The recent screenings of ‘Land of The Giants’ on the Horror Channel has prompted me to take a closer look at this classic TV series created by ‘master of disaster’ producer Irwin Allen.
The series premiered in September, 1968. It had two seasons amounting to 51 episodes. The first having 26 episodes, and the second having 25. Both seasons had different theme music written by composer John Williams. At the time it was the most expensive series on TV, having a budget of $250,000 per episode.
Although my favourite Irwin Allen TV series has always been ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea’, my fondness for vintage Sci-fi television means ‘Giants’ will always get a look in from me.
For anyone who might be unfamiliar with the premise of ‘Land of The Giants’, it takes place at the imagined future time of June 12, 1983, and features the crew and passengers aboard sub-orbital flight 612, which had previously taken off from Los Angeles and was heading for London.
(Coincidentally June 12th 1916 was Irwin Allen’s birthday)
However, during the journey their spaceship encounters a strange cosmic cloud which draws it in.
After a struggling to steer the ship, Captain Steve Burton and co-pilot Dan Erickson manage to carry out a controlled crash landing. Thinking they are just beyond the perimeter of London Spaceport, Steve and Dan leave the ship to check for damage and arrange safe passage for the passengers.
As they wander blindly in the damp mist beyond the crash site, they encounter bright headlights and narrowly miss being run over by a giant car.
Totally bewildered, they both rush back to the ship, and attempt to do an emergency take off, but outside a giant figure approaches and bends to pick up the ship.
Using all the ship’s remaining power to escape, the crew and passengers strap themselves in as the spacecraft careers out of control, finally crashing into the giant undergrowth of huge forest.
Remarkably, everyone is unharmed; however, it soon becomes apparent that they will be spending the foreseeable future fighting for survival in a strange land of giants.
So begins the first episode, entitled ‘The Crash’(based on an unaired pilot). The series stars Gary Conway as Captain Steve Burton. Burton is the self -appointed leader of the group, although his decisions based on survival and the safety of the passengers and later, as the series progressed, preventing the Giants from obtaining and using their technology to invade Earth, would lead to disputes, especially with headstrong passenger, Mark Wilson, played by the late Don Matheson. Mark is a successful businessman and talented engineer. His skills and knowledge are vital to the crew in adapting the ship’s systems to get it to fly again and get them home.
The ensemble cast also included Don Marshall, who sadly died recently, played co-pilot, Dan Erickson. Brave and determined Erickson is fiercely loyal to Captain Burton and generally sides with him whenever Burton’s authority is challenged. The same goes for the third crew member, stewardess Betty Hamilton, played by Heather Young. Heather was pregnant for the early part of the second season so to hide the fact; she was either filmed wearing loose fitting clothes or failed to feature in episodes at all.
The glamour for the series is provided by Deanna Lund who played passenger and heiress Valerie Scott, an impulsive woman who isn’t used to being told what to do.
Deanna Lund was briefly married to her co-star, Don Matheson during 1970. She also wrote a novella based on her ‘Land of The Giants’ character called ‘Valerie in Giantland’.
The late Austrian actor Kurt Kasznar, played the selfish Alexander Fitzhugh, a thief who had stolen a million dollars. Initially in the series he appeared to be a ruthless character, at one point pulling a gun on the rest of passengers, however he soon became the occasional comic relief for the show, and developed an avuncular relationship with the youngest passenger, orphan Barry Lockridge, played by Stefan Arngrim. This premise was pretty much the same as the relationship between Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) and Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) in Irwin Allen’s ‘Lost in Space’ TV Series.
In fact, all the characters have a strong sense of loyalty towards each other, and will take huge risks to rescue any of their party who are captured by the Giants,(this happens pretty much in every episode) including Barry’s dog, Chipper.
The giants are aware of ‘The little people’ as they are referred to, as other spacecraft have crashed on the Giants’ planet. A reward is even offered for the capture of the Earthlings.
Another recurring character is Inspector Kobick played by Kevin Hagen. Kobick works for the Special Investigation Department, a government agency, with McCarthyism overtones who apparently believe, in their totalitarian society that the little people are subversive.
A few other things are known about the Giants. Initially their speech was very slow, presumably to make them appear more alien, and their written language wasn’t originally intended to be English. However, it was decided that this should change during the production otherwise the Earthlings would have limited interaction with the Giants. In the episode ‘The Bounty Hunter’ strange writing can be seen on a giant prop tin can, although at the beginning of the story a poster nailed to a tree is clearly in English. Their world is not unlike sixties America, although it appears quite totalitarian, and some aspects of their technology are apparently fifty years behind that of Earth, which is another reason why the S.I.D. want to capture the little people, as one thing they’ve never developed is space travel (Although they are aware of the’ Dimension Lock’, the mysterious phenomenon that the spaceship passed through to the land of the giant’s planet.
However, there are episodes which feature other aspects of the Giants’ own technology which sometimes appears more advanced. In ‘Flight Plan’ the Giants have the ability to miniaturise one of their own to infiltrate the Earthlings camp. There are other episodes which feature cloning,( The Clones) matter transportation (‘The Return of Inidu’ and ‘Panic’) and robotics ( The Mechanical Man).
A couple of points about the Giants’ planet, in the episode ‘Land of The Lost’ there’s a huge ocean on the planet separating the Giants from another despotic race ruled by a cruel dictator, and in the episode ‘The Secret City of Limbo’ a subterranean race of Giants live beneath the surface. (An interesting point about this episode is that the impressive set used is redressed from the film ‘Beneath The Planet of The Apes)
Another familiar prop for fans of Irwin Allen’s shows is The Space Pod from the third season of Lost in Space. It features in two episodes; A Place Called Earth’ and ‘Home Sweet Home’.
And on the subject of ‘Lost in Space’, the rather odd episode ‘Pay the Piper’ stars Jonathan Harris as The Piper, pretty much reprising his role as Dr Smith in all but costume.
But the undoubted ‘star’ of the series for me, and I suspect many other fans is the Earthlings’ spaceship, ‘The Spindrift’, a small ‘Lear jet ‘type six- seater passenger liner with advanced propulsion systems.
Even though we very rarely see it fly, and as the series progressed it became more and more covered in moss it still held my attention. It was a similar situation with the Jupiter 2 in Lost in Space. Both these vehicles were definitely a crowd puller.
In a later part I’ll check out the ‘Spindrift’ spaceship a little closer.
Although the Giants don’t appear to celebrate Christmas, this didn’t stop the series having a Christmassy episode. In the ‘ Night of Thrombeldinbar’ , the Giants celebrate an Elf-like creature every year, leaving cookies out for him.
This charming story about a pair of unwanted orphans who are left in the care of the harsh Parteg (played perfectly by Alfred Ryder) who runs the orphanage has a very festive feel. The children capture Fitzhugh believing him to be the mythical being. Feeling sorry for them he goes along with the deception until he finds out the only way he can grant their wishes is if he thrown onto a fire!
Merry Thrombeldinbar Night.
More Land of the Giants posts to come.