Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Land Of The Lost S1 Ep3: Dopey

"I think Dopey may be the best actor of the bunch." -The Boy Wonder mocking my viewing enjoyment of Land Of The Lost-

This isn't your granddad's Dopey. This is essentially your Dad's Dopey. Yes, this one has aged a bit too, but it's as beloved as Walt Disney's Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs [1937] to some. This is your Dad's Land Of The Lost [nearly fifty years later], Season One, Episode 3, Dopey.

I wonder if a grown man should even be writing about an episode called Dopey. I mean, this isn't exactly Star Trek: The Original Series, but Land Of The Lost has its nostalgic value and its merits as Saturday morning fare goes. Land Of The Lost is a bit of a fun diversion and if I have a little bit of a go at it from time to time with a touch of cheeky humor please forgive me. It doesn't mean that I don't value it as a formative series in my life. It's also a cracking smart universe that was fully formulated by a clever creative group. For whatever reason, to this day, Dopey remains one of the most memorable entries for me in the series. Maybe it just captured my child-like imagination's pure sense of escapism.

My youngest was sick at the time of this viewing. What better way to lay back while your ailing than to watch a little Land Of The Lost I thought. Think again in a world of Disney Channel and Nick. It was a toss up between this and Brady Bunch, which she adores. It's a classic and she never tires of Marsha, Marsha, Marsha crying "Oh my nose!," but we opted to change things up a bit. So my girl rolled her eyes a few times, but was soon hanging on every character's word. If only the series received some attention in the digital remastering department. It would benefit immensely from some kind of treatment, even if just getting the coloring right, but that is unlikely. Aren't Will and Holly terrific I ask? "Great," she says with a degree of sarcasm and a roll of the eyes. Obviously my daughter connects with the more reality-based family stories of The Brady Bunch. As a child of this generation, family-fantasy fare with vintage blue screen is distracting enough they simply can't look past it. It's funny, but I'm probably more forgiving and tolerant of these more traditional effects than I am today's CGI. The latest Korean monster film, Sector 7 [2012], is replete with dodgy CGI monster effects and they aren't nearly as good as those implemented in the unexpectedly well-crafted The Host [2007].

So returning to our archive era, boy's adventure tale, Will and Holly pick some massive, basketball-sized strawberries for dessert. They fill a cart. Now, it dawns on me, their harvest is excessive. With no means of real refrigeration, they have enough berries to last a month and the sheer mass of their collection would surely rot. Disregard pure logic, this is supposed to be fun.

The brother and sister act happen upon a small brontosaurus and name him Dopey. It wails and cries chasing Holly for its berry meal. Upon consumption of each berry it resumes crying, but won't stop crying. Stuck between two trees dumb old Dopey is drawing far too much attention to them and alas the incessant wailing summons the local, less-than-accomodating native- Grumpy, the T-Rex.

Breaking free of the trees, Dopey is on the run from Grumpy [could there be a Seven Dwarves allusion here?]. Will and Holy are pretty certain Dopey won't make it thanks to the basic fundamentals of Darwinism. But with a tired Grumpy finally giving up, Dopey shows up once again behind their cart pull. Eating all of the berries, the cart lightens to their surprise. The miraculous arrival of Dopey is another unexpected treat.

Anyway dodgy effects aside, Dopey has a slight eating problem. Holly harnesses Dopey and promotes him to the role of engine of their cart, a prehistoric version of the horse and buggy.

"Good grief, did you watch this when you were little? Oh God, look she's red." That's the coloring and the poor non-mastering of the DVD release I tell my daughter.

"Honestly, it's terrible. It's all fake even Holly acts fake. And look at Dopey's rubber mouth."

This fun-filled day of Land Of The Lost idea doesn't appear to be going quite according to plan.
Here comes Grumpy and Holly runs back to the cave and tells Dopey to hide. I explain to my daughter how I hung on every step the Marshalls took to make it safely back to that cave. I mean, I was always holding my breath. So Grumpy gets the classic, old Rick Marshall, Will and Holly-stick-in-the-mouth treatment and sends Grumpy packing, once again, for the time being. Dopey comes out of hiding. The trio of adventurers reunite with Dopey against some terrific green screen even if my daughter argues vehemently against it. "They're like photoshopped in" she rails! My daughter loves the acting too. I explain that she needs to believe.

And here's that classic lesson of tough love intuitively understood by Holly and then executed by the young girl despite the fact it is quite an emotional investment by such a young girl. Yes, the Marshalls are learning a whole lot of new things in this new place.

"It's not good." I sing every word of the closing theme in sync. I asked her for her final thoughts. "It was very fake including huge fake strawberries. It was funny and the actors must be embarrassed." Ah, the kids today, exposed to so much, they are just way too smart and jaded for their own good. Land Of The Lost will no doubt remain for the very young and those who long for the ocassional, nostalgic trip down memory lane.

As for my daughter, Land Of The Lost has been ejected from the DVD player and quickly replaced to the physical realities of Greg, Peter, Bobby, Marhsa, Jan and Cindy. Still, as wonderful as these family-based, reality-based series were back in the day and remain today from The Brady Bunch to The Courtship Of Eddie's Father, both of which my daughter loves, you have to hand it to the folks behind a series like Land Of The Lost. With a limited budget it took huge risks with effects and, of course, any effects based-show of this vintage and it's certainly a roll of the dice on how they hold up today. Land Of The Lost can't compare or compete with the likes of Star Trek: The Original Series, but where it succeeds is through its sincerity and its simple, effective, short storylines about a family's relationship within and their response under duress against the framework of well-manufactured fantasy world. If you remain open to the fantasy of its pocket universe-styled mythology, and look passed the effects, as you would the Tom Baker years of Doctor Who, fans of science fiction will appreciate this fascinating lost world.

