There has been a lot of criticism leveled at the entertainment industry for their habit of “rebooting” or “re-imagining” existing television shows and movies.
Sometimes that criticism is deserved, and other times it’s not. Sometimes it does make you wonder if Hollywood has run out of ideas, but at the same time there are some stories that deserve to be retold for a new generation to enjoy.
In science fiction, probably the two most notable examples of this are Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and J.J. Abrams’ rebooted original series Star Trek film.
I’m probably a little bit of an odd fan. I don’t become instantly resistant to reboots or even remakes. I approach either with cautious optimism.
My first exposure to this was the sort of reboot that was Star Trek: The Next Generation. I was a very young teenager at the time, and remember being incredibly excited by the idea. The four or five other friends I had who were Trekkers were not. They thought it was a terrible idea, though almost instantly became Next Gen fans when the series finally hit Australian shores (as good old video cassettes we had to rent).
When it was announced Ronald D. Moore was going to re-imagine Battlestar Galactica I was a little more cautious than optimistic, because he was going to make some pretty significant changes, but there was excitement and I ended up loving it. Both the BSG of my childhood and this more adult version could happily coexist and receive equal amounts of affection from me.
When news broke that J.J. Abrams was rebooting the original series Star Trek I was more optimistic and excited than cautious. I admired his skill as a director and really liked some of the actors that were being announced. Plus, thanks to the new BSG, I had learned the difference between a reboot and a re-imagining.
A reboot is a mostly faithful remake of an original property. The characters and a lot of their backstories are intact, though parts of the overall story may differ.
A re-imagining is where the overall premise stays the same, and maybe even a number of the characters, but many things can and often do change.
Both Moore and Abrams delivered genre defining classics, approaching their material from different perspectives. Battlestar Galactica became an almost instant hit. There was initial fan backlash but that quickly faded, especially when BSG shining light Richard Hatch (Captain Apollo in the original), accepted a role on the new series. He told fans we could enjoy both and that both were shows worthy of admiration. The 2009 Star Trek film was also an almost instant hit. It has the highest US opening gross of any Trek film, and knocked the Dark Knight off it’s highest grossing IMAX perch by more than two million dollars.
The 2009 version of Star Trek has some issues (hello transwarp beaming and the destruction of Vulcan and death of Amanda), but highlighted the best of each main character while delivering a wonderful story.
Galactica’s story of survival against overwhelming odds, and Star Trek‘s story of a better and brighter future for humanity are stories that deserve to be retold so that new generations can appreciate them, learn from them and be inspired by them.
That’s when a reboot or a re-imagining works.
And, now, another beloved series has been given new life because it has a story of family, ingenuity and overcoming extreme odds as a team that is worth telling to a new audience, and that series is Lost in Space.
Unless you’ve been holidaying on an island without an internet connection for the last six-months, you know that the reboot aired in April of this year and was very well received. So much so it has earned a second season.
As should be expected (unfortunately) there were plenty of professional critics who found fault with the show, but no one listened to them because we’ve learned their opinions are just that… their opinions, and they are rarely worth the time taken to deliver them. The rest of us loved the show. The series has a 95% approval rating on Google from every day viewers like you and me, a 68% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and IGN gave it an 8.5 out of 10.
The series is based on the original 1965 slightly campy television show starring Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Jonathan Harris, Marta Kristen, Angela Cartwright, Bill Mummy, Rick Turfeld and Bob May (both as the robot), and the reboot is a relatively faithful recreation of the fan favourite. The new robot even manages a “Danger, Will Robinson. Danger” or two.
While being a pretty faithful reboot, there are some differences.
The biggest changes are a Battlestar Galactica worthy gender swap, with Doctor Smith now a female and played by one of my favourite actresses, Parker Posey (seriously, if you haven’t seen her over the top performance in Josie and the Pussycats – the movie, you are missing out), and the robot who is now an alien mechanism that initially menaces everyone before befriending Will. Then there’s Don West, who is now an interstellar mechanic rather than a military man.
