I’m constantly told that streaming services like Netflix are the way of the future. But it appears that to build that future it is necessary to look to the past with a television series from the 1960’s that looked to the future, but itself was based on material from the past. If you’re becoming a little dizzy, I get it. Of course, I’m talking about Netflix’s reboot of the Irwin Allen television milestone Lost In Space. Allen originally pitched a serialized version of the famous Swiss Family Robinson story and was rejected. So he took that story and set it into the future and marooned the Robinson family not on a contested pirate’s treasure island, but on a flying saucer marooned far from Earth. It lasted three seasons and introduced several phrases into the pop culture like “danger, Will Robinson” and “the pain, oh, the pain”. Even if you’ve never seen an episode of the original show, you’ve heard these little references. And that’s exactly what Netflix is counting on by delivering a modern take on Lost In Space now out on Blu-ray from Fox Home Entertainment.
There are as many differences in this version of the show as there are common elements. In this series John Robinson (Stephens) is not the mission commander. This time it’s wife Maureen Robinson (Parker) who is not only in charge but designed the ship that they are lost within. The relationship couldn’t be more different. John has been away most of the time as a soldier, and they are in the middle of splitting up. Things change when an object crashes to Earth on a Christmas Eve and is dubbed The Christmas Star. The impact triggers a series of ecological disasters, and the Earth is now becoming uninhabitable. Maureen Robinson becomes part of a program that designs a huge starship that carries hundreds of individual ships and thousands of colonists to a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. That is also the destination of the original show. Of course, they never tell you they’re going to a planet in either show. They merely use the star’s name, which itself likely wouldn’t be a safe place to land. The large ship the Resolute is attacked by a mysterious creature during it’s 24th group of colonists. Ships are ejected, and many of these “Jupiters” crash on a fortunately sustainable planet. One such ship is the Jupiter 2 with the Robinson family aboard.
The Robinson children are also quite different from the original show. Judy (Russell) is the biracial product of a previous lover of Maureen’s. She’s more the protégé’ that Will Robinson used to be. She’s an MD at just 18 years old. Penny Robinson (Sundwall) is a young mechanic for the mission. Will Robinson (Jenkins) is somewhat of a savant character. His mother cheated to bring him on the mission because he couldn’t pass the screening. He is not anything like the child genius played by Bill Mumy in the original show. But he ends up alone in the planet’s frontier where he helps an alien mechanical creature that appears to imprint on the young boy and saves the lives of several of the Robinsons in the first episode alone.
Another huge departure from the source material is that there are several ships crashed on the planet, and they need to work together to try to get back to The Resolute before the planet becomes as inhospitable as Earth was quickly becoming. In one of those ships is Don West (Serricchio), who is no longer the military representative, with John Robinson filling that role. He’s not a colonist at all, but works on the carrier as a smuggler of booze to the colony where it is prohibited. Sounds like a fun place, right? Dr. Smith also hitched a ride with West (who thought it was the other way around). This Dr. Smith is far more internally evil than the Dr. Smith played so iconic ally by Jonathan Harris. She’s not even really Dr. Smith. She stole the identity of an injured Dr. Smith on the carrier and stole his ship as well. In a wonderfully nice nod to the old show, Bill Mumy plays the ill-fated real Dr. Smith. He’s the only member of the original cast to appear in both the rebooted film as well as the new series. He’s obviously the torch-bearer for that beloved show. The arrival of so many colonists and political situation sometimes looks more like The 100 than Lost In Space. The entire first season appears more like a setup for what is to become the show’s future format, where it appears the family and “friends” will finally end up on their own.
The show doesn’t retain the camp element of the original show, and let’s be honest here, that wouldn’t work so much in the 21st century. To be frank, the original series veered sharply from the course it originally charted. In the first pilot there was no Dr. Smith. When he was added, he was far more nefarious than the bumbling, silly villain he became. He was aboard the ship in order to sabotage it. He programmed the robot to destroy the ship and the family when it reached orbit. Even the robot was not so much a nice character at first. What happened was something rather special. Viewers saw something they liked in the relationship between Will (Mumy), Dr. Smith, and the Robot. They became inseparable and formed the foundation on which the series eventually was built. But let’s not forget that this wasn’t how it was originally conceived or executed. So canon here is a little muddier than some rebooted shows.
