In dusting off the 1974 television show Land of the Lost, director Brad Silberling's goal was not to craft a PG-rated romp through the educational terrain of Sid and Marty Krofft's original series, but to tweak and distort all the various elements that made the series a cult sensation in the first place. The movie, which hits theaters Friday, reimagines the space-time of this alternate universe with an eye toward the absurd. The story still centers on disgraced paleontologist Dr. Rick Marshall (Will Ferrell), but instead of his family he buddies up with scientist Holly Cantrell (Anna Friel) and Will Stanton (Danny McBride), owner of a desert fireworks store. Marshall and Stanton are a bumbling pair; they provoke dinosaurs, overindulge in exotic beverages, and generally make a mess of place. They're the sloppy stars of a profoundly silly movie and Silberling couldn't be prouder. TIME spoke with him by phone the day before the film's release. (Richard Corliss reviews Land of the Lost)
TIME: I don't think it's giving away much to say that the movie takes more than a few liberties with the original show.
Brad Silberling: It turns out Will and I shared a lot of the same memories of the show, and we thought with all these summer adventure films out there, what would set this one apart? And we thought there would be nothing funnier than if you brought back all these obstacles but then stuck the wrong group of people in there, who would make stupid choices. That's essentially what this is: A taboo version of the original show. We're the adults who were watching this show as children, now imagining what else could happen in the land of the lost.
You're a little irreverent when it comes to the humans here, but with the other characters, you're still pretty faithful to the show.
We were very specific in honoring the show down the shape of the mouth of the cave they are sleeping in to the crevasse they need to run across as the dinosaur is chasing them. Even when it came to Chaka, I took the facial proportions of the original kid who played the character and imagined what would happen if this kid, who just freaked me out as a viewer, became an adult. So in this movie, Chaka's this really sketchy character who always bails whenever they're in trouble, and Marshall is always eyeing him up because he doesn't trust him. (TIME reviews Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights)
There are a few scenes where you push the envelope in terms of bizarre behavior and questionable bodily fluids is there anything you were surprised that you were able to sneak into the final cut?
The best thing we got away with was probably the improv that happens after Will and Danny drink the juice from the "fantasy fruit" that Holly identifies as a possible narcotic. They're lying there in the desert, drunk, and then Danny suddenly started going off on a tangent about how this is just like a Sandals Resort, and he turns and asks Marshall and Chaka how much he'd have to pay them to make out, like it's spring break or something. And then Will went with it, and said "Well, if it doesn't leave the three of us, I'll do it for free," and I was just howling. As we were editing, I decided: How can this not be in the film?
I was impressed that you got Will to dump dino urine over himself not once, but twice
The script originally only called for it once. But then on the second take he just took it so much further, drinking it and showering in it a second time. On set, I'm not just directing but I'm also often running the handheld camera, and you can actually see the camera shake there as I just lost it. But he's so good at stuff like that, you just have to trust him when he starts going off-script. Will's actually really articulate about his philosophy behind this that he thinks if you only go for the cheap punch line and don't trust the laugh, you'll never get anywhere. It's with the rolling laugh, where you watch the character keep going forward with a mistake and allow it to really play itself out, that you get 'em. (TIME reports: Will Ferrell Brilliant Idiot)
Danny McBride seems to be everywhere nowadays, from Pineapple Express to Eastbound & Down which became a surprise HBO hit. Will Ferrell helped to produce that show, but what was it like, their first time working together in front of the camera?
Danny has this amazing sense of ease, and Will was such a fan of him they were both really looking forward to working together. And I think you can sense the chemistry in the footage. Danny feels so regional and specific. He never feels pushed into a scene as if he's a Hollywood actor; most of the time he actually seems like a guy who somehow just wandered into the frame. But he's so confident that I think it actually put Will in this great position of being the straight man and setting Danny up. Will didn't have to score every time, and actually most of the times we had to stop a take, it was because Will was cracking up at what Danny was doing. (Read TIME's Q&A: Danny McBride)
Looking back over your resumé, with films like City of Angels, which was a remake of Wim Wenders' epic Wings of Desire, and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the popular book series, you seem confident in taking popular material and reworking it.
The only movies I've made that have had that kind of source material are the ones that motivated me to get off my ass and make them, because I thought there was yet another interesting point of view to the material. I think my friend Elvis Mitchell put it really well when the first Harry Potter book was made into a movie, that it was a book on tape on film. I have no interest in doing that. With Lemony Snicket, the studio wasn't so much excited about making the film as they were in launching the franchise. I mean, if you really think through what readers of those books want, this is basically Night of the Hunter for kids. Jim Carrey is a murderer who wants to get these kids and their money. The thought of really committing yourself to this dark, sly sense of humor was what appealed to me, and I had the same goal here not to come in and make some kitschy faithful remake of a series I watched as a kid, but committing to this weirdness that I think makes the movie really unique.