If you’re a fan of Lost in Space those changes might irk you, because, let’s face it, Jonathan Harris in his iconic role as Doctor Smith became the star of the series, but I do encourage you to give this new version a go. This isn’t the first reboot we’ve experienced, but it is the best and you should check it out with a little more optimism than caution.
For anyone who isn’t a long time fan, here’s a very brief LiS history: there have been two previous attempts to reboot Lost in Space, one as a film series and another as a television series.
In 1998 there was a film reboot that had great potential but was sunk by a bad script and some overly ambitious special effects. Starring Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers, Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert, Jared Harris and Jack Johnson, Lost in Space the movie had no shortage of talent but it’s story was average and largely disappointing.
The film reboot featured cameos by original series cast members June Lockhart, Mark Goddard, Angela Cartwright, and would have featured cameos by Jonathan Harris and Billy Mummy but both declined because the roles weren’t suitable.
Then, in 2004, The Robinsons: Lost in Space tried to recapture the original’s magic with a very serious pilot that is actually not bad. Starring Jayne Brook, Brad Johnson, Mike Erwin, Adrianne Palicki, Ryan Malgarini, Dick Tufeld and Gil McKinney as new character David Robinson.
This particular reboot was sort of faithful to the original, but chose not to include Doctor Smith, and made John Robinson a retiring war hero who helped save Earth from an alien invasion. The robot was there, and was the worst thing about the show, and for some reason Penny was a baby and they had a second son, but everything else was pretty spot on.
The unsuccessful pilot had a little too much teen angst and it’s pacing was off despite having been directed by John Woo, but it put a smart framework in place around the whole idea of the Jupiter 2, making it part of a colonisation effort. It always seemed a bit weird to me that the original Jupiter 2 and the movie Jupiter 2 were crewed by just one family, off on an interstellar voyage alone – the original series family to colonise space, the movie family to build a jump gate so people could go off exploring.
Though the pilot failed to go to series, elements of it seem to have made it into this new version.
The new Jupiter 2 is part of a massive colonisation effort and is housed with many other Jupiters about the colonisation vessel Resolute. That mothership is knocked off her flight path by an alien attack, forcing the families and their Jupiters to launch prematurely and they all end up stranded on a mysterious planet.
This latest version boasts incredible special effects, a really wonderful cast, a solid story and a story arc that is both engaging and smart.
Having said that, it’s not a perfect show.
It feels like the writers don’t quite know what to do with the new Doctor Smith. As much as we all loved Jonathan Harris’s over the top, magnificent scene stealing portrayal, that approach wouldn’t have worked with a modern audience. So they took the humour away from Doctor Smith and made her a little more menacing, and most definitely mentally unbalanced. It’s a good choice, but the character still feels rough around the edges despite Parker Posey’s strong performance.
Likewise, it feels like they’re still trying to sort out Don West, played by Ignacio Serricchio. His character is probably the least developed.
The Robinson family, however, are – to me – pitch perfect. The characters are beautifully realised and their relationships are very convincing. The stand outs are definitely Mina Sundwall as Penny and Maxwell Jenkins as Will.
The rest of the cast is made up of Molly Parker as Maureen Robinson, Toby Stephens as John Robinson, and Taylor Russell as Judy Robinson.
In this iteration of Lost in Space, Maureen is the Mission Commander. She’s an aerospace engineer who is taking her family to a pre-established colony on Alpha Centauri where she hopes they can build a new life after a disastrous impact event left the Earth largely devastated.
Maureen is the biological mother of Judy, Penny and Will.
John Robinson is a former US Marine. His marriage to Maureen has been a little rocky, thanks in large part to the numerous secret missions he was often on, keeping him away from his family.
John is the adoptive father of Judy and the biological father of Penny and Will.
Judy is a bit of a prodigy. At 18 years of age she is the medical doctor for the mission (multiple colonists travelling to Alpha Centauri, not just the Robinson family).
Penny is, as with the original, the middle child. She’s artsy, dreams of publishing the first book written on another planet, and is the most outspoken of the Robinson children. Where Judy tows the line, Penny looks for ways to bend and twist that line. Or abandon it completely.
