Friday, May 18, 2012

Cult Movie Review: Lost in Space (1998)

It was the summer of my discontent. The blockbuster season of 1998 brought lackluster revivals of two childhood favorites, Godzilla and Lost in Space.  I came away from screening both films nurturing a belief that -- literally all at once -- Hollywood had forgotten how to make entertaining movies based on beloved genre properties. 

Yes, Hollywood was capable of crafting spectacular special effect, yet something rung terribly hollow at the heart of both of these lavish remakes.  

Perhaps the problem is that the A-list actors, writers, producers and directors engaged in these remakes were essentially working with “B” material, but without the appreciation or zeal for the material that the original “B” movie teams had so clearly and abundantly demonstrated in the past.

There’s a crucial difference, we must finally acknowledge between creating an original work of art and inheriting that same property years later, determined to make it “relevant” and “popular” again. 

The artistry, invention and love that goes into making something for the very first time is not necessarily the same thing as -- years after the property has made its name -- applying a paint job, or a superficial renovation.  But of course, even Lost in Space the TV series was an adaptation of a work of art in a different form, Space Family Robinson.

But the point is that when a movie remake is launched, the property already possesses a history, a context, a vibe, and a perception by the culture-at-large.  The critical task of the remake-r is to interpret those pre-existing characteristics and determine the “why” behind the initial and residual success.

But that “why” isn’t always easy to understand, and it is even more difficult to replicate.

The message -- which I understood in 1998 and try to hold in my thoughts even now -- is that you can’t go home again.

Lost in Space (1965 – 1968) is irrevocably a product of its time, the mid-1960s. As a series it combined fairy tale whimsy and innocence with a schizophrenic approach to science and the future.  On one hand, the Robinson pioneers possessed all of this wonderful, space-age, Matt-Mason-like technology to make their lives easier, and on the other hand the same technology had stranded them in some far corner of the universe.

Lost in Space on TV also featured this great, mid-1960s space age paraphernalia: boxy, oversized and predominantly silver, with lots of blinking, bright lights.  There was a can-do attitude – a holdover from Camelot, perhaps – at work in the series too, despite the premise of being “lost.”  And love or hate the Dr. Smith role and the use to which the character was put during three tumultuous seasons, Jonathan Harris exhibited incredible commitment to that role.

And the 1998 Lost in Space movie? 

Absolutely no expense was spared in terms of special effects, in terms of sets, and in terms of lead actors, but somehow the movie doesn’t connect on the same simple human level that the series did on a weekly basis. 

The filmmakers apparently believe we want to see in this franchise weaving spaceships and lots and lots of fireballs.  They think that’s “the why” of Lost in Space, though the Irwin Allen series could afford no such bells and whistles.

Or perhaps the movie doesn’t work because, in a bow to reality and the drastic changes in American culture, the new Lost in Space family is portrayed as wholly dysfunctional and somewhat unpleasant.  This is an attempt to make the family-oriented property fit in better during a new era; to reflect our 1990s era domestic reality.  But it’s nonetheless a change that isn’t entirely welcome.  It’s very much the same problem that plagued the new Battlestar Galactica re-imagination.

There’s a vast difference between a family facing challenges and crises from the outside – a kind of Little House on the Prairie template, where life throws ample challenges at you – and facing internal, personal character flaws such as alcoholism or narcissism.  In a dramatic crisis situation and sci-fi setting, like the extermination of the human race or being lost in space, viewers want to see – I believe – characters clinging together and fighting the “elements,” as it were, not battling “personal” subplots about alcoholism that were trite when As the World Turns vetted them thirty years ago.   I think people want to see the best of mankind fighting the Cylons or space spiders, not the worst of us.

Or finally, maybe this 1988 movie fails simply because some of the casting doesn’t seem based on who is best for the role, but who boasts the most marquee value.  Matt Le Blanc, in particular, doesn’t exude the intelligence necessary to portray a believable space pilot.  His gum-chewing horn-toad comes off as hopelessly and irrevocably dumb.  His dialogue, consisting of lines like “Yee hah!,”show time!” and “last one to get a bad guy buys the beer,” is banal on a level that the old TV series could not even have conceived

Critics, generally, weren’t impressed with Lost in Space.  Writing in The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote:This "Lost in Space" is much more chaotic and less innocent than its source.”  Roger Ebert (accurately) termed the film “dim-witted,” and The San Francisco Chronicle called it “a warm wallow in the cinema of the dumbed-down.” 

