Thursday, June 27, 2019

freakboy on film: LOST IN SPACE (1998)

"There's a lot of space out there to get lost in." - John Robinson 
          written by Akiva Goldsman 
          directed by Stephen Hopkins 
I watched reruns of the original series every Sunday morning as a kid and I loved it.  Here were relatable kids, Will and Penny Robinson, having adventures on other planets, along with a space chimp and a totally cool robot!  How could I not love this science fiction series? 

I still enjoy it, having given the original series a 2019 rewatch, but time has not been kind to certain aspects.  The 1960's attitude towards matriarch Maureen and daughters Judy and Penny is often cringe worthy.  Adding to this is a near complete lack of character development, other than maybe in Will and Robot.  Plus, I kept hoping someone would shove the often overly ridiculous Dr. Smith into one of the freezing tubes.  Oh, the pain...the pain, indeed. 

Despite these deficiencies, there is a lot to enjoy in the original series, with some really strong episodes scattered throughout.  I could go on and on about the series, giving you my list of favorites, but I'm here to blog about the Robinson family's 1998 big screen adventure. 

At the time of its release, I was surrounded by people who had never heard of the classic Lost  in Space.  Fortunately, most of these people were my age, so they couldn't spew the backhanded remark of "It was before my time," because I could have technically said the same.  Unfortunately, these people were either not interested in the film or hated it.

For me, the film was everything I wanted from Lost in Space!  Adventure!  Fun!  Humor!  Robot!  Sitting in the theater, I lost myself in the more fully realized characters and a plot that paid homage to the series, but did its own thing.

The world is overcrowded and resources are running low, so a risky move is required.  This move comes in the form of the Jupiter Mission.  The Robinsons, parents John and Maureen, accompanied by their brood Judy, Penny and Will, have been training for years to become the first family in space.  Their mission is to travel across the galaxy in suspended animation to Alpha Prime, where they will be the first of many colonists.  

Along for the ride are Major Don West, who is piloting the mission, an intimidating Robot, and Dr. Zachary Smith, who is a saboteur/accidental stowaway.  The latter had programmed the robot to destroy the Jupiter 2 sixteen hours after take-off, but was double-crossed by his terrorist employers, stranding him aboard the potentially doomed spacecraft.

A rampaging Robot causes the Jupiter 2 to veer wildly off course, aiming them right for the sun.  Major West suggests using the ship's hyperdrive engine to save them from incineration.  The maneuver works, jettisoning the intrepid space pioneers into uncharted territory.  Yes, they are lost in space, where they encounter a yellow monkey-alien, nasty space-spiders and a spectacular crash-landing on a planet being destroyed by time bubbles.  

Will Dr. Smith take over the ship?  Will the Robinsons and company survive?  If they do, will they make it to Alpha Prime?  I don't want to spoil the twists and turns of this film, so my lips are sealed.

The cast is an impressive mix of experienced and fresh faces.  William Hurt and Mimi Rogers are terrific as John and Maureen.  Heather Graham gives Judy a sarcastic side.  Lacey Chabert gives Penny a wild side.  Jack Johnson gives Will a sensitive side.  Matt LeBlanc captures a cocky side to Major West which was burning just underneath the original series character.  Gary Oldman, having the biggest challenge, manages to make Dr. Smith extremely dangerous but somehow endearingly entertaining.  Plus, be on the lookout for a few cameos by original cast members, especially Dick Tufeld, reprising his role as the voice of Robot.  

In conclusion, while the women have much more to do than in the 1960's, this is very much a story centering on a boy & his robot friend and a boy & his father.  This 1998 film was everything the television series could've been, and may have continued improving if a sequel would've happened.  Alas, this was sadly not to be, but another, far less fun version of Lost in Space would return 20 years later to (streaming) television.  Perhaps a time bubble will open in the new series, spilling out the 1998 Robinsons to liven up the dreary, slow as molasses plot and also to give us some cinematic closure. 

Freak Out, 

P.S.  The Daleks will EXTERMINATE you if you miss my Dr. Who post...


  1. Fun review! I was also a fan of the original series, warts and all. Back in the day, when I saw the movie, I felt a bit "meh" about it, but perhaps it's improved with age.

    1. Thanks, Barry!
      I suspect I'm in the minority when it comes to enjoying the film.
      I suggest watching the Netflix version and then giving the film another shot.