Friday, July 26, 2013

Film Friday: Lost in Space (1998)

Arg. This film frustrates me on so many levels. So much potential. So much wasted potential. Yet, despite the overall lousiness of this film, it’s still disturbingly better than 90% of what Hollywood is making today. That’s really frustrating.
The Plot
Lost in Space is the big screen adaptation of the 1960s television show of the same name. The film involves the Robinson family who are shot into space aboard the Jupiter II spacecraft with the goal of reaching a nearby planet and creating a hypergate which will allow people to travel back and forth. The reason they want to do this is because the Earth’s resources are exhausted blah blah blah. Anyway, some mutant terrorists (“Global Sedition”) pay scientist Dr. Zachary Smith to sabotage the Jupiter II. But Smith ends up stuck on board when it happens. And when the robot he programmed to destroy the ship lets loose, the whole ship ends up shot off randomly into deep space. Now the Robinsons are lost and they have no idea where they are or how to get home.
Arg Will Robinson, Arg
This film is so wrong on so many levels. Consider the acting. The film stars William Hurt as Prof. John Robinson and Gary Oldman as Dr. Smith. That’s good. There is real talent there. But then they cast fricken Joey from Friends as Major Don West. Joey? Give me a break. Who thought putting Joey into a film was a good idea? The guy should be waiting tables.

Opposite Joey is Heather Graham, who plays the older daughter Judy. She’s pretty pointless, as are the other women, and she has zero chemistry with narcissist Joey. Unfortunately, their “relationship” forms a big chunk of the dialog. Even worse, the youngest son Will is played by Generic Child Actor-bot, and rather than focus on Hurt or Oldman, he becomes the central focus of the film. What a waste.
The writing is awful too. It’s full of first-grade dialog and stolen clichés: “Your father’s battle strategies were required reading at the Academy.” Ahhh! I swear I am going to punch the next person who puts that line into a film. Seriously. Stop. And the dialog in the “touching” father-son scenes, the point to the story, is as bad as anything Lucas scribbled together in his prequel romance scenes... “Sand. . . it gets in stuff. I hate my coworkers. You smell perdy.” //rolls eyes

In fact, this whole focus on the father-son relationship is a plot killer. Rather than being a story about the Robinsons encountering some new and fantastic worlds or alien terrors, the story devolves into a time-window story where older Will Robinson must come to realize that his father does love him. And to make this happen, work-obsessed William Hurt must realize that he actually needs to speak to his son once in a while. Arg. The whole thing feels so trite, so cliché and so unreal and it drags the ending down. Well, not the “ending” ending, as that’s about Joey flying them through a planet... duh, me no understand physics... but it does wipe out the thirty minutes before the ending.

Arg.... arg.

When this film came out, I hated it. It felt like such a wasted opportunity. It was poorly written with a weak plot and it felt stupid. It compared so poorly to then-recent films like Dark City, Star Trek VI and First Contact, Fifth Element, Event Horizon and others, with The Matrix coming out a few months later. But you know what? As bad as this sucker seemed at the time, it’s actually better than most of the science fiction put out since.
It’s got some good actors. The effects are very good; I would say they rival anything you see today in the age of CGI. The spaceships look good. The aliens look good. There are some cool technological advances, which always make these stories feel complete. The robot is impressive. The sets are believable. The costumes are good too. And parts of the plot are quite fun.

For example, the setup is a good one and moves well. It’s enjoyable. After they get lost in space, they come to an alien spaceship, and that’s enjoyable too. Indeed, that whole scene is very satisfying, even if it is stolen from several prior films. The way they approach the ship, stolen from The Black Hole, has a great feel to it and comes across as realistic science fiction. The discovery of a ghost ship is always exciting. The mixing of time zones, with a message from the future is a good one too. It adds solid depth to the story. Then the scene with them fleeing the spiders and the use of the robot to fend off the spiders is excellent... if also rather cliché, but it’s done well.

The rest of the plot is weak, but it doesn’t offend you or anything, and it has a science fiction flavor combined with enough action to keep your interest; basically, 50% of the film is a fairly decent science fiction film and the rest is just a lifeless-but-watchable father-son drama set against a science fiction backdrop. Sadly, that makes this film more enjoyable than so much science fiction that came after: Mission to Mars, Planet/Rise of the Apes, the Star Wars prequels, Terminator 3/Salvation, the Matrix sequels, I Am Legend, etc. Oh, the pain... the pain.