All these critics were chipping away at the edges of one particularly relevant argument: that child-like innocence has been supplanted by a kind of witless breathlessness.  The original Lost in Space wasn’t Shakespeare to be certain, but nor was it patently, overtly, cheerfully dumb.  Some episodes, even today, play as lyrical fairy tales, stories of family values re-asserted in a land of extra-terrestrial magic, and occasional terror. 

You can’t look back honestly at some of those old black-and-white stories, like “My Friend, Mr. Nobody,” “One of Our Dogs is Missing” or “The Magic Mirror” without feeling a sense of wondrous, child-like imagination, if not strict devotion to established science.  It might have more in common with The Wizard of Oz than Star Trek, but Lost in Space, the TV series...had something, especially in those early black and white days.

By contrast, the Lost in Space movie seeks to hammer the audience with a pile-up of catastrophic incidents (many admittedly interesting, at least initially), and at the same time, pay lip service to the family values vibe of the original. 

In a bit of too-clever criticism, the movie’s Dr. Smith asks at one point: “will every little problem be an excuse for family sentiment?”  That is precisely the movie’s modus operandi.  To its ultimate detriment.

“And the monkey flips the switch”

In 2058, Earth is on the edge of oblivion.  The environment is dying and the only hope for survival is to colonize a faraway world, Alpha Prime.  To do so, however, two “hyper gates” must be built, one in Earth orbit, and one in orbit of Alpha Prime.  When both are up and running, colony ships can jump instantly from one point to the other, and the relocation of man can begin.

Professor John Robinson (William Hurt) leads a mission to Alpha Prime to construct the second hypergate. Because of the long duration of the mission -- a decade -- his family comes along aboard the Jupiter 2.  Among the crew are his wife Maureen Robinson (Mimi Rogers), physician Judy Robinson (Heather Graham), petulant teenager Penny (Lacey Chabert) and boy genius Will (Jack Johnson).

But Professor Robinson’s problems begin when a new, less-than-cooperative hot shot pilot, Major West (Matt Le Blanc) assumes the role of pilot on Jupiter 2, and a saboteur from the Global Sedition, Dr. Smith (Gary Oldman) programs the ship’s Robot (Dick Tufeld) to destroy the Robinsons once the craft is in flight.

Averting a disaster in space, the Jupiter 2 “jumps” through the sun and becomes hopelessly lost in space and time.  The Robinsons run afoul of strange, alien spiders on a derelict spaceship, and later crash-land on an inhospitable planet where they encounter their future, tragically-altered selves. 
There -- in that peek into a dark future -- John gets the chance to see how his absence as a father has affected a grown-up Will.

“There are monsters everywhere...I know, I am one.”

Lost in Space combines a number of plots from the old TV series, including elements of “The Reluctant Stowaway,” “The Derelict” and any episode in which Dr. Smith makes trouble for the Robinsons by interfacing with alien biology/technology or personnel (“Wish Upon A Star,” “Ghost in Space,” “The Space Trader,” “His Majesty Smith,” “All that Glitters,” “The Dream Monster,” and so on…). 

The film, directed by Stephen Hopkins, also attempts fidelity in terms of production design.  The Jupiter 1 in the film looks much like the TV series’ Jupiter 2, for instance, and before the end of the movie, the newer high-tech robot has been re-built by Will to resemble the popular B9, that famous “bubble-headed booby” and cousin to Robby the Robot.  Even the interiors look like faithful if updated reconstructions of the 1960s sets, only with more curves and a more organic feel.

