DVD review: “Lost in Space” (2018 – )
Based on an original idea by: Irwin Allen
Developed by: Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless
Featuring: Toby Stephens, Molly Parker, Ignacio Serricchio, Taylor Russell, Maxwell Jenkins, Parker Posey, Mina Sundwall, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
Robot:“Will Robinson… Danger.”
“Lost in Space” revolves around an extinction level event caused by a celestial object crashing into Earth, threatening humanity’s survival. By 2046, mankind has launched a number of Jupiter Colony ships, taking selected families to colonize other worlds. The Robinson family is selected for the 24th such mission, but before they can launch from the mother space station as scheduled, an alien robot breeches the station’s hull which forces all the families to evacuate early in their Jupiter crafts. However, due to the mayhem and chaos, the Robinsons’ Jupiter 2 and other craft fall through a rip in spacetime and crash land on an unknown but habitable planet. The Robinsons and other colonists battle the strange new environment and their own personal demons as they attempt to escape the planet.
So another week goes by it this must be the time for a new Netflix television show, this time a kind of reboot or reimagining of the classic show “Lost in Space” (1966 -1968), this is the third time at relaunching (a movie, a previous TV effort) what was a very successful property for its time. Now however there have been some added twists, mostly as you would expect, an expanded cast, aliens and the entire first season acting as a kind of warm up to the originals general conceit – a family (as well as to hanger ons) lost in space. In much of the execution this is an almost perfect Netflix show which tends to mitigate all of the negative aspects – actually of almost any Netflix television show unless it is out and out bad, I am looking at you “Iron Fist” (2017 – present). This is a show that Netflix has thrown a huge amount of money at, it shows, although I suspect this was an easy way to attempt to cover plot holes as well as hammering over any perceived taking from other similar genre properties. This is a show with not only huge amounts of CGI, but vistas that look like they come from some big budget films, with sets and costumes to match.
Set in the almost near future, with technology that makes little sense as does the design of almost everything we see, this new “Lost in Space” eschews any kind of man-made disaster for something more other worldly, so already there is no real parallel to our present with global warming or any other man-made disaster which for me is a missed opportunity, something the movie from the turn of the century did not miss. Other alterations are the empowering of the rest of the cast away from the core of Will Robinson, Dr. Smith and the Robot which if a new show is to survive it cannot revolve around those characters – the inward looking plots of the past will not wash with new millennial audiences.. On the surface most of this new show works fine, sure it could have been more compact, there really is not enough story for ten episodes at an hour each, also it is not really bingeable as if too many episodes are watched in a row, the cracks will definitely show. If you dig beyond the surface there is not much there, especially when the creators have not only co-opted the original show, but many many other genre properties as well, I will not say ripped off, but it is definitely more than homage. These influences are everywhere, “T2” (1992), “Battlestar Galactica” (2004-2009), “Westworld” (2017-present), almost any ‘Star Trek’ franchise and a lot more besides.
I am not going to endlessly compare and contrast the differences in this new version of “Lost in Space” to the previous ones but will highlight some of the better as well as some of the not so good aspects of this new show.
One of the biggest revelations which actually ends up driving the show for almost all of its ten episodes is making the classic robot an alien invention that causes the stranding of the Robinsons and friends on anunnamed planet. This robot has unclear motives as well as equally unclear abilities which come and go as the season progresses. It has self-repair functions that come and go as needed as well as shifting loyalties that occur seemingly at random, which as a viewer frustrates me immensely. Not only do arbitrary rules smack of lazy storytelling they also mean that nothing that happens really matters as some magical aspect of the environment could end up saving everyone from disaster or punishing people that need it. Indeed, this happens multiple times throughout the season when the group of stranded humans seemingly come across solutions as quickly as problems occur – witness the never-ending search for fuel, the kind of obstacles are video game like, but then maybe that is the point for some inevitable tie-in down the road, maybe? The other aspect of the show besides the bulging cast, is I guess, the casting of indie star (and I suppose now veteran) Parker Posey as the nefarious Dr. Smith who for at least the beginning of the show is akin to Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker from “The Dark Knight” (2008), which I was loving and thought was a true villain to fall in love with. Smith was changing her back story to fit circumstance, I thought she was going to be like the Joker an unknowable character, one we would be kept in the dark about, guessing her true motivations, but of course as is the case with television we get a thorough back story which was about the time I lost interest in the character, judging by Posey’s performance so did she.
This actually leads me nicely to the directors of this show, the first two episodes are the best, unsurprisingly these are directed by the great Neil Marshall who has been around film and television for some time, I don’t think it is any coincidence that Smith’s character devolves into caricature after he leaves, without a steady hand to control the scripts or Posey’s performance. The very different directors that are involved I believe are the reason the show is uneven and becomes trope laden from episode three until the experienced David Nutter takes control to right the ship and leave us on a cliffhanger that might actually move this story forward in episode ten.
