If you’re going into the wilderness, you’ll want to pack light – and wisely. Make sure you have ample water. Food. A backpack. A few old DVDs of Land of the Lost.
You might not think it, but the 1970s TV series can work as a pretty good survival skills seminar. You believed Land of the Lost was some mindless escapism that used to air among Saturday morning cartoons? Hardly. It was a visual survival guide for kids.
Sure, if you want to learn to be a survivalist, you’d probably be better off taking an actual survival skills course. Maybe go camping or backpacking with some experienced outdoors people who know what they’re doing. But if those aren’t options, try watching reruns of Land of the Lost. It may just save your life.
Today's "TV Lesson" Breakdown:
- First, a Little About Land of the Lost
- Survival Skills Tip #1: Know something about the place you’re traveling to
- Survival Skills Tip #2: Know when to run from predators
- Tip #3: Don’t panic; have patience
- Tip #4: Seek shelter
- Tip #5: Have a plan for when things go awry
- Tip #6: Know first aid
- Tip #7: Know Morse code
- Tip #8: Stick together
- Tip #9: Learn to forage for food
- Tip #10: Pack medical supplies
- Stray Observations about The Land of the Lost
First, a Little About Land of the Lost
So we’re on the same page -- we're talking about the 1970s TV series, and not the 1991 TV series remake. That Land of Lost is dead to me.
No, I shouldn’t say that. I apologize to the actors and crew on the version of that show. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it; it may be the best thing ever. I grew up on the 1970s version and never had any interest in the reboot.
The 2009 movie, Land of the Lost, with Will Ferrell, I've also never watched. I was scared away by the movie reviews. For instance, Ty Burr, movie critic for The Boston Globe, said, "Genially terrible, Lost is lazy, sloppy multiplex filler, good for a few solid giggles and not much more."
And that was one of the nicer reviews.
The Miami Herald called the movie "drivel." The New York Post called the movie "terminally stupid, sloppy, campy and cheesy -- and thoroughly unexciting and unfunny..." Variety said it was a "laborious mess," and The Hollywood Reporter referred to it as "lame sketch comedy." The Christian Science Monitor called it "resolutely uninspired" and graded it a D+.
On the other hand, the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert kind of liked it: "Land of the Lost inspires fervent hatred, which with the right kind of movie can be a good thing. Amid widespread disdain, I raise my voice in a bleat of lonely, if moderate, admiration."
Now I kind of want to see it.
So about the 1970s version. Land of the Lost debuted in 1974 and ran for three seasons on NBC, airing Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. It was about the Marshall family. There was Rick Marshall, a widowed park ranger, and his son, Will, and his daughter, Holly, and they were... well, I'll let the Land of the Lost theme lyrics tell you the story:
Marshall, Will and Holly
On a routine expedition
They met the greatest earthquake ever known.
They were high up on the rapids
When it struck their tiny raft
And plunged them down a thousand feet below
There they go
To the land of the lost...
The song continues, basically repeating the lyrics. No idea why the lyrics didn't use Rick's first name and simply went with his last name and then the first names of the two children. Sadly, I can't ask songwriter Linda Laurie, who died in 2009 of cancer. (Laurie was an accomplished songwriter when she penned the lyrics to Land of the Lost and during the course of her career, penned songs for various artists, including Bobby Vinton and Sonny and Cher.)
So the Marshalls are on a boat, and this earthquake shakes them up and sends them through some time portal and into the past.
Or during some period of time.
As a little kid when watching Land of the Lost, I assumed the Marshalls traveled way back to the prehistoric age.
The show strongly suggests, however, that this wasn’t a case of the Marshalls going back to, say, one million years B.C., but possibly some other planet. For instance, in the pilot episode, Rick Marshall mentions seeing three moons, just before they were swept into the dinosaur-riddled world that they are in, and of course there are the Sleestaks and Pakuni.
The Pakuni, which seem ape-like, could be ancestors of humans; the Sleestaks, as lizard-like creatures, are less likely.
In other words, Land of the Lost was apparently set in some weird dimension, kind of a Twilight Zone type of world.
