Lost In Space
Remake Updates the TV Series Nicely Without Campiness
(This review originally appeared in the April 2-8, 1998 Long Island Voice.)
To find out about the Lost In Space comic book, read Lost Is Found in the Comics.
Reviewed by Beth Hannan Rimmels
The 1998 Will Robinson has little danger to worry about, at least by Hollywood standards. While a film version of Lost in Space seemed an unlikely candidate for a spring hit, this deft blend of action, drama, humor and special effects is almost guaranteed to do well.
The set up largely sticks to that of the 1965 TV series: Overcrowding on Earth necessitates colonization of other planets. The first set of explorers involves the scientifically inclined Robinson family and their pilot, Major Don West. But a traitor in the space program, Dr. Zachary Smith, sneaks on board to program the robot to destroy the ship and ends up trapped with them. The initial damage and Smiths additional weight throw the Jupiter II off course in uncharted parts of space.
The details filled in by the 1998 version work: The overcrowding/dwindling resources problem is much more urgent and exacerbated by terrorists. Professor John Robinson (William Hurt) is so driven by the colonization project that hes out of touch with his children, particularly robotics prodigy Will. Mimi Rogers Maureen is a smart, compassionate mom like June Lockharts, but this script actually gives her something to do. The childrens roles as the science team are much better defined. In the old series, eldest daughter Judy was largely window dressing. Here, shes a medical doctor in danger of becoming as distant as her father.
In fact, the subplot about the relationship between fathers and sons turns out to be very important rather than just a bit of color. You know it will be resolved as surely as you know they wont reach home, but it adds an interesting layer rather than making them the perfect family. After the movies over, the tough guy next to you might talk about the action sequences and the kick-ass special effects, but Will (Jack Johnson) and Johns scenes will get to him nearly as much as Field of Dreams did.
Matt LeBlanc was a very pleasant surprise. I was not expecting LeBlanc, so awful in non-Friends projects like Ed, to be credible as the hard-headed, hot-tempered career military West, but when he mutters "Even my family cant stand me," you believe him. Unlike the TV show, where Don and Judys relationship was a given, this Judy (Heather Graham) makes it clear it will take more than being one of "the only two single adults of consenting age" to win her over. The verbal play and facial expressions between Judy and Don are priceless.
Thats probably the biggest tightrope Lost in Space had to walk: humor. The first season of the TV show was serious, as the film is, but most people remember the camp second and third seasons. Pleasing fans of the original without becoming a laughingstock is tricky, but Lost in Space pulls it off. Most of the humor derives naturally from the characters, such as Johns reaction to Don hitting on his daughter or Penny and Will harassing each other.
The rest comes from carefully handled winks to the original series. Lockhart appears on a holocall as Wills principal, which he then hacks into to attach her head to various cartoon images. Dick Tufeld returns as the voice of the Robot, which ends up as an amalgam of the sinister-looking modern version and the original. Penny (Lacey Chabert) still keeps a diary, but its digital, which enables her to be a totally overdramatic pre-teen. She also ends up with a silly alien pet this time, too, but its the special effects-created Blawp rather than a wig-wearing chimp named Debbie.
Sure Gary Oldman was slumming to finance his independent film, Nil By Mouth, but that doesnt mean he walked through the role of Dr. Smith. Oldman seems to have enjoyed pushing everyones buttons as the manipulative Smith. Here, the idea of killing Smith is dealt with seriously without making the decision to spare him a cop out.
Original series stars Mark Goddard, Angela Cartwright and Marta Kristen also have cameo appearances, but my only disappointment was a sequence that cried for a cameo by Bill Mumy, the original Will. Actor Jared Harris is very good, but Mumy would have been a better touch.
In short, the films a blast. My only complaint is that it will probably encourage even more TV-derived films. The pain, the pain.
(A New Line Cinema release. Directed by Stephen Hopkins.)
Review © 1998 Long Island Voice. Accompanying © 1998 New Line Cinema.