Film Reviews

Netflix Has the 1998 Lost in Space Movie. I Should Finally Watch That. (Comes Back 2 Hours Later.) I’ve Made a Huge Mistake.

With the internet going crazy over Netflix’s new Lost in Space series, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at the 1998 movie. Sigh. I was wrong. I was so wrong. History, it turns out, judged this film quite fairly. It’s cinematic garbage, on the absolute low end of the 90s blockbusters. There is, however, one rather clever moment which is surprisingly similar to something in Black Panther (more on that at the end). That’s about it for Lost in Space’s redeeming qualities, though.

The film, which is currently available to stream on Netflix, wastes no time getting started. After the old New Line Cinema logo flies by, we’re treated to a voiceover from a sleepy-voiced William Hurt detailing one of those pollution-destroyed-the-Earth-so-now-we-have-to-find-a-new-home sci-fi scenarios. There are rival factions fighting over who gets to be the first to colonize the new planet. Honestly, there’s even more to it than just that, but before you have time to process everything you’re watching Matt LeBlanc (played Major Don West) and Morgan from The Walking Dead trade gay panic jokes as they pilot spaceships and track down bad guys.

It’s an admirably busy opening, with director Stephen Hopkins clearly wanting to drop audiences straight into the action like an especially caffeinated Star Wars, but it’s also rather pointless. The bad guys LeBlanc shoots down? The plot forgets all about them just a couple of minutes later. The flashy orange-eye tech LeBlanc uses to help with targeting? This is its one and only appearance in the film.

Some quality “smell the fart” acting.

Still, it was enough to fool me into thinking this Lost in Space movie might not be so bad after all. At least the special effects don’t look quite so terrible, and LeBlanc’s false bravado is instantly fun to mock (he could have benefited from some more lessons in the Tribbiani school of acting). Might we actually have a semi-competent late-90s space movie on our hands? Danger, Kelly’s misplaced optimism.

We then meet the Robinson family, led by genius workaholic John (Hurt). His technological breakthroughs will allow humans to successfully leave the planet, and he’s volunteered his own family – wife Maureen (Mimi Rogers), daughters Judy (a post-Boogie Nights/pre-Austin Powers Heather Graham) and Penny (Party of Five’s Lacey Chabert, who talks into a video recorder on her wrist like an early version of vlogging), and son/kid genius Will (Jack Johnson – no, not that Jack Johnson) – to be the guinea pigs. LeBlanc’s West is the highly annoyed hotshot pilot assigned the babysitting task of escorting the Robinson’s on their ten-year journey, almost all of which will take place in hypersleep.

Of course, their mission goes haywire almost immediately. Soon enough, there’s a scheming Gary Oldman (over the top as always), rampaging robot (voiced by Dick Tufeld, just as he did for the 60s TV series), and unbelievably fake-looking CGI spiders to contend with and a series of time travel-dependent twists that create plot holes the size of Jupiter. You do get to see a youngish Jared Harris (won’t spoil who he plays) clearly having all of his dialogue dubbed by someone else, a bizarre sight which either adds to Lost in Space’s so bad, it’s good enjoyment factor or simply piles on the misery (I can’t decide which one).

Now imagine the whitest, most American, most non-Jared Harris voice imaginable coming out of that mouth.

Not surprisingly, William Hurt looks like he’d rather be anywhere else and his familiar arc of being a workaholic father who needs to pay more attention to his kids never fully connects. Matt LeBlanc’s meant to be playing the “Can’t believe I got stuck on this stupid mission with these yokels” and “I will have sex with Judy. Oh, yes. I will” of it all, but it comes off as almost sociopathic and impossibly creepy. He hits on Judy pretty much non-stop, often in earshot distance from her dad.

All he really should have said is this: “How you doin’?”

The Robinson family never really feels like an actual family. The women in the story spend nearly the entire second half putting on their best worried face while looking out a viewscreen. The special effects quickly take a turn into astonishingly bad territory. The time travel plot doesn’t make much sense. And don’t even get me started on the breast-hugging costumes.