Wherever the Marshalls were, I still like thinking of it as some period in Earth’s past long, long ago, but I'm sure some Land of the Lost fans who know the show better are perfectly happy with the series' premise.
When Land of the Lost debuted, I was four years old, and so I admit that my memories of watching the show are pretty fuzzy, and the finer plot points, I know I missed. But as a kid, I loved that theme song and found Land of the Lost an exciting, enthralling series. The Marshalls always seemed like they were constantly in danger. Watching these stop motion animated dinosaurs now, as an adult, however, is kind of like looking at a TV show that was shot in somebody’s basement. Like many adults watching it today, when we look back at the show, I imagine we're all thinking:
Really? I was afraid of THAT?
The budget for each Land of the Lost episode was about $36.
At least, that’s what it sometimes looks like, if you compare the series to today’s standards, which I know isn’t fair. But far more resources went into the series than you might think, which we’ll discuss later, and that may explain why the series captured the imaginations and hearts of a lot of kids in the 1970s. It’s still beloved today by many Generation X’ers.
So what survival skills can you pick up from Land of the Lost? There are probably thousands of tips, but here are some significant ones.
Survival Skills Tip #1: Know something about the place you’re traveling to
You have to hand it to Rick Marshall. He was a park ranger in the United States and didn’t plan on getting sucked into a time vortex, but he knew a lot about dinosaurs, which served him well. In the first episode, called "Cha-Ka," Rick immediately shouts, “Tyrannosaur” when he sees one about to feast on them, whereas many of us, I suspect, would have soiled our pants and then just shouted something intelligible.
(Even with a stop motion animated dinosaur, assuming it was 20 feet tall or however tall, I think a lot of us would be alarmed and cursing.)
But when Marshall sees a dinosaur, like an allosaurus, he identifies it as he shepherds his children to safety.
Hard to tell if this knowledge really helped the Marshalls survive, but it didn’t hurt.
Real life counterpart
The Donner party may be the best historical example of why it’s important to know the terrain. The main reason the wagon train ran into so much trouble during the winter of 1846 and 1847, and that people became snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains, starving and eating their own, is that while they had learned plenty about traveling through the country by wagon – they knew nothing about crossing the mountains.
Survival Skills Tip #2: Know when to run from predators
OK, knowing when to run from an animal about to eat you as a survival tip is kind of obvious, but it is important to know when you’re outmatched.
The Marshalls likely survived for three seasons because they always knew when they could battle a dinosaur -- and when to let their feet do the talking… er, walking… er, running.
In fact, in 1998, Wesley Eure, who played Will, told a newspaper reporter, "All I ever said on that show was 'Run, Holly, run! There's a dinosaur!'”
Not that Eure minded. “It was great fun,” he told the paper.
Real life counterpart
The coward’s credo – he who fights and runs away will live to fight another day – is based on the premise that running for your life is a perfectly reasonable survival tactic. That saying is based on a true story, that of Demosthenes, an orator in Athens, Greece. In August of 338 B.C., Demosthenes ran from the battlefield, and while he was mocked for that, he kept insisting, “The man who runs away may fight again.”
Tip #3: Don’t panic; have patience
Sure, there are times you may have to make fast decisions in a dangerous situation, but you don’t want to lose your head. That's how, for instance, people can get lost in the woods. They panic, hastily pick a direction, and before long, they, too, are in the land of the lost.
When the Marshall family are getting their bearings in the first episode, Rick reassures his kids that they will manage to get back home – eventually.
“If there's a way in here, there's got to be a way out of here. It might just take us awhile to find it,” Rick says.
Real life counterpart
In 2016, three men missing at sea for three days were rescued on a deserted island in the Pacific. We'll assume that they were patient and didn't lose their heads. They were saved after the spelled out the word "help" with palm leaves on the beach.
Tip #4: Seek shelter
You probably aren’t going to last long in the wilderness – certainly not one populated with dinosaurs – if you don’t have somewhere you can hide, recuperate and shelter yourself from the elements.
In The Land of the Lost, the Marshalls make their home in a cave. Its opening is just big enough to worry that dinosaurs might get in, but also small enough to be fairly certain that most of them wouldn’t.
