Published April 1, 1998
Lost in Space, directed by Stephen Hopkins, is just too silly for words. In yet another cinematic updating of a long-forgotten TV series, William Hurt plays Professor John Robinson, a scientist who has been chosen to emigrate with his family to the planet Alpha Prime, which is ten years in a fast spaceship away, but which offers what may be the universe’s only chance for mankind to plant an extraterrestrial colony which will preserve human life after the earth becomes uninhabitable two decades hence (it is 2028). That “earth’s resources are limited” we all know, but although schoolchildren are told that recycling will make everything, the truth is that “recycling came too late.” Robinson has invented a method of traveling in hyperspace which will cut years off the journey, but he has to install “gates” in hyperspace or anyone traveling there could end up anywhere in the galaxy. He and the family will be cryogenically frozen in “suspended animation” on the outward journey.
He is a workaholic and neglects his bratty and resentful kids. He misses a science fair where his ten year old son, Will (Jack Johnson) wins first prize again—with “that crazy idea he’s got about a time machine.” Bratty daughter Penny (Lacey Chabert) sounds as if she is breathing helium. Oldest daughter, Judy (Heather Graham) is brainbox doctor. Mom Maureen (Mimi Rogers) is also a scientist of some kind. But Will is obviously the genius in the family. A spy representing “The Global Sedition,” a terrorist gang whose aims are completely obscure, kills the Robinsons’ selected space pilot, and they have to draft in a space fighter pilot called Don West (Matt LeBlanc). Major West resents his duty with the autopiloted Robinson ship and calls it baby-sitting. “Eight years of flight training, fifty combat missions, just so I can take the family camper on an interstellar picnic,” but Dr Smith (Gary Oldman) a stowaway from TGS is on board. . .
Verbal sparring between the comely Judy and Major West, who is cocky and self-assured and regularly disobeys the orders of his superiors, hint at what is to come. So does Will’s science project and the fact that only he among these highly educated adult technophiles knows how to tame the robot which, having been surreptitiously re-programmed, has run amok. “Destroy Jupiter 2! Destroy Robinson family!” it says in its machine voice, and Will stops it by saying “Stop!” Nobody else seems to have thought of that. It’s easy being a genius when you know how. When the robot rampage is halted, the family discover Smith and take him prisoner. What to do with this evil killer with whom they find themselves closeted millions of miles from home? “ Smith could still hurt us,” says Dad. “Maybe we shouldn’t let him live.” But wise and good Maureen the moralist gently asks: “How can we bring civilization to the stars if we can’t stay civilized?”
Only in the movies, folks, could such foolhardy cant be intended to look not only remotely plausible but also like moral profundity. Nor is Maureen finished teaching her prim little lessons to the less advanced men on board. When Major West and Professor Robinson are having a heated argument about which of them is in command, Maureen appears and scolds them. “Here we are stranded on an alien world and you two guys get into a pissing contest?” She reproves them for being typical men and tells them if they don’t cut it out she will have them both arrested by her daughter the doctor and she will take over command. Now, “if you two have finished hosing down the decks with testosterone,” she says firmly, they can get to work to do something useful. Major West whispers, “Wow!”
“Tell me about it,” murmurs Robinson so she can’t hear.
Funny, isn’t it? You travel millions of miles through interstellar space only to find that the little woman’s still got you by the short and curlies. As Major West says to Judy, a workaholic like her father, “If there’s no time for fun, doc, then what are we saving the planet for?”