Lost in Space
1998, PG-13, 122 min. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Starring Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt Leblanc, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jack Johnson, Jared Harris.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 10, 1998
Next time Dad suggests the family all pile into the space camper and head out for a 10-year jaunt to another galaxy, just look the old man in the eye and tell him to cool his jets: The family that flies together, dies together. Except maybe when your launch pad happens to be in Hollywood, since everyone who takes off from there gets to live happily ever after -- or at least live in a state of suspended resolution, bouncing directionlessly from planet to planet in an eventful yet fruitless search for a way back home. A metaphor for life? Nah, not really… just one more workmanlike recycling of an old Sixties television series, albeit with Nineties visual razzmatazz, dependable animatronics by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, and tip-of-the-hat cameos by some of the TV show's original stars (including Angela Cartwright, June Lockhart, and others). “There's a lot of space out there to get lost in,” warns Professor John Robinson (Hurt) early in the film, but his grave observation seems more a promise of sequels to come than sobering philosophical caveat. And now that Lost in Space has earned the envious distinction of being the first movie in 16 weeks to knock Titanic from its #1 box-office berth, this new franchise's future seems, well, unsinkable. The fact that both chart-toppers are sagas about ships that go disastrously off course may be less a portent of Hollywood trends to come than the fact that mega-budget effects spectacles are now sure to be interpreted as the safest means of appeasing consumer demand. Such a reading ignores the rudiments of good storytelling as a factor in film excellence. Lost in Space exhibits little in the way of narrative urgency; ironically, its undemanding storyline may just be part of its secret of success. As the spaceship with our Swiss Family Robinson family of galactic explorers, stowaway villain (Oldman), randy but steadfast pilot (LeBlanc), and Forbidden Planet-issue Robot careens through space, the question is not whether they will survive, but how. Episodically eventful but utterly unsuspenseful, the film is a diversion that requires little attention and satisfies the film-going needs of a wide variety of viewers. The film sets up character attributes and situations without ever developing the elements into a cohesive two-hour-long plot line. This leaves viewers free to latch on to whatever aspects or tangents that appeal to their individual fancies. For me, these included those form-fitting cryo fetish suits the characters wear during the first 40 minutes, seeing indie world plaything Heather Graham performing as a no-nonsense scientist, watching helium-voiced Party of Five gal Lacey Chabert lusting after Friend Matt LeBlanc, and conceding that the creepy space spider attackers had already been outdone this year by the more commanding insect antagonists of Starship Troopers. Hardly a space-age Swiss Family Robinson, Lost in Space plays more like Robinson's Crew… So?