As a child, director Brad Silberling loved the series Land of the Lost, but admits that he found the ape-boy in it creepy, and became the President of the ‘I Hate Chaka Fan Club.’ Thirty-five years later he’s directed the movie version starring Will Ferrell and Anna Friel, in which they are transported to a land with dinosaurs and creatures known as Sleestaks. But the movie, a PG-13, certainly doesn’t resemble the children’s series.
A lot of the humor in this is raunchy; obviously kids are going to want to see it, what age were you aiming for?
Parents have to decide that. It’s funny, innuendo seems to fly over kids’ heads. I think more about kids not getting traumatized, because one of the things we were excited about was really committing to the photo-realism of these dinosaurs and the action. My daughter is eight and certainly not going to come and see the movie, my little guy is four who would come to the effects house with me and was fascinated by Grumpy, the dinosaur, but would hit the deck anytime he came on camera. We set out to make a PG-13 movie, and it is decidedly PG-13.
Was it difficult to blend the comedy with the CG effects?
That’s what made it exciting. Honestly, the most daunting part of it was dealing with the Sleestaks because they move so damn slow. I’m known to be relatively patient. I’m a pretty cool customer. Those guys drove me to the point of almost losing my mind. I brought it on myself. I really wanted them to be suit performers. I didn’t want to have them be CG beings. They were effectively blind, they were in platform shoes and it was like wearing a wet suit indoors. So imagine, you’ve got a big set and you’re trying to keep a camera set up going and then suddenly between takes this army of people come in pulling their eyes out, feeding themselves, and I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ The rest of it, oddly enough, was really what got me excited.
The special effects on the TV show were infamously cheesy, did you ever think about doing a spoof on them?
When I thought about doing a crazy version like Sid and Marty Krofft [creators of the TV series] did, they had stop-motion animation and puppetry, my worry was that within five minutes it would play itself out. It would feel like a sketch. A lot of the humor in the movie comes from the fact that you’ve got these characters who make ridiculous choices in the face of actual danger, and if you’re going to basically have these bad stop-motion [creators] I wouldn’t know how to hold on to the stakes of the movie for 90 minutes.
Because you found Chaka creepy when you were a child, did you put in the bit where Will Ferrell’s character says he wants to eat him?
That was a fantastic Will Ferrell improv. That was a great riff where he says, ‘When we’re desperate enough, we will cook Chaka.’
When you’re doing a movie with an enormous budget, how much ad-libbing can you really allow, when time is literally money?
You know what’s interesting is if you plan properly, the best spent money is giving the actors the room. A film like this can be a trap when it gets incredibly formal with the special effects, and your actors have to fit into this corner of the frame. I’ve had enough experience with effects that I know the tricks, so actually it allowed me to give them greater freedom.