Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Lost in Space 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Ghost in Space" (February 2, 1966)

In “The Ghost in Space,” Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) drops an explosive device -- one slated to help the Robinsons’ mine for Neutronium ore -- in a gassy bog.

His ill-considered action arouses a strange alien bog creature, one who can hide under a cloak of invisibility.  This strange creature soon menaces the Robinsons and their settlement.

Smith, however, believes, that the alien creature is actually the ghost of his Uncle Thaddeus, and hopes to exorcise his spirit.

“Ghost in Space” is -- like quite a few episodes of Lost in Space (1965 – 1967) during the first season (think: “Attack of the Monster Plants”) -- one of those stories that works well on a visual and emotional level, but not really a concrete one.

The narrative is silly and poorly considered. Smith, who just one week earlier went into fits of fear and hysteria over Albert Salmi’s non-menacing space pirate (“The Sky Pirate”), now willingly accepts levitating objects and other phenomena as the perfectly reasonable symptoms of a haunting by a family member. 

And yet, he is not afraid of that haunting.

Smith is afraid of everything, previous stories have established, but a ghost doesn’t arouse his anxiety?

Not likely.

And again, the monster of the week -- though intriguingly visualized -- disappears at the end of the episode and we never learn what it was, what it wanted, or what happens to it after this adventure ends.  

In other words, the monster is just a device to get through this particular story, and not a creature considered in light of the environment on Priplanus, or in any other meaningful in-universe context.

This happens a lot on Lost in Space.

And yet, it is impossible to ignore or discount the visual effectiveness of certain scenes in this story.  

By night, for example, we see the monster’s creepy foot-prints forming in the mud/sand of the bog, as it moves about, invisible to the human eye.  

The effects are quite good (and reflective of similar invisible Monster from the Id footprints in the classic Forbidden Planet [1954]). 

Additionally, some of the scenes in the smoky, alien bog evoke the Gothic Horror of the 1930s and 1940s. 

There's a moment here, in the bog, for example, when Will -- holding what appears to be an old-fashioned lantern -- approaches a gnarled, mist-encrusted tree.  The imagery is remarkable.

I love it when Lost in Space adopts this particular visual tenor; of a Gothic, black-and-white world of alien monsters, essentially.

The vibe is amazingly effective, for example in “Wish Upon a Star” (which seems to resemble the Universal Mummy movies, at points), and in the weird, romantic visuals of “Attack of the Monster Plants,” which reminded me of the work of Val Lewton in the 1940s. 

But here, the moments don’t resonate strongly enough throughout the episode to earn it a recommendation.  “Ghost in Space” is weird, but not necessarily in an effective, or good way.

What seems of authentic interest in “Ghost in Space,” however, are the series’ uncharacteristic attempts at maintaining continuity. 

For example, the specimen cage left behind by “The Keeper” (Michael Rennie) is seen in one scene.  And at another point Maureen works on creating new uniforms (or “fatigues” as she calls them), for the crew. 

This last bit is a neat touch. The Robinsons are in a totally different environment than the one they intended to live in, so it makes sense that there would be adjustments in terms of their uniform choices.

The invisible monster of “Ghost in Space” is a good if underutilized villain in visual terms, and I also loved the incongruous use of a Ouija Board in a “tech,” space age setting.  But other than that, this episode is a largely forgettable and half-baked one.

Next up on Lost in Space: Robby the robot guest stars on “War of the Robots.”

1 comment:

  1. John,

    This was another of my most fondly remembered episodes as a kid. However, unlike "The Sky Pirate," I can't really defend this one, for reasons perfectly stated in your review.

    The episode establishes that sunlight weakens the monster, but does not kill it, and yet, the ending seems to indicate otherwise. And if the bog makes people and monsters invisible, then why is Will invisible while the monster isn't? Well, as long as everyone's okay...onto the cliffhanger.

    Still, the bog setting is well done, and those images are still ingrained deeply somewhere within my imagination.