Will Ferrell long ago earned a reputation as one of the most consistently funny actors in Hollywood. However, his role in 2009’s Land of the Lost gave the actor an opportunity to try out some of his comedic habits in a setting he wasn’t entirely used to. In interviews during production, Ferrell indicated that the very nature of the film impacted how he approached the humor of his character. Thus, it can be interesting to revisit this movie and examine exactly how Land of the Lost marked a unique turning point in Ferrell’s career.
First, it’s important to understand that the 2009 film, while based on the popular 1970s TV show of the same name, differs in certain key ways from its source material. Primarily, it has a markedly different tone.
The original TV series was an adventure show for young viewers. Ferrell himself has stated he was a fan of the series during his youth because, at the time, it seemed more “real” than the Saturday morning cartoons that were typically aimed at children. He appreciated the fact that “it didn’t talk down to kids.”
The film updates this premise by embracing a comedic approach. Like the show, it refrains from talking down to viewers, but it incorporates adult-friendly humor as well. The filmmakers understood that many of the people who went to see this movie would be adults who were fans of the series as kids. This audience would still enjoy the adventure depicted on screen, but there’s little doubt that many viewers would also be ready and eager to laugh at what they once found so thrilling. This is the same principle that has allowed similar nostalgia-based reboots, like 21 Jump Street, to succeed.
That’s likely why the team behind this project recruited Will Ferrell. He has the ability to deliver laughs in movies with an over-the-top premise. As the action on screen becomes more fantastical, Ferrell simply increases his manic energy to match.
However, this was a unique project for the actor. Ferrell pointed out in interviews that it was also necessary to simply let adventure play out naturally. In other films of his, like Anchorman or Talladega Nights, the goal has always been to be as funny as possible as often as possible. In a film like Land of the Lost, he appreciated the opportunity to play some of the scenes straight. The scenes themselves were so comedic by their very nature that playing them naturally actually resulted in funny moments.
Ferrell also explained that he believed his character, Rick Marshall, had certain qualities that made it easier to add humor to a scene when necessary. Marshall has a scientific mind and is in awe of what he’s experiencing in the movie. He keeps this quality even when he is in grave danger. Thus, Ferrell often had the chance to include funny lines that were appropriate to his character in “precarious situations.” As Ferrell explained it: “[I]t’s such a great backdrop to actually throw out these lines that are commenting that you’re about to be eaten. That’s why I love Rick Marshall who is . . . scared for his life [yet] his scientific mind is always working and he has a great appreciation of this character that’s going to eat him, all at the same time. It’s a great combination for comedy.”
This has been a major factor in Ferrell’s success. He never delivers funny lines merely because he is personally amused by them. He works hard to understand the nature of his character, then finds out how the humor naturally arises from that character. Land of the Lost gave him the chance to demonstrate those talents by letting him play a character whose enthusiasm for science remains fairly consistent, even when faced with possible death. This juxtaposition of the right character in the wrong situation allowed Ferrell to mine the depths of the role for humor.
Of course, Will Ferrell isn’t the only reason Land of the Lost manages to make viewers laugh. He’s accompanied by a strong supporting cast, including fellow comic Danny McBride. Ferrell explained that working with talented improvisers like McBride and the rest of the cast made the production of Land of the Lost a positive experience. For a viewer, this combination of comedic talents resulted in a movie that manages to stay funny throughout its runtime while also telling a genuine adventure story.
When people talk about comedic actors working outside of their comfort zone, they typically mean the actor has taken on a dramatic role. That doesn’t always need to be the case. In Land of the Lost, Ferrell got a new experience from taking on a role that asked him to play some scenes straight while playing others as comedically as possible. The fact that he struck the right balance is further evidence of his talent.