Land of the Lost (1974–1976) is a children's television series created and produced by Sid and Marty Krofft. During its original run, it was broadcast on the NBC television network. It has since become a cult classic and is now available on DVD. Krofft Productions remade the series in 1991, also titled Land of the Lost, and a big budget film adaptation is currently in development. It was shot in Los Angeles, California.
The series is notable for having a much darker and serious tone than most children's series, and for having a grander and more epic storytelling vision than most shows. The relatively complex plots, unique internal mythology, and ambitious special effects (generally considered unrealistic and even campy today, but advanced for Saturday morning TV in the 1970s) have earned the show a large popular following, particularly among adults who watched the show and other Krofft productions as children. An article on renewed studio interest in feature film versions of Land of the Lost and H.R. Pufnstuf commented that "decision-makers in Hollywood, and some big-name stars, have personal recollections of plopping down on the family-room wall-to-wall shag sometime between 1969 and 1974 to tune in to multiple reruns of the Kroffts' Saturday morning live-action hits," and quoting Marty Krofft as saying that the head of Universal Studios, Ron Meyer, and leaders at Sony Pictures all had been fans of Krofft programs.
A number of well-respected writers in the science fiction field contributed scripts to the series, including Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon, Ben Bova, and a number of people involved with Star Trek, such as Dorothy "D.C." Fontana, Walter Koenig, and David Gerrold. Gerrold, Niven, and Fontana also contributed commentaries to the DVD of the first season.
The prolific Krofft team was influential in children's television, producing many oddly formatted, highly energetic, and special-effects heavy programs. Many Krofft shows involved similar plots, involving children accidentally trapped in other worlds, but Land of the Lost is the Kroffts' most serious treatment of the premise.
The Marshalls are brought to the mysterious world by means of a dimensional portal, a device used frequently throughout the series and a major part of its internal mythology.
Outfitted only for a short camping trip, the resourceful family takes shelter in a natural cave and improvises the provisions and tools that they need to survive. Their most common and dangerous encounters are with dinosaurs, particularly a Tyrannosaurus rex they nickname "Grumpy" who frequents the location of their cave. However, many of the dinosaurs are herbivorous, posing no threat to the Marshalls. One is a particularly tame Brontosaurus whom Holly nicknames "Dopey", and whom the family looks upon as a pet.
They also tangle with menacing Sleestak and morally ambiguous "cave men" called Pakuni (one of whom, Cha-Ka, they befriend), as well as a variety of other dangerous creatures, mysterious technology, and strange geography.
The main goal of the three is to find a way to return home. They are occasionally aided in this by the Altrusian castaway Enik. At the start of the third season Rick Marshall is accidentally returned to Earth alone, leaving his children behind, and is replaced by his brother Jack. Spencer Milligan's absence was explained by having Rick Marshall disappear after he was trying to use one of the pylons to get home, and that Jack had stumbled upon his niece and nephew after he embarked on a search of his own to find them.
Though the term "time doorway" is used throughout the series, Land of the Lost is not meant to portray an era in Earth's history, but rather an enigmatic zone whose place and time are unknown. The original creators of these time portals were thought to be the ancestors of the Sleestak, called Altrusians, though later episodes raised some questions about this.
Many aspects of the Land of the Lost, including the time doorways and environmental processes, were controlled by the Pylons, metallic obelisk-shaped booths that were larger on the inside than the outside and housed matrix tables — stone tables studded with a grid of colored crystals. Uncontrolled time doorways result in the arrival of a variety of visitors and castaways in the Land.
Although they came close to returning to their own time in several episodes, at the time the series was canceled they had never successfully returned home.
The show played effectively to children and was an ambitious narrative project, introducing an unusually complex fantasy storyline thanks largely to first-season story editor and writer David Gerrold. It was a marked departure from the Krofft team's previous work, which mostly featured extremely stylized puppets and sets such as those in H.R. Pufnstuf and Lidsville.
The series was shot on a modular indoor soundstage, which made economical use of a small number of sets and scenic props which were rearranged frequently to suggest the ostensibly vast jungles, ancient cities and cave systems. Additional locations were often rendered using scale miniatures. During the final season, the Marshalls and Cha-ka moved from their cave to a Sleestak temple. A popular myth for the reason of this set-change is tied into the fire that destroyed the cave sets for another Krofft show Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. However, this fire took place during the second season of Sigmund, at which time Land of the Lost would have been in production of only its first season. The first two seasons of Land of the Lost were taped at a different studio entirely from that of Sigmund. The show then moved to Goldwyn Studios for its third season. This was the studio where the fire did occur two years prior that destroyed the Sigmund sets.
Non-human characters were portrayed by actors in latex rubber suits, or with heavy creature make-up. Dinosaurs in the series were created using a combination of stop motion animation miniatures, rear projection film effects and occasional hand puppets for close-ups of dinosaur heads. (On a commentary track for Land of the Lost's first-season DVD, Wesley Eure points out that the Grumpy hand puppet has no hole in the back of its throat, even though it is often seen opening its mouth wide to roar.)
Special effects footage was frequently re-used. Additional visual effects were achieved using manual film overlay techniques, the low-tech ancestor to current motion control photography.