Watching the show as a kid, you always knew that if the Marshalls could make it to the cave, they'd be okay. It was kind of like playing tag with dinosaurs, and the cave was home base.
Real life counterpart
Too many to mention. Just think of all the times in a tornado or hurricane, people are advised to “seek shelter.”
Tip #5: Have a plan for when things go awry
In the first episode of Land of the Lost, which opens with the Marshalls seeming like they just got to this weird land moments ago but clearly, they’ve been there a little while – they have the cave as a base already, with a basket-type elevator, and a spear that they call “the fly swatter.”
They use this spear-like piece of wood to throw into the tyrannosaur’s mouth – to convince the dinosaur to leave the Marshalls alone.
Real life counterpart
To keep bears away, campers sometimes leave a radio on while they sleep. Human voices may keep them away, which is why you want a station to play talk radio instead of music. Flashing lights and citrus cents can also work.
Tip #6: Know first aid
Hey, it helps. After Holly and Will save the life of a primate-like but kind of human-like creature who goes by the name Cha-Ka – he was close to becoming a tyrannosaur's meal – Rick does some first aid.
He uses three sticks and two bandanas to make a splint for Cha-Ka. And by helping Cha-Ka, Cha-Ka later returns the favor. That’s another survival skills tip embedded in this first aid advice – if you can make friends in a wilderness, it beats having enemies.
Real life counterpart
If watching Rick Marshall put a split on Cha-Ka doesn’t feel like it’s enough to teach you first aid, there are wilderness first aid courses that people can take. The Red Cross offers one, as do many organizations. You’ll learn not just how to offer first aid to somebody injured, but how to offer it if you’re in the middle of nowhere.
Tip #7: Know Morse code
Well, if you have any free time on your hands to learn Morse code – it could help save you some day. Though you’d have to hope that whoever you try and send Morse code to, that the other person receiving your message will also know how to read Morse code.
But in the second episode of the series, "The Sleestak God," Will and his father communicate from a far distance with little mirrors, sunlight and a knowledge of Morse Code.
Of course, Land of the Lost doesn’t offer any instruction on how to create or translate Morse code. The show only goes so far in its lessons on survival techniques.
Real life counterpart
In 1921, in Philadelphia, Arthur Brenner, assistant city treasurer, was rescued because he knew Morse code, and because somebody else knew it, too. According to The Titusville Herald, the paper for Titusville, Pennsylvania, Brenner found himself locked in a bank vault, hermetically sealed in concrete and steel. He found a piece of wood in this vault and tapped out in Morse code, "I am locked in."
The night watchman tapped back, "Will get help."
Granted, hopefully a night watchman hearing any tapping from a vault would go get somebody to unlock it.
But you don’t have to necessarily know Morse code to save a life. Families can develop their own codes. In 2018, a 10-year-old girl made news after a stranger approached her and a friend. The guy told the girl that her brother had been in a serious accident and he had been instructed to pick her up.
The girl asked him what the family’s code word was.
The guy didn’t know, and apparently worried the kids were onto him and realized he was a kidnapper, he drove away.
Tip #8: Stick together
The Marshalls tend to stay together, and if Rick Marshall ends up going off into the wilderness to check on something mysterious or to find food, he’s always imploring his kids to stay together and watch out for each other.
In “The Search,” however, Will ends up going off alone, in search of Enik, a creature called an Altrusian, which is an ancestor of the Sleestaks. Will finds Enik, hoping he can save his father, who is dying after being shocked by some crystals (long story).
Will finds Enik. In fact, Enik, planning to escape this weird world and go back to his own, has opened the time door – and in doing so, Will spots his own world. If Will wanted to, he could walk right through it and leave his father and Holly stuck in on this strange dinosaur planet.
Will refuses to leave, of course, and Enik is baffled.
"You don't understand. Human beings stick together, especially when there's trouble. That's just the way we are,” Will says.
Enik wonders if it’s a law that Will is following.
"It's not the law,” Will says. “It's just the way we live, human beings. At least, Dad, Holly and myself."
Impressed with Will’s moral code, Enik decides to forgo escaping the land of the lost and instead, he saves Rick Marshall’s life.