My biggest issue with the “Lost in Space” is the treatment of Will and the robot, not only as characters but from where their arc’s end up going, as well as many of the plot points of the show that are derived from them. It is obvious from the jump that the robot is just a terminator, while Will is a poor excuse for John Connor or even Sarah Connor from “T2” (1991), which in my mind is not only theft of a central part of that movie, but is not done here with any finesse or attempt to homage that great movie. Will not only turns the killer of humanity into a kind of pet by pulling a thorn from his paw but starts to teach him how not to kill people, then the robot turns on him but at the last moment finds redemption and death in not only saving Will but his Mother – stop me if any of this starts to sound familiar. Now I would not have a huge issue with this if it was within a different story but it is the central focus of the entire first season, this is something new that was not present in the three previous versions of the “Lost in Space” property. When I watch a television series or for that matter movie I ask for one thing, originality, something that is sorely missing in “Lost in Space” – which is a shame for two reasons, it potentially spoils the first season and could be off-putting for viewers who want to return – it also dissuades a second watching.
The news is not all bad though, on the acting front there is much to like with the casting of some new blood as well as experienced actors, who have been around genre properties previously. There is no doubt that the stars of this new show are Parker Posey as Dr. Smith and what could have been a disaster the casting of Will Robinson, who is played by the surprisingly great Maxwell Jenkins. Jenkins is absolutely perfectly cast, he seems to know how to portray this character from the start , with three main costars, a CGI robot, Parker Posey and the rest of his family, he holds his own easily with all three threatening to steal almost every scene he appears in, I am looking forward to his return in the next season, if it happens. The series is undeniably anchored by two veterans in Molly Parker and Toby Stephens as Maureen and John Robinson respectively, who both get to shine in their own stories as well as together, they have great chemistry, it is not difficult to imagine them married which is what is required. The rest of the family is rounded out with Taylor Russell as Judy and Mina Sundwell as Penny Robinson two sisters who are as different as could be but are also capable young women with minds of their owns and are unafraid to make decisions – something that is a requirement for female characters in a post-Harvey world, they are their own three dimensional people that lack nothing, proving it in every episode.
What I see as the greatest weaknesses of this show which is not only the general story but the narrative as well smacks of concentrating too closely on the development of the characters, leaving the story to take care of itself fitting into previously seen genre tropes and norms. This is not the kiss of death for this show as heading into a second season the heavy lifting has now been done, as has the monetary investment, so now the writers/producers/directors can hopefully turn to creating some original storylines that will leave the rest of the first season in the rear vision mirror. This first season is not without problems; however I do recommend watching it but I would also say let each episode breathe and maybe watch each episode separately and do not binge it, I think there will be not only more enjoyment but the holes will not be as obvious.
Episode One: “Impact”
Directed by: Neil Marshall
On the way to a space colony, a crisis sends the Robinsons hurtling towards an unfamiliar planet, where they struggle to survive a harrowing night.
Episode Two: “Diamonds In The Sky”
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Another crash brings more travelers to the planet, as the Robinsons work to salvage their ship with help from their mysterious new companion.
Episode Three: “Infestation”
Directed by: Tim Southam
Flashbacks reveal clues to Dr. Smith’s past; The Robinsons contend with a new threat as the ship’s fuel supply starts dropping – fast.
Episode Four: “The Robinsons Were Here”
Directed by: Alice Troughton
The Robinson’s make contact with another family of survivors; Will races to protect his friend after Judy learns what happened aboard the Resolute.
Episode Five: “Transmission”
Directed by: Deborah Chow
As the team builds a tower to signal the Resolute, Maureen investigates a planetary anomaly, and Will braces for a tough conversation with his dad.
Episode Six: “Eulogy”
Directed by: Vincenzo Natali
Maureen debates whether to share what she saw in the sky, Don leads a mission to find fuel, and the robot’s presence stokes tensions within the group.
Episode Seven: “Pressurized”
Directed by: Tim Southam
Judy and Don race home across the desert with their precious cargo. John and Maureen are dealt a heavy blow. Penny does her best to comfort Will.
Episode Eight: “Pressurized”
Directed by: Stephen Surjik
Maureen find a solution to the fuel issue , but putting her plan into action proves trickier than expected. Dr. Smith realizes her cover his blown.
Episode Nine: “Pressurized”
Directed by: Tim Southam
Judy sets out to find Maureen, while Will and Penny lead an expedition to the caves. Dr. Smith pursues a new escape plan.
Episode Ten: ” Danger, Will Robinson”
Directed by: David Nutter
The Robinson family scrambles to launch from the Lost Planet, stage an impossible rescue, and reach the Resolute before it leaves orbit for good. Unfortunately, some have other plans.