a critiQal film review Lost in Space (1998)

Plot: Prof. John Robinson (Hurt) and his family are on a journey to Alpha Prime in the hopes of establishing a colony, thereby saving humanity from extinction. Their plans are foiled by the evil Dr. Smith (Oldman), leaving them unable to find their way home.

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With NetFlix® rebooting the classic 60’s TV show, it seemed like a good time for us to go back and re-visit the 1998 big screen adaptation, appropriately titled Lost in Space. With big name actors like William Hurt and Gary Oldman along for the ride, backed up by the likes of Heather Graham, it seemed like it was destined to be a hit – even with Matt LeBlanc (Joey from “Friends” (TV)) among the cast.

But, when a sequel never materialized, it seems like something had gone wrong with Lost in Space. Was this an overlooked gem, like it seemed to be on paper? Or was there a reason no one has heard of this film since?

While William Hurt leads the cast decently (if a bit uninspired in his acting), it’s Gary Oldman that is the bigger disappointment. After showing what he can do in villainous roles (see his excellent turn in The Professional (1994)), he seemed a natural choice to play the villain in Lost in Space. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to quite fit in, and the campy feel of the pic is at odds with his acting style. Oddly enough, he could make that work in The Fifth Element (1997) (where he seemed freer to unleash his wacky side), but not here.

Matt LeBlanc tries to break out of his mold in Lost in Space, playing a reckless fighter pilot, but he keeps returning to his Joey roots, and seems ill-cast. Since he was starring in things like Ed (opposite a chimp) at the time, his lack of skill isn’t exactly a surprise, but it’s still disappointing.

Heather Graham, Mimi Rogers and Lacey Chabert – the girls of the pic – get pretty short shrift in Lost in Space. While Heather Graham proves she can flirt with anyone (like anyone needed more evidence of this after her role in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)), she doesn’t get much more to do in this pic, while her co-stars Mimi Rogers and Lacey Chabert barely get a scene to themselves. Sadly, all three are relegated to not much more than background noise, which is another disappointment.

Jack Johnson, who basically went on to do squat, isn’t half-bad in Lost in Space. Sure, he’s annoying, and pretty one-dimensional, but he gets extra screen time thanks to a latter day version of himself – played by Jared Harris – that, while Jared is an ill fit, seems almost Shakespearean in comparison with the rest of the cast.

The plot does a good job of re-hashing the plot of the old TV show we’ve heard about. Unfortunately, for what it’s trying to accomplish, it the technology just doesn’t seem quite up to par. Hmmm…just like the TV show itself. Coincidence? Or intentional? The viewer isn’t quite sure, and that’s another detriment to Lost in Space.

The special effects look truly bad in today’s scheme of things. With films like Thor (2011) showcasing entirely new realms with stunning effect, viewers are expecting more from Lost in Space than that lightning effect from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (TV). And it just gets worse from there. The rest of the effects have a tendency to make the characters look like they are made of plastic (which they probably were), and really dissuades the viewer from really gaining interest in the film.

With some bad casting choices, some uninspired acting and cheesy special effects topped off by some bad dialogue, Lost in Space isn’t exactly a classic sci-fi film. Was director Stephen Hopkins such a fan of the original he was hoping to update it with the same bad effects? The viewer isn’t sure. With more pointers in that direction, this film could have become a classic in cheese. Sadly, there’s just enough effort from most of the actors to point viewers in the other direction, and they will reach the same conclusion most of the actors evidently did.

Lost in Space isn’t trying to be cheesy. It just is. And the actors are in it not for the enjoyment of recreating the original, but rather just to collect what must have been large paychecks. They must have been large indeed, or Gary Oldman and William Hurt, at the very least, wouldn’t have given this script a second glance.

Hopefully, the NetFlix® series reboot will turn out better than this.

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