Review: Land of the Giants - The Complete Collection (PG) / Directed by: Various / Written by: Various / Starring: Gary Conway, Dan Marshall, Don Matheson, Valerie Lund, Kurt Kasnar, Heather Young, Stefan Arngrim / Release Date: Out Now
Previously released last year in two separate season boxsets, Irwin Allen’s gloriously dayglo 1960s sci-fi fantasy series is back in a new lower-priced ‘complete collection’ boxset (even though web-hounds will be able to sniff out the original releases at discounted prices by now). The set features all 51 episodes of the show’s run, all the features from the original individual releases and a few photograph ‘art cards’ as a new enticement-to-buy.
Allen fans are torn as to which is the master of disaster’s most accomplished TV show. In the 1960s Allen brought a string of far-out futuristic fantasies to American TV screens with varying degrees of success - Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea ran for four years, Lost in Space staggered on for three seasons, The Time Tunnel managed just one season and Land of the Giants pegged it after two series due to prohibitive production costs rather than falling popularity (the show was still holding its own in the US ratings when the axe fell). Voyage and Lost In Space suffered by quickly degenerating from reasonably intelligent if unsophisticated adventure series into silly sci-fi romps full of outlandish and ridiculous-looking monsters (and with Lost in Space in particular suffering by its suffocating obsession with the ‘comical’ antics of Jonathan Harris’s cowardly Zachary Smith) and The Time Tunnel quickly became repetitive and boring and padded out by outrageous amounts of stock footage from feature films to disguise its low budget. But Land of the Giants managed to keep a reasonably steady style of storytelling across its two seasons and never really compromised on its original concept. Well, not too much…
So it’s an inherently silly idea - a sub-orbital liner from 1983 (wow!) flies through a space warp and ends up on an Earth-like planet where everything’s about forty times larger than it is on Earth. The crew and passengers of the liner Spindrift quickly become fugitives, hunted by the planet’s security forces and terrorised by the curious giants they continually come into contact with. Land of the Giants still works well - and much better than Allen’s other, more dated shows - because it still looks so good and it maintains a fairly dignified tone throughout its run, only occasionally falling into the realms of the absurd and inane which scuppered both Voyage and Lost In Space. Land of the Giants has a visual look which is still distinctive today; the episodes are full of impressively-crafted oversized props and ingenious ‘up high’ camera angles make the human castaways look suitably small (the show’s always photographed in a way which really draws the viewer into its concept and its ‘world’.) Only a few raw and unconvincing optical effects (and the cheesy papier-mâché giant hand which swoops down every now and again) let the side down. The show’s pilot episode The Crash beautifully introduces the characters and the scenario and really sets out the show’s store. Interestingly the first couple of episodes depict the ‘giants’ as near-mute, lumbering hulks; clearly this was bound to restrict opportunities for the humans to interact with the giants so this was quickly abandoned and the giant world, initially appearing a bit askew and distinctly alien, quickly became just a giant photocopy of the Earth full of secret agents, spies, murderers, fairgrounds and mad scientists. Many stories are just routine capture/escape runarounds but there are attempts in the second year to broaden the format a bit with the introduction of more obvious science-fiction concepts such as cloning, robots and, in the exceptional Wild Journey, a trip back in time for two characters as they return to their home world before they ever set off on their ill-fated flight and try to change history by preventing the Spindrift from lifting off.
As usual Allen populates his show with a strong ensemble cast and fortunately initial fears that Kurst Kasznar’s shifty conman character Fitzhugh could go the way of Dr Smith in Lost In Space are unfounded. Admittedly there’s not much more to Gary Conway’s Captain Steve Burton than a square jaw and a bright red costume but he’s strong enough to carry the show and he’s given decent support from his co-pilot Dan (Marshall), snipey businessman Mark (Matheson), leggy ‘socialite’ Valerie (Lund) and feisty stewardess Betty (Young). They never develop much as characters but then this isn’t really a show about people, it’s about spectacle and excitement and fortunately, even now, Land of the Giants is capable of delivering them in spades.
Land of the Giants is a personal genre favourite and whilst I’m not blind to its flaws and its relative lack of sophistication against more savvy 21st century fare, if you can buy into the thrilling idea of the show and just let yourself go with the flow and admire some way-ahead-of-their-time visuals, there’s hours of bright, colourful, exciting fun to be had here in one of the few shows from the 1960s which really manages to stand the test of time.
Special features: Busy cast commentary on the pilot episode on the second season set, interview snippets, mute FX shots, souvenir booklets, galleries, presentation reel and more.