I originally planned to watch Robot Carnival tonight, but I’d rather do it on another evening when my brain Isn’t so muddled. Instead, we will be featuring Lost in Space, the feature film adaptation of the 1960s TV show that was released to theaters in 1998, starring Gary Oldman as Dr. Smith, clearly the best asset in the movie. I’m parking my brain in neutral for this one; I haven’t seen it in a long long time, but I remember it was a light-hearted family adventure for the most part, mixing in a couple of dark turns for good measure, much like the original black and white episodes of season one, plus a lot of Irwin Allen-style space opera silliness as well.
First off, we have Matt LeBlanc, better known as Joey from the sitcom Friends, playing Major Don West, a hotshot space pilot and fighter jock originally played in the TV series by actor Mark Goddard. Why Joey from Friends, exactly? He is pretty cute, and he looks good in a spacesuit, and he can do light comedy and adventure just fine. But he’s still Joey from Friends, he’s never not going to be Joey from Friends. At least Mark Goddard, who plays a general who just happens to look exactly like the original Don West in a cameo, is able to maintain his dignity with a credible performance.
The first steaming turd of dysfunctional stereotype we meet among the Robinson family is young Will Robinson, who is cute enough I guess, but he is no Bill Mumy, who played the character in the original TV series. He’s supposed to be a lonely little genius boy whose father doesn’t pay attention to him enough, but any sympathy we feel for him is immediately tainted by this puerile sight gag that ruins the cameo of original TV series star June Lockhart. Boy, this movie sets a tone *real* early.
And now we have cute little Lacey Chabert from Party of Five being all cutie cute cute as Penny Robinson, who, this time gets an actual job or something as a member of the crew of the Jupiter 2. Yay, representation, kind of. Anyway, she’s pissed off to be leaving Earth at the age of 14, because, among other things, she hasn’t kissed a lot of dudes yet. Because Penny Robinson is definitely into dudes, as at least one inappropriate interaction with Joey demonstrates quite creepily.
And here enters the essential villain of the piece, the nefarious Dr. Zachary Smith, supposedly an ally but actually an agent of enemy powers, seen here getting inappropriately touchy with the Robot, as he does with every single other member of the cast, because, he’s *real* fucking creepy that way. Gary Oldman tears into the role with superbitchy aplomb and often seems to be the only person in the entire cast having any fun at all, not unlike certain episodes of the original series featuring actor Jonathan Harris in the same role. Definitely the sole character (again, except for the Robot) deeply connected to the original show. Oh, the pain, the pain.
And here we get the two adult female corpse members of the Robinson family, Dr. Judy Robinson (Heather Graham of Boogie Nights fame), and Professor Maureen Robinson (Mimi Rogers, who appeared in the first Austin Powers the same year). As mother and daughter, these normally engaging actresses have little chemistry and seem ill at ease amid the space spiders and ’90s sci-fi technobabble (not an easy form of acting, to be sure). They both pull it out in the end by pulling out the charm at full blast, but it’s close. Gary Oldman, who gets to embrace his original character instead of running away from it characterization-wise, fares much better by comparison.
The creepy “sexy” banter between Judy and Joey is just slimy, hilariously laughable tripe, some of which is plainly ADR’d in post because reasons. Hard to believe Akiva Goldsman wrote these flaming turd nuggets.
Introducing the character who was in reality the second lead of the original 1960s television show and serves the same function in this movie, being the only really pro-active character in the entire cast except for Dr. Smith. Voice actor Dick Tufeld is the only member of the original series cast to reprise his original role as the voice of the Robot. He does a fine job here, just as he did during the original incarnation. Ultimately, you’ll find that he’s the only character that you want to root for.
The new Jupiter 2, like the old Jupiter 2, is a character unto its own, often behaving as if it had will and a personality that is never quite fully expressed. By far one of the best elements of the movie, though I missed the Chariot and Space Pod from the old show, supposedly trashed when Joey fucks up and crashes the ship, like an asshole.
“We’re lost, aren’t we”? asks Penny, who must follow the cinematic trope of alluding to the film’s title in dialogue. Yeah, Penny, we KNOW.
GHOOOOOST SHIIIIIIP! Another original series trope, updated with a new time-travel twist as the Jupiter 2 unknowingly leaps decades in the future. Some actual gosh-wow sci-fi, at last.
OH MY GOD, MAC AND ME!!!!
Did they honestly not notice the similarities, or was this a purposeful homage to shitty cinema space aliens gone by? I would love to know.
Last among the Robinsons and definitely least, ostensible protagonist Professor John Robinson (William Hurt, who usually plays quietly depressed suburban idiots) suffers from his portrayal as icy, remote, bored, exasperated and vaguely annoyed ALL THE TIME, even when playing hero in the third act. Unfortunately (fortunately?), he’s not the real hero, as we shall see.
The real hero of the picture, Future Will Robinson (Mad Men’s Jared Harris), whom sacrifices his future and very life for his family. And he’s only a walk-on cast member. Original cast member Bill Mumy lobbied to play the role but was inexplicably refused. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Still, adult William and his mini-arc is just about the thing that saves the whole picture. Goodbye, Future Will, we hardly knew ye.
Future Smith, the Chekov’s Space Spider that is Oldman’s primarily motion-captured contribution to the third act. Acceptably creepy, but crude compared to the considerably more polished character CG used in Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace a year later (1999).
What can I say, I actually still like this movie a lot. It’s not your serious, thought-provoking science fiction for the most part, but it touches on some good, fertile areas for exploration. The open-ended finale indicated they expected this to be a renewed franchise, but that’s okay; the original TV series never had a definitive ending, either. I have to admit that, despite the very different, post modern interpretation of these characters, the original concept is solid enough to carry me through for the most part, even colored as it is by the patina of nostalgia (I admit I had an avid boy-crush crush on Mark Goddard – Don West – when I was little, and I imagine that the same could apply to 1990s kids with Matt LeBlanc).
The feeling is exacerbated by the fact that this was the first version of Lost in Space that my son encountered, and frankly, he fucking loved it. I bought him several of the better merchandised toy tie-ins, which immeasurably stimulated his imagination. And I treasure that. It’s a fun movie, I had fun watching it. It’s still very much a 1965 TV pilot at its heart, essentially a combination of the first three or so episodes of the TV series with a brand new ending to cap off the first film’s narrative. I’m almost sorry that it did not continue as a film series, though except for the hideous Blarp (the horrible yellow monkey lizard that, in the original script, played a much bigger part), I’m now interested in obtaining some of that old 1998 Lost in Space merch for myself. I’ve already got the robot coming my way.
Lost in Space is now streaming on HBO Max.