Of all the cast, Le Blanc fares the worst.  He is utterly unlikable as West, and given the worst dialogue to vet.  William Hurt seems bored and disconnected as Professor Robinson.  Mimi Rogers and Heather Graham are okay, and only Gary Oldman absolutely shines.  In fact, Oldman’s version of the treacherous Dr. Smith character feels like a real tribute to Jonathan Harris, coming off as arrogantly self-important and straddling the line between good and evil.  Oldman mines considerable humor and menace from the screenplay, and is the movie’s most valuable player.  He's great here.

The most contrived portions of Lost in Space involve Maureen’s unceasing complaints about John’s “time.”  She constantly nags him about spending more hours with Will, even though she also has two daughters and he doesn’t spend any time with them, either.  So yes, apparently only young boys, not young girls, require quality time with their father.  Who knew the world would be so sexist, still, in 2058? I  guess we know who wins the war on women...   

More crucially, Maureen’s complaints come off as rather selfish and small given the context of what’s happening around her.  John Robinson is struggling to save the planet Earth and the human race, and sure, it would be nice if he could attend his son’s science fair. But I wager his priorities are just about right.  In fact, I bet if Will were given a choice, he’d decide that his Dad should, you know, save the planet, so that all kids can enjoy science fairs for years to come.

The John-needs-to-spend-more-time-with-Will subplot is a manufactured crisis and a contrivance that isn’t truly believable given the narrative details.  The movie sort of proves it’s a non-issue when the older Will – even with Spider Smith as a surrogate father – does the right thing to save the universe and his family.  I guess John imparted some good qualities to his boy in the time he had.  He may be "busy" (again, saving the world") but he isn't negligent or absent.

Again, the old series didn’t contend with these “emo” touches.  The Robinsons were essentially space pioneers and, well, a planet had to be tamed.  John Robinson (Guy Williams) was always there for his son if Will (Bill Mumy) needed him, but there wasn’t this constant hand-wringing on the TV series  about how much time the two were spending together.  Here, the subplot is a little touchy-feely and unrealistic given the circumstances.

Bottom line: there’s not a lot of time for father-child closeness when your spaceship is plunging into the sun, battling metal spiders, crash-landing, or hovering at the edge of a dangerous space-time bubble.

Sorry, kid.  Suck it up.

Even family must, as we all know too well, bow to reality, and I generally resent movies that suggest everything would be okay if a Dad and son just spent a little more time together.   Meanwhile, the planet is falling apart…. 

Another problem with the film is that, in post-production, apparently, someone decided that the film needed to be funnier.  Therefore, we get an out-of-left-field The Waltons joke (“and good night, John Boy...”) delivered in embarrassed voice-over.  The problem isn't that the joke isn't funny, though it isn't.  The problem is that it doesn’t fit the scene.  We get a nice fade-out on John and Maureen about to have sex, and then the very next instant, we’re onto a sound cue of the same two characters saying “good night” to each other and the kids, like this is the galactic Brady Bunch.  Like so much of the film’s humor, it’s groan-inducing.

As incongruous as that moment remains, the space creature that the Robinsons discover, Blawp is even worse.  He has been crafted to look absolutely ridiculous.  The design of this alien might have fit in on the original series, forty years ago, but it in no way fits the palette of the 1998 film.  Blawp doesn’t look like the product of a universe that includes the movie Robinsons and the truly scary alien metal spiders.  Instead, Blawp looks as though he was shipped in from the funny pages, circa 1959.  Every time the creature appears, his presence takes you right out of the reality of the movie. 

It’s not just that the creature is composed of bad CGI.  It’s that the visualization of the creature is all wrong for the earthy production canvas; fanciful and whimsical in a movie of skin-tight body suits and dark browns and greys. 

Despite my reservations about the movie, Lost in Space begins relatively well. Even though the opening space battle between the Global Sedition and United Global Space Force is entirely unnecessary, the first hour of the film establishes well the threat to Earth. The first act boasts a decent pace, and there’s a respectable level of excitement and anticipation. The battle on the alien derelict against the metal spiders is also thrilling. From the point, however, in which John goes into the time bubble, the movie gets lost itself.

Lost and incoherent.

