|Lost in Space - Season 2, Vol. 2|
|DVD TV Shows|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 30 November 2004|
Watching the “Lost in Space” TV series allows for a journey into the history of televised kitsch, rather than the futuristic adventure it was initially intended to be. It’s just a whole lot cheesier when viewed through adult eyes. People today love to laugh at the initial “Star Wars” trilogy, while contrasting these first three films with Mr. Lucas’ latest cinematic creations, but “Lost in Space” makes Luke Skywalker and his gang look like state of the art sci-fi characters in comparison.
For those who may not be familiar with the program, the “Lost in Space” story, made in 1966, is set in 1997, at a time when planet Earth was feeling the pangs of overpopulation. This concept would have been quite timely then, as you may recall, since population explosion was such a, well, explosive hot button issue back during the mid-to-late ‘60s. As the story goes, the Robinson family (loosely based on Swiss Family Robinson, by the way), is chosen to go to the third planet in the Alpha Centauri star system to start up a new colony, so that other crowded Earthlings may eventually follow in their footsteps and settle there, too. The ship that carries the Robinsons on this space exploration is designed by Professor John Robinson (Guy Williams) and dubbed Jupiter 2. This is where the bumbling Doctor Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) comes into the picture. You see, he is an agent for an enemy government, who was sent along to sabotage the mission. At least one part of his plan works: he reprograms the Robot, who becomes another essential character in the show. During the reprogramming process, Smith also gets himself stuck on the ship during take-off. Eventually, his extra body weight is what makes the ship too heavy, and causes the craft (and its passengers, of course) to become “Lost in Space.” Hence the name and storyline for the show.
The show lasted from 1965 to 1968, and this box set represents the second half of its second season. It was created by Irwin Allen, who later went on to make a mint by producing ‘70s disaster flicks, including “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure.” Speaking of the film world, composer John Williams (“Star Wars,” “Superman”) wrote “Lost in Space’s” main title theme.
Visually, “Lost In Space” is crude, at best. When we were kids, for instance, did we even notice that backgrounds for “Lost In Space” sets were obviously painted vistas? And what about all those bright colors? (Newbies may want to invest in quality sunglasses before undertaking this package for the first time). Keep in mind that color TV was still a relatively new animal at this time, so the producers dressed these various characters in enough bright hues to send even non-drug users on long, strange mind-expanding trips. It reminds me of those demonstration records that came out back when stereo sound was still relatively new. In the same way that these records explored sounds, the producers of “Lost in Space” seemed to want to take these visuals to the ultimate limit.
The cast includes Williams as Professor Robinson, June Lockhart as his wife Maureen, Mark Goddard as their handsome associate, Robinson, and Marta Kristen as older daughter Judy, Angela Cartwright as younger daughter Penny and Bill Mumy as young son Will. Most important of all, however, is Harris’ Dr. Smith, who figures in almost every plot. The actors who play the Robinson family come off as straight forward sci-fi characters, whereas Smith provides much of the program’s comic relief.
Many times, the plots are fairly predictable. Episodes usually begin with Smith fooling around with something he shouldn’t be touching, or just innocently playing with Will and/or Penny. Then all of a sudden, something goes terribly wrong and a visitor from another planet is suddenly troubling their midst. These visitors usually take the form of a historical character, such as a Viking or a mythical figure. While these aliens may wear historically correct costumes, they’re nevertheless space-aged enough to usually own some sort of a space vehicle. Naturally, Smith, who wants nothing more than to return to Earth, buddies up with each of these guests in order to worm his way into a free ticket back home. Also, more often than not, young Will finds himself entering into a sort of father-son relationship with this new outsider. For example, in the “Mutiny In Space,” the space pirate Zhark (Ronald Long) takes Will under his wing and teaches him how to sail a ship like a good sailor.
Part of the fun in watching these guest stars is in recognizing the actors and actresses playing them. For instance, Al Lewis, the grandfather on “The Munsters,” is a hapless magician in “Rocket To Earth.” Most of the time, these folks are TV character actors rather than famous movie stars. But it’s still fun to recognize old faces.
One of the best characters, and also one of the funniest, is The Robot, who isn’t even human at all. With his glass fishbowl head and wiry, flailing arms -- which go all aflutter whenever it/he senses danger -- this creature is a true visual and aural delight. Who can ever forget him saying, “Danger, danger, Will Robinson!” whenever space stress sets in? The Robot also has wonderful moments of dialogue with Smith. He loves Smith, in a most human way, however, and even cries one time when it appears as if the doctor is really going to make it home. Nevertheless, Smith, who feels he is far superior to the computer-being, constantly calls The Robot names. The Robot is the smarter of the two, however, and mocks the doctor’s many lapses in judgment and tall tales, whether the doctor even hears these quips or not. The rest of the crew also has fun at Smith’s expense, but nobody does it better than The Robot. The boy Will also has a close relationship with Smith, although – even at his young age – he has more sense than Smith. Strangely, Will is almost like a father figure to this adult. How Smith ever became a doctor, by the way, is anybody’s guess. One supposes it’s possible to have intelligence without a trace of common sense.
This viewing experience is a little bit like watching “Gilligan’s Island,” in that you know the cast will still be stuck on their astral island by episode’s end. All the fun is in watching them as they helplessly try to break out of their trapped circumstances. It’s also a little bit like a science fiction soap opera, since each episode ends with a teaser about the next upcoming program. Just when you think things have settled down, the crew is in deep trouble once again.
There isn’t much in the way of extra features inside this set, except for rare 1966 interviews with original cast members Lockhart, Williams and Harris. Then again, how could the producers have even foreseen the home video revolution, let alone the DVD reissue business, that was to come?
It may be true that “Lost in Space” didn’t change science fiction television in the same exciting way that “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek” did. It is nevertheless a sweet and gentle example of the way television looked back in the ‘60s. The special effects, such as explosions and camera tricks, look simple and silly now, but these must have been really cool back in the day. If reality television and reality in general is starting to get you down, don’t hesitate to lose yourself in this world of “Lost in Space.” These “losers” gave us some real winners.