Lost in Space

on April 03, 1998 by Wade Major
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   Ostensibly the dumbest and least imaginative adaptation of a television series yet translated to the screen, "Lost in Space" is less a movie than a veritable cornucopia of merchandising paraphernalia, a grab bag of conceptual goodies that amounts to what could be the longest and most expensive toy commercial in history.
   Like all of Irwin Allen's 1960s television series, the original "Lost in Space" was dorky, dopey, cheesy, campy, hopelessly corny and occasionally inventive. Its 1998 feature film counterpart strives to darken the concoction with a backstory of a futuristic earth deteriorating amid political unrest and environmental decay. Mankind's hope, it seems, lies in being able to colonize the nearest habitable world, Alpha Prime. To test the waters for such colonization dreams, the project's chief engineer, John Robinson (William Hurt), has volunteered himself as captain of the shiny new Jupiter 2 spacecraft, along with his equally brilliant family, almost all of whom seem to be either world-class scientists or child prodigies. In addition to wife Maureen (Mimi Rogers), there's eldest daughter Judy (Heather Graham), impetuous teenage daughter Penny (Lacey Chabert of TV's "Party of Five"), precocious boy genius Will (Jack Johnson), pilot Don West (Matt LeBlanc) and the trusty "Robot."
   Unbeknownst to West and the Robinsons, however, the Jupiter 2 has a saboteur on board, a stowaway in the person of Dr. Zachary Smith. But by the time Smith's presence is discovered, it's already too late and the Robinsons find themselves hurled into an unknown quadrant of the galaxy.
   So far so good. This is, after all, roughly the same basic setup that sustained the series through some of the most inane writing in television history. However laughable the premise, it nevertheless presented almost limitless possibilities for creative encounters week after week. If only the feature film Robinsons had been so fortunate.
   With the exception of a brief run-in with some icky space spiders, the new "Lost in Space" offers nothing more exotic than a run-of-the-mill time travel yarn, a cliche of a cliche that should alienate moviegoers of all ages with its hackneyed morality tale of neglectful fatherhood. Even with production values that are praiseworthy, if not impressive, the film suffers from characterizations so colorless and derivative that audiences may find themselves yearning for the goofiness of the series if for no other reason than to ward off the onset of boredom. Only Gary Oldman emerges unscathed, bringing Smith to life with a campy zest well worthy of Jonathan Harris' popular television characterization.
   Die-hard television fans should keep an eye out for cameos from several original cast members. Starring Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jack Johnson and Jared Harris. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Written by Akiva Goldsman. Produced by Mark W. Koch, Stephen Hopkins, Akiva Goldsman and Carla Fry. A New Line release. Science Fiction. Rated PG-13 for some intense sci-fi action. Running time: 127 min
Tags: tarring Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jack Johnson and Jared Harris. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Written by Akiva Goldsman. Produced by Mark W. Koch, Stephen Hopkins, Akiva Goldsman, Carla Fry, New Line, Science Fiction
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