As the movie ends, Future Will throws Present John through a time vortex, but it isn’t entirely clear if West already has the power cells the Jupiter 2 needs for lift-off, if John has them, or if Future Will still has them.  Why is the Jupiter 2 attempting escape velocity without the power source it needs?  Why isn't anyone commenting on, essentially, a suicide run?

Then, the movie ends without resolving Dr. Smith’s crisis. He’s slowly turning into a giant spider monster, but there are no attempts to treat the condition, or even quarantine the guy.  The movie ends without even a hint of resolution on this front.  But this is after John, Will, the Robot and Smith himself have seen his future manifestation.  I very much doubt Smith would stay silent, knowing he is carrying an infection that will transform him into a giant arachnid.

Also, Lost in Space never squares the circle in terms of the future.  The robot of the future comes back in time to the Jupiter 2…but in the “real” timeline, Will never finishes building that robot.  So if he does, there will be two robots? 

If he doesn’t finish work on the robot, then where did the robot come from, having never actually been constructed by Will?  I’m not saying that this is an unworkable dilemma, only that the movie might have made note of the time paradox.  A joke about it would have been fine.

As a general premise, Lost in Space boasts great potential, even today.  The idea of a family alone on an alien world, trying to make a go of things, offers nearly infinite story ideas.  You don’t have to make the movie schmaltzy, or wall-to-wall action to make the scenario work effectively.  You just need a few characters you like, some tough conditions, and a sense that – as a family – the pioneers will stick together and see the mission through, no matter the challenges.  But this Lost in Space wants to hit you on the head with incongruous platitudes about family (a lot like the Dark Shadows remake I reviewed on Tuesday…) and then wow you with special effects explosions.

Although I felt a legitimate  thrill hearing Dick Tufeld voice the Robot again in this film, I remember well 1998 and my discontent regarding this film.   It remains a lost opportunity, and an emotionally hollow adventure.  

Danger, Will Robinson! 


  1. Wow, where to begin. I was so looking forward to this movie since I always felt that Lost in Space was a great premise that got tangled up in the camp movement of the 1960s. What a terrific chance for a do-over! There was so much momentum behind Lost in Space leading up to the movie (comic books, model kits, memorabilia, etc.), I thought this would be a great new franchise like Mission: Impossible.

    I went to the movie opening night with a bunch of friends and friends of friends. The place was packed and finding seats was tough. Most of my friends went near the front, but I had no interest in looking up William Hurt's nose for two hours, so I moved to the back. One of the friend-of-friends whom I did not know followed and sat down next to me. I tried to talk a little about Lost in Space with her, but she didn't seem to know much about it.

    The movie started and all my hopes and expectations were dashed. The original series was a logical blend of Swiss Family Robinson with the modern challenges of space exploration. It was all about American can-do-it-ativism and the excitement of facing great danger, not because one is fearless, but because one must for survival. The movie had none of that. It was all dark and emo and straining to be hip while making a few superficial nods to the original.

    Then, right when we get to part with grown-up Will and monster Dr. Smith, the soundtrack went haywire. The critical exposition came out as "Eep-ack-erp-ark-ibit-gak." I hung in until the end, hopelessly trying to lip read. Then I realized that I didn't care anyway.

    Afterward, we spilled out of the theatre where an apologetic manager gave us free passes for another movie. We all headed to our cars ripping apart the movie mercilessly. It wasn't all bad though. The friend-of-a-friend who sat next to me ended up being my wife.

    1. Hi Neal,

      I love your comment. I especially love your story about meeting your wife. Given the fact that you two met during Lost in Space, I hereby soften my opinion of it. :)

      With a little bit of thought and nurturing, this movie indeed could have been a new franchise like M:I. The idea would have been just as you describe the original series: "a logical blend of Swiss Family Robinson with the modern challenges of space exploration." I would still very much like to see that movie, or a new tv series with that theme.

      Great comment!

  2. Great story Neal!

    I loved the first (and to a lesser degree the third) season of the TV show and totally hated the second, even as a kid.

    I went to the movie with high expectations and to some degree, those expectations were met. I didn't mind the design upgrades but I thought that the ship was awfully large and spacious for just a few people.

