Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "There Were Giants in the Earth" (October 6, 1965)


In “There Were Giants in the Earth,” the Robinson family takes productive steps to build a self-sufficient community on the strange world where their ship, the Jupiter 2, has crashed. 

John Robinson (Guy Williams) and Major West (Mark Goddard) set up a force-field to guard their settlement’s perimeter, while Judy (Marta Kristen), Maureen (June Lockhart) and Penny (Angela Cartwright) begin to plant a garden.

Meanwhile, Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) assiduously avoids working all-together.  But when he does help in the garden, he inadvertently spawns giant plant monsters.

Next, a weather station device in the mountains begins to malfunction, and Robinson and West learn that a strange, brutish cyclops has attacked it. The colossus attacks them too, but Will (Bill Mumy) comes to the rescue and saves the day.

Because of dropping temperatures, however, the new settlement will be unlivable in a matter of hours.  Robinson decides the family should flee in the chariot, and head for warmer weather. 

But Smith and the Robot stay behind, in the safety of the Jupiter 2. 

On their journey away from the Jupiter 2, the Robinsons discover an ancient tomb…another sign of life on the planet.




At this point, it is safe to say Lost in Space is moving so fast that one starts to feel some opportunities are being missed, or passed by.  This episode posits both a giant malevolent Cyclops, and an ancient civilization on the planet the humans have just landed upon.  Either one would have made good fodder for an entire episode.  Instead, we are left wanting more...and perhaps that’s the point.

Lost in Space, at this early juncture, is an exciting, thrill-packed series, a story of pioneers in an alien environment, facing challenge after challenge.  The series isn’t deep sci-fi at this juncture, but nor is it the camp apocalypse of the color seasons. I do know this: as a kid I was terrified and obsessed with that giant cyclops for a while. And I loved the interlude in the tomb, with the family finding skeletons inside.


In writing these retrospectives, I’m attempting to keep track of certain ideas and plot-lines. In one of those threads, I’m paying close attention to Dr. Smith and his behavior.  

Here, he is more amusing and shiftless than evil, a change in his usual persona. He ends up staying at the Jupiter 2, however, because of a production point. Harris was not an original cast member, and therefore not included in the pilot.  And the first several episodes re-use elements of the pilot episode. Therefore, having the Robot (another new addition, post-pilot) and Smith remain at camp solves the problem of explaining their absence.

Another point I’m focusing on is the way that sixties attitudes end up seeping into this futuristic adventure series. Last week, in “Islands in the Sky,” for example, the “girls” had to make dinner for the family.  Will?  He was free to do whatever he wanted.

Here, we see Maureen doing the family’s laundry, again with no male help. Still, the laundry operation as depicted here is Jetsons-style cool, with clothes emerging not just washed and dried from the family machine, but neatly folded as well.


Another sexist note to consider: Will reports “women are always getting lost!” Once more, a little boy is even judged superior to his female counter-parts.  Oy.

Despite these antique attitudes, Lost in Space remains intriguing because of the visualizations, and the production design.  This episode features the first use of the rocket pack (a gimmick later used on Ark II [1976]), a visit to an alien tomb, and several close-up peeks at hard Earth "tech," including the weather station, the force-field generator, and yes, the aforementioned laundry machine. 






I am not sure why this big, clunky "space pioneer" gear appeals to me so much, and on such a basic level...but I just can't get enough of these live-action props (the kind you see at the Robinson homestead).  At this point, I would say that the production values of Lost in Space far outstrip those of Star Trek (1966 - 1968). The narratives and characters, of course, are a different story.

Finally, this episode features Will singing Green Sleeves at a camp site:

3 comments:

  1. John I absolutely agree that the production values of Lost in Space far outstrip those of Star Trek. The Jupiter 2 upper deck set and lower deck set. The full-scale Spacepod and the working full-scale Chariot. As a boy in the '70s and still now, extremely impressive production design.

    SGB

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  2. Billy Mumy recently performed Greensleeves on Facebook - 50 years later!
    https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10205523301901286

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  3. Jonathan3:56 PM

    Not many people can pinpoint what exactly made those early LIS episodes so appealing. I think this post is dead-on in describing that initial appeal. I, for one, am a big fan of the "futuristic" hardware but more so, I think I was a fan of early NASA which is present throughout, including actual NASA star fields that were used as space background elements. To confirm your theory of all the beautiful toys being so appealing, the Internet is littered with fan-sites and clubs dedicated to prop replicas, robot builders and vintage computer restoration. By the way, regarding Maureen's laundry machine, not only did the clothes come out cleaned and folded, but shrink-wrapped as well!

    It's almost sad how quickly the show changed direction, most people would say decline. Where most people think the second and third seasons were camp, it started a lot earlier than that. Almost immediately after the pilot and the first few episodes, using the first pilot to craft the first few episodes, Harris started doing his thing.

    In countless interviews, Harris claimed that a true villain would have been killed off several episodes in so to avoid unemployment, he made Smith a "comedic" villain thus changing the entire direction of the show. I can't say that he is solely responsible. It also seemed that the network and Allen, trying desperately to compete with Batman, encouraged Harris and therefore the show became more colorful both literally and figuratively.

    And yes, the anti-female sentiment is ongoing and the biggest offender is the Will character. Unfortunately, that was the environment of the 60s and is prevalent in most entertainment of that period.

    Word on the street is that Lost In Space will be released on Blu-Ray this September to mark the 50th Anniversary so we'll all be able to get a better look at those marvelous gadgets than ever before.

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