Saturday, August 01, 2015

Geek TV: Land of the Giants!

The crew and passengers of the Spindrift.
Concept: A sub-orbital Earth spaceship enters a space warp and crash lands on a planet where everything is giant-size compared to them. The crew and passengers fight a regular battle for survival as they try to avoid capture while repairing their ship to return home.

Total Episodes: 51

Original Air Dates: September 22, 1968 - September 6, 1970

Original Network: ABC


Captain Steve Burton (Gary Conway): Pilot of the Spindrift and accepted leader of the castaways. Steve usually has a good handle on situations, and will use his authority to override the wishes of the rest of the group if need be, but will listen to reason. Steve is usually the one to lead any conversation with one of the giants.

The model kit of the Spindrift was a popular model kit,
and was reissued
in the 1970s.
Dan Erickson (Don Marshall): Steve's co-pilot. Usually Dan will readily back up Steve's orders, unless he believes them to be wrong. Dan was a very strong Black character at a time there weren't many African-Americans on TV in any role!

Mark Wilson (Don Matheson): A millionaire inventor, Mark is the technical expert among the castaways, and the lead in making repairs to the Spindrift. Mark is usually the first to disagree with any decision that Steve makes.

Valerie Scott (Deanna Lund): Valerie is a jet-setting heiress who seems to sometimes go along with someone who's disagreeing with Steve just for the enjoyment of it. She genuinely cares about her fellow castaways, however, and will take risks to help them.

One of several paperback novels based on
the series.
Alexander Fitzhugh (Kurt Kaznar): Fitzhugh (always Fitzhugh to everyone, never called by first name) is a con man extraordinare. He wears a Navy commander's uniform, but doesn't actually have the rank. At the beginning of the series, he's got a briefcase of money from a con, and takes great pains to protect it. On the giants' world, he is always lured by the possibility of making money there, even though it would do him no good! His greed gets the "little people" in trouble often, but he is fond of Barry.

Barry Lockridge (Stefen Arngrim): Barry is the Will Robinson to Fitzhugh's Dr. Smith. He has a dog, Chipper, who sometimes gets the castaways in trouble due to his inability to be quiet. Barry is an expert chess player and has musical aptitude. He'll question Fitzhugh's judgement, but is usually talked into going along with him.

Betty Hamilton (Heather Young): Betty is the flight attendant of the Spindrift, and is often relegated to taking care of the crew and passengers. She's missing entirely from several episodes, with no explanation as to where she is!

Inspector Kobick (Kevin Kagen): The only recurring Giant, Inspector Kobick is the head of the S.I.D., which is devoted to hunting down and capturing the little people.

Geek Pedigree:

Valerie is tense as the Spindrift crashes on the giants' world.
Irwin Allen has, of course, a long history of being involved with genre films and television. His earliest genre-related film would've probably been The Animal World in 1956, which featured some very cool stop-motion animation for the dinosaur sequence (I should note that he also was the co-producer on Double Dynamite, a solo Groucho Marx movie co-starring Frank Sinatra). His next genre productions were The Lost World (1960), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (movie, 1961, followed by the TV series from 1964 to 1968), The Time Tunnel (1966-1967), Lost in Space (1965-1968), and after Land of the Giants, City Beneath the Sea (1971) was his last real genre production with only a few exceptions, as his film career took a turn to disaster movies. He later produced the TV movies Time Travelers (1976), The Amazing Captain Nemo (1978), Aliens From Another Planet (1982) and Alice in Wonderland (1985), with his only theatrical genre movie being The Swarm in 1978.

Valerie and Betty. Both characters would get
new dresses in the second season.
A hardback children's novel based on the
show, published by Whitman.
Writer William Welch wrote seven episodes of the show, he'd previously written 34 episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, four episodes of Lost in Space, and eight episodes of The Time Tunnel, plus two episodes of Lights Out in 1950 and 1951. Anthony Wilson wrote 9 episodes, he'd previously been the story editor on Lost in Space, and written single episodes of Twilight Zone, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Addams Family, Bewitched, and The Invaders, and would go on to write 10 episodes of Planet of the Apes and the pilot for Future Cop. Richard Alan Shapiro wrote four episodes, one more than he'd written for Tarzan. Bob Duncan wrote three episodes, plus five Lost in Space episodes and later a segment of the TV-movie Aliens From Another Planet.

