There still hasn’t ever been anything quite like Land of the Lost.
A live-action Saturday morning kids’ show in the 1970s, Lost was produced by Sid and Marty Krofft, the creators of H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund and Sea Monsters, but it couldn’t have been more different. Using a combination of stop-motion animation and men in rubber costumes, it told the story of a family trapped in a mysterious land of dinosaurs and curiously slow-moving reptilian humanoids called Sleestack.
Since its original run from 1974 to 1976, the show’s cult status has risen steadily — mostly because all of the show’s fans have grown up remembering it so fondly. By today’s standards, the special effects look ridiculous (which, frankly, is part of the show’s enduring appeal). But there’s also no denying that some of the stories it told were surprisingly sophisticated.
And did I mention the Sleestak?
Recently, I had a chance to chat with the former star of the show, Wesley Eure, who played the teenage son, Will (due to his status as an emerging teen heartthrob, he was billed simply as “Wesley” for two years of the show’s run).
After the show ended, Eure went onto a successful career as an actor (with a long stint on the soap opera Days of Our Lives), game show host (of Nickelodeon’s Finders Keepers), producer (of the PBS show Dragon Tales), and children’s book author (his book The Red Wings of Christmas was almost turned into an animated Disney movie in the 1990s).
But with the big screen adaptation of Land of the Lost opening this Friday, what everyone wants to talk to Wesley about this week is, of course, his time on that classic show.
And sure enough, he has some pretty interesting stories to tell — including some about, yes, the Sleestak.
TheTorchOnline: So you’ve seen the new movie, what did you think?
WE: You know what? It’s Will Ferrell at his best. If you’re expecting the drama of the Marshall Family, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re expecting a slapstick, funny, comedy with Will Ferrell, you’ll be delighted.
TTO: Does it capture any essence of the show, do you think?
WE: Yeah, they kept the Sleestak exactly the same, except for their teeth, which are amazing in this movie. They move just as slow. [laughs] They kept Enik. There’s a lot of references. They call the dinosaur you see in the trailers Grumpy.
TTO: Do they have the flyswatter?
WE: [laughs] No. But Cha-Ka is very funny, very bawdy. Cha-Ka’s very sexual in it. It’s a hoot. Danny McBride, who plays the part I did — of course, nobody is playing the parts we did. Marshall, Will, and Holly are not brother, sister, and father. Will Ferrell plays an anthropologist, well, a quantum paleontologist is what he is. Holly is a girl from England, played by Anna Friel from Pushing Up Daisies, and is a big fan of his research. Will, the character I played, is a stoner out in the desert who has this amusement ride that goes through this cheesy underground drainage ditch that they created. All hell breaks loose, and they enter the Land of the Lost.
Land of the Lost has been with Disney for years. I think they went through four or five scripts, tons of writers, it was optioned off and on. It took someone with star power like Will to get this pulled off. And the only way it would work was, they looked at it and said, “It’s like the three stooges.” They tweaked it.
TTO: I hear you had a cameo that was cut.
WE: We did. We did a cameo with Will at La Brea Tar Pits, Kathy [Coleman], who played Holly, and I.
TTO: Why was it cut?
WE: They changed the entire ending. They spent weeks and weeks and millions of dollars filming at the La Brea Tar Pits, then they cut it all. It just wasn’t working. They cut all of that. I was part of the ending. Then they reshot a scene with Matt Lauer, which is great. That scene is really funny. Matt Lauer is just terrific in this movie.
TTO: When did you learn the cameo had been cut?
WE: At the TV Land Awards a couple of weeks ago.
TTO: Were you disappointed?
WE: I was furious! [laughs] It was like, “How could you do that?” Put us in the credits or something! Do something silly, you know?
TTO: You could always say you were a Sleestak.
WE: That was exactly the original intention! During the credits they were going to have people taking Sleestak heads off and they were going to have the biggest stars in Hollywood, from Mel Gibson to Tom Cruise to whoever they could get. I was going to be one of the Sleestak. But they had to reshoot the movie, so they spent so much money doing that, I think they ran out of time and money to do it.
But I was very disappointed that we’re not in it. It was very odd. It was odd being on the red carpet the other night at Grauman’s Chinese [for the premiere]. To do all that with them was sort of an odd feeling because it was like being at the party, but not being part of the party. [laughs] I had to give my photo ID to get my ticket.
TTO: Did you ever think at the time that this thing would still be remembered all these years later?
WE: I was saying at the after-party for [the new movie], which was above the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. I was with Philip Paley who played Cha-Ka, and we were looking at all these props from the movie. There were I don’t know how many thousands of people there, with buffets and the band playing, and the celebrities: Brooke Shields, Randy Jackson, Bruce Vilanch. I looked around and I said, “Do you believe that our little show was the spark of something like this?” We were just standing there thinking, “This is so odd!” Wonderful, but odd. We were just commiserating and thinking, “Hmm, why aren’t we part of this?”
