With the advent this last weekend of the long awaited Lost in Space (LIS) movie, I have been moved to write a review of this seminal Science Fiction event. First I think it is important for any reviewer of a film to give some indication of where their prejudices are. I think I can sum mine up in two words, Star Trek. I am and always will be a Trekker. I grew up watching it. I also remember watching Lost in Space as a child and thinking that it to was a good show As I aged my opinion of Star Trek never changed, my opinion of Lost in Space did. It was horrible, camp, corny. If Trek was the SF equivalent to Shakespeare than Lost in Space was the National Enquirer. So I really have to say, I found Lost in Space to be a poor excuse for SF. Or at least some of it was. Their is little doubt in the collective mind of the SF community that the majority of the first season of Lost in Space was quite good, indeed it's first season was in many ways better in content than Trek's last third season. Therefore I really did enjoy watching the early black and white episodes of Lost in Space. The episodes where Dr. Smith was as evil as he could be, and the Robinson family faced some incredible adventures with some first rate guest stars. However, before I get to my review of the movie, I think we need to get a little of the history of Lost in Space.
The History of Lost In = Space.
Back in 1964 television was still a fairly young industry. Much was still very experimental about the medium. The major television networks were always looking for something new to catch the publics eye. in 1964-65 CBS television was approached by two separate individuals who had unique ideas about doing a weekly television Science Fiction series with continuing characters. Up until this time the only science fiction series' on television had been anthology shows, like CBS's own Twilight Zone. So these two new shows were a radical departure. The first show that CBS was approached about dealt with the adventures of a family of interstellar space travelers, who were hopelessly lost in space. The pitch man was a young producer/director named Irwin Allen who had a fairly successful track record in the new medium of television. CBS like the idea and bought the rights to do a pilot, a one episode try out, of the show. I did mention that CBS was approached by two individuals. The other unfortunate soul reached CBS just a few days after Mr. Allen did. His TV track record was firm, but he did not have the luster of Irwin Allen who was some what of a Television Golden Boy. This second individual had already approached ABC with his treatment for a 1 hour Science Fiction television series, and had been rejected. ABC had just opted to produce a series called "The Outer Limits". So this second man went to CBS. His treatment described a series that was going to be the futuristic equivalent of "Wagon Train to the Star". CBS looked at the treatment, and while somewhat interested, felt that the show really lacked potential, and would have been prohibitively expensive to make. CBS took a pass on the series, telling man number two, "Thank you, but we already have a new Sci-fi show called Lost in Space". However this man made one final pitch to NBC, and while they too felt that the series was going to be very expensive to produce, they bought the rights to it an ordered a pilot. This second man's name................Gene Roddenberry, the show was Star Trek.
While Roddenberry was busy shopping his fledgling idea around, Allen was busy at work on his pilot. If their is enough interest I will post an article on the back history of the pilot. It is beyond the scope of this article. But some background is needed. Allen knew that to make the show a success he was going to need some recognizable names to front the show, and he got them. Guy Williams, who would play Professor John Robinson, had been Zorro on TV for several years. June Lockhart had been the mother on Lassie, and was one of the most recognizable faces on TV.
Let me just say that unless you have seen the pilot episode you really have never seen Lost in Space. The pilot has never been aired on any of the networks and as far as I know it's last public showing was almost three years ago on the SCI-FI channel. Their are several minor difference between the pilot and the series and two major ones. The most major being that their is no Robot and no Doctor Smith. They do not exist, and they are no where to be seen. The spacecraft, known in this version as the Gemini XII runs into an unplotted "meteor storm" and is sent off course. The ship crash lands on an uncharted planet = several years after she had been launched into space. The Robinson's had been in suspended animation for all that time. Just as a side note even in this early form of the show the complete disregard for the correct use of stellar vocabulary is amazing. Several times in the pilot "Solar System", "Galaxy" and "Universe" are all used as interchangeable nouns. This was a trend that would continue for the entire run of the show, and would leave many true SF fans completely disgusted with the Allen production.
