Monday, April 25, 2011

The Robinsons: Lost in Space

Even though it basically flopped, I was a big fan of the 1998 Lost in Space movie when it came out. Because of it, I started watching the old 1960s TV show reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel, which was something me and my grandmother sometimes did together. I was disappointed when the reruns stopped being aired. So, I became curious when I recently heard that in 2004 they put together a pilot for a Lost in Space remake television series that never got picked up, called The Robinsons: Lost in Space. As it turns out, this unaired pilot for an unproduced series is available on YouTube. Isn't the Internet wonderful?

It's around a hundred years in the future. The Earth is recovering from an alien invasion, and humans have terraformed a new planet called Nova to be used as an agricultural world. The war hero John Robinson and his doctor wife Maureen decide to move to Nova to start a new life, but their kids Judy, David, and Will don't want to be uprooted. They also have a daughter named Penny, but she's just a baby.

Two days before they leave, there's a big farewell party for the Robinson family. There, John is honored up on stage. Meanwhile, Judy and David discuss how bad it is always having to move around and make new friends. Judy tries to sees a boy she likes, Don, but the parents make the kids come home with them, stopping her from being able to flirt with him. Judy sneaks out that night to spend more time at the party with Don. She gets Will to cover for her, but Maureen isn't fooled.

A day before they leave, the family discovers Will has been keeping a secret from them: he's bullied at school and has been building a humanoid robot to protect him from getting beat up. The robot isn't finished yet. It's missing a pair of legs, and it overzealously declares "Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!" when the family approaches. Will apologizes for keeping it a secret and begs to be able to take the robot with them, but John doesn't think it's a good idea.

Maureen confronts John in another room to yell at him for taking them to another planet. She points out that Will getting beat up is a big deal, expressing concern for their son. John convinces her that moving is the best thing because she'll be very successful there.

The next day, they leave the Earth on the ship Jupiter 2, bound for Nova. Judy expresses disdain for the ship, saying it's cramped and smells funny, but she's assured they won't have to stay in the ship for very long. As it turns out, Don is there, so she starts to like the trip after all. Don is clearly attracted to her, but when he finds out she's the daughter of John Robinson, he ends whatever relationship they have out of fear of John ending Don's prospective career as a spaceship pilot.

When Maureen finds out Judy has been flirting with Don, she forcefully takes Judy to administer her 19 required shots in her lab. There, she yells at her daughter for flirting with a boy Maureen considers potentially no good. Judy calls her overprotective in wanting to make sure Judy never has any sex. Throughout the argument, Maureen gives her painful injections. It's implied Maureen purposefully makes them painful in a moment of comic relief.

As it turns out, aliens have sneaked their way onboard. John recognizes the signs of their camouflage, but it's too late to stop the attack. The aliens, who look like men in green rubber suits, start slaughtering the crew without taking prisoners. Judy is attacked in a corridor, but Don shows up to save her and manages to kill the alien. Alien fire breaches the hull, causing David and Will to hang onto a couple handles for their lives to prevent from being sucked into space, but they manage to get back into a secure area. Maureen locks her and Penny in her lab, but an alien manages to unlock the door and get in. It tries to shoot her, but Maureen kicks a table that pushes the alien back into the doorway, and then she uses a remote control to slam the door shut and kill it. John runs into David and Will, but in the confusion they get separated again. An alien takes Will hostage and John is forced to kill the alien to save his son. The Robinsons get into a shuttle and evacuate the ship with Don to fly it, but in the confusion David is left behind with aliens coming at him from both ends of a corridor.

The Robinsons escape the doomed ship, but the aliens chase them. Mach 8 isn't fast enough, so Will hurriedly unpacks his robot and plugs it into the engines. I guess the idea is so Will can tell the robot what he wants done and the robot can do it. The robot gives more power, and they escape... only to end up plummeting toward the nearby black hole. John comes up with the idea to jump into hyperspace or whatnot. It works, but the Robinsons end up stranded in an unknown part of the galaxy, lost in space.

