Lost in Space (1998) — A messy retro-fueled romp among the stars

“There’s a lot of space out there to get lost in.”

Justin’s rating: Sure, the Mutant Reviewers staff was Lost In Detroit one weekend, but you didn’t see Hollywood make a movie out of it

Justin’s review: Outer space is not the highly selective Club 54 it used to be. Back in the day, you would have to be a highly trained astronaut or a playboy with a speech impediment to even make it out there. But lately, sigh… lately, they let anyone go up. Case in point, Lost In Space, which is a badly fumbled fable about your nuclear family in a souped-up SUV trekking across space and leaving a big mess wherever they go.

I never watched the original Lost In Space TV series. I have heard that my life is not missing much by having done so. Thus, I never understood why this type of show became so popular, particularly with a robot whose functions were the same as Lassie’s, just more incompetent. Ten, perhaps thirty years later, Lost In Space inspired idea-starving filmmakers to take a hack at the idea (plus, over at Paramount, Star Trek Voyager took the same idea to the small screen, only without the robot).

As a movie, Lost In Space is a hyperactive ADD kid who keeps starting all manner of games and projects and chores, but never finishes any one of them. The filmmakers got so concerned with making a considerably uncool sci-fi franchise hip again that the story doesn’t just take the backseat — it gets out of the car and hitchhikes to a scifi flick with an actual premise. The look and technology of the movie is pretty and slightly original, but it still ends up looking like what the world would be if iMacs took over.

So the entire family packs up and heads toward the nearest interstellar 7-11. There’s cold Dad (William Hurt), worried Mom (Mimi Rogers), stuck-up Judy (Heather Graham), alienated Penny (Lacey Chabert) and overachiever Will Robinson (Jack Johnson). Also along for the ride is pilot Major West (Matt LeBlanc), evil mad scientist Dr. Smith (Gary Oldman), and a plus-sized robot, who you know is just going to go crazy and try and kill everyone. They always do.

This cast of characters will most likely elicit strong responses — both positive and negative — by all viewers. Kym, for instance, has always harbored a passionate, homicidal hatred for Mimi Rogers, ever since she tried to steal Mulder’s heart in the X-Files. But we must discuss William Hurt. Maybe he has a good excuse for his acting, such as being possessed by the spirit of Kevin Costner, but I have rarely seen a more wooden performance. It’s like he has a brain parasite that’s controlling him (or perhaps Al Gore). Heck, the ROBOT has more of a personality than him. Hurt goes through the movie being the mentally distracted dad, but anytime he has to say something important, something with a sliver of emotion, his beard twitches. But his voice is the exact same dead monotone.

Don’t even try to understand the convoluted plot, either, which takes us through three or four episodes’ worth of nonsense, going from Bugs In Space to time travel. Time travel is something that must be henceforth forbidden by law to discuss in a film, because I’ve never seen a movie where they’re able to make sense by including this as a plot device. Like killer robots, it always ends badly.

And don’t even get me started on how having Friends’ Joey and a monkey in the same movie is complete redundancy.

There are two semi-cool things about this film that I feel obliged to point out, thus completing my plea bargain with Fanboys Anonymous. Although grossly underused, Penny is terrific as a sarcastic teen with the source of the only non-artificial funny lines. I really dug the scene where she rappelled down the ship, upside-down, supported by some sort of zip line. The other cool thing is, surprisingly, not the monkey. No, I just enjoyed the fighter design of the good guys’ ships at the beginning of the film. They kinda reminded me of the B-wing fighters from Star Wars, and that’s all right with me.

Like many overblown, overhyped, overproduced “remakes,” Lost In Space is scrambling everywhere and only appeases the opening weekend crowd. You know, those easily-led fools who ooh and ahh at the expensive CGI and walk out of a plot-deprived film going, “Well, that was certainly a good film. If I stick more Q-tips up my nose, maybe I’ll end up liking Battlefield Earth!” After a couple of years, all this movie is left with a handful of shiny toys and a lot of busted hopes.

Didja notice?

  • Targeting crosshairs in Matt’s pupils
  • Penny Vision
  • At one point in the movie, Gary Oldman is told, “You *are* a monster.” His characters have been told similar things in The Fifth Element and Air Force One.
  • The Jupiter 1 (the booster stage for the Jupiter 2 craft) bears a strong resemblance to the craft in the original TV series.
  • First segment of end credits intermixed with quick-flashed images from the movie, accompanied by Apollo 440’s electronica version of John Williams’ third season “Lost in Space” TV theme.
  • Holographic interface: I need one of these for my PlayStation
  • Apparently, Matt LeBlanc couldn’t come in for filming during the spaceship spider shootout, which is why he activates the metal helmet (allowing another actor to step in for his role)
  • Daffy Duck as a signal flare

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