    But John's criticisms are right on the ball. The premise should have been about the family's struggles to survive. The movie's producers obviously knew that the appeal of the original was the interplay between Smith, Will and the Robot and this is what they gave us at the sacrifice of the other family members. Yes, the attraction between West and Judy was touched upon. Penny ended up being the most updated so that she becomes a bit too precocious and emo-oriented.

    The biggest bonus for us fans though was the two-tiered toy line. One tier was geared towards the movie and the other was based on the original TV show. We finally got to make our own Jupiter 2 models, and the various Robot toys were a dream come true. For this reason alone, I'm really very grateful for the movie's release.

    1. Hi Pierre,

      I am also a big fan of the first season of the show, that eerie black and white. The second season is largely unwatchable, but the third season did feature some gems.

      I think the producers would have been wise to stick to the Space Family Robinson template, as you rightly suggest, and give a rest to the Smith/Will/Robot troika.

      I cannot agree with you more about the toys. I am looking at in my office right now the Trendmasters Lost in Space robot, and remote control robot. Great toys.

      Now if I could just get my hands on an affordable series Jupiter 2...


  3. Great coverage here John. I have been very close to upgrading my DVD to blu-ray on this one, but I kept asking myself why? Why do it? I never really liked the film when I saw it. Am I paying for the idea of completing my collection with the franchise in name? This, after all, is LINO, Lost In Space In Name Only to use a play on words for GINO [Galactica in Name Only or Godzilla in Name Only].

    Your article certainly dissects the many many porblems that accompany this effort. I really enjoyed your breakdowns.

    Though, as you correctly note about poor casting and in the case of LeBlanc terrible dialogue, that the original Lost In Space couldn't even imagine such dreck [in so many words], but, and I know you'll agree, at least the dialogue in that series, which may have lacked the grand ideas of Star Trek, was authentic and real and believable. We connect to those characters because they are likable and have depth. These cookie cutter characters of the film should have been given a script that drew on that genuine nature. People already had a good feel for those original characters and they could have built on that. What a shame.

    So yes, dim-witted is right and is there anything with a sense of innocence about it today? Maybe that's why I liked Captain America so much. It had a touch of that, which was a rare thing.

    In fact, perhaps your point about Smith's remark speaks volumes about the creator's general disdain for the original. Gosh, how pessimistic and generally dissatisfied with the source material was this film? I'm not sayin they felt this way, but perhaps subconsciously it just became part of the weave of their new creation because that's how it feels.

    I also thought your take on all of the character assignments by actors was spot on. Oldman is such a great actor, but why the hideous transformation? That always bothered me.

    William Hurt is a bore and everyone else is flat. The whole thing is a giant special effect populated by actors not entirely invested in their roles.

    And though I probably didn't quite harbor a distast for Blawp at the time, you are so right about the incongruous inclusion of that character.

    And like this work of general space fiction or refuse, so too is the war on women. I had to say. : )

    Seriously John, the film is a mess overall apart from the segments you mention at the beginning which I enjoyed.

    The creators really needed to BLIP rather than BLAWP with Lost In Space. Shame.


    Additionally I enjoyed Neal's story, it's great to see something good came out of the dreadfully hollow movie experience, but he's right too, what a superficial, insincere mess. I was pretty disappointed.

    In fact, the series still remains a classic and this thing didn't even sniff it.

    1. Hi SFF!

      I am very much like you. I suddenly feel the need to update my DVDs to blu ray, and I look at titles like Lost in Space (or, guilty admission here...The Postman), and say...Why? Why on Earth am I spending my money on something that I don't like that much? I can still watch the bloody thing on DVD if I get the inclination.

      But you and I are collectors, and we like to see these movies at their best, I know. I'm exactly that way.

      Golly though, Lost in Space is a huge disappointment. I love the first season Lost in Space, and would have been tremendously content to see a movie that followed along those lines (maybe the first five episodes or so, which were all a "serial" as it were.)

      Great comment my friend. Loved your commentary, as I always do.

  4. I only remember two things about this film. 1-It knocked Titanic off the top spot at the box office. 2-Mimi Rogers' impressive rack. As an aside about the TV series, I dearly love the BW first season and it's more mature storytelling. I think "My Friend, Mr. Nobody" is it's finest hour. I can't get into the Will/Smith/Robot camp fest it turned into.