TTO: On one hand, you are the reason it exists, but on the other it’s completely outside you. I can only imagine how surreal that must have been.
WE: It was very surreal. Some of the props, like the raft, looked very much like the old show. Anna Friel’s outfit is red and plaid, just like Holly wore. They kept the exact same colors for the outfits. There are a lot of nods to the old series. It’s certainly not based on the old series, but there’s Enik, who is a main character, and The Zarn, which was a villain in ours, and the Sleestak, Grumpy, Cha-Ka, all those things are part of it. They kept the Pakuni language, which was written by this linguist, this woman from UCLA. What Cha-Ka spoke was actually a real, created language. It had a vernacular and everything. You can actually go online and look up the language.
They do a great job in the movie. The guy that played Cha-Ka is terrific. He’s a Saturday Night Live guy.
TTO: I watched a couple of the episodes last night, and it was surreal even for me how indelible they were since I hadn’t seen them since 1974. I was also struck by how clever some of it was, the whole mythology of the Sleestak, and the whole land, but also how incredible cheesy the special effects were.
WE: Star Trek writers, David Gerald, he wrote “The Trouble with Tribbles,” the old classic. David’s one of the top sci-fi writers in the world. In the first year, he was one of the head writers. There were a lot of Star Trek writers, so some of the scripts were absolutely fabulous. Some were pretty stupid. I loved them the more complicated they got.
You have to remember that this is 1973. I had a knife that I carried, but I was never allowed to point it, because the rules for kid’s programming then. The Sleestak didn’t move very fast because they couldn’t be that threatening. There could be no violence. Nobody could get hurt. Nobody could really threatened somebody. But I remember watching the opening, I remember the day we shot it, we were sitting in the rubber raft and they said, “Ok, jerk your head back like you’re falling.” It almost looked like a Tidy Bowl with the blue water going down.
At the time, we had the largest Chromakey, which is the blue screen or green screen, whichever, but an entire soundstage wall painted. It was the largest ever in Hollywood. And the stop-frame animation, which took them eight hours to do sixty seconds, and the reason it didn’t make our first season was the cost. It was so expensive.
Today, they could just whip them up on the computer, and it would cost them nothing to do all that animation. But back then, everything was so complicated, and it had never been done. Actually, when we were on the show, we’d be in front of the green screen, and they’d do the animation, and because it was on TV, they could play it back and we could actually see everything. When we were on the green screen, we’d just point to a light up on the rafter and say, “That’s where Grumpy’s head is. Now, look at that and run the other way.” That’s how we did it.
TTO: The scenes when you’re crossing the bridge over the chasm, that’s all green screen?
WE: All green screen. They would place a riser and paint it blue, because blue disappears, and we would walk up the riser. We’d be all lined up on the animation to look like we were walking across the bridge. Which is exactly what they did in the movie. It’s the same technology, just a little bit better.
TTO: Did we ever see the Sleestak god? Or was that just always in the pit?
WE: No, you never saw him.
TTO: I didn’t know before this interview that you sang the theme song to the show… “Marshall, Will, and Holly, on a routine expedition…” Did they ever release it?
WE: No, but I used to go over to the Osmond’s house. The Osmond’s had a studio across from the Mormon Temple in Los Angeles, and we’d record these little ditties and it was fun. Bobby Sherman would record stuff with me.
TTO: Did you sing the theme to the show in your act ever?
WE: No, I didn’t. [laughs] What was fun was Will sings it in the movie, and when I met him on set of the movie, he came over and said, “I just learned to play the banjo and I sang the song.”
TTO: You don’t have to answer this, but I’m curious if you get royalties from the show.
WE: No, not at all. Back then, in the 70s on the morning kids’ shows, there was no royalties, at least for the first two seasons. By the third season, I think the royalties clicked in, so the Krofft’s never aired the third season until the marathon started.
TTO: Uh! Well, what are you gonna do? But I hear that at least a lot of people are contacting you via your website.
WE: I just put it up a couple of weeks ago. Because the movie was coming out, I had so many people were asking me what was going on, so I said, “I need to put something out there that has my voice.”
TTO: And you’ve already heard from a lot of people, I can imagine.
WE: Oh my gosh. The marathon was on last Monday, Memorial Day weekend, on SciFi. They had a 17-hour non-stop marathon of Land of the Lost. As a matter of fact, they’re doing it again on the 6th, I believe.
TTO: It’s all day Thursday and Friday this week.
WE: Oh really? I woke up at nine in the morning, and it had been on in New York time for several hours, and I decided to put a counter up on the website that morning. By the time the marathon ended, I had 11,500 hits.
Read more of my interview with Welsey Eure at AfterElton.com (including his publicly coming out for the first time as a gay man).
And if you’re interested in buying previous episodes of Land of the Lost (or any other media), support TheTorchOnline.com by purchasing them through this link.