Thursday, September 03, 2015

land of the lost: 'tag team'

I keep writing about "Land of the Lost" as though it were a sci-fi adventure show, and it is; but for all the sophistication underlying the show, it's also a children's show, with all that goes along with that.

Fifth episode "Tag Team" is a lesson about cooperation. When the Marshalls go hunting for vegetables, their neighbors the Pakuni keep raiding their cart and stealing the gigantic carrots and turnips as soon as their backs are turned. (Food plants grow to enormous size in the Land of the Lost. Carrots are 3 feet long, strawberries are the size of basketballs, and a turnip is the size of an Ottoman.)

While the six of them threaten one another and yell about the vegetables, Grumpy returns and chases them away, breaking off pursuit only when they break into two groups; but since Cha-Ka has remained with the Marshalls, the conflict continues. Before long, they're being pursued not only by Grumpy but also by an allosaurus the Marshalls have named Alice -- and then the children all get trapped by themselves.

Eventually things work out, as they always do in these situations, but the episode is made ironically amusing as Rick Marshall explains his rescue plan to Ta and Sa, the other two Pakuni, through the time-tested means of speaking English very loudly and gesturing a lot with his hands in hopes that he'll be understood.

The Pakuni distract Grumpy and Alice while Rick rescues the children, and afterward the Marshalls show the Pakuni how to work together to harvest their own vegetables. Cooperation. It's such a nice lesson to pass on, especially when it involves running for your life from dinosaurs.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

land of the lost: 'downstream'

The mystery of the Land of the Lost deepens in "Downstream," as Rick Marshall leads his children on a rafting expedition downstream to see if they can find a way out of the land.

Along the way the episode sets up a number of mysteries about its setting. First is Jefferson Davis Collie, a Civil War artilleryman. Second is the cave where he lives and excavates jewels that store and direct large amounts of energy, enough that Rick speculates that they may be the power source for the time portal that brought theme there. Third, the show establishes that the land is finite and self-contained; heading downstream ultimately just leads back to the same point. Lastly, this is the first episode to mention Pylons.

As episodes go, this one was lackluster and not particularly exciting. But it does reveal just how intricate a world David Gerrold had created as a setting for the show. It's no surprise that 40 years after the show aired, my daughter right now is creating her own pretend Land of the Lost.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

land of the lost: 'dopey'

If "Land of the Lost" was an edgy show for children, with monsters like the Sleestak; it was still very much a Saturday morning show that competed with cartoon fare.

That's shown in Episode 3, "Dopey," where Holly Marshall becomes enamored of the latest dinosaur the family has encountered. Out foraging giant strawberries for food, she and Will discover a giant egg, hatched, and wonder what could have come from it. They don't have long to wonder, because they soon encounter a baby brontosaurus whom Holly names Dopey.

The episode becomes a classic stray dog episode, as Holly begs her father to let him keep her new pet. When it becomes evident that they can't make a 4,400-pound brontosaur leave if it doesn't want to, Rick reluctantly agrees; and Holly sets about showing how useful he can be. In short order she is training him how to fetch, riding on his back, and hitching him up to the cart.

The downside is that Dopey makes a lot of noise when he's hungry, and his cries keep attracting Grumpy, the T-Rex, and putting the Marshalls in danger. Thus it is not long until Rick Marshall is telling his daughter the sad news that she has to give up her new pet and let him be with other brontosauri.

"Dopey" isn't an adventure episode like "Cha-Ka," or a suspense episode like "The Sleestak God." Instead, it's very much rooted in family, with children wanting to adopt wild animals as pets, whining about chores; and a parent setting boundaries and enforcing good behavior. We also see signs that Rick Marshall is a handyman: Like the good folks on "Gilligan's Island," he has managed to make a wooden cart with wheels, and a dinner table, using only the natural resources available.

We also get a little more speculation about the nature of the Land of the Lost. In the first episode, Rick Marshall told his children that they weren't on earth, judging by the three moons he had observed, and said that when they fell down the waterfall it seems like they were traveling through some sort of "space warp." Now Will tells Holly that their father things they are in an entirely different universe, one that connects to all space and time, which is how there can be dinosaurs there the same time as humans.

Monday, August 31, 2015

land of the lost: 'the sleestak god'

If you want an example of how intense "Land of the Lost" could be for young children, check out its second episode, "The Sleestak God."

A similar concept to the Silurians on Doctor Who, but with slightly better productions values, the Sleestak are a race of reptile people who soon became the main villains of the series and its most iconic characters. They're tall, skinny and long-limbed. They don't move particularly fast, and they hiss instead of talking.

