Recently, I watched Netflix’s revisionist version of Lost In Space. As someone who had seen the original CBS series on Wednesday nights in the 1960s, I did not expect to be entertained or impressed.
The original series had elements of the classic novels of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe in 1719 and Johann David Wyss’ The Swiss Family Robinson of 1812. Instead of isolated islands in the Pacific, space provided the location as alien and mysterious as any unknown tropical paradise on this planet traversing the cosmos.
Of course, the campy humor of the 1960s was a trademark of the series, especially Doctor Zachary Smith, a colonel in the United States Space Corps with a specialty in environmental psychology. He was assigned to assess the Robinson Family and Major Don West for their long voyage to Alpha Centauri.
In the beginning he was working for a foreign government to sabotage the Jupiter 2. Unfortunately, for him as well as the family, he was trapped on the Jupiter 2 on lift-off, but his villainous personage changed from diabolical to the absurd Doctor Smith whom my generation came to love as children.
Coming back to 2018, except for the names, space and the jazzed original score by the great John Williams, who was known as Johnny back in the 1960s, the 2018 series has little else in common. On the surface this may be an element of disappointment to us who watched the original series as children.
However, if one takes this new series and judges it on its own merits, then it becomes a new creation with some familiar elements. Unfortunately, humor is not one of these elements.
The series is very serious in tone and storyline. It depicts what we have come to expect from science fiction in the 21st Century.
Space travel is dangerous. People die in space. Aliens are dangerous, especially when humans mess with them.
As a spoiler, the current fascination with aliens and their technology takes on a new twist in this series. The robot is not made by human hands like the original, but is a powerful, lethal machine created by an alien race.
The transformation of the robot from bad to good and back to bad is based on human interaction respectively by the young Will Robinson and the psychotic female “Doctor Smith”. In the first episode “Doctor Smith” is revealed to be a troubled impostor who wanted a new life away from Earth. She stole her brilliant physicist sister’s identity and in turn stole the real Doctor Smith’s identity when the massive baseship Resolute was attacked.
Like most character development within a series, she becomes a complicated individual who has moments of compassion and treachery. Bits and pieces of her background story are infused throughout the ten episodes.
I found the children to be very likable—Judy, the adopted daughter who is a “medical doctor” instead of eye candy like the original Judy; Penny, the second child who has self-esteem issues but manages to come into her own; and Will, the 11 year-old who is brilliant but very lonely until he becomes friends with the alien Robot which brings out his self-confidence and gives him his first true friend. A great amount of time is given to them as they face the obstacles and dangers which confront them.
The parents are a far cry from the happy couple in the original series. Their estranged relationship is an integral part of who they are— the father who was a US Marine and gone on long missions and the mother who is a Space Engineer and a fierce guardian of her three children. Their storyline evolves over the ten episodes.
What can one say about the new Don West? He is no longer the clean-cut American Boy Scout, but an entrepreneur or, in other words, a rogue who resembles Hans Solo in his motives. Judy has a definite influence on him over the course of the ten episodes.
The Jupiter 2 is a techno-marvel. The special effects are top-notch.
I do hope Netflix will add a second season with more than ten episodes in 2019. It is an expensive series to produce.
In the final analysis, if one accepts this series on its own merits, it is a delight and adds to the science fiction offerings of our time. For Star Trek fans the introduction has the Enterprise, the first Space Shuttle, in the images of humans reaching for the stars.
G. D. Williams © 2018
All images are Netflix.