Real life counterpart
There are too many sad stories out there of people who have gotten separated from groups in dangerous situations and didn’t live to tell the tale. While there are exceptions, like crowds and viruses, generally, it's important to remember the old cliché, a cliché because it's true: there’s safety in numbers.
Tip #9: Learn to forage for food
If you do that, you can probably survive any wilderness – provided, of course, you have some shelter and you aren’t mauled by a triceratops. In the episode “Stone Soup,” Rick Marshall starts making dinner after Will and Holly argue about whose turn it is to cook. (Yep, kids, it doesn’t matter if you travel into time or another dimension – there are still chores to be done.)
If you’re familiar with the European folk tale, you have a sense of what happens next. Rick puts some stones into a pot of hot water and asks his kids to try the “stone soup.” Will and Holly sample it but aren’t impressed.
"It tastes like water," Holly says.
"Well, the heat must have affected your taste buds," Rick says. "C'mon, Will. You take a taste."
Will is also underwhelmed. “I hate to tell you this, Dad… It tastes like hot water.”
So that leads to Holly and Will looking for ingredients to put in the soup, mostly because they’re worried that their dad is losing his marbles, making a soup with just water and stones. They go off and find salt deposits, and then later, other items, like carrots, potatoes and onions. Naturally, sooner or later, Holly and Will realize that they’ve been played, and that in trying to make the stone soup taste better, they’ve made dinner.
In any case, whether you’re stuck in a time warp, a deserted island or in the middle of a vast forest, the point is still the same – you need to figure out a way to eat.
Real life counterpart
As noted, "Stone Soup" is a folklore tale that’s been around for (at least) centuries. The first known version came from French author Madame de Noyer in 1720. As the story went, three soldiers tricked peasants into offering up ingredients from their homes, so they could all make and enjoy stone soup. Ever since, the "Stone Soup" story has been shared in literature collections, newspapers and on TV shows like Land of the Lost and The Walking Dead.
Tip #10: Pack medical supplies
Yes, we’ve talked about the importance of knowing first aid – but having medical supplies on hand is another important survival strategy.
In the third and final season of Land of the Lost, there's an episode called “Survival Kit,” and it could have been Holly's last, if it weren't for the efforts of her father (and the scriptwriters).
Rick had a survival kit on the family's routine rafting expedition – and inside that survival kit were antibiotics.
Unfortunately, the antibiotics that Holly so desperately needs is inside the survival kit, which is at the bottom of a pool of water where the Marshalls first wound up, after their crazy rapid river ride.
And even worse for Holly, Will and the viewers, Rick Marshall is no longer a character on the Land of the Lost. After the actor left the series after two seasons, the executive producers came up with a far-fetched scenario (I know, like the whole show isn’t far-fetched), where Rick winds up going through the time door – and his brother, Uncle Jack, enters through it.
Ron Harper, the actor who plays Uncle Jack, does a fine job with the role, but the abrupt and unsettling absence of Rick Marshall may explain why this was Land of the Lost’s last season.
So Uncle Jack swims into the pool of water and finds the survival kit while Will keeps some dinosaurs at bay.
Then, a little later, the survival kit with the antibiotics are stolen, after a plot development too outlandish to get into, without having to write about another 19 paragraphs. But suffice it to say that Uncle Jack and Will manage to get the antibiotics back and into Holly, who makes a full recovery.
Also, if you do ever check out the episode "Survival Kit," you'll want to take a look at the main villain. That's Richard Kiel playing a bad guy named Malak. He was close to his big break; in three years, he plays Jaws, one of the recurring bad guys in the James Bond movies.
Real life counterpart
Most survival kits, or first aid kits, won’t have antibiotics, since, you know, those have to be prescribed by a doctor. Still, if you’re putting one together, you may want to include some antibiotic ointments. Judging from what I’m finding on the internet, if you’re putting together a first aid or survival kit, you might want to have medical supplies on hand like hydrogen peroxide to help disinfect a wound, or eyewash solution or any number of things, like instant cold packs or an aluminum finger splint. It also might not be a bad idea to include ibuprofen and anti-diarrhea medication.