39 comments:

shawn said...

I enjoyed it at the time, although the CGI monkey-thing looked like crap both then and now. Recently re-watched it and thought it was passable entertainment. Pretty sure LeBlanc was cast as "Friends" was hot at the time and they wanted to pull in the younger crowd.

Overall, another fair review. Good job Andrew.

AndrewPrice said...

Thanks Shawn! I think "passable entertainment" really sums this film up perfectly. And I think it's odd that so many films today can't seem to hit that mark.

I agree about the monkey. The monkey looked like crap. But I really liked everything else they did in the way of effects. This film had much more potential than it realized.

shawn said...

I agree. For the most part the effects were excellent and it had good action pieces in the film. The Black Hole homage is nicely done, but I wish that particular sequence had a little more of horror to it.

ScottDS said...

Shawn beat me to it. The CGI creature (Blart? Blawp?) never looked good but the model work still holds up for the most part.

Of course, this movie is famous for exactly one reason: it knocked Titanic out of the #1 spot on the box-office after 2+ months.

Other than that, I can't recall a thing, except that Lacey Chabert (who plays the younger daughter) grew up nicely. :-)

tryanmax said...

I end up watching the Lost in Space series a lot b/c it's wedged in between Batman and Star Trek on MeTV. I saw the pilot recently, and it turns out that the film backstory (because the Earth’s resources are exhausted blah blah blah) is straight lifted from the TV show. So at least it was just lingering 60s paranoia and not newfangled 90s paranoia behind that move.

Continuing with things from the film that are on par with the TV show, I'd say the the CGI monkey is roughly equivalent his predecesor in terms of effects execution.

As far as the plot goes, I think if they would have adapted the episode "The Time Merchant" (you'll have to scroll) it would have been much more satisfying, would have focused more on Dr. Smith and would have the added bonus of retaining the time travel aspect.

5minutes said...

I think the best description I can use for this flick was "middling". I didn't hate it the way many people did. I never had a lot of love for the original TV series, so I was able to take the movie for what it was on its own. With the exception of the monkey-thing, the FX were good and the (over)acting by Oldman is just delicious. William Hurt was at his monotone yet strangely enjoyable best. I also thought Lacey Chabert did a pretty good job with what was a pretty limited role.

On the other hand, Mimi Rogers and Heather Graham were, admittedly, background characters, and Matt Le Blanc was a seat filler. I also didn't like the whole "Dr. Smith is a terrorist" thing. Smith would've served the role better as a selfish man rather than a driven, evil character (although he would've lost that wonderful line "give my regards to oblivion"). It's almost like Akiva "Most Overrated Writer In Hollywood" Goldsman just really didn't know what to do with the character and chose him as a one-note bad guy (who turns into a rather pointless and ridiculous spider) rather than allowing him to develop as a more interesting character, allowing the bad guys to flourish from outside of the central cast.

And then there's Will Robinson. OK, let's be honest: there aren't a whole lot of good 10-year-old actors out there and, honestly, this kid did fine with what he had.

I think the biggest problem I have with the movie, tho, is the pacing. It's too long at 130 minutes for what you get. It needed to be trimmed by 15 minutes or so, and had that happened, it would've been, IMO, a much better flick.

One last note to AndrewPrice... I really, really liked Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and found it to be a really good reboot of/addition to the series. But otherwise, you're right... with the exception of Star Trek and a few other flicks, sci-fi has sucked since 1999 or so.

Anonymous said...

Look at the bright side and be positive.Through this whole movie,underneath her clothes,Mimi Rogers was nekkid. ;)
It makes me happy.
GypsyTyger

PikeBishop said...

Would I be totally out of line if I pointed out that I secretly wished for an R Rated version, featuring the (then in her prime) Mimi Rodgers say enjoying a decontamination shower or slipping out of her spacesuit? :-)

PikeBishop said...

Gypsy: I can't believe we were one minute apart on a Mimi Rodgers post. Well done Sir, Well Done!

Anonymous said...

Great minds and real men think alike Pike.
Well done indeed.Back atcha.
GypsyTyger

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I agree. I wish they had stretched that scene out a bit and given it "more." Maybe tell the story of what happened to the prior crew. Make the spiders a little more menacing. That would have been excellent.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That she did. But not by this point. You mean you don't remember Joey?

