Lost in Space (1998) (part 1 of 6)
First of all, I’d like to thank Entertainment Weekly for including this DVD in a special five-pack, so that I didn’t have to say to a video store clerk, “I’d like to rent Lost in Space.” I was wondering how they would condense an entire TV series into a two-hour movie, and as it turns out, we basically get two or three episodes’ worth of material stretched out unbearably. Also, there is definitely some inverse quality law at work in the DVD industry, because the Lost in Space disc is amazing. My favorite section is all about the original show, and includes bios and interviews with cast and crewmembers. Okay, enough praise, let’s bash the movie!
The film opens with a shot of the Earth from space. It’s some unspecified date in the future, judging from the voice-over by Professor John Robinson (played by William Hurt). John informs us that “Finally, the warring nations of Earth had forgotten their differences and banded together to save our planet.” It’s just that easy! The voice-over continues about how the Earth is running out of natural resources, and must soon be abandoned for a new planet. Here’s where we learn that the movie takes place in 2058, which is sixty years after the movie was made. I really don’t think that’s enough time for everyone on Earth to end all wars, but I guess I’m just cynical. We glimpse an unfinished structure in orbit around Earth, which is revealed to be the beginnings of something called a Hypergate. Apparently, once finished, the Hypergate will allow instantaneous travel between worlds. John explains that a terrorist group called the Global Sedition is trying to prevent the Hypergate from being finished. Why? I mean, if they can’t get to another planet through the Hypergate, won’t they just be stuck on a dead Earth, too?
Two Sedition ships (which seem slightly “inspired” by the X-Wings from Star Wars) attack the Hypergate, and two pilots (one of which is Matt LeBlanc) head out to stop them. They deadpan some typical macho lines like, “Last one to kill a bad guy buys the beer!” The other pilot says, “This cold war just got hot!” which doesn’t really make sense. These guys’ spaceships, by the way, are among the silliest I’ve ever seen. They’re even more obviously “inspired” by the B-Wings, and consist of a plastic bubble between two vertical airplane wings. The ships are turned by leaning, which doesn’t really seem like the best way to accomplish this. You would think that it’d be real easy to get into an uncontrolled spin. LeBlanc destroys one of the Sedition ships, then flies right through the explosion left behind. Remarkably, the ship emerges from the other side looking good as new. The other pilot detaches his wings, and suddenly a piece of debris knocks them into the proper position to take out the other Sedition ship. He says, “Am I good or what?” It’s more like luck, since there was really no way of predicting that would happen. Unfortunately, the ship’s onboard computer informs him there’s a failure in “redundant drive systems” and he starts to spiral out of control. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the fact that they called those systems “redundant” pretty much imply that they’re only a backup? Also, we get a close-up of the guy, and he appears to have no pupils. This is one of many details the filmmakers have thrown in just because it looks “cool” and “futuristic”. His ship is now on a collision course with the Hypergate, so LeBlanc (who we finally learn is the new Don West) heads after him, which, naturally, is going against orders. (This is a totally obvious rip-off of the beginning of Top Gun.) He says he’s going to give the other pilot “a little kiss” and bumps into his ship, pushing it to safety. The pilot’s response is, “Does this mean we’re going steady?”, something he would never have gotten the opportunity to say if Don hadn’t described the maneuver as a kiss. I guess it looked good on paper or something.
The title of the movie flies through the frame, and we immediately find ourselves in a typically “futuristic” city, complete with flying cars. However, there are still some normal cars on a highway. I guess they were trying to make it look like two distinct classes exist in the future, although nothing else will ever be made of this. Frankly, the whole scene looks much too advanced for being only sixty years in the future. We hear a voice-over describing the Robinson family’s mission, and informing us how it’s being funded by the US Army and the Silicon Graphics Corporation [!], which for some reason is referred to by the acronym SGI. Young Will Robinson (played by commercial star Jack Johnson) is hiding out in a kitchen pantry and watching a portable TV. His mother, Maureen Robinson (played by Mimi Rogers) gets a “call” from his school principal, which is actually a hologram of the principal that can walk around the kitchen. I’d really like to see what the principal is looking at on the other end. She’s played by June Lockhart, in the first of four cameos by the cast of the original TV show. These appearances serve little purpose other than to make fans go, “Hey, look!”
The principal mentions Will’s long history of disciplinary problems, making him the first character in this movie to be 90’s-fied. The original Will Robinson was just a typical kid who was a bit of a mechanical whiz, but in the 90’s, he naturally has to be a troublemaker. Will uses a gizmo to mess around with the hologram, even though the gizmo was a TV just a second ago. I wonder what else it does? He uses it to change the principal’s body into Rambo, then into a bikini-clad woman, then finally a cartoon gorilla. (The gorilla is still wearing the bikini, which is something I really didn’t need to see.) Man, this kid is worse than the one in The Pit. Maureen catches on, and opens up the pantry to scold Will and use the gizmo to change the image back to normal. So, she can work this thing too? That means that it’s not just something hacked together by Will, but an actual device for messing with holograms. Why would such a tool be manufactured? It’s then revealed that Daddy Robinson couldn’t make it to Will’s science fair, which also makes John 90’s-fied.
