The original "Lost in Space" TV series, which aired on CBS from 1965 to 1968, followed the misadventures of the "Space Family Robinson" in their plight to reach home, after their spacecraft strays off course. Unfortunately, the quality of the series overall was mediocre, suffering from multiple ailments including low production values, lousy special effects, insipid writing and an inconsistent tone that ran the gamut between serious drama and campy kids stuff. The original series was set in the year 1997, and appropriately enough, in 1998, this Baby-Boomer throwback would finally reach the big screen.
Maybe it doesn't matter to save a whole world of families if we can't even save our own.
In the latest incarnation, it is the year 2058 and the Earth is a dying planet, only capable of supporting human habitation for another twenty years. However, there is hope in the form of a new planet capable of supporting life: Alpha Prime. However, the journey there will take ten years to complete. Stepping up to the plate are John (William Hurt) and Maureen Robinson (Mimi Rogers, last seen in "Austin Powers"), two scientists who have dedicated their lives to saving the planet. They volunteer to make the ten-year journey to Alpha Prime, where they will construct a hypergate, matching one being constructed in Earth orbit. With the two hypergates in place, instantaneous travel between Earth and Alpha Prime will be possible, allowing for the migration of humanity to its new home. However, the Robinson's are also taking their children along for the journey. Judy (Heather Graham of "Boogie Nights") is the oldest, a scientist following in the footsteps of her parents. Penny (Lacey Chabert) is the rebellious younger daughter who doesn't want to leave the comfort of life on Earth, and Will (Jack Johnson) is the youngest squirt, a whiz kid who feels neglected by his busy father. Piloting the Robinson's spaceship, the Jupiter 2, is Major Don West (Matt LeBlanc of "Friends"), an ace war hero who sees his position on the crew as a glorified babysitter.
Major, I'm a doctor not a space explorer!
Unknown to the Robinsons is the nefarious presence of Dr. Smith (Gary Oldman), the Robinson's physician who is also part of a terrorist group called the New World Sedition, out to sabotage the flight of the Jupiter 2. After the launch of the Jupiter 2, the Smith-engineered sabotage awakens the Robinson's out of cryogenic sleep, and knocks the ship off course. In a last-ditch effort to avoid collision with the Sun, John activates the hyperdrive. Unfortunately, because it is used without a hypergate, the resulting space warp hurtles the Jupiter 2 into the far reaches of the unknown, and they wind up lost in space.
We're caught in the Sun's gravitational pull!
Is that what that big round ball is?
Fans of the original may spot some of the original cast in a series of cameos. June Lockhart (the mother in the original series) shows up first as Will's schoolteacher. Mark Goddard (Major West) is a General that assigns West to the Jupiter 2, and both Angela Cartwright and Marta Kristen (Penny and Judy) show up as reporters during a press conference. Finally, Dic Tufeld once again reprises his role by giving the voice to the new LIS robot. While LIS manages to rise above the cheesy campiness of the original television series with a lavish and sleek futuristic production design and decent special effects, the hodge-podge writing prevents the film from being memorable. Scripted by Akiva Goldsman, who was responsible for the inane "Batman and Robin", the muddled plot and character development are readily apparent. Plot points are raised and then quickly forgotten-- for example, an extended sequence on a derelict spaceship where the Robinsons go up against silicon spiders has a tenuous connection to what happens after it. Also, Dr. Smith is bitten by one of these spiders but it is never resolved what happens to him by the end of the movie. Furthermore, while Goldsman attempts to create some poignancy in the strained relationships among the members of the Robinson family, these moments of realization come across forced, as if these overly-melodramatic scenes were written deliberately to provide some emotional depth to the story. This movie even develops a terminal case of the cutes when they stumble upon a chameleon-like alien.
How much Smith? What was the price tag you put on our future?
Given the mediocre script, performances also suffer. Hurt and Rogers lack any chemistry and their interactions as husband and wife come across as artificial. Graham doesn't get much to do, other than spout one-liners at the smitten West, and follow the tried-and-true she-hates-him-and-now-she-loves-him arc. Chabert and Johnson as the two younger kids are likable, but are no different from the archetypes that you would find in any family sitcom. In fact, the only memorable character in the whole movie would probably be Oldman's portrayal of Dr. Smith, and that is only because of his ability to faithfully recreate the campy arrogance of his television counterpart.
Do I spend my last night on Earth watching Mom and Dad pretend not to fight, or blow ten years allowance at the mall?
Overall, "Lost in Space" is a noisy and modestly entertaining piece of eye-candy that is totally lacking in any emotional hooks and narrative cohesion. It's not a great movie, and it is very close to not being a good movie, but if you were a fan of the original series, or you like seeing lots of stuff get 'blowed up real good', then this movie might appeal to you. There has already been talk of two sequels for this $70 million popcorn flick, and let us hope that the next outing is better.