The biggest issue I have with the cast is Parker Posey as “Dr. Smith”. It’s not the gender switch, because she’s not really Dr. Smith, and while I thought that a very clever device, I just don’t like her in the role. Her performance feels too much like a performance, and I considered her the weak link in the cast. She’s just not believable, and while the original family put up with their Dr. Smith, that was camp. I would have dropped this lady off in a ditch somewhere early in the show. She’s a truly mentally disturbed character, and she’s never going to really fit in. She’s also up against great performances by Molly Parker and particularly Toby Stephens. I got to talk with Toby during his stint as Captain Flint on Black Sails, and you can catch that conversation Here. He’s the center of this cast even if the show is trying a bit too hard for the PC crowd. Stephens just isn’t going to work in the background for long, and I can see a shift coming.
Homage is paid to many members of the original cast and characters in the names given to people here. Dr. Smith’s real name is June Harris, which combines the names of June Lockhart and Jonathan Harris. Another character is named Angela after original Penny, Angela Cartwright. Don West comes upon a deceased character named Goddard, which, of course, is the actor who played West in the first series. West has a pet chicken named Debbie, which was the name of the alien chimp that was Penny’s pet during the original run. I’m sure I missed others on my first run through. I suspect there are plenty more nods that can be found, and it might be fun to try to catch them all.
It took a little getting used to. Getting used to the shape of the show was a little slow, but I eventually warmed to this version of the series. By the time the 10 episodes were ended, I wanted to see more. It didn’t help that it ended on a cliffhanger. One of the better touches is when they sneak in the original “Johnny” John Williams score. I have to admit it gave me goose bumps the first time. The opening credits are a bit inconstant. Often all we get is a title screen, while other times we get a full credit intro that reminds me a little too much like the Enterprise opening as we catch glimpses of space travel history up to the show’s current date. It’s highly orchestrated with no focus until the Williams score kicks in out of the chaos and brings us home and quite literally sets the mood and the tone for what follows.
Each episode is presented in its rather odd original streaming aspect ratio of 2.00:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. Once again I am impressed by both the production values and the attention to detail given to a streaming show. Most people are watching this stuff on their , and credit the folks in charge not to play down the detail and quality to that level. This is worthy of your huge theatre screens, at least those of you who still use them. The truth is it was filmed using 8K equipment, but I don’t know if it was necessarily shot that high. It was originally HDR-10 encoded and frankly, I’m not sure why I wasn’t watching this in UHD. Fox should absolutely consider that option soon. Detail is high. Black levels are a little off due to the intentional use of cold temperatures that add a bit of a hue or haze to those shadow definitions. The bright stuff is loaded with color when applicable, and it’s the nice white levels during the pilot that impress the most.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is nearly as impressive. There’s a good amount of surround ear candy, but this show is actually more about the dialog. That’s where the real attention is given, and it works just fine. Subs give us the boost when necessary but aren’t a constant companion here.
All of the extras are found on the third disc.
Deleted Scenes: (3:42) There are only three with no individual selection.
Bill And Max – Lost And Found In Space: (10:10) This is a playful interaction between the two Will Robinsons. They talk about each other’s versions with clips of both shows. Of course, there is a focus on the different robots.
Bill Mumy Visits The Jupiter 2: (7:00) Bill Mumy gets a tour of the show’s sets and an encounter with the robot.
Designing The Robot: (5:20) Get a look at sculpting and designing the new look.
Lost In Space Sizzle Reel: (3:38)
I am delighted by how many shout-outs the show gives to its predecessor. The Chariot is still there, and many of the interior designs of the ship harkens back to the 60’s designs, from the hole in the deck ladder to airlock doors. You won’t have to look hard to believe that these guys do have a fondness for what came before. Of course, the production design is light-years above what was even possible on any budget in the 60’s, and Irwin Allen had a reputation for being a huge cheapskate. Here computer-generated worlds and dangers give you a much higher sense of adventure and immersion. The chemistry isn’t quite what the old cast had, but there are moments, and there’s certainly a foundation on which to build here. The folks who do this show are patient. They expect to be here for a long time. With the Disney acquisition of Fox, I’m not sure that’s going to happen, at least not on Netflix. The danger here isn’t to Will Robinson, but that the series will suffer the complicated fate of the Netflix Marvel properties. It’s wait and see for now, but after all, “It’s not like this is the first time we’ve been Lost“.