Believe it or not, but I watched the commentary on this once and the director actually says that Leblanc "is one of the best actors of this generation." Wow. Delusional.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, In truth, I never got much of a sense that they actually took much from the series except the characters and the backstory. Beyond that, it seems like they just made a pretty generic science fiction film.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: LeBlanc. IIRC his only "movie" role from that time during his stint on Friends was starring in a film with a chimpanzee. Yeah, DeNiro redid "Bedtime for Bonzo" during the hiatus between Mean Streets and Godfather 2.

AndrewPrice said...

5Minutes, Middling is a good way to put it. It's just kind of there. It's entertaining enough, with some re-watchability, but will never come up in a discussion of "good science fiction."

In terms of the actors, I think they all did a good job except for Joey... he was wooden and truly unlikeable. I have no complaints with the kid, except that he shouldn't have been the big focus of the film.

I agree about Smith. The role is awkward and it squanders a lot of Oldman's typically interesting acting. It would have been nice if he had just been arrogant and perhaps incompetent rather than evil.

I agree about the pacing. The film is too slow in parts. Or said differently, it lacks substance for it's length.

AndrewPrice said...

GypsyTyger, LOL! True. :D

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I don't think that would be out of line at all. LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, Yeah, eerily same career path as De Niro. LOL!

It's funny because, on the one hand, I am amazed the LeBlanc didn't have a bigger career. On the other hand, I've seen him act... there's no surprise.

PikeBishop said...

To all those Mimi Rogers fans out there, recently I caught the 2004 film "Door in the Floor" in which Mimi appears fully au naturel.

She was 48 at the time and I give her a lot of credit for disrobing, but sad to say those gorgeous melons of "Full Body Massage" were staring to show the effects of gravity and age. Still a solid B, if not a B plus.

Also, it was nice to say she had a "traditional" look (ahem) "down there (ahem)

PikeBishop said...

Oh and BTW Andrew, you know what movie Mimi Rogers is in??????? "The Rapture!" HINT!

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I haven't been able to find it. I don't have a streaming service at the moment and Redbox doesn't have it. It is on my list. I will see it.

PikeBishop said...

I had a VHS copy of it but loaned it out and never got it back. We caught it on one of the lower tier Showtime channels a few months ago (Sundance, Flix, IFC) Keep your eyes peeled there too.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, You want to talk about coincidence... it's on IFC tonight at 11:30 here. I've got it set up to tape. :)

PikeBishop said...

Wow, don't you mean DVR? Tape? :-)

PikeBishop said...

Enjoy!

Backthrow said...

I haven't seen the LOST IN SPACE movie since it debuted on the movie channels about a year after its theatrical release. I remember it being kind of blah, okay cinematically (all the set design and effects that money could buy, except for that crummy monkey-thing), but middling-to-poor in story and characterization, very generic, a bland cast with Gary Oldman being the only bright spot. Lacey Chabert annoyed me greatly, though I liked her when she grew up a little and co-starred in MEAN GIRLS. I can't say for sure, since it's been so long, but my impression is that LOST IN SPACE is about on par with the shiny-but-lackluster 'tentpole' sci-fi films we're getting now, though maybe not as overblown as they've become.

To my mind, big-screen sci-fi has fared as poorly as big-screen comedy in the last 14 years. Like 55mins, I have to disagree with Andrew and say that I quite liked (to my surprise) RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The other sci-fi films that fully impressed me (that weren't superhero flicks, cartoons or monster movies) from 2000-present would be FREQUENCY, PITCH BLACK and INCEPTION.

There are a few others I mildly like, but are either deeply flawed (JOHN CARTER, SKY CAPTAIN AND THE WORLD OF TOMORROW) or are junk that I like anyway (NEXT, THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE).

J.J. Abrams' STAR TREK (2009) just made me shrug, and I'm at the point where I think I'll just skip STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS entirely, even when it's offered as streaming video. I never bothered with AVATAR... at this stage, does that make me unique? LOL

ScottDS said...

I obviously missed an important conversation here. :-)


Andrew -

I remember seeing the movie in the theater with my younger brother... I remember the cast (including Joey) and the effects, but before reading your review, I never would've been able to tell you what it was about.

And didn't you know Matt LeBlanc was like the Olivier of Friends? :-)

Director Stephen Hopkins also directed your guilty pleasure Predator 2 and later worked a lot on 24. He also directed the flawed but still watchable The Ghost and the Darkness.

T-Rav said...