Mark, Steve, Valerie and Dan look at the world they've landed on.
Harry Harris, who directed most of the series, had previously directed episodes of Mission: Impossible, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He later directed a handful of episodes of Kung Fu and an episode of The Man From Atlantis. Sobey Martin was a close second so far as directing episodes, and he also had directed episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, and Lost in Space, later directing a segment of Aliens From Another Planet. But perhaps the best geek directing credits belong to Nathan Juran, who directed five episodes of Land of the Giants, but prior to that had directed The Deadly Mantis, 20 Million Miles to Earth, The Brain From Planet Arous, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, episodes of  Men Into Space, Jack the Giant Killer, First Men in the Moon, as well as episodes of The Time Tunnel, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, and later The Boy Who Cried Werewolf.

Ordinary tape for the giants was an effective way to secure the Little People!
Lead actor Gary Conway made his screen debut as the title character of I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, repeating his role in How to Make a Monster. He also played Jarl in The Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great Sea Serpent. Don Matheson had appeared in an episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, two episodes of Lost in Space (different roles each time), and an episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He later guested in an episode of The Quest, played the Horseman in the TV movie Alice in Wonderland, played Darts in Dragonfight. Stefan Arngrim had previously guested in episodes of T.H.E. Cat and Here Come the Brides, and later guested in an episode of T.J. Hooker, Highlander, The Sentinel, The X-Files, Poltergeist: The Legacy, Millennium, The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, Earths, Flash Gordon (2007), Battlestar Galactica: Razor, V (2009), Caprica, Supernatural, Fringe, and most recently played a fence in two episodes of Arrow!

One of the trading cards sold by Topps.
Don Marshall had guested on Mission: Impossible, played Boma in the Star Trek episode "The Galileo Seven," Mr. Terrific, Tarzan, and later guested on Bewitched, played Dr. Fred Williams in The Thing With Two Heads, guested on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and appeared in three different roles in The Incredible Hulk. Deanna Lund (who, by the way, married Don Matheson, later divorcing him) was a robot in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine, guested on an episode of T.H.E. Cat, played Anna Gram in the Batman episodes A Riddling Controversy/Batman's Anniversary, and later guested in an episode of The Incredible Hulk, had parts in Superstition 2, Elves, and Transylvania Twist. Heather Young had guested in an episode of Batman and The Time Tunnel, and later played Star in a two-part episode of Galactica 1980. Kurt Kaznar had previously guested in single episodes of The Girl From UNCLE and I Spy, and later played S.S. General Von Dreiberg in a two-part episode of Wonder Woman in 1977. He passed away in 1979. Kevin Hagen had previously appeared in three episodes of The Twilight Zone, one episode of Lost in Space, four episodes of The Time Tunnel (in different parts each time), three The Man From UNCLE (again, different roles), one The Wild Wild West, and two episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. He also appeared in three episodes of Mission: Impossible, but he's probably best known these days for playing Dr. Hiram Baker in Little House on the Prairie (not a genre role, but he did appear in 113 episodes!).

Geek Guests:

Gold Key published several issues of a comic book
based on the show.
Jack Albertson guested in the episodes "Panic" and "Return of Inidu," and he's better known as "The Man" in Chico and the Man, as well as Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Janos Prohaska played a gorilla in the episodes "The Marionettes" and "Comeback," he's had a long history of playing apes and other animals in TV and movies, but I'll always remember him for playing the Mugato and the Horta in the Star Trek episodes "A Private Little War" and "The Devil in the Dark." Glenn Corbett guested as Major Kagan in the episode "The Weird World," but you may better remember him as playing Zefram Cochrane in the Star Trek episode "Metamorphosis." Richard Anderson played journalist Joe Simmons in the episode "Six Hours to Live," but he's remembered best for playing Oscar Goldman in The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. Michael Ansara played Murtah in the episode "On a Clear Night You Can See Earth," but the previous year he was Kang in the Star Trek episode "Day of the Dove," and later went on to play Kane on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century as well as voicing Mr. Freeze in various Batman animated series and movies. 

