In the next couple of years, Irwin Allen’s Hollywood influence faded
quickly. His ABC series, Land of the Giants was in a downward spiral by
1970 and his TV pilots, “Safari”, “Aladdin”, “How to Make a Man”, “City
Beneath the Sea”, and “Man from the 25th Century”, each intended to
launch a series, were all soundly rejected by the studios. He returned
to the large screen where he regained some recognition for the 1972 “The
Poseidon Adventure” and the 1974 “The Towering Inferno” disaster films.
In 1980, Bill Mumy decided to take matters into his own hands to resolve
the fate of the Robinsons. He authored a script in which the Robinsons
had been marooned for many years on a desolate planet. Taking a far more
serious tone than seen in the television series, the tale was partly a
story of survival in which Will had become a recluse and Smith was a
hardened old man. He pitched the idea to CBS who contacted the other
cast members. All expressed interest in doing the film. When the
executives contacted Irwin Allen he denounced the idea and said that
Lost in Space would not return until he had authored the script. Since
Allen retained the rights, there wasn’t anything he could do. Irwin
Allen refused to even read Mumy’s script.
The remake followed a well-coordinated multi-themed script in which
Professor Robinson (William Hurt) and his daughter Judy (Heather Graham)
are obsessed with establishing a hyperspace gateway at Alpha Centauri to
allow follow-on colony ships to leap to the destination and begin
immediate material shipments back to Earth that would save the planet
from an impending environmental disaster. Faced with a Cold War by the
ill-defined Sedition, the Robinson mission is plagued from the start by
problems stemming from spies and sneak attacks by enemy fighters. A hero
of the growing conflict with the Sedition is Major West (Matt LeBlanc)
who is Shanghaied into piloting the Jupiter 2 to her destination.
Duplicating the premise of the original series, the mission’s medical
doctor, Dr. Zachary Smith (Gary Oldman), sneaks aboard the spacecraft
with the intent on sabotaging the mission. He programs the ship’s robot
to become active during the flight, kill the family, and destroy the
navigational equipment aboard the spacecraft. Prior to his escape, he is
betrayed by the Sedition leader who sent him there and, incapacitated, the Jupiter 2 launches with Smith as an unwilling passenger.
Dr Smith's allegiances are detected early in the film by Major West.
Unlike the series, in the remake, Smith is regarded with significant
suspicion. When the Jupiter 2 encounters an anomaly in a strange
abandoned Earth ship that defies the Jupiter 2 crew's understanding,
Smith is forced to come along to prevent him from causing mischief on
The planet, a truly alien environment, proves little better than the
danger they’d just escaped. Near their landing site, they find the
wreckage of the Jupiter 2, indicating another shift in time and their
impending destruction. Within the core of the wreck is a now adult Will
Robinson who has progressed his time machine design into a time-space
displacement device powered by the reactor of the spacecraft. The adult
Will has been the cause of the disruptions of time and space. Left alone
with a mutated Dr. Smith, now a spider lord harboring the surviving
spiders from the derelict, Will has become a mad scientist working to
open a gateway that leads back to Earth just prior to the launch of the
Jupiter 2. He intends to stop the launch and reverse the disaster that
has befallen his family.
In the end, Smith is defeated and the Jupiter 2 escapes both the planet
and their doomed future, heading off into space in search of a path that
might lead them back to their own time on Earth.
Unfortunately, the Lost in Space movie failed with both critics and
fans. Critics tore into the story, attacking it for lacking true depth.
Few recognized that it was a mix of the campy feel of the 60s television
series and a contemporary storyline. Fans rejected it, partly because
the characters were a bit too different than they had expected, partly
because many disliked the increased focus on the Robinson family that
shifted from the television series' pure focus on situational conflict,
and largely because two important series icons had been dumped in
Hollywood’s fever for updating classic elements for the sheer sake of
presenting something new.
The story’s multiple interlinked elements also put a strain on some
viewers. The cause and effect reactions and counter-reactions resulting
from the time-space displacement theme confused some who were ready for
a far more simplistic and straightforward adventure tale. Likewise,
interpersonal conflicts, especially the new aspects of Major West’s
advances towards Judy, seemed an odd fit to many who recalled and liked
the more one-dimensional presentation of the old show.
- written by Russell Sanders