So that’s 10 tips. Could we go on? Definitely. But that’s probably more than enough. The point is that with these 10 survival tips, carefully cultivated from these Land of the Lost episodes, if you memorize these and put them into action, you should do pretty well if you ever get lost in the wilderness.
And if you don’t commit these to memory? Well, if you get lost in a time vortex and find yourself running from dinosaurs, don’t come crying to me.
Stray Observations about The Land of the Lost
OK, this has nothing to do with survival techniques, but these are just some interesting tidbits (interesting, if you’re a fan of Land of the Lost) that I found while researching this show.
The Paku language was real. Sid and Marty Krofft, the executive producers of Land of the Lost, put far more work into the show than it may sometimes appear. They hired Victoria Fromkin, then chairwoman of the linguistics department at UCLA, and an accomplished linguist overall, to invent a new language for the primitive Paku tribe.
Fromkin created a rudimentary grammar and syntax and developed a vocabulary for the Pakus.
"I've translated English into Paku for five scripts so far," Fromkin told a newspaper in 1974. "I must have constructed close to 200 words already. I'm not very fluent in the language--I still have to look up the vocabulary--but my hope is that children should be able to learn a little Paku from watching the show."
Indeed, there were rules to the Paku language. Plural words were formed by "ni" (prounounced: knee) at the end of words. So the Paku word for child was abu, and children was "abuni."
The Sleestaks were tall. A 1974 New York Times article states that the Sleestaks were played by the University of Southern California basketball team on platform shoes, which is overselling it a bit. They were tall, but not that tall. And while there may have been some basketball players in costume, it wasn't, like, the entire team. There were only three Sleestaks, because Land of the Lost only had three Sleestaks costumes. So camera angles would try to make it look like there were a lot of them.
That said, at least one of the Sleestaks was a future basketball star – Bill Laimbeer. He was in high school when he landed the part of a Sleestak. He later played for the University of Notre Dame and then went onto have a thriving career with the Detroit Pistons.
Wesley Eure sang the Land of the Lost theme song. Yep, the guy crooning about the Marshall family going down that raft is none other than the actor who played Will. He was a talented singer -- and, at one point, almost wound up on The Partridge Family when it looked like David Cassidy might be leaving the show. Eure's a multi-talented guy; among many projects on his resume, he was one of the creators of the PBS TV educational animated cartoon series, Dragon Tales (1999-2005).
The writers had some real science-fiction chops. Especially in the first two seasons – and then things kind of went south in the third – a lot of respected writers were writing the scripts. Theodore Sturgeon, for instance, had written a couple Star Trek episodes, not to mention 120 short stories and 11 novels. Larry Niven wrote three Land of the Lost episodes and had already written Ringworld, a 1970 novel that’s considered a classic of science fiction literature. There are more examples, but you get the idea.
The special effects team was prestigious. The cave and jungle sets were created by Gene Warren, who won an Oscar for special effects for the (fantastic) 1960 movie, The Time Machine.
Producer Marty Krofft said in a 1974 newspaper interview that it is "the most complicated show that's ever been done on television."
It’s easy to laugh at that statement now, because of how rudimentary the special effects look in comparison to today’s TV shows. But there’s no doubt that Land of the Lost was a visual feast and imaginative treat for children in the 1970s. That’s why, almost 50 years after its debut, some middle aged adults (ahem) still find themselves thinking about how cool it would be to wind up exploring a world of dinosaurs.
And yet, as imaginative as Land of the Lost was, because of its lack of sophistication in some respects, that may have helped the show's appeal. After all, even in 1974, the shot of the raft on the rapids couldn't have appeared authentic to audiences. That the show sometimes looked like something a bunch of kids could put together in their backyard, with a little initiative, may explain why the series was embraced by Generation X.
That mix of high and low-budget production values may also be why a 1991 reboot and a multi-million dollar feature film starring Will Ferrell couldn’t live up to the original series... although from what Roger Ebert says, the movie certainly tried.
The Land of the Lost 1970s TV series may have been a lot of things, but as entertainment went, it was never lost.
Where you can watch Land of the Lost: Unfortunately, no streaming channel seems to be carrying this iconic show, but you can find every episode on YouTube.com. The episodes may be of varying quality, but still.