Sunday, September 11, 2011

Sci Fi Sunday - A Lost in Space Retrospective

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Sci Fi Sunday. Kay and Reno are taking a break, so today I'm going to discuss what I basically began last week - my look back at Lost in Space: the TV show vs the movie. 

In 1965 CBS launched a science fiction series created and produced by a filmmaker who would come to be known for his disaster films - Irwin Allen. As I said last week, it concerned the voyages of the family Robinson, searching for a planet circling the closest star, Alpha Centauri, in order to see about colonizing it. They were to be the pioneers in this brave new world. How odd that they only sent one person who was not a family member (Dr. Smith doesn't count, he wasn't send, he was trapped onboard). Makes you think of Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden - they had two sons, Cain and Abel. How did they populate the world? Also, don't think it's a coincidence that the family's name was Robinson - obvious shades of the Swiss Family Robinson.

It began in black & white, and went to color during the second season. Only running for three years, by the end of its short run, it had evolved from a sci fi adventure into a campy sci fi series, similar to Batman. Do any of you doubt that Batman was done tongue-in-cheek? Hello, have you ever watched it? From Adam West's deadpan delivery to Alfred's dusting of the Batcave to Aunt Harriet's naivete - it was all meant to be taken in fun and in no way reflects the graphic novels.

Interestingly, the character of Dr. Smith was intended to be killed off, but they saw the error of that course of action and he remained a staple of the series and of its plots for the entire run. In fact, he evolves over those three years from determined, cruel and vicious saboteur to whining, cowardly, good-hearted (if you search real hard) millstone/albatross about the Robinsons' collective neck - and the most interesting character in the series for sure. The parents were pretty well dull stuff - Professor Robinson (played by hunky Guy Williams) had little to do. He was a stern but distant father, who spent a lot of time not at the ship, doing scientific type stuff. His wife Maureen (played by veteran Lassie actress June Lockhart) was matriarchal, concerned and protective, but her role was limited. She does stand up for Dr. Smith on a regular basis, but she's been known to tell him off when the occasion warrants, and seems to be surprised when he shows his true nature yet again.

Of the two daughters, Penny is far more interesting. Judy (Marta Kristen) is just there, and for the most part  just wants to go home and get her old life back again. Penny (Angela Cartright, also of Lost in Space and Make Room for Daddy) is a companion to Will, and often accepts Dr. Smith as a mentor. I remember when they found her a pet - a bloop (looked a lot like a chimpanzee!) that she named Debbie. Penny had a tendency to daydream, and some interesting episodes came from those musings (including one featuring Michael J. Pollard, of Bonnie and Clyde fame). Major Don West (Mark Goddard) was the co-pilot of the expedition and Judy's fiance. He got to fight and steer the ship. He especially hated Dr. Smith, and would gladly have booted him off the island. Er, spaceship. In a parody of The Defiant Ones (Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier), West and Dr. Smith find themselves chained together after having escaped a chain gang on a prison planet. Interesting episode.

That leaves the core of the show - young Will (Billy Mumy, later of Barnes and Barnes who gave us the memorable song "Fish Heads"), Robot (Bob May) and Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris).  Will was at an impressionable age, and he needed his father, but John Robinson was just too busy, so in absentia Will turned to Dr. Smith for guidance/mentoring. It seems an unlikely pairing, but it worked well, and provided a great deal of Dr. Smith's humanity. Will was also very fond of the Robot, and was often responsible for his programming. He treated him like another person, rather than a mechanical object, which was something that Dr. Smith often failed to do, although he also had no compunction upon calling on the Robot in times of need. Or in forcing him into laboring for him. Dr. Smith was rather lazy, and loath to do anything that was beneath him, including manual labor. When forced to do so for the sake of the party, or simply because they forced  him into it, he was prone to complain about his aches and pains. Even now, his cries of "The pain... the pain..." resonate in our memories.