Will is really the character who we, as the audience, experience this adventure through. He befriends the robot, and through his influence changes the mechanoid from what appears to be a killing machine, into a helpful, human-friendly companion.
As mentioned above, Don West is one of the mechanics on the Resolute, the colony ship carrying the Jupiters to Alpha Centauri. He’s a bit mercenary, but has real heart which we slowly get to see throughout the first ten episodes of season one.
Doctor Smith isn’t Doctor Smith. She’s actually June Harris, a criminal and potential psychopath who drugs her sister, assumes her identity, and lies her way onto the Resolute. In the attack that strands multiple Jupiters on an alien world, she impersonates Doctor Zachary Smith who is wounded by the robot (and played by Bill Mummy from the original series). She leaves him to die and spends most of the first season lying to and manipulating everyone.
The Jupiter 2 probably isn’t as much of a ‘character’ yet as it was in the original, but it does play a large part in every episode of the show. It’s a relatively faithful reproduction and amalgam of all of the Jupiter 2’s that have come before it.
As with the original series, the show is very much about family. This version of the Robinson’s is a little more dysfunctional than any of the others we’ve ever seen, which is a good thing because it creates drama without resorting to overly annoying angst. How does this version of the Robinsons differ? Maureen and John are separated, Judy is Maureen’s only child from another marriage, and Will is a very anxious and slightly lost but still, eventually, heroic little boy. In previous versions he was a lot more confident and driven. In this version we see him earn his confidence and strength and it’s beautiful, because it’s incomplete and we know, like us, he still has a long way to go.
The show is compelling and full of heart and worth your time. It’s visually beautiful, wonderfully acted and well written. The direction and cinematography are outstanding and like watching a feature film, and every set and prop drips realism and functionality. You believe you’re on board the Jupiter 2, and believe a vessel like it would have been made by human hands and launched into space to serve as home for a family as it joins a colonisation effort.
What the show proves is that the old can become new again, and that there really are some stories that deserve to be retold over and over again because they’re important, and because they’re relevant. Every generation deserves its own Lost in Space, it’s own Star Trek, and even its own Star Wars because those stories will never not be morality tales that can inspire and positively affect us. Humanity is a work in progress, and these stories are our touchstones and are the signposts that help us aspire and dream and grow.
Since watching the new Lost in Space series, I’ve spoken with friends and family about it. All of them have universally enjoyed the show, with many saying that one of the things they loved most was the fact they could watch it with their children. That doesn’t mean that the show is childish in any way. It’s not. It’s intense, breathtaking and exciting, but not in a way that alienates children, though in a way that could make them snuggle down in mum or dad’s arms during the tense moments!
Every time I see a remake done this well, it gives me hope.
There are ways to bring back beloved shows with powerful messages that will work in the 21st Century, with just a few simple tweaks.
As always, I maintain hope that we’ll see a reboot of Space: 1999.
Until then, enjoy this wonderful blast from the past. Season 2 of Lost in Space will air in the first half of 2019 on Netflix.
Lost in Space was developed by Matt Sazama, based on the work of Irwin Allen. It’s score is by Christopher Lennertz, featuring snipits of John Williams’ iconic original theme. The cinematographer is Sam McCurdy.
The show is produced by Zack Estrin, Kevin Burns, Jon Jashni, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Neil Marshall and Marc Helwig.
It was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Each episode runs from between 47 minutes and 65 minutes.
For more information on the original series, visit the LiS Wiki.
For more information on the Netflix series, visit the official Lost in Space page.
To watch the unsuccessful 2004 pilot for The Robinsons: Lost in Space, visit YouTube. The resolution is terrible, the special effects are unfinished, and it’s broken up into ten or so minute chunks, but you’ll find it engaging if you’re a fan.
Here’s hoping the rights holders for our favourite 1970s sci-fi series get the message and consider a reboot of a fan favourite show that still has an important and relevant story to tell.