Sunday, July 27, 2014

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Lost In Space (1998)

Last night I went over to my friend Nick's for another movie screening for the podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood. That night's entree was Lost in Space,the 1998 television adaptation of the classic TV show in which the Robinson family, thanks to the treacherous saboteur Dr. Smith, ends up, well...look at the title. Here's the actual podcast.

So how did it hold up?

The Good

*As I said on the podcast, they tried to make a much more coherent space-opera universe. I remember the original series featured the Robinson family going on a "five year vacation," although some fact-checking online indicates that they actually were part of a serious colonization mission. Instead we have a dying, resource-depleted Earth and different political factions (the Western-dominated United Global Space Force and the Global Sedition, which comes off as some kind of Third World group) trying to take control of the Earth-like world intended as humanity's second home.

*There are some good callbacks to the original series, including the robot being voiced by the same actor and Dr. Smith getting Will Robinson's attention by tapping out "Danger Will Robinson" in Morse code. Several actors from the original show play different roles in the movie--mother June Lockhart plays the young Will Robinson's school principal, for example, while the original Major West plays the commanding officer of the new one.

*Although it took awhile to actually get into space, once the mission actually begins things are entertaining for awhile. The robot, sabotaged by Dr. Smith, goes on a rampage and wrecks the ship, and in order to avoid being pulled into the gravity of the sun, Professor Robinson and West have to trigger the hyperdrive even though, without the hypergate, they could end up anywhere. Well, alive in the middle of nowhere with a slim chance of getting home is better than being incinerated by the sun, so off we go...

*The Robinsons seem a lot more Genre Savvy than they were in the TV show. Professor Robinson can't bring himself to shoot the man who'd tried to kill them in front of his children, so they keep him locked up and only let him out when they explore a derelict ship (more on that later) because leaving him aboard the ship without supervision is more dangerous.

*I liked the depiction of middle daughter Penny as a rebellious semi-Goth who resents having to abandon her life on Earth to go on a decades-long space mission. Will apparently acts out in school (albeit in nerdy ways like hacking school computers for his own projects, not by being violent or obnoxious) due to his father never being around. This does deconstruct the whole "family gives their all for the species" angle because, let's be blunt, most people aren't that noble and self-sacrificing. Mother Maureen, although being more mature about the situation, makes her dislike clear in two scenes with her husband.

The Bad

*The movie is, simply put, incredibly boring. It's not as aggravatingly dull as Spawn was the other night, but it's still pretty darn slow. Nick said it's a "chamber drama" and given the amount of family issues they all have to work through, that is somewhat appropriate. However, the way it's done is booooring...

*The CGI has not held up very well for the most part. The opening space battle between the United Global Space Force and Global Sedition looks like a video game. Things get better when the lost Jupiter 2 encounters a derelict human ship with more advanced technology that's got a cute obvious toy tie-in monkey-like creature and a swarm of space-dwelling spiders (that presumably came off an alien ship found alongside the derelict that nobody really comments on), but they still don't look that good.

*The science doesn't make a lot of sense. The Jupiter 2 has a faster-than-light drive of some kind, but apparently without a completed hypergate the drive transports the ship to a random location. It seems rather hard to swallow that humanity at this point has figured out how breach the light-speed barrier but can't actually guide the ship anywhere. The end of the film implies that with the star-maps retrieved from the Proteus (the derelict ship apparently from the future) the Jupiter 2 will get to Alpha Prime well ahead of schedule, but that doesn't really make a lot of sense. We already have star-maps! Figuring out how to travel faster than light is the hard part!

It would've been better if the Jupiter 2 had an FTL drive that works as advertised and the robot's rampage caused them to jump to a random location before crapping out completely (if it uses space-folding, which the time-travel story later in the movie implies) or drop out of hyperspace someplace random (if it moves them in and out of some kind of parallel dimension).

*The acting is, as a general rule, not very good. The most egregious offender is Jared Harris, who plays the future adult Will Robinson. I liked him as Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, so I'm guessing he got better. Matt LeBlanc--yes, Joey from Friends plays West--also has some issues with his delivery as well.

*Dr. Smith has a lot of wasted potential. He starts out as a mole who programs the robot to destroy the Jupiter 2 for Global Sedition for money and then is nearly killed by a rigged communicator now that he's served his purpose. He's knocked unconscious long enough for the ship to blast off and when the robot goes on its rampage, he's forced to awaken the Robinson family to save his own skin. He talks about how it's in his self-interest in help Our Heroes because he wants to survive to return home, but he's pointlessly treacherous in two different scenes (trying to persuade West to help him take control of the ship, playing on their shared military backgrounds, and later taking several characters hostage). He's also a massive downer claiming they're doomed all the time, which in a situation like this is outright dangerous, not just annoying. He'd have been better as a Token Evil Teammate who's useful (and actually does useful things rather than being The Load) because it's in his interest but definitely not trustworthy.

*The story is too complicated. I'd have dumped the time-travel issue and had them simply forced to fight the aliens to salvage the derelict human ship to repair their own. Of course, the only reason said human ship is there is because of the time-travel plot, so maybe they come across the wreckage of a previous expedition or some Global Sedition explorers in the same boat. The latter could be really interesting--they either have to fight them for the parts to repair their ship or they have to team up like how the Federation and Maquis did in Star Trek Voyager to make it back home or fight off aliens. Given how Global Sedition tried to kill Dr. Smith after he wasn't useful to them anymore, there could be hostility from that quarter, which given how in the show Smith's various shenanigans made life more difficult that makes sense. Plus, if one of the Sedition men gets older daughter Judy's Bad Boy Syndrome going (she apparently sacrificed a lot of her personal life to the project and might resent that, even if she's not as vocal as her siblings), we could have some kind of love triangle involving him, her, and the flirtatious West. A Global Sedition true believer might also give some back-story as to what the group actually believes--the only time their ideology is discussed is that they apparently are planning to build their own hypergate and leave the "Western devils" on Earth to die.

*The friendship between Will Robinson and the ship's robot that plays a critical role later is really, really sappy.

The Verdict

Not as abysmal as Spawn, but still pretty darn bad. So much potential wasted by a mediocre script that, as was pointed out in the podcast, needed some major rewrites. 5 out of 10.

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