It’s one thing to be drenched in dinosaur urine or chased across the desert by a giant, clawed carnivore, but the true test of the modern action-comedy star is whether he can play through pain -- the unscripted variety. That was clear while watching Will Ferrell limp across the sun-scorched set of “Land of the Lost” on a badly sprained ankle.
“It’s the hazards with this kind of terrain,” the grimacing star said during one of the harsher days on the set of the film that opens June 5. “One of the reasons we came out here to the desert was we wanted a movie that was very rooted in reality. We didn’t want it to look kitschy in any way. We wanted real and, well, that was a very real rock that messed up my ankle.”
The hazardous minerals of the Trona Pinnacles near Death Valley were genuine, but “Land of the Lost” has a foot firmly in the fantastic -- with its loopy characters and rollicking sensibility it aspires to join “Night at the Museum,” “Men in Black,” “Ghostbusters” and even “Galaxy Quest” as special-effects hits that aim to amuse as well as amaze.
The Universal Pictures release, which also stars Danny McBride (“Tropic Thunder” and HBO’s “Eastbound and Down”), has a $100-million budget, but its heritage is decidedly lower-rent and proud of it. For a generation of youngsters watching Saturday morning television in the mid-1970s, “Land of the Lost” was one of the low-budget productions churned out by Sid and Marty Krofft, the brothers who specialized in trippy live-action kid shows produced on shoestring budgets.
The challenge of the new film, according to director Brad Silberling (“Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events”), is to hold on to the singular charm of the old series in deference to older viewers (many of them now parents) but also deliver a fresh new adventure that pulls in the all-important young moviegoer.
“A key part of that is Will Ferrell and everything he brings to a movie,” Siberling said. “The action is quite intense and the effects are completely of-the-moment and dazzling, but he is the comical figure in the middle of it all, as is Danny. I see this as a perfect opportunity in as much as you have characters who fully believe in themselves. We get to sit and look at them and laugh as long as they actually believe in what they’re doing. And they are making some awfully large mistakes.”
The premise of the film is an inter-dimensional misadventure in which three travelers find themselves trapped in an otherworldly wasteland that is a sort of cosmic catch-basin, where debris and unlucky souls from different eras end up like so much time-traveling lint.
The trio is led by Ferrell’s character, a feckless park ranger named Rick Marshall whose career as a paleontologist ended in disgrace as his theories were roundly mocked. It turns out he was actually right about the tachyon fields and the Land of the Lost, but he is pretty much wrong about everything else, such as the life-saving benefits of tyrannosaurus urine or running in a serpentine path when it comes to fleeing the dinosaurs that roam the wasteland.
Anna Friel (“Pushing Daisies”) plays Holly, Marshall’s shapely and suffering research assistant, while McBride plays a nut-job survivalist dragged along on their unplanned expedition. Unlike on the old television show (or its 1991 revival as a Saturday morning franchise), the adventurers aren’t a father and his two kids, but, like on the original series, they do encounter a tribe of bug-eyed lizard-men called Sleestaks, a somewhat annoying monkey-boy named Chaka and a hungry T. rex nicknamed Grumpy.
This is the era when Hollywood is obsessed with vintage comics, cartoons and toys as properties -- not only are contemporary special effects finally good enough (and cheap enough) to deliver worlds and characters of the fantastic, the established brand-name recognition is coveted by studio executives who want audiences to be onboard for opening week.
“Just hearing the name of the show makes people of a certain age smile,” said Marty Krofft, now 72, as he drove around the set in a jeep.
The filming site was a startling one: The Trona Pinnacles are eerie tufa rock formations that jut up from the desert floor past Palmdale. The spires, formed beneath the water of an ancient alkaline lake, have been used as a Hollywood location dating to the ‘60s TV series “Lost in Space” -- another old TV brand name that was revived for modern theatrical release. That 1998 film did not connect with moviegoers (it fell short of $70 million at the box office), but for Krofft, simply seeing his old creation come to life is a bit of a career miracle.
“It’s a funny movie with a great star, great special effects and nice spirit to it,” Krofft said. “I never thought I would see it happen. But ‘Land of the Lost’ has been rediscovered. Now if I could get some of my other old shows made into movies. . . “
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
We’re not saying the laughs in these upcoming comedies will be mindless exactly, just easy.
‘Black Dynamite’: Look for campy fun when this 1970s man of action gets the babes and fights the Man, who murders his brothers and floods the ghetto with heroin and malt liquor.
‘Dance Flick’: The Wayans family parodies the dance movie genre. May 22.
‘Hangover’: Things get out of hand at a Vegas bachelor party when the groomsmen realize they’ve lost the groom somewhere along the way. June 12.
‘Bruno’: Sacha Baron Cohen is back and in the faces of an unsuspecting public, this time as gay Austrian fashion reporter Bruno. July 10.
‘Post Grad’: A college grad is forced to move back home with her eccentric family while she figures out a direction for her future. Aug. 14.
SUMMER MOVIE MEMORIES
‘Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life.’
“National Lampoon’s Animal House,” July 28, 1978