In 1965, Irwin Allen created one of the most beloved science fiction television shows with Lost in Space. The idea was a new take on Johann David Wyss’ Swiss Family Robinson. A remake film adaption was produced in 1998 to a lukewarm reception. Other stabs at bringing the Robinsons’ adventure to life have been attempted throughout the decades including 2004’s The Robinsons: Lost in Space. Still, nothing seems to compare to the original show’s perfect blend of hilarious campy humor and nail-biting sense of adventure. In the three season run, Allen’s show definitely tipped the balance out of whack at times (The Great Vegetable Rebellion, 1968); however, in whole the 1960’s version always came together in the end.
The original series is incredibly nostalgic for me. I grew up watching reruns with my oldest brother every Saturday afternoon on the SyFy Channel. So, when I discovered that Netflix was releasing an official entire season of Lost in Space, a part of me was as excited as I was hesitant. I actually liked the 1998 film. At least, more than the majority of critics at the time. In no way did it creep out of the shadow of the television series, but when it was not dropping the ball the feature had a few entertaining moments. So, I was certainly more hopeful than not when I sat down to begin the first season of Netflix’s Lost in Space.
After a slow start, this 2018 remake series reveals a female-driven science fiction story grounded in heart and adventure. The special-effects and cinematography are mind-blowing as they work smoothly to make this a believable tale. The Blu-ray only helps to further captures these images. Still, it isn’t until the final episodes of the season that the pace finally picks up. Through flashbacks and strained relationships, the audience is given an abundance of character development. Unfortunately, the average viewer might not want to travel at such a slow pace.
Mystery can be incredibly enjoyable. Especially in a science fiction series. Unfortunately, the fans of the 1960’s Lost in Space will spend the first few episodes readjusting while newcomers will be mostly, well, lost. Series developers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless seem torn between laying Easter eggs for fans while at the same time striving to be different than the original show. Even with amazing effects right from the start, there is a glitch in the connection to the audience. At first. While the aim is to reveal bits and pieces to the audience over time, there is not enough initial information given to hook viewers in.
I have no issue with a pseudo reliance on flashbacks; however, with such a large playing field the dependence on flashbacks hinders the momentum. There would be a better flow if we understood who these Robinsons are right off the bat. Especially, if the obvious goal is to show that they are, indeed, different than their original counterparts. This all comes together beautifully by the end of the first season. Unlike the original Robinsons, this family is struggling through dysfunction to find out who they are and how they belong. And we do care about them. The problem is that the audience will have to be persuaded to get through the first few episodes to understand that to be true.
After a bumpy start, reminiscent of any Jupiter 2 incarnation, the series begins to breathe life into this new adventure. Molly Parker leads the cast as Maureen Robinson. Parker’s version of matriarch Maureen is far more capable and in charge. June Lockhart was every bit as capable; however, the original series provided only limited depth to her Maureen. In fact, in a marked improvement over the original run, every female character is given far more range and depth. Parker Posey delivers a fantastic interpretation of Doctor Smith. Jonathan Harris had an emotional range that took the character easily into both dark and light places; however, Posey goes even darker and lighter. Where Harris played the comedy at a campier level, Posey’s Smith is sincerely sinister in her sense of humor. She is delightfully sociopathic and grounds the performance in reality.
Personally, the standout performance belongs to Mina Sundwall as Penny. In the original, everything centered on Will (Billy Mumy). And no disparage to Maxwell Jenkins’ Will, but this Penny is the most interesting of the siblings. She has a dry wit full of observant sarcasm. Jenkins reveals a much more sensitive side to Will; however, Sundwall develops a less obvious vulnerability to Penny that is as refreshing as she is entertaining when cracking jokes. As eldest sibling Judy Robinson, Taylor Russell is a tough-to-crack young woman overflowing with confidence. Marta Kristen’s Judy had little else to do in the original run besides stare lovingly at Don West (Mark Goddard).
Other viewer reactions have decreed this new version is nothing but a feminist show. Well, in my opinion that only makes Netflix’s Lost in Space all the better. This simply means that it is science fiction show about a family on a futuristic adventure in outer space. Only with an equal distribution to characters of all sexes enhancing viewer believability. Due to the true definition of feminism, the men are equally as competent and entertaining. Or, depending on how you look at it, equally incompetent. Toby Stephens and Ignacio Serricchio are given as much emotional complexity as everyone else. As patriarch John Robinson, Stephens flounders in trying to reconnect with his family while Serricchio uses a tough-guy shield to cover up his humorous new version of Don West.
Surprisingly, the Blu-ray of this Netflix adaption includes a sizable amount of special features. Many Netflix Blu-ray and DVD releases are disappointingly bare when it comes to fan supplements. Lost in Space contains many fun surprises for fans both old and new alike. In addition to deleted scenes, there is a behind-the-scenes documentary interviewing cast and crew. Also included is Bill and Max: Lost and Found in Space: a wink-nudge discussion between the first Will and current Will. Apparently, this will be a feature with its own continuing mini-storyline should further seasons be successful.
Another enjoyable feature for Lost in Space fans is a segment following Billy Mumy as he explores the new Jupiter 2 and meets the new Robot. And finally, fans of the 1960’s series will love the inclusion of original unaired pilot: No Place to Hide…in color! While this unaired pilot is missing two iconic cast members, the central premise is still there in enjoyably false Technicolor.
Over the course of this first season, 2018’s Lost in Space delivers eye-pleasing images as each episode develops new versions of beloved characters. The pace is just a step too slow in the beginning but by the last few episodes viewers will become happily invested. The season finale is particularly thrilling. Fans of the original series will recognize many welcome homages as this one begins to carve out its own welcome place. The show developers take a gamble in including all these references at risk to the pace for newcomers. By the end of the first season, these risks do all pay off and we look forward to seeing the real journey to come in the second season. Lost in Space: Complete First Season Blu-ray is available June 4, 2019!
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director(s): Neil Marshall, Tim Southam, Alice Troughton
Writer(s): Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Zack Estrin, Katherine Collins
Stars: Molly Parker, Parker Posey, Toby Stephens, Mina Sundwall, Taylor Russell, Maxwell Jenkins, Ignacio Serricchio
Release: April 13, 2018
Studio/Production Co: Sazama Sharpless Productions, Applebox Entertainment
Length: 47-65 minutes
Sub-genre: Science Fiction, Adventure