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‘Lost’ in Translation: Revisiting Original on Chiller

One of the great things about the insatiable capacity of basic cable is that it doesn’t take much to get them to blow out entire lineups for an act of corporate synergy. So it is with Universal’s Chiller network, which is running a 24-hour “Land of the Lost” marathon today (June 6) to coincide with the studio’s release of the movie.

Having not seen the series for years (and never much liked it — or virtually anything else from the Sid & Marty Krofft stable — back when I was a kid), it was interesting to see how those cheesy special effects look to grown-up (OK, older) eyes.

My real problem with the show back in the ’70s wasn’t so much that the effects looked cheap, but that the dinosaurs never got to do anything. Every so often the T-Rex would show up and everyone would run like hell, but he never got to eat something — or somebody. I understood that the central trio were off limits, but couldn’t he swallow a Sleestak, or one of Cha-Ka’s tribe? A smaller dinosaur or a stray mammal? For all we knew, the T-Rex was a Vegan.

Of course, the acting was awful, but in hindsight that seems like less of a problem, mostly because the cardboard performances were sort of perfectly suited to the paper-mache sets. And even then, I think I sensed that there was something creepy about forcing that little kid to wear all that makeup and that uncomfortable-looking fur suit.

Reviews of the movie have been pretty awful (for a sampling see the Metacritic scores), and it looks like the opening-weekend results will be disappointing. But watching a few episodes of the TV show I was again utterly mystified by one key creative choice in the film: Not including any kids in the movie. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more ripe for parody than the acting by those kids, and having them around would have increased “Lost’s” appeal to a younger audience, which seems like a no-brainer when dealing with a project derived from a Saturday-morning children’s property — even one that’s 35 years old.

Instead Universal made a deservedly PG-13-rated movie for teenage boys and stoned young guys that people in their 30s and 40s — who watched the program as kids and thus might feel a sense of nostalgia — would rightfully balk at taking a kid under 13 or 14 to see. In fact, the narrow appeal is completely summed up by the poster: Will Ferrell + dinosaur. As marketing hooks go, that’s a pretty slim one.

I doubt seriously that there was a great movie to be made from a mediocre ’70s children’s series, but there was probably a more commercial one. By that measure, as the Chiller marathon demonstrates, something was clearly lost in translation.

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