    1. Hi David:

      Apparently, Lost in Space (the movie) was known as "the iceberg" because it finally sunk Titanic at the box office. Funny.

      I also dearly love that first season of the 1960s series. There's something magical and terrifying and wondrous about many of those stories. I also LOVE "My Friend, Mr. Nobody." Great episode.

      You're making me want to haul out my DVDs. I last watched the first season in 2006, right after Joel was born.

      best wishes,

  5. I always thought "My Friend, Mr. Nobody" had a lovely, lyrical essence that reminds me of Jean Cocteau's version of "Beauty and the Beast". Mr. Nobody's cave was this incredible fantasy world in a very "real" environment. Something as simple as having the water bubble up to give Penny a drink provides just the right amount of fantasy into what could have been a completely scary episode where a disembodied voice starts speaking to the very lonely Penny.

    What I liked the most about the 3rd season is that they were space-born again and the opportunity for interesting adventures seemed much more ripe. The show also seemed more "mature" as well. The children were suddenly young adults, everyone had lovely new costumes, they had a really cool Space Pod to fly around with and the out and out camp of the second season was gone. Certainly Smith remained a thorn in their sides, but being able to go to new planets was terribly liberating for the show's format. "Visit To A Hostile Planet" ranks up there with my favorite episodes, as does "The Anti-Matter Man" and "Hunter's Moon".

  6. Anonymous3:25 PM

    John, well done. Your review is very honest to what we all saw on the theater screen in 1998. Director Stephen Hopkins just did not grasp what you simply, yet brilliantly, stated that made LOST IN SPACE (1965-1968) series so special. Simply that it’s about a functioning family unit overcoming adversity which is was what also made Michael Landon’s ’70s series LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE successful too. My brother and I first saw LOST IN SPACE in reruns(weekdays Mondays through Fridays) as young boys. However, I disliked the screenplay because this 1998 movie was trying too hard to be like an ALIEN horror movie (space spiders and Dr. Smith-infected) instead of an high adventure movie like STAR WARS(the original trilogy). I always saw the Millennium Falcon as a George Lucas revision of the original series Jupiter 2. Speaking of Jupiter 2 design, I hated the new Jupiter 2. Stephen Hopkins teased us all with the Jupiter 1 booster design that blows apart in Earth orbit to reveal the new disappointing Jupiter 2 design. Since it was faithful to the original design, I wish he had just used the Jupiter 1 booster as the new Jupiter 2. That is why STAR TREK:THE MOTION PICTURE production design worked with a refit U.S.S. Enterprise that was updated, but faithful enough to the original starship. To the point, Swiss Family Robinson, Space Family Robinson, Lost In Space and Little House On The Prairie all, as you stated, about a family learning “united we stand, divided we fall”.


    1. Hi SGB:

      I don't know why, but starting in the mid-1990s Hollywood assumed that all families are dysfunctional. It's naive, of course, to think all families are "perfect" or "healthy" but why must every family in the modern genre (LIS, the new BSG) be portrayed as flagrantly dysfunctional?

      It's a little insulting, and I don't think it truly reflects reality, either.

      However, it does make things easy for writers. How can we make Colonel Tigh stand out? Let's make him a divorced alcoholic!

      I'm not saying there should be no dysfunctional people in sci-fi, only that Hollywood ought to keep the matter in perspective a little bit. Some families are happy, and some families would certainly, in my words, "suck it up" to save the human race!

      I like your formulation: united we stand, divided we fall.

      Great comment!


