Back in the mid-'60s, when "Star Trek" was begetting its very first generation of Trekkies, producer Irwin Allen launched his own brand of interplanetary adventure that gave new meaning to the phrase "space camp."
Hoping to cash in on those fond nostalgic feelings for the space family Robinson and even that nervous Nellie, Dr. Zachary Smith, New Line's souped-up, big-screen take on "Lost in Space" gets somewhat lost in the translation.
Attempting to be all things to all people, the picture supplements the irresistibly cheesy elements of the original with more purposeful stuff, such as an annoyingly cloying father-son relationship subplot and even a little Spielberg ("Gremlins" period) thrown into the mix to grab the kiddies.
While the resulting tone is all over the place, "Lost in Space" is not without its pure popcorn moments of guilty pleasure with enough visual blast to at least partially placate sci-fi buffs.
Expect this Jupiter II mission to stir up solid -- but short of astronomical -- business.
Taking a cue from Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black", William Hurt and Mimi Rogers play it straight as parental units John and Maureen Robinson. It's a gambit that works effectively. They're rooted in a reality that remains constant even when Akiva Goldsman's clunky, dunderheaded dialogue goes off in other directions.
As in the original series, Mom and Dad take the family -- Judy (Heather Graham), Penny (Lacey Chabert) and Will (Jack Johnson) -- on a space-colonizing expedition to Alpha Prime, the galaxy's other inhabitable planet.
While they hire testosterone-fueled Major Don West (Matt LeBlanc) to do the driving, trust diabolical Dr. Smith (Gary Oldman) to sabotage the mission, sending the Jupiter II hurtling through unknown galaxies.
They battle millions of space alien spiders, time-traveling constrictions and each other. Since this is a revisionist '90s take on a '60s view of family, the Robinson family is introduced to the word "dysfunctional" and must work out all their unresolved interpersonal conflicts when not blasting into hyperdrive. All the heavy-handed, father-son/father-daughter claptrap gets in the way of the potential fun.
Director Stephen Hopkins ("The Ghost and the Darkness") has an impressive knack for choreographing elements of suspense, and those quieter sequences are among the most effective in the film. Adhering to a cohesive tone is another problem, and it's one that also hampers some of the performances.
While Hurt, Rogers, Graham, Chabert and young Johnson (who nicely fits Billy Mumy's old space shoes) eschew the scenery-chewing for earnestness, the usually effective Oldman is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Rather than staying with the sniveling, cowardly Dr. Smith of old, the filmmakers have sought to make him more of an irredeemably evil villain, forcing Oldman to play the part like a satanic theater teacher. Smith's character could have used a little more motivation for his actions rather than simply admitting he's rotten to the core.
As the strutting Major West, meanwhile, LeBlanc also seems to have tone trouble, stiffly torn between playing him as a comic book character and a true hero. It's nice to hear Dick Tufeld's deeply mellifluous tones again as the voice of the Robot, while series cast members June Lockhart (Maureen), Mark Goddard (West), Marta Kristen (Judy) and Angela Cartwright (Penny) pop up in cameos.
Visually, "Lost in Space" achieves the requisite balance with effects that neatly fall somewhere between state-of-the-art and cheese. Peter Levy's cinematography, Norman Garwood's production design and visual effects supervisor Angus Bickerton's work remain faithful to the original while effectively expanding the scope for theatrical consumption. Bruce Broughton nimbly recaptures the series' noisy, brass-blasting score, and the original John Williams-penned theme has been treated to a kicking end-title electronic remix performed by Apollo Four Forty.
LOST IN SPACE
New Line Cinema
A Prelude Pictures production
in association with Irwin Allen Prods.
A Stephen Hopkins film
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Screenwriter: Akiva Goldsman
Producers: Mark W. Koch, Stephen Hopkins,
Akiva Goldsman, Carla Fry
Executive producers: Mace Neufeld,
Bob Rehme, Richard Saperstein,
Michael De Luca
Director of photography: Peter Levy
Production designer: Norman Garwood
Editor: Ray Lovejoy
Music: Bruce Broughton
Visual effects supervisor: Angus Bickerton
Dr. Zachary Smith: Gary Oldman
John Robinson: William Hurt
Major Don West: Matt LeBlanc
Maureen Robinson: Mimi Rogers
Judy Robinson: Heather Graham
Penny Robinson: Lacey Chabert
Will Robinson: Jack Johnson
Older Will Robinson: Jared Harris
Running time - 130 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
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