the light, which makes them recoil. Fortunately, Sleestak, as frightening as they are, are hardly fleet of foot. As a kid, I remember thinking the Sleestaks were so freakishly scary it appeared the sheer touch by one of them might very well melt your skin. I was terrified. Part of me secretly hoped and prayed they would rear their ugly heads on Saturday mornings, while part of me hoped for the sweet serenity of dinosaurs. Sleestaks were just off the scare charts! But again, they weren't fast, otherwise why Rick didn't just grab them and throw them to their deaths into the great void of their own Sleestak god comes as a surprise now. Yes, those Sleestaks were so scary the sheer sight of them could have you paralyzed in fear. Yes, Rick we forgive you.
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I was completely digging this Cha-Ka cam!
The sound of a great, roaring beast envelopes the cavernous city underground as the Sleestaks close-in on Rick Marshall and Cha-Ka. The torcha is knocked into the pit and into the horror below. The room is alight with anger and bright orange red light. The diversion lasts long enough for a rescue as the Sleestaks flee and the kids are saved. All escape in a nick of time. Even Cha-Ka is safe, who, funny enough, sat happily playing with Marshall's Zippo lighter in the bowels of the cavern pre-escape unwittingly awaiting the Sleestak's return before being pulled along to safety by the Marshalls. I wonder if Rick has a Zippo from Japan Zippo Station. I doubt it.
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In the end, the siblings still haven't filled those water jugs, but efforts to gather water have never been more fun or scary. These were short adventures on Saturday mornings and thank the Sleestak god, because my heart couldn't take much more. It was another childhood adventure from the imagination of Gerrold and the Krofft brothers. They brought to life the insanely well-crafted world of Altrusia in exciting and amazingly informative 22 minute Land Of The Lost classics. Series have done far less in 50 minutes. Though the video quality is near video transfer, getting lost inside this old land's charms may be worth the fun.
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The Sleestak God: B+
Writer: David Gerrold
Director: Dennis Steinmetz

4 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hi SFF:

It's always great to re-visit Land of the Lost, warts and all, and I was delighted to dive into your thoughtful critique of "The Sleestak God."

This cheaply made "childrens" series (and apparently a cheaply made DVD set...) nonetheless sparked the young imagination with great writing, great science fiction concepts, and -- as you point out, rightly -- the scariest Saturday morning creatures ever: the Sleestaks.

I like how you point out the meticulous care involved in building the world of Altrusia, down to familiar landscapes, totems and paths, etc. There was a lot of attention paid to detail in the first two seasons.

I also think your rating here is completely fair; there are definitely a few inconsistencies in the characters and their actions at this point(as you point out, from Chaka on up...) but these are still the early days.

After a few episodes, you can see how the production team concentrated on getting things right, with great season 1 episodes like "Follow that Dinosaur" for instance.

Thanks for a great post on a favorite series! Can't wait to read the next installment...

best,
John Kenneth Muir

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks John.

The scale of Land Of The Lost was so big. It was really something special and those wide-eyes of our innocent youth were as big as, well, Sleestak eyes it was so impressive.

Yes, I agree, I really feel like I've walked over those crevices, run into that cave right along with the Marshalls over and over. How many times did we run from that Lost City? My God! That show had you living it with the characters. Truly something.

I look forward to seeing some of these other episodes you mention probably for the first time in a long time for me.

I did watch most of Season One with my kids when it first arrived on DVD. But I didn't pay attention carefully. They enjoyed it though.

le0pard13 said...

As usual, another of your extensive and wonderful examinations of a sci-fi TV episode, SFF. I never was into LAND OF THE LOST, but reading this gives me a belated appreciation for it. Thanks for this.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Cheers L13.

Ya know it's a series you really can't recommend to someone looking for state-of-the-art Michael Bay effects. I like those kinds of effects at times too, but Land Of The Lost is a heck of a lot more charming than Transformers and young kids would be a whole lot better off exposed to Land Of The Lost than Transformers, but as you and I know all too well those days are clearly long gone. It's too bad. Thanks as always.