Can we somehow blame Joel Schumacher for these? Akiva Goldsman did write and produce Lost in Space and also write Batman & Robin. So, there’s that.

But, eh, what can you do? It was the 90s.

I blame Mission Impossible. Or The Fugitive. Or The Brady Bunch Movie. Or maybe just all of them. Hollywood, after all, has never met a good idea it couldn’t run into the ground, and when the first half of the 90s gave us a couple of successful film adaptations of old TV shows the tail end of the decade gave us crap like Lost in Space, The Avengers, and Wild Wild West.

As a kid of the 90s, though, I’d somehow gone all this time without ever seeing Lost in Space. It came out in 1998, at which point I was already in the bag for anything Friends or Party of Five-related. Plus, I recall having a crush on Mimi Rogers. Lost in the Space ticked all three of those boxes, yet the word of mouth was so, so toxic. I stayed away. Even when Best Buy later gave me a free DVD copy of the film (along with Wild Wild West, The Perfect Storm, and two others) with my first DVD player I still never gave it a look. That’s one DVD that went straight to the garage sale pile.

And until Netflix came along with its reboot I forgot all about Lost in Space, both the 60s show and ‘98 film. I’d grown to believe Matt LeBlanc’s filmography couldn’t sink any lower than that chimpanzee baseball movie. I was wrong. As SyFy.com recently declared in its own Lost in Space retrospective, “It’s rare to see a movie that fails on just about every level.” Kudos for pulling that off, I guess.

Lost in Space is a movie which always feels like it’s in a rush even though it’s over two hours long, as if barreling to the next action setpiece will distract from the poor performances, tonally-challenged script, and atrocious visuals. Ultimately, they tried to make a gritty action film out of a campy old sci-fi show, yet now it is the Netflix series which is trying to be the gritty reboot to the campy old movie. So, let this serve as a remnder for whenever we might want to complain about the current state of the Hollywood blockbuster. As Lost in Space shows, it’s not like these things were so much better 20 years ago.

Chabert’s Penny says its best: “This mission sucks.”

RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS

1. Did anyone else see this…

…and think of this?:

At one point, Will, safely tucked away in his science lab just like Shuri, uses a similar technology to remote-pilot the robot and fight off CGI spiders on a nearby ship, and as with Shuri’s situation a VR outline of the robot animates around Will in the lab. Sure, in Lost in Space it looks closer to Tron than Black Panther because of the subpar special effects, but kudos to them for running with such a cool idea.

2. Lost in Space is so, so 90s, from its Schumacher-esque costumes to its crystal meth look for Chabert to well, Matt LeBlanc to its embarrassingly dated special effects to its questionable sexual politics. The closing credits, though, take the 90s cake with a Mortal Kombat-wannabe techno theme song (a remix of the original show’s theme) playing over images of space and quick shots from the movie like some kind of cyber punk music video.

3. Siskel & Ebert weren’t exactly Lost in Space fans, but Siskel actually gave it a mixed, as opposed to outright negative, review:

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15 comments

      1. Well, at least the characters in the new version are actual characters. It’s not perfect – honestly, I cared more about the robot than anything else – but there was clearly effort put into it and I look forward to see how the show continues.

      2. Yeah, that’s what I meant to say. It didn’t capture me but it is better than the movie version, which I hated. I got a little bored with this new one, except the robot was intriguing.

      3. I saw a recent Inverse article which argued the new Lost in Space would great if it weren’t for those pesky characters getting in the way all the time. That sounds about right to me.

        My reaction to the show is more how padded it feels. Vox argued it has one of the worst cases of the Netflix bloat in recent memory, and I agree. Far too many of the episodes are just far too long for no good reason.

    1. I know, I know…I really should have known better. There’s literal decades of history and a blogging community to tell me to stay away. It was a total impulse decision, though. I just saw it, saw Matt LeBlanc, said, “How you doin’?” and wondered “how bad could it really be?”

      It’s so much worse than I ever imagined.

