The intrepid Space Family Robinson is back in an all new, all different Netflix series. Presented without major spoilers.
Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space (1965-1968 83 episodes)
Lost in Space is widely remembered as a campy science fiction series from the 1960’s that followed the Robinson family and their quest to get to Alpha Centauri after a saboteur causes their ship, the Jupiter II, to be thrown off course leaving them hopelessly lost in space.
The series was produced by Irwin Allen who already had one sci-fi TV hit under his belt, the underwater adventure Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea. Lost in Space was a top-notch science fiction with impressive special effects. It originally ended each week on a cliffhanger like the Saturday matinees of old. It was a thrilling and serious show…for about 10 episodes.
Then the focus shifted onto stowaway Dr. Zachary Smith who went from a sinister foreign agent to a blithering fool. The show became about Dr. Smith, the Robinson’s environmental Robot and son Will Robinson as they encountered ridiculous looking aliens and stories involving galactic beauty pageants, space Vikings and vegetable rebellions (with a giant talking carrot!).
For a list of Lost in Space highlights, see the after article below.
Lost In Space: The Movie (1998)
In 1998 a big budget theatrical remake was made. It followed the original plot of the television series with Dr. Smith as a saboteur who sets the ship’s environmental robot to come online after liftoff and destroy the ship and Robinson family. Unfortunately for the doctor, he is trapped on board the ship when it takes off. His added weight and the destruction wrought by the robot sends the ship off course in hyperdrive sending the Jupiter II light years into uncharted space. The casting of the Robinsons and Smith was perfect with William Hurt as patriarch Professor John Robinson whose backstory had him involved with the creation of the Jupiter project to reach Alpha Centauri.
Mimi Rogers played Maureen Robinson who was given actual scientific things to do besides laundry and watching over the family. June Lockhart was also great in the role, coming to the aid of her husband when he had to do a spacewalk outside the ship for repairs but encountered trouble returning inside when a comet was approaching. And she never hesitated in grabbing a laser gun to protect the family. However, in the show, shot in the sixties, she was mainly saddled with the role of mom. Rogers had the opportunity to be on an equal level and crucial member of the expedition.
Judy got an upgrade too. No longer having a “promising career in the music/entertainment industry”, Judy had a few years added to her age and was the medic in the family. Penny and Will were basically the same as they were in the TV series, with Penny showing a little more of the modern teenage girl.
Matt Le Blanc was a Major Don West for the Top Gun age, a hotshot pilot who saw his place on the mission as a babysitter, an unneeded monkey to pilot an automated ship. He was not as subservient to Professor Robinson as his TV counterpart and the two often butted heads in the movie. Also, his relationship with Judy was more out in the open, although at first, Judy thought he was an arrogant, chauvinist prick (which he was!).
Gary Oldman was a casting coup as the nefarious Doctor Smith. He held the evil, dangerous quality of the character and injected more subtle bits of humor. Twenty years later Gary Oldman won the Oscar for Best Actor for playing Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour. In 1986 William Hurt (Prof Robinson) won a Best Actor Oscar for Kiss of the Spider Woman.
What went wrong? It was mostly the underlying story of the Robinson’s adventures after getting lost. A completely ridiculous CGI Debbie the Bloop made you long for the chimpanzee with the antenna ears, Dr. Smith turning into “Spider-Smith”, a silly space battle scene at the opening of the movie to let you know this is the age of Star Wars so we’ve got to have fighter ships doing their Tie-Fighter thing. Then there was the final part where they meet up with an older Will Robinson which was to have featured Bill Mumy as the older version of Will until Mumy dropped out of the movie. If these aspects had been changed to something more adventurous and exciting and serious the movie might not have gone down as a bomb.
The Robinsons: Lost in Space (Pilot 2004)
In 2004 a pilot was commissioned entitled The Robinsons: Lost in Space which was as far as you could imagine from the original series. It was a case of taking the name of a well-known property and then just doing whatever the hell you wanted with it. In this case, the story was: in 2082 aliens attack the Earth and are eventually warded off, in large part thanks to Colonel John Robinson. Set in 2097, the now highly revered and decorated Colonel Robinson decides to move his family, which included his doctor wife Maureen, eldest son David, daughter Judy, second son Will and infant daughter Penny, to a colony planet called Nova. Also included is a young military pilot Don West (all of about 20 years old) who has been secretly seeing Judy Robinson. There is no Doctor Smith in this version. In this version, Will builds himself a robot in the garage to protect him from bullies. Oldest son David has a strained relationship with his father whom he feels inferior to. The family packs up and heads to the Jupiter Mothership orbiting the Earth, which contains pods in which families will live. The Robinsons are assigned to the second pod, the Jupiter 2. Soon after the family arrives aboard the Jupiter the aliens that had been defeated return and attack the Jupiter. During the chaos, West rescues Judy and brings her to the Jupiter 2 pod. Will is missing and John goes looking for him Then David goes looking for John and Will. John and Will return and John jettisons the Jupiter 2 pod unaware David is not on board. He tries to go back to the Mothership only to see it explode before his eyes, taking his son with it. The aliens turn their attention next to the pods and the Jupiter 2. To escape, Will hooks his robot up to the hyperdrive and the family manages to escape the invading aliens. When the hyperdrive breaks down, the Jupiter 2 is left battered and broken in an unknown area of space. This is where the pilot ends.
Lost in Space (Netflix)
When Netflix announced they were bringing back Lost in Space, people were skeptical at best. Now that the series has debuted, reactions have been mixed. Many people like the show, which, like The Robinsons pilot, has taken the name and the characters and gone off in their own direction making this version a re-imagining rather than a remake, taking advantage of the brand name only to tell a different story.