We then cut to the man himself having a press conference. John explains that he and his entire family will be placed in suspended animation for ten years while they travel to a planet called Alpha Prime. By then, Earth’s Hypergate will be finished, and he’ll supervise the construction of a new one on Alpha Prime. So, are lots of workers and tools going there in other ships? I can’t believe the Robinson family is going to build the other Hypergate all by themselves. Of course, no mention is ever made of any other ships. John fields some questions from two reporters, played by Marta Kristen and Angela Cartwright, who played the original Judy and Penny on the TV show. Unfortunately, the years have not been kind to Marta. She was incredibly hot in the 60’s, but now has gone through some sort of über-Sally Struthers weight-gain and shortening. Marta asks John why they don’t just use Hyperspace to get to Alpha Prime. John explains that “Hyperspace exists beneath normal space” [?] and that without a Hypergate, there’s no way to control where you re-enter normal space. Since this mission had to have been planned for quite a while, you’d think this would be general knowledge by now. Angela Cartwright asks a question about their pilot having the flu, but the conference is interrupted by a Shady Guv’mint Sp00k™. Gee, I wonder if the pilot with the “flu” is really dead or something. (The Sp00k is played by Mark Goddard, the original Don West. This is the last of these all-too-brief cameos by the cast of the original show, so Jonathan Harris—who made eyebrow wiggling an art form as Dr. Smith, the series’ most popular character—is nowhere to be found. He supposedly asked for too much money, but I can point out several things that could easily have been left out to allow for his appearance.) At the Sp00k’s insistence, John ends the press conference, telling the reporters that his kids couldn’t be more excited about the trip to Alpha Prime. This was true on the TV show, but…
Since everyone is 90’s-fied, Penny is screaming about having no social life for the duration of the mission (see my earlier note about the mission having been planned for quite a while). Penny is played by Lacey Chabert, who was in Party of Five and appeared on Broadway as Young Cosette in Les Miserables for two years. I have to assume she has some kind of different stage voice, because the chipmunk-on-helium one she uses here just annoys me to no end. She’s also dressed in what can only be described as JC Penny Hookerwear (© MST3k). Hey, what characteristic about a brother and sister screams 90’s? Some nice rivalry, that’s what! So, while she’s narrating into a camera inside a bracelet (How exactly does she play these videos back?), Will intercedes with some typically brash, rivalrous talk. Penny then uses Will’s science fair trophy to cut open a plastic bag containing a ladder [?]. (Why would Will’s trophy be so sharp? Isn’t that a little dangerous? Also, don’t pat yourself on the back too hard if you figured out that the sharpness of this trophy will come into play later.) The implication is that Penny is going to use the ladder to sneak out, and, according to her, blow ten years’ worth of her allowance at the mall (that’s how long they’ll be in suspended animation). But then she doesn’t have it yet, does she? Or has she been saving it up? If so, how’d she get those hooker clothes? Ah, forget it.
We cut back to John and the Sp00k, who exposit about their search for a new pilot (Hmm, can we guess who this’ll be?). John suddenly realizes he’s missed his son’s science fair, so he records a note to remind himself to make an “apology video” for Will. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems a bit like compounding the problem to not even apologize in person. John is introduced to Don West, and here we learn Don’s opinions about the Robinson family’s mission. He’s convinced that the journey to Alpha Prime is all for show, because new “recycling technology” will save the planet. He also thinks that the Robinsons’ mission has been orchestrated to get people to buy more computers. I have no idea how these two things are related. John tells him that the recycling technology was invented too late to be of any use, and assures him that the colonization of Alpha Prime is humanity’s only hope for survival.
John and the Sp00k tell Don that their “flu-stricken” pilot was actually killed by the Sedition, and that they want Don to take over the job. They also tell him that the Sedition is building their own Hypergate to get to Alpha Prime first. They mention nothing about the government attacking this other Hypergate, so I guess they’re content to let this supposedly terrorist organization keep building it and just stick to defending their own Hypergate. Don suggests an attack on the Sedition’s Hypergate, but apparently that idea makes too much sense, because the Sp00k can only counter by telling Don that his rescue of the other pilot in the opening scene was not proper conduct. This is enough to shut Don up. (Need I point out that this is a continuation of the Top Gun rip-off?)
Now it’s time to introduce this film’s Embarrassed Actor, Gary Oldman, a superb star of the British stage and screen who somehow got duped into the role of the new Dr. Smith. Here he’s meeting with a Sedition member in a desert (huh?). The conversation starts with Smith yelling his head off about money, but during the rest of the scene he’s perfectly calm, so I don’t know what the heck that was about. The Sedition member he’s meeting with is clearly the part meant for Jonathan Harris. They even got a guy that looks like him, but it’s just not the same. The Sedition member gives Dr. Smith orders to interfere with the Robinsons’ mission, then something beeps, and the desert disappears, revealing a control room. Okay, so it was just a hologram. Still, why a desert? Couldn’t the Sedition member just appear in the room, like Will’s principal did earlier? Dr. Smith pulls out a disc with information on the Robinsons, and then shoots an evil glare at the camera. Sorry, Gary, you’re not making anyone forget the real Dr. Smith.