No spoilers here.
If you haven't watched Netflix's "Lost in Space," then immediately go and do so the moment you've finished reading this article. If you're at work, just tell your boss you forgot about a very important off-site meeting, then go home and start watching right now.
It was, along with "The Expanse," without a doubt one of the best science fiction series that aired on television in 2018. And now, the first season is available to own on Blu-ray and DVD.
"Lost in Space" is a reimagining of the 1965 pioneering sci-fi series of the same name that premiered on black-and-white TV screens across America. That show came from the imagination of Irwin Allen and ran for three years.
The original "Lost in Space" was set in the year 1997, when Earth is suffering from massive overpopulation. Professor John Robinson; his wife, Maureen; their children (Judy, Penny and Will); and Maj. Don West are selected to travel to the third planet in the Alpha Centauri star system on a ship named the Jupiter 2 to establish a colony so that other humans can settle there. However, Dr. Zachary Smith, an agent for a foreign government, is sent to sabotage the mission. He successfully reprograms the ship's robot, but in the process, becomes trapped on the ship. Because of that excess weight, the ship becomes impossible to control and is hopelessly lost. Landing on an unknown planet, everyone onboard struggles to survive as they try to find a way back home.
The first few episodes of Allen's show had a relatively serious tone, but that quickly changed as Jonathan Harris's overacting as Smith gave the program a campy, cartoonish feel. With that tone shift, the show could compete with the popular series "Batman," which was winning by a significant margin in the battle for ratings.
Next came the inevitable attempt at a movie reboot in 1998, directed by Stephen Hopkins. That movie starred William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jack Johnson and Matt LeBlanc, with Gary Oldman as Smith. It's generally considered to be a disaster — and we'd agree with that assessment — with a terrible time-travel story incorporated into an already awful plot.
Another attempt was made to bring the concept up to date in 2004, but that never progressed further than a pilot. However, there are some similarities between ideas the 2004 pilot explored and the latest reboot.
Thankfully, science fiction is now back in fashion. For the first time since streaming television went into broad use, sci-fi is the genre of choice, and about time too. Sleeping are the vampires, zombie overkill has predictably bored audiences the world over, and studios everywhere are scrambling to find those sci-fi scripts they shelved a few years ago. Long may it last.
And so Netflix, together with Legendary Television, had a go at "Lost in Space" — and the result is exceptional.
The basic premise offers all sorts of interesting opportunities to interpret through a new lens. And the quite extensive writing team, which includes Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless ("The Last Witch Hunter"), has done just that. Zack Estrin ("Prison Break") serves as showrunner. For example, the all-important role of Smith has been gender-flipped, like Starbuck in "Battlestar Galactica," and is played by the awesome Parker Posey ("Superman Returns"); an alien AI replaces the equally iconic role of Robot, and welcome ethnic diversity comes to the previously all-white Robinson household.
The cast includes Mina Sundwall ("Maggie's Plan"), Molly Parker ("Deadwood"), Max Jenkins ("Sense8"), Taylor Russell ("Falling Skies") and an almost unrecognizable Toby Stephens. Many will remember him for deliciously hamming up the role of Bond villain Gustav Graves in "Die Another Day." But that's ancient history, and he's on form in the new show, delivering a solid performance — as does absolutely everyone — and, more importantly, one of the best and most natural-sounding American accents by a British actor.
Like the little-known 2004 pilot, in this variation, several Jupiter ships carrying different families are being transported by a mothership, called the Resolute, It suffers severe damage, and the separate ships disperse. The Jupiter 2 ends up getting lost in space … along with Jupiter 3, Jupiter 4 … Jupiter 34 and so on.
The last time we were this excited by a Netflix sci-fi series, it was "Altered Carbon," but after watching that from start to finish with little more than a bathroom break … we were left feeling disappointed. Yes, the production design looked incredible — it's arguably the best-looking sci-fi show since "Battlestar Galactica" — but when the most interesting character in a show is a sentient hotel, it sends a warning signal that the substance might not be up to the style.
There's none of that mismatch here. Not only does "Lost in Space" look gorgeous, but it's also well written and captivating. It will leave you scrambling for the remote to start the next episode as soon as is humanly possible.
Through flashback, we see how events unfolded on the Resolute, forcing the smaller, Jupiter-class landing craft to perform a hasty evacuation. But there's no danger of revealing too much too soon, as each flashback provides just enough information to heighten the drama unfolding in real time. Plus, events from the first episode have consequences throughout the series.
"Lost in Space" is not as dark as some of its contemporaries, but it is intelligent and engaging sci-fi drama. Technobabble, exposition and implausible plots are rare if not absent altogether. There's absolutely no need to set the dilithium incubator to reverse the polarity, releasing an inverse tachyon pulse and re-energizing the harmonic, positronic, bionic, supersonic illudium Q-36 explosive space modulator in this show. It's grounded action-adventure, and it will appeal to a younger audience just as much as an adult one.
The drama focuses on different, overlapping relationships involving every member of the Robinson family, including the relationship-rebuilding between Maureen and John, the passing of life lessons from father to son, and of course the amazing relationship between Will and the Robot. By the second episode, you'll find yourself already caring for these characters, which is more than can be said about other sci-fi currently on TV.
"What I liked about it was the family itself seemed much more nuanced to me than a lot of TV families, where they're these kind of perfect families. It was something that was dysfunctional," Stephens, who plays John Robinson, told Space.com.
"But what was really important to me [was] that it was people striving to be better people, and I like that kind of aspirational show," he added. "It's not some kind of cookie-cut, perfect family, but what it is at the end is not some depressing downer of a story about a family falling to pieces or how awful things can be. It's about people aspiring to do the right thing and be good parents and responsible people."
Bonus features on the Blu-ray and DVD include:
- Deleted scenes — 4 minutes of previously unseen, edited snippets that offer an extra layer of understanding to some scenes.
- "No Place to Hide" — colorized unaired pilot episode from the original 1965 series, a Blu-ray exclusive.
- "Bill and Max: Lost and Found in Space" — Jenkins and Bill Mumy (who played Will Robinson in the 1965 series) talk about the old series and the new, the similarities and the differences.
- "Bill Mumy visits the Jupiter 2" — Mumy gives us a guided tour of the impressive "Lost in Space" set at Bridge Studios in Burnaby, British Columbia.
- "Designing the Robot" — a look at the crucial role of the Robot in the show and how its look and feel came to be.
- Sizzle reel — includes interviews with the cast and crew and a look at the concept of the show.
Season 1 is available on Blu-ray and DVD on Amazon and also is currently streaming on Netflix.
Look out for much more "Lost in Space" coverage on Space.com, including a Season 2 preview, interviews with all the cast and the showrunner and a set visit to the studios near Vancouver.
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