Lost in Space

Hollywood’s love affair with nostalgic television continues with the release of “Lost in Space,” Irwin Allen’s campy, intergalactic version of “Swiss Family Robinson.” It’s been thirty years since we last visited with the Robinson’s, and time has proven that the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Baby-boomers of the era might hold fond memories of the series, but in reality Allen’s “Lost in Space” changed from an adventurous tale of a family lost in space to a weekly showcase for some drug-induced fantasy that didn’t just push the envelope, it shredded it. Outer-space outlaw bikers and vegetable creatures became part of the “Lost in Space” landscape as the series tried to be everything to everyone.

Blame “Batman” for the transgression. “Lost in Space,” the movie, brings along a lot of baggage with it, and as a baggage handler, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman does the film a major disservice. He too tries to make the “Lost in Space” movie franchise everything to everyone. That’s too bad, and eventually sad. The film’s science-fiction elements are boldly exploited and executed. The film’s fantasy elements really suck, and bring down an exciting and admirable film with it. Goldsman, whose “Batman and Robin” script was so leaden with cliches it’s no wonder it didn’t fly, almost grounds “Lost in Space” and the Jupiter mission as well.

Luckily, a decent cast and strong director overcome the clunky dialogue and make the best of an okay situation. Give Goldsman points for fleshing out the sequence of events that leads to the Robinson family, pilot Major Don West, and saboteur Dr. Smith being lost in space. In cinematic shorthand, the characters are introduced, and their fates sealed.

Goldsman and director Stephen Hopkins waste no time getting the show on the road, where a directive from Dr. Smith sends the Jupiter space craft hurtling towards the sun. In a last ditch effort to save the mission, Professor Robinson (William Hurt) and Major West (Matt LeBlanc) send the craft into hyper- drive, ending up not only in another galaxy, but another time. I appreciated the fact that the women in “Lost in Space” have more to do this outing than cook and clean.

Mother Maureen (Mimi Rogers) is a scientist who can easily compete in the men’s pissing contests. Daughter Judy (Heather Graham) is a doctor, while Penny (Lacey Charbet) is good at getting in and out of tight places. Son Will (John Jackson) is a computer whiz kid who desperately needs the attention of his father.

Gary Oldman, who has made a cottage industry of playing villains, avoids the pitfalls of overplaying Dr. Smith. Instead, he’s cool and calculated, with just a touch of coward on the surface. The cast does a good job of conveying the awe and terror of each situation. Hurt and Rogers stand tall as the husband and wife who seem worlds apart even though they share the same bed.

LeBlanc redeems himself nicely as the gung-ho Major West, who finds his good looks and ego aren’t enough to win over Judy, winningly portrayed by Heather Graham. Lacey Charbet is okay as Penny, but her high, squeaky voice (think Minnie Mouse on helium) is a major distraction. You eventually get used to it, but only in the way you get used to an ingrown nail.

John Jackson is outstanding as Will, boy genius who can create a time machine but can’t get his father to take a few moments to bond. The science-fiction special and visual effects are dazzling, including some close-calls in space and a spider invasion that it truly scary.

Then there’s the fantasy special and visual effects. The Robinson’s come across a lizard-monkey creature that becomes Penny’s pet. A combination of computer generated images and rubber latex, not once during the film do you believe that the creature exists within the frame of the story. Then there’s the giant bug creature that looks as if it were ripped out of the ending of “Men in Black,” but on a smaller budget.

These two creatures lay to waste what could have been a grand adventure. They diminish the groundwork that the actors, director, and yes, even the screenwriter, worked so hard to make believable. Remove these elements, and “Lost in Space” would have been a great movie. Now it’s just okay, and that saddens me tremendously. Danger, Will Robinson.

WASTE OF SPACE

LOST IN SPACE

William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Gary Oldman, Heather Graham, Matt LeBlanc, Lacey Charbet, Jack Jackson in a film directed by Stephen Hopkins. 131 Min. Rated PG-13.

LARSEN RATING: $4



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