Judy: Mom, I need space.
Will: Anyone else see the irony?

Will: Override ship mainframe. All power switch. All power to maximum thrust.
Robot: Danger, Will Robinson?
Will: Yes, big danger! Now do it!

Well, it's not a great pilot. It doesn't seem to know if it wants to be campy like the original show or be an action-packed space opera with dark content like the movie. It tries for something in between, but it doesn't pull it off very well. It might have had the potential to go somewhere interesting as a series, but it didn't get that chance, so we'll never know if it could.

As I watched it, I kept thinking about Battlestar Galactica. It's similar. There's the way the Earth was threatened in the past by an enemy believed to be defeated but turns out to still pose a deadly threat, and the honoring of John Robinson is reminiscent of that of Adama and Saul. Apparently, it's not just that. Actual Battlestar Galactica music was used as placeholders, and once the show was passed over, the Robinsons sets were incorporated into Battlestar as well.

Battlestar's Cylons are way better than Robinsons' aliens. At least with the Cylons we understand their motivation: They were made by man; they rebelled; they evolved; they have a plan. The aliens... we know they hate humanity. Why? No answer is given. There just are these aliens who want to kill us. And they look worse than most of the monsters of the week on Buffy. It's pretty weak.
"Family togetherness," --Maureen
The main theme of the story is family. It's about the troubled relations of the Robinson family and how an alien attack can bring them together. The kids and their parents have difficulty getting along. There's the issues between Maureen and Judy, and the way John is distant toward Will. Even Don has trouble with his father, who never seems satisfied with what Don accomplishes. David is the only one without a real storyline, which should have been my clue he wasn't going to make it.

The gender portrayals are pretty good, about what one would expect from a contemporary family. Judy needs Don to save her from the alien, but I'm willing to accept that he knew how to fight and was prepared to fight better than she was. She's not in the Air Force. At least she doesn't freeze up and do nothing the entire time. She throws a few punches at the alien when Don gets knocked down, giving him time to recover and deliver the finishing blows. Maureen is a brilliant doctor, and she is able to defeat an alien using her ingenuity and access to a helpful machine.

What I don't like is how the parents treat their kids. First of all, there's the whole Nova thing. They just decide to go to Nova because they think the idea's cool, not really caring about the way it effects the kids. Maureen brings it up but changes her mind at what amounts to "you're brilliant and beautiful". I mean, it is said that John wants to start a new life there and that Maureen can start up a practice, but there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the life they have on Earth. Their house is huge. It seems more like he and Maureen recognize their individual brilliance and they think they should go to another planet as part of a symbol of human progression. At least in the movie, the ship is doing something never done before with technology designed by him, so it makes more sense for them to be that kind of symbol.

Then there's the whole thing with Maureen and Judy. Now, I can understand Maureen being upset at Judy for sneaking out, but she takes it too far. There doesn't seem to be any reason for her to think Don's a bad seed, and yet Maureen treats him like he's a known playboy who's horrible to women just because he's a pilot. Never mind she married a pilot. Judy points out Maureen spends too much time worrying about Judy's virginity, but Maureen doesn't even want her flirting.

And during the argument, Maureen repeatedly hurts Judy with the required injections. It's supposed to be comedic, but it comes across as creepy. I know Simon does the same thing to Mal in Serenity, but it's different there because of the power relation between the two. Simon and Mal are arguing as passenger and captain about their arrangement for mutual security, while Maureen argues with Judy as an overprotective mother trying to control her daughter's love life. It's creepy.

1 comment:

fshepinc said...

I think you've gotten confused a bit in your character summaries. We are told absolutely nothing about Don West's background or family strife. It is David Robinson who has a poor relationship with his father, who doesn't acknowledge him. John Robinson is on the verge of telling David that he's proud of him when he's called to the bridge over the alien attack.

As for David's survival, that's an open question that was clearly intended to be a part of the series' story arc.