CBS viewed the pilot and bought the show, ordering 26 episodes for the first season, which would be filmed in black and white. While Allen was happy with the news he felt that their was room for improvement. So he asked CBS for additional monies to shoot some extra scenes for the pilot. At the same time Allen felt that the spacecraft needed a little more tension on board. So a Saboteur was added, who would be trapped aboard right before lift off, Colonel Zachary Smith USAF. Just to make sure the point was made that this was the future the Environmental Control Robot was also added. After Allen was done with his tinkering, the original pilot and the new footage was enough to comprise the first three episodes of the series. In the new version of the pilot Dr. Smith goes on board the space ship, now named the Jupiter 2, to make sure that it never reaches it's goal of Alpha Centurii. The plan is to cause the robot to destroy key systems eight hours after launch. But Smith is trapped onboard and his extra weight causes the ship to go off course and into a "meteor storm".
We pause at this point for another aside. I have always found it strange that the Jupiter was incapable for compensating for the added weight of Smith, who at most weighed 180 pounds. If the margin for error was that close in the Robinson's ability to reach Alpha Centurii they never would have made it. Indeed during the third season of Lost in Space the writers seemed to acknowledge that. In one of the better episodes in the final year, the Robinson's meet Chronos, the master of time. He reveals to them that the Jupiter would have been destroyed by the "meteor storm" if Doctor Smith hadn't been aboard at launch.
After the damage of the "meteor storm", Doctor Smith realizes that his life now hinges on the survival of the Jupiter 2. He attempts to prevent the Robot from causing havoc, but he is to late. The Robot begins to rein destruction on the space craft. Through the efforts of Major West, and Professor Robinson, the Robot is deactivated.
Over the next several episodes we get a sense that while the Robinson's are doing everything they can to survive, and reach Alpha Centurii, the good Doctor Smith only want's to do one thing, to get back to Earth. His desire to do this is so great that in the first five episodes Smith attempts to kill members of the Robinson at least half a dozen times. Either by allowing the them to die from accidents that he stages or in a more proactive way by having the Robot go out and kill them. It is hard to believe that this is the same character who by the third season is constantly crying "OH the Pain....." and is happy at last when he is turned into a large piece of asparagus. And that = is the pain of Lost in Space, when Smith became a cardboard cutout of a character the show become more of a Batman clone than a Twilight Zone or a Star Trek.
As I said earlier, if asked I will provide a more in depth story of the Lost in Space pilot, but that gives us a good jumping off point. A small piece of trivia first. The First episodes of LIS were musically scored by a young man who went by the name of Johnny Williams. The world would later know him as John Williams, the composer of such Films as Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. LIS was Williams first television scoring job.
During the seventies several attempts were made to make LIS into a movie. During the era from 1977 to 1983 Billy Mumy, the original Will Robinson, wrote a script and tried to get Irwin Allen to read it. Allen refused. He said that he saw no need for a LIS movie. By this time Allen, who was originally famous for Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, was known as the king of the Disaster film. His credits included such notables as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno. Since he owned the original rights to the characters, unless Allen gave it his blessing, no movie would be made.
It is a strange coincidence that only days after Gene Roddenberry died in 1991, Irwin Allen also passed away, on November 2ed. many in the SF community did not even hear of the news for weeks later, since the death of Roddenberry had so eclipsed Allen's death. Roddenberry finally did go in ahead of Allen
With the passing of Allen the right to his creations reverted to his estate, and within a matter of months talks were underway for a LIS movie. Seven years later it has hit the big screen and dethroned the ever mighty Titanic as the top box office grosser. But is it true to the vision of Allen? Will fans care to see it? Will non fans enjoy it? Read on and find out.
LOST IN SPACE the Movie----------
I confess that I will not go into the controversy of the "Time Travel Paradox". First, since no one has ever traveled in time it seems rather pointless to try and decide if the way time travel is portrayed in this film is realistic or not. However let me get the concept of a "Paradox explosion" out of the way. First of all, the use of Time Bubbles in the story would seem to indicate that what we are seeing are relatively stable islands in the river of time. Within these bubbles time has no meaning. I disagree that a time traveler could never meet his older or younger self. Indeed one of the best episodes of Star Trek rests on such a plot premise. Older Spock meets young Spock in the episode "Yesteryear". I don't see how any of the laws of thermal dynamics are violated by such a meeting, and you need a violation of those laws for an explosion. Their just is no Temporal paradox.
Going Through the Sun? Can it be done? Yes! First the Sun is nothing more than a large ball of gas and Plasma with a small core of Nickel Iron. The cores size is at best no Bigger than Earth. But how did the Robinson's survive this plummet? Answer, Hyperspace. According to Professor Robinson, Hyperspace exists below Normal Space, like a system of underground tunnels. The Jupiter 2 was entering Hyperspace when it went through Sol. No big problem here. If the Professor is right, and he appears to be from the movie, on the Hyperspatial Plane our sun does not exist. In other words, the sun didn't destroy the Jupiter 2, because where the spacecraft was, the sun did not exist.