Writer John Kenneth Muir actually captured quite eloquently my own feeling on the matter of effects within his review of Cloverfield at John Kenneth Muir's Reflections On Film/TV.

"I adore and respect the Godzilla films (and Kong films, and Gamera films...) of old, but I also realize two things about these predominantly Japanese films. One: I'm from a generation that demanded less "effects" realism in my entertainment. And two: the trend in cinema history is irrevocably away from artificiality/theatricality towards naturalism/realism. The inherent fakeness of the monster suits in old Godzilla or Gamera films never bothered me a lick. In fact...I loved the costumes. They represent an artistry all their own, even if they weren't "realistic" in the purest sense. Plus, I always felt those films offered powerful and artistic sub-text (about the atomic age, about pollution, etc.). So their historical and aesthetic value, in my book, remains undisputed. Not everyone, however, feels that way. Those who didn't grow up with these monster mashes will look at them and laugh. You know you are. You either "get" War of the Gargantuas, or you don't."

This same sentiment holds true for Land Of The Lost. You're either open to its inherently flawed effects or you aren't. The Japanese are open to the fantastical. Perhaps this is why I connect with their films and I can connect with Land Of The Lost. And like the subtext of those Japanese monster movies as noted in continuing coverage here, there's a good deal of subtext within the fantasy world of Land Of The Lost. You can laugh a little with it and still be open to the artistic forethought that went into this cult classic. And yet, despite the move to the realism of today's movie and television magic, computer technology still presents its share of problems.

Sadly, it was hereby discovered on my clever, lovely daughter's fateful day of tummy illness, that she considers her Dad's adoration for Land Of The Lost to be a little, well, dopey, and therein lies the divide between the generations and the relative affect of special effects new and old on a given viewer. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that holds true for the classics. Dopey: B [at least I think so]. Writer: Margaret Armen. Director: Dennis Steinmetz.

Additional commentary: So after two solid openers written by David Gerrold, the scripting reins were handed to Margaret Armen. Dopey would be her only appearance. Meanwhile, director Dennis Steinmetz returns for his third of five in a row.

As I prepared this entry for posting on Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic, a rewatch of Dopey took place to capture the requisite images and video clips. Of course, no longer was I graced with the company of the Girl Wonder, but rather subjected to the taunts of my beloved Boy Wonder. He gave his own mocking tone to the episode as it proceeded. Nevertheless, the next moring he says, "put on some Land Of The Lost!" He really wanted to see another episode. Now, sure, he wanted to laugh at it and have a bit of fun at its expense, but deep down he was drawn into its world. I told him, it was indeed the characters and the charm of these stories that was its greatest strength setting aside all of those cheesy green screen effects. He was not inclined to agree, but he was still interested and in watching Land Of The Lost, Season One, Episode 4, Downstream, it was easy to see that my son was caught up in the episode. The mocking nature had been supplanted by a quiet interest in the lives of these survivors.

It's also worth noting that upon watching the opening and closing themes of the series, my son was rather disturbed that I could sing each and every word of these very simple, but engaging songs. They are unforgettable and as I sang along to these wonderful selections it really struck me how truly magical those opening images were for the series that complemented the songs. I realized I did not represent some of those images accurately in my earlier coverage and took some for posterity here.

Finally, with Dopey, Land Of The Lost has established a strange, seemingly closed universe filled with vicious dinosaurs like Grumpy, primitive Pakuni, giant fruits and vegetables, mysterious pylons, three moons, terrifying Sleestaks and now a recurring delight named Dopey. With certain identifiers established, Land Of The Lost takes viewers deeper into its mythological world with the next two episodes Downstream and The Stranger, where we will delve more substantively into the complex, pocket universe mythology that lies behind the child-friendly facade. If I'm lucky I'll have the kids on board for those. As much as I joke about their remarks, they are terrific, good kids and I actually enjoy their mystery science theatre-approach to these Land Of The Lost adventures.


John Kenneth Muir said...


I love all your reviews of Land of the Lost, and also reading about the responses of the Girl and Boy Wonder.

Oh yes, I'm sure this is all in store for me with Joel as well...

I appreciate you quoting my Cloverfield review. It seems to apply here in terms of context, and I'm glad. I love Land of the Lost, but it's one of those shows where you kind of have to look past the actual effects and see the...other qualities. You must do this to an extent for Blake's 7, Dr. Who and another show I just began watching, Timeslip. If you can kind of narrow (or open...) your vision that way, you'll see some magical things.

I think that's what Boy Wonder was getting at in terms of Downstream. That's a great and involving episode of Land of the Lost that doesn't depend on effects, just good storytelling.

Very interesting post, as usual.

Thank you for seeing the beauty in Land of the Lost, and for introducing it to your children as well.

Great post!


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

It is amusing to have the young ones on board. Joel will one day brng it I'm sure.

Having said that, they still like much of what I throw at them and they still find the redeeming "magical things" in shows like Land Of The Lost. I think they would prefer not to admit to it.

As you point out, watching Downstream is a great example, another episode that really remains unforgettable for me. It's also grounded in strong story and every one of us connected with that aspect of the entry when we watched it.

But, yes, I do continue to see the "beauty" in the series. It's wonderful and though my kids are a little hard on Will and Holly, I still think the two are charming and infinitely likeable as brother and sister. Overacting, at times, aside, they do get the sibling chemistry mostly right and really bring us into that relationship as they search for understanding along the way.

Still loving Land Of The Lost.

Did you [or anyone here] see the film? I have not and I'm afraid to.

Thanks so much John. You have a great 4th!