If you grew up any-time between the late sixties and the early nineties, the chances are you may remember a curious clutch of kitsch science fiction shows under the stable of the prolific TV and film producer Irwin Allen. No? Well, how about the names Lost In Space, Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and this release, Land Of The Giants?
Allen was best known for his cycle of seventies disaster movies, including such hits as The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. With the likes of Giants, you could say that Allen had embraced a whole new type of disaster story, known more for their high-camp antiheroes, clunking continuity errors and shoddy set design than anything else. Still, with some of the best cult TV, a series’ flaws can sometimes only serve to endear it even further to its devoted fanbase. Land Of The Giants is a classic example.
First produced in 1968 and running for two years, Giants was an obvious spin on the format used for Lost In Space. Both featured a group of human space travellers thrown off-course and stuck on an alien planet. Giants replaced the latter’s nuclear family with a group of mostly adult passengers on sub-orbital craft The Spindrift, heading from L.A to London. Lost In Space’s troublemaking Dr Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), who had a suspiciously close friendship (oft-ridiculed in these somewhat less innocent times) with the young boy Will Robinson (Bill Mumy), is here replaced by fugitive bank-robber Alexander Fitzhugh (played by Kurt Kasznar), who has a similar alliance with another child, Barry Lockridge (Stefan Arngrim). Where Lost In Space saw more obvious aliens and cybernetic associates, Giants was an inverted Gulliver’s Travels, with the foreigners tiny in comparision with the hostile natives. Obviously, we could continue like this forever, but let’s not.
Giants, on viewing in the modern day – for all its derivative plotlines recycled from earlier series, not to mention actual props taken from other Irwin Allen productions – does, surprisingly, have a lot going for it. Though clearly dated (the menfolk do all the heroic stuff and women are mostly present to look pretty and, erm, fall over), something Allen could be relied on for was his ability to put together solid action fare. Ship captain Steve Burton (Gary Conway) is the epitome of staunch leadership with co-pilot Dan Erickson (Don Marshall) and business magnate turned Tony Starkish technical genius Mark Wilson (Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea’s Don Matheson) providing likeably solid support in the face of giant attack, be it from oversized people, cats, or even the odd lobster or weasel.
Aside from the sheer action, Giants has a very well-developed sense of the absurd. In one episode, our heroes are endangered by a good-natured child inadvertently carrying them in a sea-shell. Another sees a carny torturing Mark with a hoop-la toy; usually innocuous but in the hands of Allen’s team a sinister device. This inherent ridiculousness works in the scheme of things as the viewer’s disbelief is suspended just enough through some decent, if simple camerawork (looking up makes the giants look bigger, looking down makes the heroes seem smaller) and John Williams’ (yes, that John Williams, madly enough) dramatic score, pushing the feeling of peril from a towering menace in an early, classy example of his work.
Land Of The Giants represents a forgotten era of uncomplicated sci-fi with some impressive set-pieces and the odd good performance (Kasznar’s Fitzhugh is a joy onscreen) marking it out as more than purely a retro curiosity. Its appeal is twofold: firstly in its genuinely entertaining action premise and skilful execution; secondly, as an old-fashioned, comical piece, it is almost unparalleled. Continuity errors (a hearing aid is made for a deaf giant, the size of a human’s hand though the same size proportionately in the giant’s hand) and ludicrous science abound, though the same delight you can find in watching an infamously bad film like The Room (please watch this, by the way) makes this great viewing. The full first season proves to be many hours of giant-sized entertainment, albeit short on the innovative thrills of other sixties fare such as The Prisoner.
Extras: Unaired version of the pilot episode, Gary Conway interviews, Don Marshall interviews, presentation reel, special effects shots, Irwin Allen home movies, Stefan Arngrim interviews, Don Matheson interviews, Leanna Lund interviews and still galleries.
Released on DVD on Monday 28th March 2011 by Revelation Films.