‘Lost in Space’: Fantastic Sights but Little Nostalgia
“Lost in Space” is way more lost than it knows.
Yet another theatrical feature based on a decades-old TV show (what’s next--"Modern Farmer: The Movie”?), this effects-loaded extravaganza has more trouble finding its dramatic bearings than the Space Family Robinson has in figuring out where the heck in the universe they are.
The original 1960s TV show--four of whose members make cameo appearances here--is remembered, by those who think about it at all, for its genially campy sensibility. The current model, by contrast, lacks a clear idea of what it wants to be.
Cute and off-putting by turns, “Lost in Space” is driven by the commercial imperative to dabble in anything an audience might be interested in. Sentimental family moments alternate with video game-inspired action and computer-generated monsters who seem to come out of another movie altogether and coexist with a saucer-eyed living toy called Blawp.
Made with an ensemble cast of seven (not counting an upscale robot that looks like it’s on steroids), “Lost in Space” unmistakably has its eye on sequels extending well into the next century. But while “Star Trek,” which set the franchise standard all aspire to, was bequeathed a distinctive and unmistakable sensibility by creator Gene Roddenberry, this film had to make do with the generically jokey vision of writer and co-producer Akiva Goldsman--a point of view that viewers of the last two “Batman” vehicles have come to dread.
Which is partially a shame, because “Lost in Space’s” more than 750 effects shots create an arresting visual world and, taken individually, the cast members acquit themselves as honorably as the material allows.
William Hurt, for instance, adds a kind of gravity these films rarely aspire to as Professor John Robinson, a deep thinker who devotes less time to his family than to his upcoming space mission. The year is 2058 and planet Earth is headed for the last roundup. The professor and his family are being sent to a place called Alpha Prime to be space pioneers, paving the way for a mass evacuation.
While scientist daughter Judy (the always effective Heather Graham) is pleased to be going, other family members have mixed feelings. These include strong-willed scientist-mom Maureen (Mimi Rogers), boy genius Will (Jack Johnson, celebrated screenwriter Nunnally Johnson’s appealing grandson) and sulky teenager Penny (“Party of Five’s” Lacey Chabert), who gripes, “If there’s no time for fun, what are we saving the planet for?”
Definitely not looking forward to the trip is Major Don West (Matt LeBlanc, the Joey of “Friends”), a hotshot fighter pilot of the “am I good or what” persuasion. “Taking the family camper on an interstellar picnic” is not high on his priority list, but then he meets the fetching Judy and utters one of Goldsmith’s signature lines: “That’s one cold fish I’d like to thaw.”
Even more reluctant to be on board is the villain of the piece, Gary Oldman’s traitorous Dr. Zachary Smith. Oldman is such an old hand at treachery that he’s given top billing here, and the good news is that he’s chosen to play Dr. Smith in a nonflamboyant manner. Scuttling around the ship, muttering, “Evil knows evil,” and in general up to no good, Oldman’s Dr. Smith makes us hang on his every word.
One of the odd things about “Lost in Space” is that it’s not only based on a TV series, with a plot that’s divided into four fairly self-contained half-hour segments, it feels like a series in and of itself.
First comes the prelaunch character introduction, followed by what goes wrong on board the Robinsons’ ship to get everyone lost in space in the first place. Then comes an ominous interlude on yet another one of those spaceships that only seems deserted, followed by a final segment concerning time warps and alternate realities that will confuse anyone over the age of 12.
Director Stephen Hopkins, many of whose credits have numbers after them (“Nightmare on Elm Street 5,” “Predator 2"), tries hard to make all this coherent but he has difficulty compensating for a script that alternates between sci-fi lingo about the dangers of entering hyperspace without a gate and family sitcom lines like, “We will discuss this at dinner.”
The largest problem, however, remains the misguided nature of the project. By largely jettisoning the elements that made the TV series popular, the creative crew of “Lost in Space” embarked on a road not fated to meet with any kind of meaningful success.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for some intense sci-fi action. Times guidelines: disturbing spider-like creatures.
‘Lost in Space’
Gary Oldman: Dr. Zachary Smith
William Hurt: John Robinson
Matt LeBlanc: Major Don West
Mimi Rogers: Maureen Robinson
Heather Graham: Judy Robinson
Lacey Chabert: Penny Robinson
Jack Johnson: Will Robinson
A Prelude Pictures production in association with Irwin Allen Productions, released by New Line. Director Stephen Hopkins. Producers Mark W. Koch, Stephen Hopkins, Akiva Goldsman, Carla Fry. Executive producers Mace Neufeld, Robert Rehme, Richard Saperstein, Michael De Luca. Screenplay by Akiva Goldsman. Cinematographer Peter Levy. Editor Ray Lovejoy. Costumes Vin Burnham, Robert Bell, Gilly Hebden. Music Bruce Boughton. Production design Norman Garwood. Art directors David Lee, Nick Palmer, Steven Lawrence. Set decorator Anna Pinnock. Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.