So then in 1998 New Line Cinema made Lost in Space into a film. It did not do well. Looking at the cast,  one would be surprised at that. Until one watched the film. I confess that I've seen it a few times and own it, but that's because of who's in it - Gary Oldman - and for no other real reason, despite my liking for the tv series. If only the writers of the movie had bothered to pay attention to the TV series, they'd have done better. The trouble was that they had pretensions of being a serious film, which Lost in Space should never have been. It should have followed its origin and inspiration and stayed true to its roots - camp, pure camp. Just because the movie plot went into the ludicrous and stupid doesn't make it camp by any means. 

Gary was the best thing in the film but alas, even he could not save it. There had been talk of a sequel, but that was scrapped when the film didn't make what they'd hoped it would. Or anything. But let's play a game for a minute, shall we? Let's pretend that I've been given the project of writing the sequel so Lost in Space, and that we have a green light to go ahead with it, carte blanche to do as we wish. So what will I do? Let me tell you.

Okay, the film opens on a strange planet, naturally, where the Jupiter 2 has either crash-landed or been brought down on for some reason or other. Not a space station, but an actual planet in a far off galaxy or whatever. (Yeah, I'd look up  more details if I were really writing it). First thing I'd do is send John and Maureen Robinson off to do some adult stuff/scientific stuff, never or barely to be seen throughout the rest of the film. Why? I'll tell you why. Because frankly they stunk up the screen first time around. Mimi Rogers, as Maureen, was incredibly bad (you might remember her for a not memorable role in the first Austin Powers film). William Hurt as John Robinson - I love William but his performance was spotty at best, and at its worst, was phoned in. So get rid of them early on.  Buh-bye, don't let the door hit you in the ass. Yeah, let them  have the Chariot, I don't care.

Okay, now we take Will and Doctor Smith and sent them out so that they get themselves into a situation where Dr. Smith is forced to protect Will (and maybe a little of Will protecting him), but it reinforces the bond between them, developing their almost father/son relationship. Here is the crux of the plot. These two will interact with natives of the planet. There will be danger. There will be laughs. There will be fun. Oh, and they get to take the Robot, no question about that.

Meanwhile, back at the Jupiter 2, we have Judy (Heather Graham)  and Penny (Lacey Chabert) and Major West (Friends' star Matt Leblanc). Just for fun, we take Penny, who is a pubescent teenager, after all, and have her crushing on Don (the only non-related male for miles around). Poor Don is stuck between these two women/sisters and has to maneuver through this tricky situation and come out intact and still engaged. Fun and laughs there, perhaps some tender/serious moments. Ditto with Will and the good Doctor.

I haven't decided who or what the aliens are, or what the primary crisis will be, but there you have it. The first movie focused on gadgets and science and took itself far too seriously. It lost its humanity. The series was done with fun and love, the movie with massive fail. I'm fairly confident there will not be another movie, at least not in the foreseeable future. Maybe in time, and then, alas, probably not with my Gary. Their loss.

The TV show had a lot of guest stars, another trait it shared with Batman. One of my favorites involves Michael Rennie as the Keeper, a sort of collector of specimens about the universe. That was a two part episode (as was the pilot for Star Trek, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Commander Pike). Sorry, rambling now. Werner Klemperer (Colonel Klink of Hogan's Heroes fame) is in an episode as well. I'd like to take a moment to note here that the Robot in Lost in Space is NOT the robot from Forbidden Planet. That was Robbie. They both spoke, but they look nothing alike. Forbidden Planet is a great sci fi film, I'll have to talk about that another time.

So if you're new to Lost in Space, and are interested in watching it, let me suggest that you watch the TV show, by all means, and then if you're still interested, give the movie a try. But I did warn you.

For those of you who've seen it, what did you think of either the show or the movie? What were your favorite episodes? Favorite characters? Least favorites? I'd love to hear from you!

Until next time, take care!

♥ Julie

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