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IN SHORT: Don't think too much and you'll have a swell time.
Sorry folks, this time out Cranky will make allusions to the Source Material, beginning with his answer to the obvious and oft asked question, "Penny or Judy?" Penny. ['course that Penny was Angela Cartwright and Cranky was 11.] Let's move on.
Lost In Space is adapted from the Irwin Allen's TV series inspired by the Disney movie of the well read novel "Der Schweizerische Robinson, Oder der Schriffbruchige Schweizerprediger und Seine Familie" by Johann David Wyss and his son Johann Rudolf Wyss. "Swiss Family Robinson" to the rest of us.
Lost In Space (v.1998) is surely a pointer to where moviemaking is heading. It is the closest thing to an all effects and CGI generated flick. When the effects work, they're spectacular. When they don't, they're grainy and obvious and annoying as hell. Most of the time the actors fit in seamlessly, but it only takes a couple of misses to break the big screen spell. What is left is a very funny and more than entertaining space opera which is very much aware of its television roots.
The more you know of the original series, the funnier the flick is. The required elements are still here: The Robot warning "Danger Will Robinson Danger!" Dr. Smith uttering "Oh the Pain, the Pain!" Don and Judy being, well, Don and Judy. Modern tech has made the alien monsters more frightening, and has saddled us with a CGI creature called "Blarb" which annoys the hell out of adults and will probably have little kidlets clamoring for stuffed dolls.
Lost In Space premiered as a nasty tale of Commie subversion of an American Interplanetary Space Launch. It quickly into a campy and totally fun, time killer and was slaughtered in the ratings by the even campier Batman. I mention that only because the man who wrote the hideous things that were the last two Batman movies, Akiva Goldsman, wrote and produced Lost in Space. For the most part, he has redeemed himself, though this script does have some major holes in logic and continuity. As I said right out, don't think too much when the voices inside your head start clamoring, and you'll have a wonderful time. This thing grows on you faster than mold in a petri dish.
Putting TV behind us, we face the dawning of a new era, in the year 2058 . . .
After the Millenium Wars, the people of Earth (most of em) united to form the United Global Space Force. It's goal -- to get mankind the hell off the planet that gave 'em life. The ozone layer is shot. The fossil fuels are exhausted. The environmental disasters are unfixable and the only recourse is a journey to a planet 10 light years away. Once colonized, the use of a hyperspace gate created by Dr. John Robinson (William Hurt) will make the journey possible in the blink of an eye. But someone has got to get to the planet to build the gate, which is where Robinson, wife Dr. Maureen (Mimi Rogers), daughter Dr. Judy (Heather Graham) and kidlets Penny (Lacey Chabert) and Will (Jack Johnson) come in. The dysfunctional family that goes into cryosleep together, stays together.
On the other hand, Global Sedition, the terrorist political opposition, wants to colonize the Alpha Prime planet first. They send operative Dr. Zachary Smith (Gary Oldman) to sabotage the Jupiter Mission and destroy all hope for humanity. Which he does, by killing the Jupiter One pilot.
As a last minute replacement, the one pilot in the Space Force good enough to helm the mission refuses the gig 'cuz he considers it 8 years of babysitting -- 'course the mission takes 10 years, so right up front you can see that Major Don West (Matt LeBlanc) is bigger on piloting skills than brains. When Dr. Smith gets trapped on board the Jupiter-One spacecraft, and that ship hyperjumps into the unknown, well, that's what Lost In Space was originally all about. Good guys and an evil conniving bad guy all facing the aliens around us. The final addition to the cast is actor Jared Harris, in the role of a mysterious stranger trapped on an alien planet the Jupiter 2 (yeah, the ship changes names. All of us TV fans were happy as clams) crashes on . . .
All in all a tip of the hat to the movie creators, including especially Stephen Hopkins, who walked the very fine line between good storytelling and adaptive crap like McHale's Navy (which he had nothing to do with. I'm just making an example). Lost in Space is very funny without being camp. It's got enough action and effects to keep any kidlet happy, and it has enough nods to its television forerunners to keep us grown up kidlets smiling in our seats.
You get alien landscapes, deserted space ships, explosions and crashes galore. What was camp on TV leans more towards comic book stereotype on film (and you know Cranky loves that stuff). The best scene has John and Don in each other's face over who controls the Mission. Maureen shuts 'em both down. Mimi Rogers' spin on the character is light years from June Lockhart, loving wife and mother, and all the other kidlets see similar improvements in characterizations. Judy is smarter, Penny carries a definite attitude and Will is even more of a geek. Matt LeBlanc's Don West is absolutely terrific. Seriously, terrific.
There's only one mistake and I'm gonna get personal here, is in who is missing. If director Hopkins had sat in the sneak preview audience with Cranky while each TV star cameo hit the screen, he would've hung his head and said "I shouldn't have dumped Bill Mumy." The audience, literally, cheered when June Lockhart, the original Maureen Robinson, showed on screen. Marta Kristen and Angela Lockhart got recognition and Mark Goddard, the original Don West, got substantial applause. Jonathan Harris (the original Smith and no relation to Jared) refused to cameo, but Bill Mumy was missed. Sorely. The actor playing the part Mumy was originally cast in doesn't have acting chops any better than the Babylon 5 star. If the difference is in the muscles, of which the screen actor has quite a few, a serious mistake was made. I've said too much, so I'll shut up now.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Lost In Space, he would have paid . . .
Lost In Space kicks off with a great battle sequence and then stumbles a bit setting up the "real life" problems of the Robinson family. Once it gets its legs back, it's a kick.
On a final note, if you really want to know what happened to the original Will Robinson, check out "The Ballad of William Robinson" as played on Bill Mumy's most enjoyable CD, "Dying to Be Heard," courtesy Bill. The song is a logical take on where the Robinsons will be 30 years on. Call 1-800-755-8735 to order. Cranky's been listening to this disk for months and highly recommends it.
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