Monday, March 8, 2010

Lost In Space S1 Ep3: Island In The Sky

We have two firsts in this Lost In Space entry including the first ever appearance of one of THE coolest shuttle craft ever designed, The Chariot. It offers comfortable, convenient, understated, simple and practical design elegance. The second first is the appearance of the cuddily monkey-like Debbie. Debbie is monkey-like, because she actually is a monkey.

"I was offered a feature film, so I couln't stay with the show much longer.  In fact, I didn't write the first five or six scripts; I only wrote the pilot script, and then I wrote outlines for the next five or six, and then I wrote one more script that was called Invaders From The Fifth Dimension, of which I remember absolutely nothing." -Shimon Wincelberg, The Lost In Space Encyclopedia II, interview by Flint Mitchell [p.428]-

The early Lost In Space episodes benefitted immensely from Wincelberg's linear, substantive and sincere effort to place the Robinsons in a world of adventure.  A great deal of credit goes to him for keeping the start of this first season moving in such a connected and logical fashion.  Lost In Space makes every effort to link each preceding episode to the next. If I recall correctly that formula begins to alter over time. Attempting to connect week to week is no easy task. The self-contained stories always work much better for creators. All in all, these are very much self-contained stories linked by a final cliffhanger-styled event. The realities confronting space family Robinson are genuinely captured beautifully in black and white. The film stock offers a nostalgic feel coupled with serious science fiction intrigue.  But the success of these stories is largely due to smart outlining by Wincelberg before his departure.
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The Robinsons and the "nefarious" Dr. Zachary Smith are making their way landfall in Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 3, Island In The Sky. Professor John Robinson plans to have environmental Robot check out the planet's surface, but Smith has programmed Robot to respond only to his commands. John decides to check out the planetary conditions himself. This is where the show makes some awful big leaps in good sense. John Robinson plans penetrate the planetary atmosphere via the protection of a simple spacesuit straight from outerspace. He apparently plans to do this and not burn up in entry. Yes, it's a touch crazy! Yes, but this is a family show with little to no scientific logic in play when required. Logic has been known to fly out the airlock when it comes to Lost In Space. Why not just fly the Jupiter II to the planet first? At least the Jupiter II is built for protection. To make matters worse, John's parajet isn't working real well. Smith again? You bet. He is the king of sabateurs.
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Meanwhile, Robot challenges Smith to a game of chess. Bob May, the man inside the suit, does a pretty splendid job inside Robot picking up those wee little chess pieces. Young Will Robinson checks in and it's interesting to see a kind of friendship developing between himself and the evil doctor in this early entry. Will sees something in Smith, despite major flaws. This could clearly be taken as an understatement when one considers the man was implementing orders that would in effect kill the family.
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Don West warns John via communication that he is accelerating too quickly toward the planet. By all appearances John appears to be simply floating. If it was not for the outstanding music from Composer John Williams to amp up or ramp up the tension and excitement I'm not sure I would be all that engaged.


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The family somehow loses track of John and decides to set down on the planet after all. Smith certainly knows how to needle his unexpected new crewmates. He and Don begin to exhibit signs of their intense dislike for one another, a hallmark of the series. Of course, Smith suggests to the family they leave John behind now that the weight for the ship is where it should be. What a splendid fellow. I'm sure the family would be more than happy to leave their Dad behind. Why Smith ever opens his mouth I'll never understand. Smith calls upon Robot to back his plan to leave the airspace and make an effort to return to Earth. Robot crushes an item at his command. Smith urges Don to implement his request, but Major West has other plans for Smith. He manages to get Smith in a headlock and tells him to order the Robot back to his compartment. Smith complies and he is placed back inside deep freeze.
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As the Jupiter II plummets into the atmosphere Don just starts pushing buttons and before long Maureen joins him and they begin pushing alot of seemingly random buttons together to stabilize the vessel. Weird radio sound effects accompany the procceedings to add to the element of sci-fi fun. All is not going well for our dear family. Maureen closes the shields. Everyone is taking cover for the landing. Who exactly is attempting to pilot this thing? How John didn't burn up like a tissue entering a raging fire as he entered the planet's atmospere is anyone's guess. On a technical note, the shots of the Jupiter II coming in hard for a landing look fabulous. Those effects shots look as good as anything you'd see today and that's really saying something. They really captured some special sequences for the crash landing. Say what you want about some effects, there are moments like this that blow the viewer away. It's a real testament to the talent involved in making this series and the budget they were given to employ. In fact, the original unaired pilot was the most expensive ever made in its day costing roughly $700,000 dollars.
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In the end, everyone lands safely. I have to laugh. When Don comes out of the sleep chamber and snaps himself back to life it's pretty damn funny. Now it's time to test the atmosphere and they turn to the bio genius for some assistance. He imitates Dr. Smith's voice once again to hoodwink Robot for their bidding once again. The bogus voice impersonation is simply ridiculous. This is a classic. Don West offers an explanation.