The series has been altered significantly from the sixties version and the movie and has a closer relationship to the disastrous pilot that preceded it. This Lost in Space has a darker tone to fit in with today’s overall darker sci-fi shows. It’s a dark world we live in today and our entertainment has grown dark as well…even the new Star Trek Discovery has become the darkest entry in the franchise. Parents John and Maureen Robinson are estranged and on their way to a divorce due to John’s absence and being more dedicated to his military duties. Again, they’ve chosen to do away with “Professor Robinson” and make him a military man instead. This John Robinson seems to have little knowledge of the scientific aspects of the mission and functions more as a military strategist. His children are all either afraid, angry or indifferent to him. And his wife seems to wish they had left him behind. John is also only the father of Penny and Will. He is the step-father of Judy, explaining why the actress is African-American. Maureen is the head of the clan, an accomplished scientist who is often headstrong and focused more on the mission and avoiding John than on her family.
Also much like The Robinsons, the Jupiter II is no longer it’s own unique entity and has become the Jupiter 2 just one of many Jupiter ships. After the Jupiter 2 crash lands on an alien planet, the family soon discovers there are other Jupiters that crashed as well. One of those ships carried Major Don West and Dr. Smith.
Debbie the Bloop has become Debbie the chicken, a pet of sorts of Major West. Apparently, every space adventure needs its own Han Solo and this is the role West provides. He has many of the qualities which would normally belong to Dr. Smith…a lying, conniving, out for himself scoundrel. And he’s also a bit immature.
Doctor Smith is now a woman, played by Parker Posey. And she’s not even a real doctor, having stolen the identity of the real Dr Smith played by Bill Mumy in a cameo. She passes herself off as a therapist/psychologist but is actually a murdering psychopath. Dark…indeed. Mainly, through most of the series, she hangs around acting creepy, getting people to confide in her as a psychologist. Her real name is actually an amalgam of two of the original LIS actors: June Lockhart and Jonathan Harris…June Harris.
Will has been knocked down a few notches in the genius category and is a much more frightened kid looking for a father figure when he discovers an alien robot and somehow befriends it. The only words the robot can seem to say is “Danger Will Robinson” which starts to get annoying after awhile.
Final Thought: I’ll save the final thought for the second part of my review of Lost in Space. I’ll get more into the depth of the episodes and how the season plays out in general. I will say that I wish they had done more of a serious remake of the original show instead of trying to tell a different story using the same characters. I am not a fan of the darker tone which becomes quite cruel at times. I still have 4 episodes of the show to sway me so we’ll see what the final verdict is next time. For now, I wanted to give an overall history of the iconic series and a general overview of the newest entry without getting into major spoilers. So, as the original show used to say…To Be Continued!
The Best Episodes of Irwin Allen’s Lost in Space
The Reluctant Stowaway
This is the second pilot and first episode of the series. The first pilot did not feature Dr. Smith and was mainly composed of scenes which would later be used and spread out over the first 5 episodes. The music was most re-used Bernard Herrmann music from The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Island In The Sky
The Robinsons crash land on their first planet. The crash landing of the Jupiter II is still thrilling to watch today, made even more exciting by John Williams music score. This episode also features the first appearance of Debbie The Bloop and the Chariot. I have always wanted the Chariot ever since I first saw it! The new Chariot in the Netflix series pails in comparison.
There Were Giants in the Earth & The Hungry Sea
After checking a meteorological station they had set up, Prof Robinson and Don West discover that the temperatures on the planet are about to drop to sub-freezing levels. They also find enormous footprints in the dirt. They decide to abandon the Jupiter II in the Chariot but Dr. Smith refuses to go and remains behind with the Robot. As the Chariot makes its journey, the family encounters a giant Cyclops. After defeating the monster the family crosses a huge frozen inland sea. Back at the ship, the Robot warns that the planet is on a strange elliptical orbit around the sun and soon the planet will become superheated. The Robot heads out to warn the Robinsons but when it arrives Don fires upon it, thinking it is there to harm the family. The Robinson family turns around and must now cross a vast unfrozen sea.
The series only two-parter. When Dr. Smith discovers a menagerie of alien creatures and accidentally sets them free, an alien called The Keeper (special guest star Michael Rennie, Klaatu from The Day The Earth Stood Still) who collects animal specimens from throughout the galaxy sets his sights on collecting Will and Penny.
War of the Robots
Will and The Robot stumble across another robot. After reactivating it, the new robot tries to supplant the Robinson’s Robot. Special guest star Robbie The Robot from Forbidden Planet. He would later show up in a future episode.
Return From Outer Space
Will tinkers with an alien machine and finds himself transported back to Earth to a small Vermont town. He tries to contact Alpha Control but the residents of the town don’t believe his story. He is able to obtain some carbon tetrachloride which the Robinsons desperately need before the Robot gets the matter transporter working and beams Will back to the planet.
The Anti-Matter Man
This episode is noteworthy mainly because it gives the star, Guy Williams, a chance to be the featured actor in an episode after playing second banana to Smith, Will and the Robot for so long. Both he and Mark Goddard get to play evil versions of their characters. It’s a welcome change of pace from the silliness of the Smith episodes.
One of my favorite things in the original Lost In Space was the flying jetpack which was used in several episodes. I thought we would have one by today but they continue to be in developmental stages.
Finally, I just wanted to mention how neat the space pod was. In 1965 they were able to create all these wonderful, futuristic technologies that didn’t look corny but more like something we will see one day.
All 10 episodes available for viewing on Netflix.
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