My God. the film is derivative, i.e. it borrowed ideas from other films and genre! All I can say here is that it is the Hollywood norm. The list of Films that Star Wars stole from is available on request.
The Jupiter 2 has Weapons! Thank God! I always wondered why in the original series the Jupiter had no weapons mounted on the ship. Why would you send out a multibillion dollar spacecraft to another world with no way to defend itself? Anybody with a surface to air missile could destroy the ship. It's a tough galaxy out there, and to send out a ship without some sort of defense is crazy. The missiles could have existed to clear the path of the ship of "meteor storms". I bet the original Robinson family would have liked those. Just as an FYI, the U.S.S. Enterprise was also in part a science Vessel. Care to take a guess if it had weapons or = not?
Major West's interest in Judy. That was not invented for this film. Please see the third episode of the series, "The Hungry Sea". Don and Judy share a quick kiss, ok so Don kisses Judy on the Hands, but the intent is there.
Will carries a Laser but doesn't use it. That is shocking, I hope the kid can shoot straight. In the original series Will uses a laser pistol in the second episode, "Island in the Sky", to try an kill a Giant. If I were going to take my family out into the back hills of Yellowstone park to live, and we were going to be hundreds of miles from civilization, I would teach my children how to use a gun. If I was talking them to an uncharted planet you bet I would want them to know how to shot a laser.
The Robot. Uncharted planet, possible Aliens, unknown terrors. I think one armored robot isn't enough, as the film demonstrates, half a dozen would be fine. In other words, yes weapons. In the third episode of the original series the robot tries to kill Will by electrocuting him. Even the original tin can had weapons.
I must say I concur with the problems with CGI. To often the CGI was rough, and didn't always match the live action going on around it. Most noticeable with the Blerp. But the CGI used for the space scenes was incredible.
Gary Oldman. He is Doctor Smith. Evil, cunning, treacherous. I did not detect cowardice in this man. The best lines in this film, come from his mouth, when you can understand him. On more than one occasion I felt that his lines were muffled. The universe really has come full circle when Doctor Smith quotes Doctor McCoy.
Cameos by the Original Cast. All well done, though we do miss Jonathan Harris and Billy Mumy. If you really get lonely for Jonathan Harris check out the animated series Freakazoid on the Cartoon Network. He plays, well, Doctor Smith. As for Bill check out Babylon 5. Neither actor was asked by the producers to appear in the film. Mark Goddard was great in his cameo. Hopefully Mark will come back to acting. Right now he teaches acting at a small college in Massachusetts. Angela and Marta were as pretty as ever. June has a problem with here cameo. She looks like Rambo through most of it.
Mat Leblanc. I am no Friend of this actor, pun intended. I have never watched an episode of Friends in my life. But he does a great Don West. The Angry interaction of West and Smith is just like the anger the two use to hurl back and forth at each other during the early days of the series. Mat, you made a new Friend with this role.
Mimi Rogers. She does a good Maureen Robinson, but really has to limited a role. They really could have used her talents more. any woman who can star in Austin Powers, The Doors and Full Body Massage has more talent than is exhibited here.
Lacey Chabert. The Party of Five star in her first Big screen role. At first I thought that the high altitude voice would get to me, but it didn't. Penny steals more that a few scenes. And "Penny Vision" is a rather sardonic backhand at MTV's "The Real World". Lovely Lacey really gives Penny a new spin. LIS may help launch her on a great career in films. Her part in this film isn't big, but what she does with it is entertaining.
So bottom line, is this New Line Cinema release worth your eight buck? Yes it is. It is a rollicking good time that is over to quickly (can you spell sequel). It really does end much to quickly and it leaves at least one major plot point in limbo. Usually that doesn't bother me, but this time it does. Is it true to the original Lost in Space. If by that you mean the first half dozen episodes, yes it is. If on the other hand you expect to see walking carrots, Space Hippies, Doctor Smith's brother or Mr. Zumdish, stay home and watch the SCI-FI channel. And as a fan of Trek it is gratifying to see another SF artifact of the sixties rise from the ashes. DANGER! DANGER! Will Robinson
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