British hardback annual featured
 comics and text features.
John Carradine played Egor Crull in the episode "Comeback," he's had a long career in TV and movies, mostly playing horror roles, such as Dracula in The House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula, as well as playing Herman Munster's boss on The Munsters. Alan Hale played O'Reilly in the episode "Our Man O'Reilly," but he's best known as the Skipper in Gilligan's Island. William Schallert played Dr. Arno in the episode "The Clones," but he's got lots of other geek credits, including playing Admiral Hargrade in a number of episodes of Get Smart, as well as Nilz Barris in the classic Star Trek episode "The Trouble With Tribbles." Bruce Dern was Thorg in the episode "Wild Journey," you'll likely remember him as Freeman Lowell in Silent Running or any of a number of other genre roles. 

landofgiants_coloring .jpg
I'll have to track down a copy of this
coloring book some day!
The Colorforms set let you create your own adventures!
Johnathan Harris played Mr. Piper in the episode "Pay the Piper," but of course you know him from various other genre parts, especially Dr. Smith in Lost in Space. Malachi Throne played Taru in "The Secret City of Limbo," and he's had a lot of other genre credits to his name, such as False Face on two episodes of Batman, and Commodore José Mendez in the two-part Star Trek episode "The Menagerie". Lee Meriwether played Mrs. Bara in the episode "Rescue," but you may remember her as Dr. Ann MacGregor in The Time Tunnel, or playing Lisa in the Batman two-parter "Batman's Waterloo/King Tut's Coup," or playing Catwoman in Batman: The Movie, or even Losira in the Star Trek episode "That Which Survives." Yvonne Craig played Berna in the episode "Wild Journey," but of course you know her best as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl on Batman

Ideal's board game.
Ron Howard isn't known for his genre roles, but I couldn't help but point out he played Jodar in the episode "Genius at Work." Robert Shayne played Mr. Clinton in the episode "Every Dog Needs a Boy," of course you'll remember him as Inspector Henderson in The Adventures of Superman. Vic Tayback played a hood in the episode "The Inside Rail," and while he's known for Mel in Alice, don't forget he also had memorable roles on shows like Star Trek and The Monkees! Vic Perrin, best known for his voice work in animation, can be spotted in the episode "Genius at Work," if you're curious to know what the voice of Sinestro on Super Friends (among other shows) looked like. 

DVD Release: Full series available on DVD, although out of print these days.

Website: There's a page on the Irwin Allen News Network that's as close to an official site as you'll get!

A highly collectible lunchbox!
Notes: I recently rewatched the entire series for the first time since it was in syndication, and for the most part, I think it holds up rather well. Seeing episodes back to back, it is admittedly easy to spot some of the same giant props being reused (such as the cage used in almost every first season episode where the little people were held upon capture). It's too bad that there wasn't an opportunity for a final episode to be made where they escaped the giant world and returned to Earth, although I'm sure there's plenty of fanfic out there telling how this could've happened!

Watching the show, one can't help but notice during a bunch of second season episodes that Betty is missing entirely, without even a mention of where she is! The reality was that Heather Young was pregnant during production, and took some time off from the series. Prior to her taking time off, she was hidden behind props and set pieces to hide her pregnancy.  Barry was missing in a few episodes himself, although his absence isn't quite as noticeable.

I can't help but think that with today's special effects, a revival of Land of the Giants could be spectacular, although admittedly a few changes might be necessary. Ignoring the square/cube law that would prevent the giants from being biologically possible at all, I think that if the show were revived as a movie, that perhaps the giants should be portrayed as moving slowly as well as talking slowly (with a lower pitch as well). Having the giants portrayed thusly would make it easier to accept ideas such as the little people being able to follow them as needed... there's several episodes where one or more of them are captured, and the rest follow the captor, presented as walking at a normal pace! Given that the little people are relatively eight to ten inches tall compared to the giants, that means each step the giants take is a fair distance to the Earth people... even at a walking pace, the giants would easily be too fast as presented to be kept up with! Attention would have to be paid to the distances traveled, as well, something that was glossed over on the show.

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