I was very excited when I first heard of a reboot in the making of television sci-fi classic Lost in Space. The original black-and-white series still appeals to me today, and I’ve even kept several seasons on Blu-ray for, you know, time-capsule-like posterity.
When the film version came out 20 years ago, starring Gary Oldman as Dr Smith – perfect – and Matt LeBlanc as Major Don West – meh, I wasn’t exactly satisfied with the way modern technology had corrupted my B-grade favourite. So, while I was excited about the new Netflix Lost in Space series, I also had my reservations.
The first third of the first episode starts off okay: the Robinson family are just getting comfortable on the Jupiter 2, ready to venture through new galaxies as part of a huge U.S. space mission, when disruption throws things off course. There are explosions, there’s debris, plenty of fatalities (not the Robinsons, of course), absolute chaos and, of course, massive impact.
Indeed, the special effects in the first episode alone look twice as grand and expensive as Lost in Space, the movie, so as you can imagine my B-grade fascination began to wane right away.
But then something magical happened.
Just when I thought everything was going in the direction of too much action via CGI, one of the series’ main characters appeared in a most unlikely form and, yes, thanks to more cunning effects. Not wanting to spoil it for you, I will only hint that it is Will Robinson who first discovers the strange ‘being’.
There are also shifts in gender roles, with mom Maureen Robinson – who was a pretty tough cookie to start with – taking on a far more controlling role in the family’s wellbeing, and Dr. Smith… well, this one’s an utterly fabulous surprise, but I’ll leave you to experience it at the end of episode one.
At times, Lost in Space Version 2.0 reminds me of J.J. Abrams’ Lost. There are awe-inspiring landscapes – from stark and baron to rich in vegetation, strong characters who are often at loggerheads with one another, rough elements to battle against, and supernatural forces to contend with. Even the lack of fancy opening titles (for the first two episodes, at least) is reminiscent of Lost, with just the show’s name floating away into darkness. No actor credits, no co-producer smoke-blowing. Until episode three, which credits all involved, then really begins to reveal some interesting back-stories (wait till you see what Parker Posey’s corrupt character does to her own sister, played by Selma Blair).
Unfortunately, while the Lost-like aesthetics are a treat, it’s sad to have to see the producers emulating Abrams’ series in plot and sub-plot. By mid-season one, the Robinsons have encountered a bunch of other colonies and soon enough they’re seeming less ‘lost’ and more having to cope in a broad community. Which kind of defies the whole premise of Lost of Space, which really asked ‘how can one family survive in the unknown?’ Ah well, at least it gives the show’s makers plenty of characters to kill off episode by episode.
But back to the main family. There are parallels between the modern-day characters in Lost in Space and their original ones. You can see Major Don West and Dr Smith are never going to see eye-to-eye; that father John Robinson calls most of the shots while wife Maureen picks up most of the slack (mind you, they’re one step from filing for divorce in the modern version); that Judy is passionate about keeping family together while Penny occasionally likes to play black sheep. And so on. But the modern aspects to each’s personality is where train-spotters will find true joy. In one scene, Penny wants to go out and save her folks from a pending storm but the chariot requires further assembly, so within minutes she’s booting up its systems and bolting tyres on it, all without the aid of a manual.
The best thing is that while chaos is peppered throughout the series, the gist of this family sci-fi drama remains intact. Indeed, it’s nice to see that as the series has morphed, from 1968 when its final original episode was aired on TV, to 1998 when the big screen version came out, to 2018 with this series – 30 and 20 years apart, respectively – the core values have stayed in place, namely the pursuit of adventure, enlightenment of the formerly unknown, grace in the face of predicament, and family first, above all else.
I guess Smith will have to contend with the fact the doctor will never really be a Robinson. Antonino Tati
Season one of the new ‘Lost in Space’ is available to stream on Netflix.
Coming Soon in Cream: interview with the original Major Don West, Mark Goddard!