Thursday 18 October 2018

Netflix's Lost in Space reboot boasts great cast and spectacular action but it needs to lose its baggage

3 stars

Netlfix's re-imagining of the 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space
Netlfix's re-imagining of the 1960s sci-fi series Lost in Space

Pat Stacey

THE tagline of the new Lost in Space could be “In space no one can hear you scream: ‘HURRY UP AND GET ON WITH IT!’.”

There are many good things about Netflix’s expensive remake of the 1960s cult favourite, including an excellent cast, headed by Molly Parker and Toby Stephens, splendid CGI effects, and plenty of spectacular action and last-minute, skin-of-the-teeth escapes, all done on a grand, widescreen scale.

But crisp storytelling is not one of its virtues. This is another case of the notorious “Neflix bloat” – a series needlessly stretched to 10 episodes when seven or eight would have done the job far more effectively.

Of the six I watched over the weekend, most were overlong and a couple dragged really badly, weighed down with more expository flashbacks than is necessary.

Lost in Space
Lost in Space

The original Lost in Space launched in 1965, a year before Star Trek, and started out as a straight-faced science fiction adventure. But by the end of the first of its three seasons it had morphed into a campy, cheesy, deliberately silly romp (a planet ruled by giant talking vegetables, anyone?) dominated by Jonathan Harris’s hilarious comic turn as the cowardly Dr Zachary Smith.

There was no chance the new version would ever go down that route. Mercifully, it’s also steered clear of the dourness that sank the unloved 1998 film version (and took Matt LeBlanc’s hopes of a long-term movie career down with it).

It keeps the original premise: in the year 2048 the Robinson family – parents Maureen (Parker) and John (Stephens), their daughters Judy (Taylor Russell) and Penny (Mina Sundwall), and precocious son Will (Maxwell Jenkins) – are selected to leave an Earth blighted by catastrophe and travel in the spaceship Jupiter 2 to a new life on Alpha Centauri, but get knocked off course and crash-land on a strange planet.

Beyond this, there’s been severe tweaking, not all of it for the best.

The Robinsons, who this time are just one of a few dozen families chosen for the mission, are having domestic problems. Back on Earth, Maureen, a scientist, and John, a soldier, were on the verge of divorce due to his long periods away from home – by choice, apparently. It’s also put a strain on John’s relationship with the kids, especially the sensitive Will, who’s been hurt by the absence of a father figure in his life.

In what feels more like a nod to Terminator 2 than the original series, Will finds a substitute in the shape of a robot, seemingly the creation of alien technology, that saves the family from death and disaster several times, and becomes Will’s fiercely loyal protector.

The original Lost in Space robot was a charmingly clunky, clanking creation; this one, however, looks more like something from the nightmarish imagination of HR Giger, who designed the creature in Alien.

We learn early on that the robot, which can transform into a multi-limbed, heavily-weaponised killing machine, apparently went on a murderous rampage aboard the mothership, which forced the families to evacuate. This revelation provides much of the tension and conflict.

Having a scarily ambiguous robot isn’t the only big change. Don West (Ignacio Serrichio), the flyboy pilot of the Robinsons’ spaceship in the original, is now a fly-by-night mercenary/smuggler.

But what’s become of Dr Smith? Actually, he’s become a woman, played by Parker Posey. Or more accurately, she plays a criminal called June Harris who’s posing as the real Dr Smith (a cameo by Bill Mumy, the original Will Robinson), having stolen his electronic ID.

Making the character a woman is not a problem. Making her a possibly murderous sociopath, however, is a mistake. Every time she appears on screen, it deadens the show’s tone and the pace flags terribly.

The makers probably thought you can’t have Lost in Space without Dr Smith. You can if the character is just excess baggage taking up space.

Read more: From Handmaid’s Tale to Lost in Space – 10 TV shows to binge on this month

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