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Conveniently, the Jupiter II has landed its opening entrance doors next to a ramp of soil. Breaks don't come much better. How big is the Jupiter II lower level? I love the stick maneuvering by Robot. So, the environmental Robot is doing its environmental job, testing the atmosphere and testing the soil. "Conclusion: environment can sustain human life. End of report." By the way, is it me or are they really squeezing two floors into that tight Jupiter II. I love the Jupiter II, but man it's like the Doctor Who's Tardis in there. Okay, some arguments are plausible, but they are shoehorning alot into that spaceship. Don assembles the Chariot. Does he literally assemble the Chariot? Assembly might account for space limitations. Otherwise, how does that thing fit inside the Jupiter II? As a young lad, I always did love the Chariot. It's a classic. Despite the fact it's like a glass house on tank runners, it is hands down one of the coolest things ya ever did see. I think I could watch that thing ride around for 50 minutes and I'd be happy. Of course, I'd be channelling my inner three year old, but everyone has to have an inner three year old.

Moving on to Chariot space issues, I'm not sure how Robot fits in there. Does he have a special slip back there? Can it shorten its lower half? Is Robot disassembled? Or are his feet/legs severed and placed in one of those suitcases on top of the Chariot? There are many interesting physics-based questions in play here. It's hysterical to watch Don drive the Chariot if you're really paying attention. He sort of just pulls on some sticks. It doesn't look like he's actually driving it with any rhyme or reason. He might have been better served with a steering wheel. Still, I suppose a steering wheel might have produced the same kind of random effect. You know you're in trouble when you're driving and you ask your backseat passenger "how am I doing?" It would appear Judy Robinson is the navigator and Don is the driver [wouldn't he like that?], but the instrumentation is in the backseat. That's a tough set up especially if you're driving solo.
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Costume design gets major props. They did a stellar job with uniforms throughout the series. Okay, perhaps outfits could have been purchased from the local winter shop, but they are supremely cool! From the tin foil space suits to these arctic coats to the more colorful spandex-like tights in later seasons, there is much that is memorable about the series' work in the area of clothes design.
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Robot is packin' the heat.
The family is clearly looking for John and according to Don they should have landed on the planet's surface somewhere near his location. How could anyone possibly imagine a human entering the planet's atmosphere with absolutely no shielding or physical protection is still alive? Why anyone would expect John to be alive and not ground to carbon dust is simply astounding. We're going with it though. June Lockhart as Maureen Robinson often agrees with Don and looks pretty and just sits there. She's a lovely woman. Don picks up something. Don tells Maureen it may be John, but then it might not be. Boy, that's ingenius. I love when Robot lgrabs one of the weapons. Packing heat Robot positively ready to unload. Unfortunately, our rifle packing B-9 is merely passing weaponry off to Don. He grabs his laser rifle and off he goes.


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Nope, not John.


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I'm dying because I'm overthinking this thing way too much. I'm absolutely cracking up. Now I didn't recall this happening so early in the series, but it is with Island In The Sky we are introduced to one of the kids' other favorite characters, Debbie. Debbie! Good Lord, that's the best name you can come up with? What if it's a boy? It mumbles Bloop bloop bloop endlessly. All kidding aside, I do so love Debbie. I cannot recall how long she remains with the series. The meeting begins when Don spots some trees rustling and he heads over to see if it's John. Instead, it is an alien lifeform [otherwise known as an adorable chimpanzee with pointy Spock ears]. Hysterical. I love that monkey and so does Don.

