Throwback Thursday: Lost in Space Opera

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.

In 1998, there were over 15 film remakes (Psycho, Rear Window, and Parent Trap to name a few), or reimagined films based on television shows (The Avengers). Some were good, or at least made money (City of Angels, A Perfect Murder, You’ve Got Mail), and some were absolutely horrible (Psycho, Godzilla, The Avengers), but only a few were middle of the road. One of those made money but was met with a resounding critical “meh.” If you’re thinking space opera films, you’ve probably already figured out which film I’m talking about: the TV show turned hopeful film franchise, Lost in Space.

Teaser poster for Lost in Space.

Lost in Space teaser poster.

The TV show (itself based on the novel The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss) and film follow the exploits of a family thrust into space to work on the colonization of distant planets. The film sets up the premise that Earth is dying due to global pollution, so new habitable planets must be found. Predictably, something goes wrong and their ship, Jupiter 2, gets flung off course. On the TV show, this allowed for lots of different encounters for this nuclear family. In the film, we focus on the self-centered shenanigans of Dr. Smith (Gary Oldman) as he tries to weasel his way out of the predicaments that he inevitably causes for the Robinson family and their pilot Major Don West (Matt LeBlanc).

The film doesn’t lack for acting abilities. With William Hurt (Academy Award winner) as the workaholic father John Robinson; the aforementioned Gary Oldman (Academy Award nominee); Heather Graham (Screen Actors Guild Award nominee) as the eldest Robinson sibling Judy; and Mimi Rogers (who should get more work) as Maureen, wife and glue of the team. However, it also had fresh-from-TV Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) as middle-child Penny and, gunning for a film career, Matt LeBlanc (Friends).

Film characters standing in front of a robot.

The cast gets serious.

Most of the unintentional humor arrives due to LeBlanc’s line deliveries not quite working for an action-adventure flick. He’s still firmly stuck in Joey mode and you see it in his eyes that he doesn’t quite know how to break away from that. So it’s left up to the script and the rest of the cast to help. Unfortunately, there’s zero chemistry in his flirting with Judy, and that might be the biggest problem with the whole film: there’s no chemistry in the cast. West and Judy don’t work; John and Maureen don’t work; and as antagonist/protagonist, Dr. Smith and John don’t work. Hurt and Oldman’s acting styles conflict horribly with each other.

Hyper-intelligent kid working on a robot.

Did I mention there’s a plucky, hyper-intelligent kid who builds robots, hyperspace travel, and time bubbles? Oh yeah, “that trope” is in the movie.

Please don’t misunderstand, the bad chemistry is half the fun of watching this movie for me. If it were a comedy, it wouldn’t work, but having everyone’s intent and energy for their scenes just a little off from each other no-sells it perfectly. The special effects were also still working out the kinks of CGI and having it meld with the actors in the form of a lizard monkey, Blarp (LeBlanc has more chemistry with the fake monkey than he does the other actors). Blarp is an update of the Bloop Debbie, which was a live-action monkey with weird ears shown sporadically on the television show.

Major Don West holding a pet.

The best screen capture I could find of true love.

The screenplay was written by Akiva Goldsman, who can occasionally do good things ( I actually do enjoy his Winter’s Tale from 2014), but he also gave us Batman ForeverBatman & RobinI, Robot; and The Da Vinci Code (that last one I more so credit to the bad source material than Goldsman, though). The first viewing might be a little confusing with time-travel bubbles and too many enemies, but don’t worry, all plot points are hammered in whether they fit or not. The director, Stephen Hopkins, has a few films to his résumé but has primarily stuck to television the last 10 years. You can thank Hopkins for A Nightmare on Elm Street 5 and Predator 2. He did give us the underrated Cuba Gooding Jr./Emilio Estevez thriller Judgment Night (which is worth viewing for the soundtrack alone).

Characters in their space uniforms.

On a good note, no bat nipples.

All this adds up to C-level shenanigans of the highest magnitude. If you go in expecting a great film, you’ll be disappointed, but if you go in expecting to be mildly entertained, you will be fully rewarded. It’s a fun space-opera trifle. Add friends and alcohol for full viewing pleasure.

This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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