More larger-than-life shenanigans as the second - and final - season of Irwin Allen’s best 1960s US fantasy show arrives on DVD with the UK exclusive bonus feature of a full (remaining) cast commentary on the very first episode of the series, ‘The Crash’. More of which later…
Irwin Allen not being much given to character development or clever, multi-layered plotting, it’s pretty much business as usual in season two with just a little bit of front-of-house refurbishment with a dynamic new title sequence and a rousing new theme tune (which, interestly, doesn’t debut until several episodes into the run on this collection which is presented in original US broadcast order). Elsewhere there are some new costumes for Valerie (Deanna Lund) and Betty (Heather Young) and the show moves away from its over-reliance on the giant world’s security forces (the SID) as the miniature castaways’ main antagonists.
The episodes are much as before, a mixture of quaint, naïve and sometimes rather tortuous yarns where the Spindrift group help a falsely-accused giant criminal (‘Six Hours To Live’), Fitzhugh becomes involved in a horse-racing scam (‘The Inside Rail’), the group aid a trumpet player (the frankly dire ‘Giants And All That Jazz’) and in ‘Every Boy Needs His Dog’ the ‘Little People’ race against time to save Chipper, orphan Barry’s dog. Some episodes are just downright silly - ‘Pay The Piper’ sees Jonathan (Dr Smith) Harris cross over from Allen’s now-cancelled ’Lost In Space’ to play a giant who claims to be the Pied Piper of Hamblin and ’Our Man O’Reilly’ is some old tosh about leprechauns.
Whilst too many of these episodes diffuse the tension and jeopardy of the show’s concept, reducing the Giant world to just an over-sized Earth (long gone are the largely-mute and hulking giants of early season one episodes) others see the writers abandoning lazy clichés and using proper (if, even at the time, quite hoary) science-fiction ideas to create edgier, weirder episodes. Stand-outs include ‘The Mechanical Man’ (which I’d hope is pretty self-explanatory) and ‘Wild Journey’ which co-stars Bruce Dern and Yvonne “Batgirl” Craig as two humanoid alien researchers whose time travel device sends Steve and Dan back to Earth just before their ship’s launch and their inevitable efforts to change history by stopping the lift-off. Perhaps the best of the bunch are two episodes which explore the paranoia and distrust which are bound to surface in any group of people in an enclosed and dangerous environment. Gary Conway gives a stand-out performance in ’The Unsuspected’, possibly the best ’Giants’ episode ever, as Spindrift Captain Steve Burton is infected by poisonous mushroom spores which change his entire personality and cause him to betray his crewmates and passengers and in ‘The Deadly Dart’ Mark (Don Matheson) is framed for murder and starts to act suspiciously amongst his fellow refugees. There’s a sense that the writers are thinking outside the rather restrictive ‘running away from giants every week’ box and whilst there are some brave and unusual ideas on display here, the very nature of Irwin Allen’s simplistic, bright and unsophisticated view of his shows meant that few of them were ever realised with the wit and maturity they really deserved.
But ‘Land of the Giants’' remains a personal TV archive favourite. The clever camerawork and ground-breaking special effects still look good today (most of the time) and even if the twaddle/quality story ratio is dangerously uneven in the second season, there’s still much fun to be had from the vibrant colours and the occasionally over-earnest performances of the show’s attractive and athletic cast. TV production has moved on in leaps and bounds since 1969, of course, and whilst today’s fantasy shows look a lot slicker and a lot more expensive, few of them are as brazenly enjoyable as ‘Land of the Giants’ and if you enjoyed the first season boxset this one is pretty much an essential purchase.
THE DVDs: Containing more of the cast interview snippets from the US release, the USP of this second set is an exclusive UK-ears-only commentary by the six remaining cast members for the show’s pilot episode. Sadly this isn’t as informative as we might have hoped as the cast are clearly having too much of a good time in each other’s company, as anecdotes and memories are talked over or forgotten about halfway through and it’s hard to take Don Matheson’s assertion that the show featured real character development seriously if you’ve watched even two of these episodes. It’s left to Stefan Arngrim (Barry) to impart a few nuggets of information about the show’s production (when he can get a word in), the most interesting of which reveals that the show was still a ratings hit at the end of season two and was effectively cancelled by Irwin Allen himself who refused the ABC Network’s request to slash the show’s huge budget - $350,000 per episode (in 1969!!). Still, nice to hear the cast reunited and clearly enjoying each other’s company again after all these years.
‘Land of the Giants’ season two is available on DVD in the UK now.