Saturday, July 17, 2010


Science fiction producer Irwin Allen, the acclaimed “Master of Disaster,” helmed the television pilot episode of his last major cult sci-fi saga “Land of the Giants.” The premise somewhat resembles director Jack Arnold’s venerable 1957 film “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” “Land of the Giants” (*** OUT OF ****) and “The Incredible Shrinking Man” put their protagonists in similar predicaments. They contend with human beings and animals about 12 times their own size. Although we never know exactly what planet they have landed on, they encounter the same situations that Scott Carey (Grant Williams) confronted in “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” Carey dealt with a giant tomcat and a tarantula, among other adversaries. The series combined elements of Allen’s “Lost in Space” because these unfortunate people become castaways on a different planet. Allen foresaw the use of the space shuttle to lift astronauts into space and then touch down like a plane. Like “Lost in Space,” some characters are reminiscent of other Allen television series. Gary Conway plays the stalwart captain, while Kurt Kasznar is cast in the mold of Dr. Smith from “Lost in Space” because the Kasznar character has stolen a large sum of money. There are two women; one is a working-class airline stewardess and the other is a prima donna celebrity. Unlike “Lost in Space” and “The Swiss Family Robinson,” “Land of the Giants” doesn’t have a normal family. Nevertheless, all age groups are represented. Previous, Allen’s TV series relied on either a military unit or a family unit. “Land of the Giants” fractures that norm. Conspicuous by her absence is an adolescent girl. Possibly, the absence of the teenage girl was a ploy to draw a predominantly young male audience. Furthermore, Allen never allowed his characters to grow romantically attached to each other.

“The Crash” unfolds in the summer of June 12, 1983. Seven passengers aboard Flight 612 from New York City to London, England, encounter anomalous solar disturbance that resembles a storm in the outer atmosphere. Jagged forks of lightning strike near their craft. Captain Steve Burton (Gary Conway of “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein”) loses radio contact with London. Burton and co-pilot Dan Erickson (Don Marshall of “Terminal Island”) spot a radiant green ball of fire, and Burton struggles to plot a course deviation from this incredible power. Nevertheless, the huge mysterious ball of fire intractably draws the sub-orbital spacecraft ‘Spindrift’ inside it like a magnet. After Spindrift entered the ball and experiences a fireworks display, everything returns to normal. Later, they believe that they’ve sighted London, but the control tower doesn’t notify them about what runway to use. Burton lands the Spindrift because their power cells are fading. A thick, impenetrable fog surrounds them, and Dan accompanies Burton as they orient themselves to their surroundings. Imagine their surprise and shock when a gigantic car runs over them. They dive between their wheels so they emerge unscathed and rush back to the Spindrift. No sooner have they gotten themselves strapped back into the Spindrift than they experience another shock. A small boy appears and picks up the Spindrift. Burton hits the thrusters and they break free of the child and find themselves dodging skyscrapers. They land again, and Mark Wilson (Don Matheson of “Murph the Surf”) informs Burton that he has a $50-million deal awaiting him in London. He offers to bribe Burton to get them back on schedule. Meanwhile, Commander Alexander B. Fitzhugh (Golden Globe nominee Kurt Kasznar of “The Happy Time”) ventures outside the Spindrift while Burton struggles not to be affronted by Wilson’s cynical implication that he has been paid to delay Wilson’s arrival in London.

No sooner has Fitzhugh slipped outside unnoticed than the resident cast little boy, Barry Lockridge (Stefan Arngrim of “The A-Team”), follows him and informs him that he is breaking orders not to leave the ship. Fitzhugh explains, in reference to a case that he clutches like his own heart, that: “There are devilish men who would stop at nothing to get their hands on this bag.” Essentially, Fitzhugh resembles the passenger in John Ford’s “Stagecoach” who has embezzled money and is trying to flee the authorities. The stewardess character, Betty Hamilton (Heather Young of “A Guide for the Married Man”) informs Burton that Fitzhugh and Barry have left the craft and vanished into the jungle. Initially, Burton hides from a giant lizard but he has to take to his heels to escape a monstrous, growling tarantula. Note: the special effects aren’t very advanced. Meantime, Barry decides to follow Fitzhugh. Although Fitzhugh fears devilish men, he should fear devilish felines. They stumble in front of an enormous male tomcat and this big kitty swats at Fitzhugh’s luggage and currency scatters like confetti from the gaping case. Nobody is content to remain in the Spindrift. Celebrity lovely Valerie Scott (Deanna Lund of “Tony Rome”) follows Burton into the jungle. She joins him in an area teeming with oversized cricket bail boxes with mesh spread across huge holes. Burton forbids Valerie from entering the box, but her curiosity proves to be her downfall. The captain rushes inside to pull her out and a trap door descends. Later, a Goliath-sized, bearded, bespectacled entomologist (Don Watters of “Truck Turner”) in a lab coat retrieves the boxes and hauls them back to his laboratory.

Don and Wilson track down Burton and Valerie to the entomologist’s laboratory where they find the captain and the glamour girl Scotch-taped to a table. Wilson slashes a tube that releases gas while Don shimmies up a make-shift rope and lugs a scalpel over to slit the tape. The gas erupts into flames and the female laboratory assistant is overcome by the fumes. While the entomologist helps her, our hero climb down the rope and escape. The entomologist pursues them with a small butterfly net and briefly traps Don as our heroes run across a paved street and enter a drainage pipe. Fitzhugh, the women, and Barry spot the entomologist and Barry aims the secret revolver in Fitzhugh’s fist and fires it at the entomologist. The bullet strikes him in the leg. As he crouches to grab his wounded shin, everybody races to Don’s aid. They free him from the netting and hasten into the drainage pipe. The entomologist pleads for them not to flee, but they vanish inside the drainage pipe as he thrusts his hand in to grab one of them. Our heroes come out on the other side and find themselves in a garbage dump. Barry puts down his doggie Chipper and as they wander into the garbage dump, a great Dane attacks them. The girls, Fitzhugh and the mutt take refuge in an egg carton and Burton fashions an explosive that drives the mastiff away. Fitzhugh cries in agony to be gone from this world and Burton informs him that fleeing such predicaments is going to become a way of life for them.

The obvious attraction of “Land of the Giants” is the predicament where our heroes and heroines must survive in a world not unlike Jonathan Swift’s seminal sci-fi novel “Gulliver’s Travels,” specifically Part II: A Voyage to Brobdingnag. Our protagonists here are the equivalent of the Lilliputians. “Land of the Giants” creator Allen shoots the giants with low-angle camera set-ups to exaggerate their awesome statue and “Futureworld” lenser Howard Schwartz adds to the gigantic effect by employing wide-angle lens to distort the giants. Lasting 51-episodes, our diminutive heroes had to constantly outwit their gigantic adversaries. The other neat thing about “Land of the Giants” are the massive everyday objects that make our heroes look so tiny. The props for the show are inventive: colossal sized spools of thread, giant razor-blades, aerosol cans, shoes, etc. Of course, more fiction than science figured into virtually everything that Irwin Allen produced. The cast is adequate, but largely unknown. Nevertheless, if you enjoy this kind of nonsense, “Land of the Giants” can be a lot of fun.