LOST IN SPACE (THE MOVIE) – Blu-ray review

The Blu-ray high-definition audio quality alone makes this Blu-ray disc of the “Lost in Space” movie a respectable investment. It’s still not a good movie, but it’s a good-sounding one.

To be honest, however, I not only disliked the movie, I disliked the old mid-sixties “Lost in Space” TV show, finding this updated, 1998 film version not much better. I was too old to take the TV show seriously at the time, and I guess I was not old enough to appreciate its camp humor. I just thought it was juvenile. I still do. I mean, what can you make of lines like, “Danger, Will Robinson, danger!” and “We’re doomed, doomed.”

Well, for reasons unknown to me but apparently obvious to everyone else, the motion picture tries hard to recapture that former tone, and, yes, even retains the same lines. It adds more up-to-date pyrotechnics, of course, and a modern dysfunctional family, but for me it generates even less heart than the old show. So, I don’t think it’s anywhere near good science fiction. Yet its audiovisual appeal is hard to resist, its elaborate special effects and often spectacular sound almost enough in themselves to keep a person’s attention. Whenever the plot had me nodding, something would go boom, bang, or whiz, and my mind would be back on the screen. It’s a good picture to look at and listen to; you just shouldn’t think about it too much.

The year is 2058, and the Robinson family fly into space on a mission to save the Earth, looking for a planet with resources enough to sustain their dying mother world. But the repellent Dr. Smith sabotages their plans, sending the Robinsons through a hypergate into a totally unknown region of the galaxy. Unfortunately for Dr. Smith, but fortunately for us since he is the only interesting character in the film, he doesn’t get off the ship in time to save himself and he has to go along for the ride.

Then the scriptwriter throws everything into the plot but the kitchen sink as the family goes from one adventure to another, encountering every cliché known to science fiction: Time warps, time bubbles, time travel, hyper space, hyper drives, and just plain hype. The story appears disjointed and episodic, just like the old TV show, and, naturally, it ends with the Robinsons lost in space. Could this portend a sequel? (A dozen years later it hasn’t.) Don’t expect logic from any of the events; don’t even try to figure them out. Just sit back and enjoy the show because the special effects are, indeed, dazzling. I’ve heard the filmmakers created more set pieces for this film than for any other film in history (at least up until that point).

William Hurt stars as Professor John Robinson, stalwart leader of the expedition. Hurt is a fine, always-capable actor, but the cliches just plain outnumber him in this one. He should have been the center of attention instead of standing around looking merely stoical, befuddled, or bemused. His only notable characteristic is his neglect of his son, a point the film belabors but never really develops. Even the robot upstages him.

Gary Oldman gets top billing as the villainous Dr. Zachary Smith. It is a juicier role than Hurt’s, yet even here the script gives him little to do. Oldman doesn’t play Smith as over-the-top as Jonathan Harris did in the old television show, but he’s still the sniveling, conniving coward he always was. Oldman exudes evil, as he can so well, but like Hurt the script doesn’t give him a chance to evolve beyond a single dimension.

There are simply too many characters in the film and not enough focus on any one of them. Among the others on board are the familiar Robinson family members: The dutiful wife, Dr. Maureen Robinson (Mimi Rogers), always with an aphorism at the ready; the beautiful older daughter, Dr. Judy Robinson (Heather Graham), a brilliant scientist; the younger teenage daughter, Penny Robinson (Lacey Chabert), a brat as chatty as a chipmunk; and the young boy, Will Robinson (Jack Johnson), a whiz kid. Also along for the ride is a cocky, hotshot pilot, Major Don West, with an eye for the older daughter.

Moreover, in a nod to the very youngest children in the audience, the movie introduces Blawp, an oh-so-cute little alien space monkey straight out of a Disney cartoon. I could have done without it. A deleted scene shows the creature grown up, which would have been better left in and the baby thrown out.

My guess is that it probably won’t be the film’s plot or characterizations that will attract an adult buyer to the disc; it’s the film’s special effects. New Line Home Video engineers use a VC-1 codec and a dual-layer BD50 to present the film in its 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The thing is, despite New Line’s best efforts, the picture still looks soft most of the time, a little blurry, and a little murky. Colors are natural enough, although they never pop off the screen. While the HD image quality is certainly better than its standard-definition equivalent, it’s not in the same class as the best that high-def has to offer.

Better than the image quality is the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound, which makes listening to the film more fun than watching it. There’s a huge bass response, along with a very strong dynamic repines, involved, evident from the very beginning of the film with a series of massive explosions. Equally important, the surround radiates from every channel, all 7.1 of them if you have 7.1 speakers and the rears set for simulated additional sound. This is audio with a frequency range, dynamics, definition, directionality, and spatial attributes that totally envelop the listener.

The Blu-ray disc offers most the extras that came with the DVD special edition, and most of them continue to be standard def. First, there are two, separate feature-length audio commentaries available, one by director Stephen Hopkins and writer Akiva Goldsman and another by visual effects supervisors Angus Bickerton and Lauren Ritchie, director of photography Peter Levy, film editor Ray Lovejoy, and producer Carla Fry.

Next, there is a series of deleted scenes totaling about twelve minutes, followed by a pair of featurettes: “Building the Special Effects,” sixteen minutes, and “The Future of Space,” about ten minutes. Then, there is a “Lost in Space” music video performed by Apollo Four Forty, and then interviews with some of the stars of the original TV series, which I found entertaining even though I didn’t care for the old show.

The extras wrap up with twenty-four scene selections; a theatrical trailer; English, German, and Spanish spoken languages; French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles; and English and German captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
Finally, a word of explanation about my overall film rating below. If I had to judge the movie for its actual story value, it would probably be a 2/10. I didn’t care for the plot, the action, or the characters. But figure in the movie’s stunning sound and special effects, and the rating easily moves up another half notch. Lastly, consider New Line’s bonus items, and the whole package becomes more valuable. Then again, maybe if you really loved the old television show, you’ll adore this new story immensely. Who knows.

“We’re all doomed, doomed, I say.”