  1. I think you have forgotten a few things. This film resurrected a TV show that was long dated and forgotten and it did it at a time when such things were just being tested out first time. Hollywood experimenting. I know this because I had the bad fortune of seeing this and The Avengers (no not the Marvel one, the Emma Peel and Steed one) on the same day which appeared to reward me with catching chicken pox that day. Punishment or agony. Not sure but had pox and was in quarantine for 10 days mulling over what I had seen in cinema. Anyway I digress. At that time Matt Le Blank was at his peak having just done a single series maybe second series of the hit show Friends. He was marketable. Heather Graham (aside from never aging unless her head is severed from her body. You wait she will pop up in 30 years time as another named acress or popstar) was also box office gold. Did not know Morgan from TWD was in it but to be fair he had a brief role and a mock American accent. New Line through a lot of money at it and the problem with this and the avengers is money wont solve the problem. These shows should be TV shows not films. Heck even Mission Impossible should be a TV show but its making money in the cinema so can see why it carries on that way. Lost in Space has too lame a plot to warrant a standalone movie. Too much happens at the beginning and its rushed through to the end. Getting the family together and improving dynamics, having some action scenes, resolving the issues. Its too much for a one off story. Don’t forget recent Oscar winner Gary Oldman also hams it up in his role as baddie which again at that time was box office gold. This film was done before Batman Begins and Battlestar Galactica was remade. So this was as close to gritty as most reboots/remakes dared to go. I refer you to exhibit A – Batman and Robin your honour. You think of a tv show today and I will tell you it cant make it as a movie. Doctor Who, Suits, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, 24, Spooks. Wont work. Look at what they did do. The Mod Squad, ChiPS, Baywatch, Charlies Angels was ok I guess, Starsky and Hutch was a parady but the rest a disaster. Im not passionate for this film. I know at the time it was entertaining. More entertaining than the Avengers that’s for sure and I enjoyed the TV show. Hey and don’t knock the Brady Bunch, that at least had layers of cleverness to it.

    1. To be clear, when I said “I blame MI, Fugitive, Brady Bunch” and that “Hollywood has never med a good idea it couldn’t run in the ground” I meant that “These good movies made a lot of money because they were, well, good, but Hollywood just saw that they were TV show reboots and decided that was the new trend to chase and churned out a bunch of crap.” I will defend that damn Brady Bunch Movie to my grave. I love it.

      Also, if I had to choose between Avengers and Lost in Space I would choose turning the TV off and reading a book, but if it was somehow a life or death situation I would choose Lost in Space. So, I will definitely give you that – in comparison to Avengers, Lost in Space looks a little bit better.

      “Heather Graham (aside from never aging unless her head is severed from her body. You wait she will pop up in 30 years time as another named acress or popstar) was also box office gold.”

      Ok. The part about her not aging is oddly true, but I don’t that the “box office gold” part is. She’d just done Boogie Nights, which gave her instant notoriety, and if anyone was old enough they might have remembered her as the hot girl in a Corey Feldman/Corey Haim movie. She’d also been in Swingers, Two Girls and a Guy, Twin Peaks, I wouldn’t say that made her box office gold, more just the new “It’ girl. Lost in Space was supposed to be her first really big thing, but instead it bombed and her next big thing turned out to be playing Felicity Shagwell.

      1. Turn off the tv and read a book. That is sacrelige. You must be feeling unwell lol. Some beechams and early noght me thinks. Heather Graham also did Drugstore Cowboy and Austin Powers 2 yes. Im telling you she is a highlander. Look at the span of her work. So did you also like the brady bunch 2? I couldnt understand why it was straight to video. They tried to say it was because of the nunchucks scene which can be shown in the uk in cinema but I dont believe that.

      2. Brady Bunch 2, on the other hand, I will not exactly rush to defend. Tim Matheson is a lot of fun as the “Can you believe these idiots?” bad guy, and I get a bit of a kick out of them redoing the same Hawaii stunt plot from the show. But it’s a far shabbier sequel and it’s nowhere near as clever.

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