During "The Sleestak God," Will and Holly are sent to fetch water -- even in the Land of the Lost, this is still a family, with chores and whining over having to do them -- and decide to go exploring as they go. One of their discoveries is a mysterious and midlly foreboding building. Before long the two of them are caught by the Sleestak, put into a net and hung over a pit to be fed to a monster in the pit, the presumed Sleestak god.

The children are saved by their father (of course) after their friend Cha-Ka is able to alert him to the danger they're in, but if you think about it, this is a pretty intense concept for a young child. It's probably one of the chief reasons that the Sleestak gave me nightmares when I was younger.

'To Catch a Killer': Brian Dennehy as John Wayne Gacy


I've spent about three hours the past two nights watching Brian Dennehy play John Wayne Gacy in "To Catch a Killer."

Gacy, for those unfamiliar with him, was a Chicago-area serial killer convicted of sexually torturing and murdering some 30 teenage boys and burying their bodies in his basement, under his garage, under the floorboards of his rec room, and elsewhere. To all outward appearances, he was an upstanding member of the community who regularly donated to civic organizations, and who performed for children as Pogo the Clown. The movie was made for TV, and aired in 1992.

Dennehy gives a great, just-the-right-side-of-creepy performance of Gacy, a man with cocksure grin who engages police in cat-and-mouse maneuvers as the pressure slowly builds; opposite an equally strong Michael Riley as Detective Joe Kozencza, who becomes convinced early on that Gacy is behind the recent disappearance of a local teen and then gradually realizes the monstrosity of Gacy's crimes.

The movie's got some good drama. In addition to the performances of its leads and supporting actors, it depicts Kozencza as a man under pressure as he overcomes colleagues' professional skepticism to bring Gacy in. He's got to convince not only his chief to provide the manpower, but his detectives that he's not wasting their time; and he's got to complete the case before Gacy's attorney can file a harassment lawsuit that will shut the case down.

It's got a few weak points too. I could have done with fewer car chases, myself; and the decision to include a psychic (Margot Kidder) seems silly in a story that focuses on more serious detective work in a true crime story. It also felt too often like the movie focused on Gacy's orientation, as if that were a sign of his depravity instead of incidental to it; but that at least may be a product of when the movie was made.

Still, what a movie. Dennehy was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of Gacy; and Riley and director Eric Till each were nominated for a Gemini Award. I generally don't think much of TV movies, and there's no doubt that the movie glossed over the more horrifying elements of Gacy's crimes; but this was a good movie.

Part two:


Friday, August 28, 2015

land of the lost: 'cha-ka'

Today I began a task that every man must undertake when he is a father. Today I began watching "The Land of the Lost" with my youngest daughter.

"Land of the Lost" was created by David Gerrold for Sid and Marty Krofft, and originally ran on Saturday mornings on NBC beginning in 1974. For a show that ran opposite cartoons like Bugs Bunny, "Land of the Lost" had a pretty intense setup. It was about a father and his two children trapped in a mysterious land with dinosaurs and other menaces.

The episode Alex and I watched tonight was "Cha-Ka," on YouTube. It's the pilot episode, but the theme song that plays over the open credits is really all the introduction you need: Rick Marshall and his two children, Will and Holly, are whitewater rafting when a terrible earthquake drops them 1,000 feet. They miraculously survive the terrible fall, only to find themselves running from a Tyrannosaurus rex they call Grumpy.

The episode picks up not long after the Marshalls' arrival in the Land of the Lost, and for a young child especially, offers a fantastic mix of adventure and risk. There is Grumpy, a regular dramatic threat who chases the Marshall children or who corners them in their cave. And there is Cha-Ka, a missing-link ape boy whose friendship the Marshalls cultivate by rescuing him from Grumpy and by treating his broken leg.

The writing is a little corny some times, and the banjo soundtrack adds a touch of feelgood sensibility to what could be an otherwise scary show for a young child. But all that aside, it's as engaging to Alex as I remember finding it myself. Two hours after watching it, she was walking around the catching saying "Cha-Ka! Cha-Ka!"

She's already asking to watch Episode 2 tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Just watched the first episode of Daredevil, and it was good.

"Daredevil" is a Netflix show based on the comic book published by Marvel Comics. Matt Murdock is a criminal defense attorney blinded in an accident as a boy when he saved a pedestrian from being hit by a truck carrying toxic waste. Normally when this happens, the person hit with the waste becomes very sick and may even die. But because this was a comic book, Murdock found himself with heightened senses that more than compensate for the lost sight.

