Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lost in Space


  I should start off by saying that I have a very weird relationship with this movie. I grew up with Lost in Space as a family favorite, right alongside Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Two movies I found no fault with as a kid. I saw them so many times when I was younger that they were sort of impervious to critique. I just accepted them as they were, and I never thought twice about it. But now that I'm older, I can pick apart these movies quite well. ...But I still like it just as much. I suppose it's due in no small part to the nostalgic brainwashing that still allows me to enjoy things like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the live action Masters of the Universe .

  Getting right to it though, I think the biggest problem with Lost in Space is pacing. Which is something that never occurred to me before because it's not a slow movie. Something is always happening. But movies like this should always look back to the original Star Wars, and Aliens. You set everything up in the first half, and the second half is just a total roller coaster. No brakes. Lost in Space has fits of intensity, and then it stops. It's like one of those sitcom moments where a teenager is learning to drive for the first time?
Go... brake. Go... brake. Go... brake. Thus the movie never picks up a consistent and steady pace. It's choppy rhythm makes it's subplots feel shoehorned and the story comes out staggered. The actors have to contend with this, as I can only imagine the script itself had the same issues. When the actors are given opportunity to finally emote, it's always cut short by another big spectacle moment. Although character development does show up, it creeps in at the oddest moments, and it always seems to be like too little, too late.

  I have no issue with the silly space monkey. I'm immune to that sort of thing. Not even Jar Jar Binks annoys me. I can recognize how they would be off putting, or even insulting to a more discerning audience, but I always sort of just accepted their existence and it never bothered me. The worst crime this movie commits (beyond not having Bill Mumy play future Will Robinson) will always be the spectacular waste of talent it contains. William Hurt, Gary Oldman, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Jared Harris, and well... yeah, Matt LeBlanc? (Actually, I should point out I don't feel LeBlanc was wasted here at all.) The cast was ultimately not given good enough material to work with, except LeBlanc. His Major West is a reason to watch this movie again. He's just delightfully fun. A total bad boy archetype, but he's having fun with the role and it shows. Gary Oldman is reduced to chewing scenery, which he does well... but c'mon. They could've pulled a better villainous performance out of this guy. William Hurt is totally acceptable as the absentee father who has to make "apology videos" to his kids all the time. When his arc comes full circle, you can feel the genuine paternal concern, but like I said... too little, too late.

  This movie should've been capable of pulling down Oscar noms! Instead it has like a 20 something percent on rotten tomatoes and is not-so-fondly remembered as a piece of junk. I personally don't consider it a piece of junk. I think it's flawed for sure, but no more so than a lot of other movies people, en masse, have made tons of excuses in favor of. (I'm looking at you Star Trek Into Darkness) When it takes off and flies, it soars. When it decides to stop and dole out some exposition, it comes to a screeching halt... and just about crashes. It's two hours of this stop-n-start pacing. If you enjoy the good parts enough to sit through all of it, I don't think you'll really have a problem with the movie. It's fun, but it's not what it could've been. It could've been the Star Wars of the 90's. But instead it feels like an aborted TV pilot, high production values aside.

  Though speaking of high production values, they're through the roof here. I notice this shit now. The bridge of the Jupiter II actually moves and jolts, they don't just shake the camera around. (something they still do to this day in Star Trek movies) The production design is just so friggin cool. I love it. The new design of the Robot (which is definitely a highlight of the movie, albeit a short-lived one), the design of the Jupiter II, the look and style of everything from the bio-suits, to the weaponry and Major West's show stopping mechanical armor plating... it's all fantastic. Also, the movie is also cited as having very dated effects, and for the most part I agree, but what people often overlook is that Lost in Space was made in the sweet spot of special effects movies. It was only partly fueled by CGI. Maybe a third of the way.  There's a LOT of practical effects here. Matte paintings, miniatures, animatronics, and entire sets that seem to be built on hydraulics to collapse and give way under the actors.

  The scenes that showcase the fantastic practical effects work are great. Those fits of intensity? Highlights of the movie. The insane first action scene in which the Robot goes haywire, Judy is dying, and the ship is plummeting directly into the sun. The alien spider shootout on the Proteus. Escaping the Proteus. The iconic crash landing. And last but not least, the climax in which West pilots the Jupiter II through an exploding planet. I don't care who you are or how badly you hate this movie, that was some straight up exciting stuff. Even now, more than a decade on- it's totally thrilling. I could go on and on about the stilted acting, the absolute waste of Heather Graham, how awesome LeBlanc is when he gets to be a macho bad boy (would've loved more roles with him like this) and how fun the movie is when you just accept it for how it is... but I also know it's not exactly a good movie.

  Being that it was a major part of my childhood, I own Lost in Space on VHS (the same copy I bought way back when it first came out) and Blu Ray, I own the comic book tie-in that Dark Horse published, a movie companion book from Scholastic that I got as a kid, I have the soundtrack on my computer, and I even collect the toys. Yep. (eBay is a godsend) I even got super excited when I saw a pack of the movie trading cards at a flea market last month. It takes a very special brand of nostalgia to engender that sort of fanboy mentality, but what can I say? I'd like to be generous and just say that the movie was divisive, but it wasn't. Not really. The majority consensus is that it really rather sucked. I'm not going to argue with anyone who holds that opinion, but in my opinion, I've been cut a better deal. I got all the fond memories, the nostalgia, and I can still enjoy this movie, and that's one more movie for me to enjoy that they never will.

Totally wasn't kidding about the toys.
And I'll be damned if the theme song by Apollo Four Forty isn't the catchiest shit ever.

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