Yeah, the movie's not great. But then, I didn't think the '60s TV show (what I've seen of it) was all that great either. So I don't know. All I know is, it's pretty sad when Gary Oldman can't save a movie.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I shall. :)

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, There have been some good science fiction films in the last 10-15 years, but I think the middling films are much worse and the good films aren't all that great at the moment.

For lack of a better word, the "tent pole" films in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s were all rather watchable, and sometimes they were very good -- Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, etc. Then you always had a few independent gems along with them. And just beneath them was this mass of very watchable science fiction also-rans... things like Screamers and Existenz. It was really only the "B-movies" (things like exploitation films or direct to video) that stunk.

These days, the tent pole films are largely bland and forgettable. There are no real gems. There are few independent science fiction films of any quality. And what you get is mainly films that feel like old B-movies only with better production values. Even the couple hits that have happened haven't spawned much. Inception is an undeniable hit, but it's kind of faded from the scene and it did so without even creating a wave of copycats.

I think the genre is hurting right now. There are few hits and little in the way of consistent quality. What there is are basically CGI and weak stories.

This really is the time to come out swinging with something new and bold because there's just no competition.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, The Olivier of Friends! LOL! Nice.

I do enjoy Predator 2 much more than it deserves. I wish I enjoyed The Ghost and the Darkness. I've tried several times. It's a story I want to like. I love the time period. I love the idea. But the film just leaves me cold though.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That sums this one up pretty well. :)

djskit said...

This movie? "oh, the pain!"

Jason said...

Ah, Lost in Space! How I remember this one. This flick goes in my file of movies that I have a soft spot for, ones that are obviously flawed but I enjoy nonetheless and would easily catch again.

What I liked: the bubble fighter scene at the beginning, the neat oval designs on the ship - and just about everything Earth-made, the look of the alien planet, the crash of Jupiter II, the exploration of the derelict ship, the look of the new robot, how they brought in the “old robot” from the show, the flying through the planet scene, Lacey Chabert, Mimi Rogers, Gary Oldman, and yep, I’m adding in Matt LeBlanc. For the role of a cocky space pilot put in a hi-tech babysitting job, I thought he pulled it off okay. (A few of his line readings, especially with Prof. Robinson, are awkward, though)

What I didn’t like: William Hurt’s Prof. Robinson. Seriously, knock on wood. Heather Graham isn’t much better. The Don/Judy banter got pretty old and except for the finger scribbling on the window scene, I didn’t really care for their scenes. And as I’ve said before, people who complain about Jake Lloyd should seriously watch Jack Johnson and tell me that performance wasn’t light years worse. The older Will Robinson arc might have had more resonance if Billy Mumy had come to fill the role (apparently he was asked, but he declined), but it’s pretty flat.

Overall, I think if the movie had been more fun and hadn’t tried to be a therapy session on Will and Prof. Robinson’s relationship, more people would have liked it.

P.S. “Spiders!”

AndrewPrice said...

djskit, Yeah. There is that. :P

AndrewPrice said...

Jason, I thought the ship designs were excellent.

I felt no connection at all between Hurt and Will at either age. I didn't really feel a connection between old Will and young Will either. I don't know if that was the actors or the writing or both, but it just didn't work for me. I think they would have been much better off with a different main theme.

Spiders? Is that an MST3k reference? "So I said, 'Spiders!?'"

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Speaking of bland, what do you think of this?

I don't quite buy that one book is responsible for all this, but it's an interesting theory.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Interesting read. Hmm. Some thoughts...

1. The author is wrong about "young males." That's PC BS that ignores the fact that so many "action heroes" today are women, and the fact that the majority of audiences for films are actually teenage girls.

2. As for the formula/beats, he's right. you can set you watch by most modern films if you know what to look for. And the beats exist because they are about emotional manipulation-- highs and lows at the right time.

3. Did the book cause this? Not cause, but I would suggest it refined it. This has been going on since the invention of film and probably before. The only time this wasn't true was after the studio system fell up until corporations bought up the film companies.

4. This is what happens in a corporate environment. Creativity is frowned upon because creativity = risk. What corporations want is safe return. Since this formula works, they will use it. In fact, it becomes part of the culture: corporations create inertia because, at each step, everyone knows they are safer if they do what is expected.

So yes, the guy is right this book is evil, but even without this book, there would be another formula.

Outlaw13 said...

I think it was notable at the time because it was one of the few films that Heather Graham kept her clothes on for.

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