I have solved the mystery of Sleestak urination. How do these seemingly
sexless lizard people pee without any noticeable junk? Revelation: they
have a velcro flap built into their crotches.
Actually, that solves the mystery for the actors in the Sleestak suits,
but it doesn’t solve the mystery for Sleestaks themselves. I’m hoping
that the movie version of Land of the Lost, opening this summer, clears
that up, since it definitely clears up one word from my previous
paragraph: in this movie we learn that Sleestaks are not sexless. They actually are fairly sexual. In
fact, we get to see them having sex in the film.
There’s probably someone from the Land of the Lost fanworld up in arms
about that nugget of info, but I’d have to imagine that since Will
Ferrell and Danny McBride got cast as the leads in this big budget
comedy re-imagining of the children’s TV show they’ve had some time to
get in touch with their feelings of loss. I can almost understand where
those guys are coming from; growing up Land of the Lost was big for me.
Huge. The idea of Marshall, Will and Holly going over a cavern
waterfall and ending up in a strange valley filled with crude
Claymation dinosaurs, cavemen, glowing crystals, futuristic ruins and
most of all lizard men, filled me with excitement, glee and joy. I
liked all the Sid & Marty Krofft shows that ran on WPIX Channel 11
weekday afternoons, but give me Marshall, Will and Holly running from
Grumpy over Sigmund and the Sea Monsters any day of the week.
The show’s weird sci-fi meets Lost World tropes really helped form my
impressionable young genre fan mind. And Holly’s pig tails helped form
another part of my development; I remember as a young boy fantasizing
about her… but not in any sick way, you creeps. I used to imagine
marrying that buck-toothed blonde.
Fast forward almost thirty years and I’m again fantasizing about Holly.
But this is in a sick way. And it’s not a pig-tailed little girl, it’s
the spicy Pushing Daisies star Anna Friel, who is playing a very different
Holly in the big screen version. Where the original group consisted of
a father, a son and a daughter, the movie gang is made up of Dr. Rick
Marshall, a scientist who has a seemingly insane belief in time
vortices, his research assistant Holly and redneck Will (Danny McBride), who
runs a shitty little log flume ride that happens to be located on just
such a time vortex. The trio get sucked into the Land of the Lost where
they meet Chaka (Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone), a caveman who also
happens to be a total dick, and they must try to find a way home, all
while avoiding hungry dinosaurs and angry Sleestaks.
I met Friel on the set of Land of the Lost, conveniently located a
fifteen minute walk from my house, at the Universal Studios backlot.
Tourists would travel by on guided tram tours, unaware that just inside
the inconspicuous building to their left was a strange temple*; a vast
set had been built to look like an ancient ruin overgrown in a jungle,
with giant foam Sleestak heads keeping guard and a steep staircase
leading up to a circular room – the Library of the Skulls. Living up to
its name, the Library contains a series of grottoes, inside of each
resides a Sleestak skull. They look sort of like the shrines in which superstitious Roman Catholics (like my family) keep Virgin Mary statues, except that instead of a broad in a blue dress each has a misshappen skull with glowing red eyes.
This was just one of the many major sets built for the film, which
finally fulfills the epic scope at which the TV show could only hint.
The Land of the Lost isn’t some place in our past but rather a weird
pocket universe that exists outside of space and time. And the
filmmakers haven’t simply upped the scope of the show by building
bigger sets, making photorealistic dinosaurs and increasing the
production value of the Sleestak costumes. They’ve seemingly stuck with
much of the show’s strange sci-fi mythology; this isn’t just Will
Ferrell and Danny McBride in Jurassic Park (as some of the marketing
might lead you to believe), it’s Will Ferrell and Danny McBride in the
kind of off-kilter, big idea world that attracted some of the best
writers from the original Star Trek. Did you know that the original
show actually had a language created for Chaka’s people, the Pakuni?
The folks behind the movie knew that, and they’ve tried to keep it in
the new film version. That’s source fidelity at it’s nerdiest.
I can’t really tell you much of what was happening that day on the
steps of the Library of Skulls. I’m sad to report that it had nothing
to do with Sleestaks; one of my dreams (or possibly nightmares) in life
is to interact with a real Sleestak, and getting a look at the
incredibly well made (and incredibly damp – those foam latex suits just
suck up the moisture from the actors) suits in the FX workshop was a
thrill. It was especially exciting to see the head of Enik – the
advanced Sleestak who sometimes aids Marshall, Will and Holly – and to
examine the points of articulation and the level of detail. But to have
seen people in them, walking around! That would have been heaven.
Anyway, I can’t tell you what I saw because it’s spoilery, but it did
involve Anna Friel playing to a ball on a stick which will be replaced
in the final film by Grumpy, the T-Rex that caused so much trouble for
the family in the original show. This Grumpy will likely be more
menacing than the faintly Downsy one from the original show, and Friel
showed some chops in this scene. I was expecting to see nothing but
non-stop comedy on set, and here she was… emoting?
People on set kept telling me how damn funny the movie is, so don’t
think that director Brad Silberling has decided to go all dramatic with
his Land of the Lost. But it’s also obviously not just a spoof of the
original; in fact, many of the cast members went out of their way to
explain that it’s in no way a spoof. Rather, it’s a deadly serious take
on the concept… with some clowns thrown in to it. Everything about
the Land of the Lost is real, and possibly fatal, but Will and Danny
play characters whose reactions to these things bring the comedy.
The question, of course, is how well will these elements gel? For my
money I can name the big-budget-genre-action-comedies that have been
classics on one finger: Ghostbusters. In many ways it seems like the
more money you throw at a comedy, the less funny it gets. The reality
is that big budget FX films require a kind of discipline and mark
hitting that doesn’t leave much room for the flexibility comedy
demands. But Silberling didn’t hire Ferrell and McBride simply to force
them to stand on Xes made of gaffer’s tape and gawk at unseen
dinosaurs. Everybody involved thinks they’ve hit that sweet spot, that
they’ve found a way to let these guys be just as funny as they need to
be (and by these guys I also mean Taccone, whose Chaka sounds like he
could be the hidden comedy weapon of the movie) while also creating a
fantastical world that is filled with wonder and danger.
Over the rest of the week I’ll be bringing you some interviews from the
set. While I was there I had a chance to sit down with Ferrell, McBride
and Friel, as well as with Sid and Marty Krofft themselves. At the end
of the day a select group of us also met with Silberling at his trailer
as he smoked a cigar and seemed shockingly laid back for a guy carrying
way more than a hundred million dollars of studio money on his back.
Will his confidence pay off? We’ll find out June 5th.