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Lost in Space: Lost before it gets off the ground

By Vladimir V. Zelevinsky
Staff Reporter

Directed by Stephen Hopkins

Written by Akiva Goldsman

Starring William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Lacey Chabert, Heather Graham, Gary Oldman, Jack Johnson, Matt LeBlanc

The year is 2058, the Earth's resources are depleted, and the planet's government sends out a group of intrepid explorers (who just happen to all belong to one family) on the interstellar spaceship Jupiter 2 to the only habitable star system outside Earth to build a second doorway to a controlled wormhole or something (the first one is being assembled in this solar system), so humanity can colonize the universe. The brave Space Family Robinson blasts out into space and gets lost.

Severely lost. I'm not talking weird new worlds, remote star systems, decrepit spaceship wrecks, or even bubbles of space-time irregularity (although all of the above are in plentiful supply). The Robinsons get lost in the reused, reduced, and recycled stolen and borrowed plots of old science fiction movies, novels, and TV shows (Lost In Space is, of course, based on the 1960s TV show of the same name, but it mines a much bigger load of cliches).

Let me see what I can list off the top of my head (and I have to hurry, since the plot is rapidly draining from my memory). To begin with there's a attack on the space station (Star Wars); then there's an encounter with a malevolent robot (The Day The Earth Stood Still); then we get oodles of technobabble which goes on and on and on, remaining totally meaningless (Star Trek); after encountering a mysterious abandoned ship, the crew explores it and - surprise! - encounter some goo-dripping thing lurking there (Alien); then it's time to explore a mysterious forest on a forbidding planet (The Empire Strikes Back); and, finally, the crew has to deal with nothing less than a full-fledged space-time paradox (Back to the Future).

Not only is the script derivative to the highest extent (this extent being 100 percent), it also makes an impression that nobody bothered to go through it more than once. This sorry excuse for a story rumbles along with plot holes in its wake, without a single concern for any kind of thematic coherence, character development, plot arc, or internal logic. The ships, which we are told are out of fuel, can suddenly make hyperspace jumps. Humans can walk through the ruptures in the time continuum as easy as through cling wrap. The evil Global Sedition Group (consisting of mutants, of course) is introduced in the first five minutes and totally forgotten after half an hour, and the group is evil, because (gasp!) they intend to go out into space and colonize it, which is exactly the same thing the main characters are bent on doing.

Let's not think about the plot, which I'm sure the filmmakers hoped we would ignore anyway. Let's extend this courtesy to them, and think about something else - the characters, for example. But, on the other hand, let's not think about those either, because there are no characters in this movie - at all. Knowing one thing about a person on screen doesn't make him/her into a character, and the viewers are strongly denied anything more than that.

Professor Robinson (William Hurt, an Oscar winner, believe it or not) ignores his son and has a beard. His wife (Mimi Rogers) is, uh, female; I didn't catch any more character details. His elder daughter Judy (Heather Graham, so good in Boogie Nights and so utterly wasted here) is either a physicist or a physician (they call her "doctor"). Younger daughter Penny (Lacey Chabert) keeps a diary, where she records statements like, and I quote verbatim, "Wow!" Will Robinson (Jack Johnson), the youngest kid, is ignored by his dad (well, I guess, they thought this fact is sufficient to flesh out two characters).

The other people on board include Major Don West (Matt LeBlanc, who actually manages to do some acting), flirting with Judy; evil Dr. Smith (Gary Oldman, in his third nut case villain role in a row), going about mumbling and calling himself evil; and, finally, there's also the Robot, who is supposed to be highly intelligent but is clearly a few microchips short of an abacus. Oh, I forgot, there's also a computer-generated monkey, which can change colors, looks utterly fake, obviously cost a lot to render, and has utterly no reason to be in this movie, since it has absolutely nothing to do. On the other hand, the same applies to all female cast as well, so I shouldn't feel so sorry for a computer-generated monkey.

Let's not think about the characters. Let's think about dialogue - or maybe not. While there are a couple of nice lines, most of it is either meaningless technobabble (even Classic Star Trek was more realistic), or groaners like "Robot, let me tell you about friendship."

What about special effects? After all, this is a big budget Hollywood production, and, as such, it should have killer special effects. Well, yes and no - the effects, admittedly, look extra-cool (although some of them also look extra-fake). The level of detail and sophistication on display here is quite staggering - and proves to be way too much. There's so much going on in nearly every effect filled shot that it's impossible to understand what's really happening, which is distracting at first and actively annoying later. The fact that this motion picture is edited into oblivion (most of the shots are around three seconds long, and no longer) also doesn't help.

At least Lost In Space is lively and never actually boring; I was highly entertained by this mess. Of course, I should have expected something like this from a movie which has 12 producers and is written by the screenwriter of Batman and Robin.