And, like any other Irish Catholic criminal defense attorney would do, now that he's an adult, he goes out at night and beats up criminals.

I've only seen one episode, but the show looks promising so far. It draws heavily on the writing of Frank Miller and Brian Michael Bendis, the two writers who left the strongest marks on the comic. Miller set Daredevil in the Hells Kitchen neighborhood and played up his Catholic faith; and Bendis gave the comic a gritty film noir feel. They both also set Daredevil as the superhero who tangles more with organized crime than with flashy supervillains in outlandish costumes.

The show has a few subdued references to the first Avengers movie and the Chitauri invasion. They're there to remind you that it's part of the same shared universe, but made obliquely enough that that the story doesn't suffer if you haven't seen the movie.

Very nicely, the comic book elements are understated. Daredevil's outfit so far isn't the red leather worn throughout most of the comic's history; nor is it the black-and-yellow outfit that the series started with in the 1960s. So far he hasn't even got the Daredevil name yet. When Murdock goes out as a vigilante, he's dressed in the simple black cloth outfit of Frank Miller's "Man Without Fear" miniseries, and he's called by those who meet him "the man in black."

The bad guys are understated too. No outlandish costumes or melodramatic plots to rule the world. Daredevil in this series appears to be poised to fight organized crime. The show starts out with him interrupting a mob human trafficking action, fighting ordinary thugs with guns.

The first episode also introduced us to Karen Paige, Foggy Nelson, Turk and Wesley. (Wesley is the kingpin's right hand man, at least in Miller's "Born Again" story.)

So, good series. Definitely not for the young kids, though.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

remembering arizona

If you are looking for a nice place to vacation this summer, may I recommend the Grand Canyon?

Located in the general area of Phoenix, Arizona, the Grand Canyon is an inspiration to behold. For thousands and thousands of years, the waters of the Colorado River steadily have cut their way through the living rock to carve it out. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. In places it is as much as 18 miles across, and at points the canyon walls are 6,000 feet high.

It is a place of surpassing beauty. Its walls are a stunning array of reds, and the river is a living blend of colors. Wildlife thrives there in the desert, with fish that race upstream to spawn or simply pass their lives navigating the twists of the river's bends. Coyotes and mountain lions hunt their prey along the river's twists and turns, and during the winter months bald eagles join other raptors and the newly reintroduced California condor in the skies overhead.

How can you describe sunset at the Grand Canyon? Words cannot express its beauty. Each night God makes the sky his canvas and with broad strokes he paints a work of timelessly fleeting beauty. And then, as the evening fades, he whispers the names of the stars and calls them forth one by one. It is impossible to see night come to the Grand Canyon and not be filled with wonder.

I would go on, but I've never been to the Grand Canyon. Instead, when I visited the state 15 years ago, my mother-in-law took us to another location people the world over know Arizona for: Tombstone. This small city is the site of the O.K. Corral, not to be confused with that famously mediocre church hymn, "The O.K. Chorale"; nor with that forgettable reef off the East Coast, the O.K. Coral.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the best-known and best-loved shoot-out of all history. Aside from movies like “Tombstone” and the imaginatively titled "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," it has appeared on television in series as unlikely as "Star Trek" and "Dr. Who," and even on "Peabody's Improbable History." It's easy to see why it's such a crowd-pleaser. It's got guns. It's got bullets. It's got dead bodies piled up sky-high. It's got good guys and bad guys. It's even true! (Kind of.)

Not surprisingly, the Wyatt Earp and his associates define the city. When we visited, a clothing store there boasted that it used to be the saloon where Wyatt Earp was the dealer at a faro table. Other places identified themselves as the office Doc Holliday used for his dental practice; the home of his girlfriend, Big Nose Kate; the burial place of the Clanton brothers; and the spot where Morgan Earp was killed.

The references went on and on, and before long I found myself not only spotting references to Wyatt Earp and the others, but actively looking for them. By lunchtime, when I used the bathroom at Big Nose Kate's Saloon, it had reached the point that I half-expected to see a sign identifying the urinal where Wyatt Earp used to pee.

It's hard to blame the municipal and business leaders for making the gunfight so central to the town's identity. Seventy miles southeast of Tuscon, there's not much else to support the town's economy. There are fewer than 2,000 people in Tombstone these days, but tourism revenue has given them a high school that would make any community proud.

I'd say their tourism strategy is working out all right for them, but all the same, the next time I visit Arizona, I think I'd prefer to see the Grand Canyon.

I'm told it's really nice there.

Copyright © 2010, 2015 by David Learn. Used with permission.