When I was a young lad I became a big fan of Lost In Space, a TV show that was given a Sunday morning/afternoon timeslot on British TV and made for perfect viewing on a lazy day. The show may have been from a previous generation but when it was repeated in the 1980s it was just as entertaining and enjoyable (I always did prefer it to the other show that usurped its timeslot, Land Of The Giants). So when I heard that they were making a movie version of the show in the late 1990s, with a cast including Gary Oldman, William Hurt and Heather Graham, I was pretty damn excited.
I'm not sure if the movie was considered a flop when it was released in cinemas but it certainly didn't live up to expectations, in both a financial sense and in the treatment of the material that the fans wanted to see. I didn't get to see the movie in the cinema but I bought it on video and enjoyed it for what it was. In fact, I spent years defending the movie against those who claimed it was complete rubbish. Sadly, after a gap of many years, I have now revisited the film and found that I was wrong for many years. It IS rubbish. It's dull, it's cheesy and it takes a great TV show and makes it into nothing more than a visual FX showcase with numerous videogame moments taking up time that could have been given over to the few really interesting aspects of the plot.
The plot is summed up by the title and is, essentially, the same as it was in the TV show. The Robinson family (William Hurt as the father, Mimi Rogers as the mother, Lacey Chabert and Heather Graham as the daughters and Jack Johnson as young Will) head off into space and get a bit lost. They also have a stowaway on board in the shape of the devious and cowardly Dr. Zachary Smith (Gary Oldman), a large robot that could be a major asset or a major threat and a brave pilot (Matt LeBlanc) who isn't at all happy about being given what he sees as a babysitting gig. There are some decent special effects throughout, some dangerous space spiders and a third act that has the potential to be exciting and interesting before throwing away all potential in a mess of dull cliches that we've seen a hundred times before.
But when the end credits roll we get this fantastic tune from Apollo Four Forty. Which turns out to be one of the few highlights of the movie.
It's frustratingly easy to see the many small ways in which Lost In Space flounders and becomes a big mess. William Hurt does very well, as usual, and Gary Oldman is a delight whenever he's onscreen (playing the best character of the lot, so wonderfully played by Jonathan Harris in the TV show) but most of the other cast members are ill-served by the script. Heather Graham shines as she usually does, though even she is stuck with a number of super-lame moments, and Jared Harris does quite well with his small amount of screentime but Lacey Chabert is just annoying 95% of the time, Mimi Rogers is pretty much just there for the sake of being there and young Jack Johnson tries his best but is stuck with playing Will Robinson, who always struck me as a bit too much of a smartass to be a likeable kid. The least said about Matt LeBlanc the better, sadly, as he gets all of the worst lines and delivers them with no conviction or gusto.
Director Stephen Hopkins tries to distract you with pretty visuals but it's not enough when none of the action sequences excite, the chemistry between the characters fails to fizz and the whole thing starts to feel more and more pointless as it goes on. Akiva Goldsman, given the scripting duties, can get a lot of the blame but he's not left on his own. So many wrong decisions are made here - from the choice of plot to go with to the casting to the lack of intelligence or wit or style - that it's only fair to blame everyone equally. Apart from maybe Hurt and Goldman.
There are a few moments that entertain, and it's nice to see cameos from some of the original cast members and to hear that familiar robotic voice exclaiming "danger, Will Robinson", but there's just no way that this film does enough to warrant even an average rating in the grand scheme of things.