Leave it to Hollywood to remake Lost in Space, a television show that was itself a science fiction retelling of the Swiss Family Robinson. The Lost in Space TV show had devolved into camp after its first season, but though the movie remake takes itself a bit more seriously, it doesn’t give us much of a reason to.
Sixty years in the future, the Earth is running out of natural resources. To save the population, one scientist, John Robinson (William Hurt) has a plan. He has invented a hyperdrive, which can instantly link two areas in space, provided each area has a jumpgate (a cosmic buoy in space). He has located the nearest habitable planet, Alpha Prime, and, with the support of the world’s united space organization, plans to journey there to build a companion jumpgate to the one being constructed in Earth’s orbit. Until both gates are complete, travel between Earth and Alpha Prime is a time-consuming venture: the travelers must spend ten years in suspended animation.
As a condition of the trip, John Robinson’s crew will be composed of his family. His wife, Maureen (Mimi Rogers) is the ship’s resident biologist. His eldest daughter, Judy (Heather Graham), is the ship’s doctor. His two youngest kids, Penny (Lacey Chabert) and Will (Jack Johnson) are given token assignments as well. The only other person accompanying the family on their trip is Major Don West (Matt LeBlanc), who will pilot the Jupiter 2.
However, there is opposition to the plan back on Earth. A radical terrorist group, known as the Global Seditionists, have enlisted the aid of Dr. Smith (Gary Oldman) to sabotage the mission. He proceeds with the sabotage, but things don’t turn out as he expects. Dr. Smith finds himself an unwilling stowaway on their cosmic voyage, and the sabotaged ship ends up lost in space.
The plot of the movie Lost in Space makes more sense than most of the television episodes, but only slightly. If you start to think about the details too much, the entire plot collapses. So, to cure that: don’t think about the plot. Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
There are several annoying things about Lost in Space, and the most irritating is Blarp, the Space Monkey. He serves no purpose whatsoever in the story except possibly as a merchandising tie-in. He’s evidently supposed to be cute, since he has saucer eyes and he burps after eating, but he doesn’t blend with the tone of the rest of the movie. And for that matter, he doesn’t blend much at all (despite his chameleonic coloring)…he’s obviously a special effect. He’s about as seamlessly integrated into the film as an animated cereal mascot. Coming from the rigid world of stop motion, special effects creature animators have terribly overcompensated in the world of CGI. No realistic creature constantly moves every point of his body at every second. Someday animators will find a happy medium, and the effects shots of Lost in Space will look as dated as King Kong.
The characterizations in Lost in Space are adequate, although the characters themselves are, for the most part, bland. In an effort to spice things up and bring the Robinson family into the ’90s (or the 2050s, as the case may be), the whole family has been dysfunctionalized. John Robinson has become a distant workaholic father who alienates his whole family. Penny is now a helium-voiced rebel, and Will is a misunderstood genius who only wants acknowledgment from his dad. Of all the cliched relationships aboard the wayward spaceship, the developing romance between Don West and Judy Robinson, while still not uncovering new ground, at least provides a humorous diversion.
Though not quite as sniveling as in the television series, the character of Dr. Zachary Smith is still the most interesting. Gary Oldman does a good job, but hardly seems to be stretching his range here. However, the film does come up with an interesting solution to the conflicting interests of killing off the villain and keeping him around for potential sequels.
With its stock characters and a complex plot about as flimsy as a spiderweb, this new Lost in Space is certainly not going to become a classic. It’s sole asset is its eye candy. If you just turn off your brain and relax, it will help to pass the time.