Random Musings: Paying a visit to the Land of the Giants

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Land of the Giants title card

On June 12, 1983, the suborbital passenger liner Spindrift set out for London from Los Angeles.

It never arrived.

Instead, the passengers and crew found themselves marooned in an alien— yet strangely familiar— world. Familiar, because this brave new world was much like late 1960s Earth.

Alien, because everything and everyone was 12 times as big as Earth normal.

Land of the Giants, which ran for two seasons from 1968-1970, was the last of the four Irwin Allen-produced TV series airing during the 1960s. It was also the closest (for the most part) to straight science fiction.

The Spindrift crashed in a wooded area of what would appear to be a state or county park. This is never stated in any of the episodes I’ve seen, but too many people come through the woods near the castaways’ makeshift campsite for it to be deep in the forest.

Plus, the “Little People” often make excursions into a local town. Given that they’re about six inches tall, comparatively speaking, and given how relatively quickly they’re able to get to town and back, it’s improbable that it could be any great distance.

In this over-sized world, Captain Steve Burton (Gary Conway), co-pilot Dan Erickson (Don Marshall), flight attendant Betty Hamilton (Heather Young), and their passengers, businessman Mark Wilson (Don Matheson), jet-setter Valerie Scott (Deanna Lund), teenager Barry Lockridge (Stefan Arngrim) and con man Alexander Fitzhugh (Kurt Kasznar), are hunted as enemy invaders by the Special Investigation Department (SID), an elite police force. Their primary adversary within the SID is Inspector Dobbs Kobick (Kevin Hagen).

Inspector Kobick

Inspector Kobick (center) confronts Fitzhugh, Valerie and Mark.

What would cause the giants (or at least the government of that particular country) to view the little people as dangerous enemy aliens?

Paranoia, presumably. It was stated outright in several episodes that Earth technology was about 50 years ahead of that of the giants.

Which raises the question: Why didn’t the show establish that the Spindrift made its ill-fated flight in 2018, given that the world of the giants resembled that of then-contemporary 1968? After all, the action takes place on the giants’ planet, not Earth. So it’s not like they had to guess what 2018 would be like.

Or, for that matter, why not just say Earth technology is 15 years ahead, given the 1983 departure date on Earth and the obvious late 1960s setting of the giants planet?

At any rate, in addition to threats from the natural world (they are in the woods, after all) and giants who seek to capture them for the reward Kobick offers, the Spindrift passengers and crew also have to contend with occasional internecine conflicts. The often abrasive Mark challenged Steve’s decisions on more than one occasion; the impetuous Valerie, something of a spoiled brat, would blithely ignore instructions in favor of doing whatever she wanted (which got her and Steve captured in the first episode), and would also sometimes goad Mark into his battles with Steve; while Fitzhugh’s tendency toward cowardice and greed would cause other problems.

Steve and Valerie captured

Steve and Valerie captured.

I should note, for the record, that Fitzhugh was not a retread of Dr. Smith from Lost in Space. In terms of characterization, he was slightly closer to the dangerous, conniving saboteur Smith from the early Lost in Space episodes (he was on the run with stolen money) than to the later avaricious and cowardly, “oh, the pain” incarnation of Smith. Like Smith, Fitzhugh would rather rest than work, but unlike Smith, he’d pitch in with a minimum of fuss.

Dan often served as the mediator when tensions mounted; as did Betty, to some degree. Frankly, she was pretty much a cipher, by comparison to the other characters

Barry, accompanied by his dog, chipper, often hung out with Fitzhugh.

I’d first heard of Land of the Giants as a kid, through a library book about science fiction TV shows (and later found two tie-in novels by Murray Leinster at a used bookstore), but didn’t actually see it until very recently. For whatever reason, it wasn’t rerun in my area when I was growing up.

It’s a show my younger self would liked to have seen. Around the time I was 11, I saw and enjoyed the films Dr. Cyclops and The Incredible Shrinking Man, as well as the Saturday morning TV series Dr. Shrinker. Land of the Giants offered similar fare.

How does it stand up when viewed through adult eyes?

Pretty well. With the caveat that I’ve yet to see all the episodes. I’ve read that later season two episodes eschewed science fiction for the more fantasy-oriented stories often seen on Lost in Space.

O.K., technically, Land of the Giants is fantasy, given that there’s no scientific explanation how the giants and the Earth people can communicate in normal tones of voice (among other physics challenges), but the characters lived in a recognizable, if over-sized world. Unlike Lost in Space’s many improbabilities, Land of the Giants required viewers to accept only one: That humans and giants could interact without any particular difficulty. If you accept that premise, everything else falls into place.

Land of the Giants can currently be seen on METV and on Hulu. There’s also an overpriced DVD box set, released a decade ago. It’s a fun show, worth checking out.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

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