  7. Fine look at this Lost in Opportunity film. I think you covered well why it didn't work in general and to what was lost in regard to the original series. You know I remain a big fan of the b&w season 1 for this show. Yep, the filmmakers missed what made the series so very much enjoyable fun for the fans of the program (whether they saw it first-run in 60s TV [me], or caught it later on VHS/DVD or cable). Still, when I screened this to my kids a couple of years back, they got a kick out of it. And that's probably because they had no history, or favorite episodes or moments, to hold them up. It was all new and enjoyable to them, which unintentionally seemed to mirror my own giddiness of the show when I first saw it). That's why I actually picked up the Blu-ray Disc of LiS (plus, it was dirt cheap, but don't tell them that ;-)). Thanks, John.

    p.s., how do you like Blogger's new threaded comments? Took them long enough ;-)

    1. Hi Le0pard13,

      You make a good point, my friend. Without a familiarity with the show, some of the changes may not seem upsetting or galling. Absolutely. I can understand the rush of excitement you get in the film. As I wrote, I feel that the first half of the film is really pretty good. It moves along at a great clip, has some zingy dialogue, and is infused with a sense of fun. I think it's when the film gets to the planet that it goes awry. Some clarity and cohesion is lost, and the "emo" parts take over.

      This is my first time using threaded replies. I hope I'm doing okay. I like it, it's just new, and I'm something of a technological dinosaur, trying to keep up.

      But this is good, because I can respond to each comment as I read it, rather than try to hold seven comments in my mind at one time, and respond meaningfully to all of them, if that makes sense.

      Great comment, my friend!


  8. Anonymous6:17 PM

    John, you certainly hit the nail on the head about the downside of remakes. In my opinion, remakes are only a cheap way to make a profit and a lack of artistic quality, originality, and integrity. Most of all, a lack or creative disrespect to the original source material. If only Ronald Moore had realized this before he made that colossal mistake of re-making Battlestar Galactica. It would be great if Jace Hall would learn from this and not remake Space:1999. He already made the error of remaking V, so honestly, he should not be making the same mistake twice.

    All that aside, while the Lost In Space movie boasted some excellent production design, sfx, and an interesting environmental message(it was filmed at Shepperton Studios, London, England), the rest of the film wasn't all that great. Granted I was not much of a fan of the late Sixties TV series, but still, the film just only proved how serious of a decline the cinema had taken in 1998(the second worst year I have ever experienced). The only decent films that came out that year were only Deep Impact and Halloween - H20.

    This film, along with Godzilla and Armageddon, just proved only one thing. 1998 was definitely not the best year for science fiction, period.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      I've learned -- writing reviews and books for so many years, now -- to take remakes on a case-by-case basis.

      Some remakes, after all, can be amazing: John Carpenter's The Thing, the 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and so forth.

      I'll even go on record as defending as brilliant Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 (2009), which is not how I would EVER make a Halloween film, but which expresses the director's style and world view in very artistic (if ugly...) terms.

      I agree with you that the BSG remake was really just an attempt at brand identification. The series had more in common with Wing Commander (1999) or Space: Above and Beyond (1995) than the original BSG.

      The original BSG was about a sturdy family unit dealing with a terrible threat from the outside. The remake muddied everything with misplaced moral relativism, in my opinion. I like and understand moral relativism as much as the next guy, but the characters of the new BSG were always hypocrites. They wanted to murder Cylons unless the Cylons happened to be their friends.

      By the way, I've noticed, with interest, the fall-off in popularity of BSG over the last two years. It was a show, like 24, that was extremely popular when it aired because it had a kind of exciting, breathless quality. Viewers were "in the moment" experiencing the tension. But in the cold light of day, after you know how the show ends, who really wants to revisit a world of such despicable people?

      And I agree with you that 1998 was really, truly, a horrible year for the sci-fi cinema. The summer of our discontent!


  9. Meh, it’s no worse than Abram’s Star Trek.

    For me, 1998’s Lost in Space = 'generic space adventure movie'. I never watched the TV series which is why I didn’t walk away from this one feeling particularly wounded. Regardless, it is a mediocre film, mostly due to the script and shallow studio sensibility; basically, the reasons you already covered, though I didn’t mind the casting of Le Blanc. However, I don’t think director Stephen Hopkins is really to blame here, as he was likely a director-for-hire. Again, it was the shoddy scriptwriting. Hopkins for his part fashioned a pretty slick action movie; some neat set-pieces coupled with polished camerawork and editing. Cool scenes included Don West activating his Iron Man-like headgear armor before blasting away at space spiders and the big finale where they have to fly the Jupiter II through an exploding planet.

    Also, it’s worth noting that this film was actually the first to introduce mainstream audiences to the early stages of 'bullet time' special effects (something I remember being quite impressed by when I first saw it theatrically) and it further pushed the facial motion capture process for rendering the mutant Smith. So I give Hopkins props for being technically innovative. At the same time, I agree that Blawp was just plain awful. I admire their attempt to incorporate a digitally animated character and perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, we can look back on it as the growing pains of a then adolescent CGI. But it’s one best forgotten nonetheless. The following year saw Jar Jar Binks. Those who criticized how bad he looked should seriously reference this film in comparison.

    One point you made that I agree with the most was Gary Oldman’s contribution as Dr. Smith. Easily the most enjoyable character. Yeah, the film suffered from some brain dead dialogue but Oldman managed to score the best material, perhaps because the writers and director both recognized his knack delivering lines with such devious wit:

    "Unhand me, you mechanical moron!"

    "Major West, I highly recommend you never breed. That, by the way, is my medical opinion."

    "I never liked me anyway."

    And my personal favorite: "Farewell my platinum-plated-pal. Give my regards to oblivion."

    1. Hi Cannon,

      I love your even-handed assessment of the film, sussing out what worked and what didn't. I agree with you about Gary Oldman 100%. He was really terrific in this movie. The script played to his strengths and he was funny, scary and always interesting.

      I'm glad you pointed out the technical innovation of the film. The pre-Bullet-Time moment as the ship "jumped" into the sun, for instance. Blawp, an early CGI creation, is crude looking today, which I accept, as the format was in an early stage of development. What I have a tougher time accepting is his design and appearance. He looks like he's come in from Who Framed Roger Rabbit, not an action/space adventure.

      I think the film started off quite well. And through the spider adventure, it had me. It was different than the series, yes, but also quite entertaining...a slick roller-coaster. For me, the last act borders on incoherent, so that even the set-pieces (like the journey through the planet core) becomes just a lot of sound and noise, and not something we feel emotionally connected with.

      Great comment!


  10. Hi,

    I saw the movie without knowing the series. Also William Hurt was nobody to me, same with Gary Oldman and Mimi Rogers. The only one that I knew was Joey (aaa... I mean Matt LeBlank). I was a noob, yeah.

    I liked the movie, but thought it was missing something. I didn't know exactly what, but it definitely was missing something. I liked the beginning a lot, but then it got downgraded somehow, from a great epic to a room with a view and a pond type story.

    Maybe I'll give it another try. Thanks for the review.

  11. I always felt that Lost in Space was a great premise that got tangled up in the camp movement of the 1960s.I always felt Lost in Space deserved better,than it got after the first,quality black and white season.As Gary Ordman portrayed a bit sinister and abit cowardly.Sorry,other creating a few insults for the Robot,Jonathan Harris just wasn't to the job,nor were the creative talent.They just went with Smith as a Gilligan Frack up and mix the rest with the cheepnest and campyness of Bat-Man.I didn't some of the changes.The Robinsons,started a bit disfunctional in the old series.John and Don didn't always see eye to eye,like the movie.The movie was a good attempt.I Brother liked it more me,being an old Lost in Space,like me when we were young.
    This that bug was trying to please everyone,while make the concept fresh.Did we need the old Jupiter 2 disguised as the Jupiter 1 ?No.Did we need the old Robot showing up as a semi pile of junk,while bigger,better designed Robot way out match the old,beloved B9/Guther.Yeah,I liked the old one-the old series,but I also like the new guy,too.He looked like something,I'd want to have around,if I was Lost in Space.They crap pile at the end,make Tiki look like Robbie the Robot.Nor did I care for the Glarp.I wasn't expecting Debbie the Bloop,as a monkey with fake water buffalo hat,but something between the old and new could have been done.
    I problem,biggest was it was done as a movie and not a tv series.Some of this might have on a week to week series,while trying to capture,what was old about the old series-while dumping all the crap,mostly surround Doctor Smith.
    CHECK MY Maveric Universe Wili for more.