Now get this, here's Don , early on, extremely concerned about the planet's surface and would prefer to do a week of testing before venturing out, but under the circumstances goes out to find John anyway. Okay, we understand. Yet, without any precaution or knowledge of the sentient lifeform on the planet Don reaches in and picks up the creature known as Debbie with no knowledge whether or not it's poisonous or bites. There's no evidence of infectious disease information or contagions. Into Don's arms goes Debbie and off he goes. Ha! So funny. I mean of course it's a monkey with pointy Spock ears, but don't you have to play it like you don't know that. The creators needed to play within the reality of the Lost In Space universe and by by-passing these kinds of rules of logic, this is when the series passes into camp. So funny. So Don goes all Clint Eastwood a la Every Which Way But Loose [1978] or Any Which Way You Can [1980] and now has a monkey on his back with absolutely no concern for his safety or the family regarding exposure to the lifeform.
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Unfortunately as the camera pulls back our man John is in a small ditch not far from where Don picked up his new monkey friend.
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"For Pete's sake, what's that?" cries Will. Why Will, that is a space monkey with pointy Spock ears. Ha! Don is bringing it to your Chariot with no knowledge of the potential for disease and it may be harboring something that could possibly infect and kill you all within hours. Just thinking.
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The scanners picked up a lifeform and the Chariot brought them to the monkey. Obviously they are unaware Dad is right over the hill. With little concern for Dad's well-being Penny finds the monkey adorable and must have him as joy overcomes her sweet, little heart. Maureen isn't crazy about the idea. Don tells the monkey, "Come on fella beat it!" Watch it Don. Those monkeys have been known to rip people's faces and hands off with little effort at the blink of an eye. One moment cute and cuddly turning into a raging beast of horror the next. Maureen agrees to let Penny keep her monkey. No one seems to be worried about the danger of the creature, disease or the possibility it may not want to be a domesticated house pet on this strange planet. The Sci-Fi Fanatic is about the only one concerned here. Go figure.
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Regarding their missing family member, John, Maureen reaches out via radio. He attempts to reach his radio to check in when it explodes. Huh? Don is like, relax, it's no use, don't even bother trying. Heck, we have a monkey now, let's move on. I'm busting around. The Chariot's scanner zeroes in on another lifeform and Don hits the ground running again. He spots his friend and John notifies Don there is a strange electrical force on the surface. That explains the exploding radio.
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Will blurts out some instructions to Robot and quickly remembers he must muster up his fake Dr. Smith voice. Terrible. How long can this gig last? "Fetch the rope and do what you can for the old boy." Hysterical. This time, Robot throws the rope down suggesting he's no longer going to be some Robinson family lackey and won't respond. It looks like the jig is up for Robot. Robot's directive is to check on safety every hour on the hour, but the safety of what? Dr. Smith? Off the Robot goes. Judy grabs the rope to help her father and Don. John tries to pull himself out. Just be careful of the electrified tree behind you. Somehow falling from outerspace onto the planet's surface has left John miraculously unscathed. It would be a terrible fate to make it safely down to the planet only to die at the hands of an electrified shrub. It's a big happy family reunion. Don asks "what happened?" I think it's pretty obvious but let's find out. The parajet kicked in at approximately 100 feet above the planet's surface resulting in the eventual landing is said location.
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Speaking of miraculous, minutes later, Robot traverses much terrain to get back to the Jupiter II, without the assistance of The Chariot. Robot arrives at homebase to apparently rescue Dr. Smith. Blurting "Operation Rescue!" Robot comes to Smith's aid. Robot even performs CPR on Smith. This environmental Robot can do anything!

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Argh! Dang Electrified Tumbleweed!
En route back to the Jupiter II in The Chariot our family of heroes encounters one of the most terrifying foes of the series, an electrified tumbleweed. Hysterical! I'm not sure exactly who the smart one is here. Will seems fairly logical in his thinking whereby Dad seems more than willing to place his family in jeopardy with absolutely no protection to said passing electrified tumbleweeds, or plantlife, shrubs or trees, or other random roaming Debbies.


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Science fiction certainly takes a back seat to family adventure in Lost In Space, but like a passenger in The Chariot, we roll with it. Smith needs Major West's piloting skills and once he has those he plans to "liquidate" Don along with the rest of the family. Nice. Robot confirms he is to "Destroy Everyone." Smith prefers "eliminate." Poor Robot is always subject to the nasty whims of Dr. Smith throughout the series. I always yearned for Robot to be smarter than that. Smith is clearly taking a shine to young Will. "Too bad about young Will though, the only agreeable companion I've found on this ghastly trip." Smith would like very much to play Will in chess again. Robot indicates he plays chess and Smith scoffs no one can beat a Robot. I'm not so sure. Clearly you can manipulate Robot with a phony voice. There's nothing to suggest he can't lose at chess. Robot can't be that smart.
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The others return to the Jupiter II. "Robinson alive, impossible." Referring to John we would respectfully agree Dr. Smith, but it is true. Its these kinds of exchanges that make Lost In Space a ride of fun. There are no apologies from Smith for his nefarious nature. This is a typically classic bit of dialogue whereby the cheese factor is significantly reduced.

It must be rather uncomfortable knowing you have a venomous scoundrel like Smith on board with your family. You'd think there would be alot of back watching. Despite Smith's nature the family is often begrudgingly accepting of Smith's presence. They are a decent group. Smith might not last as long with other families. I like these simple moments of the family setting up for dinner. John waxes philosophical concerning his family's plight as he analogizes hsi family's first days in space with that of the first settlers who came to the shores of America and endured hardships of their own.
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Will has disobeyed strict orders to stay on the ship and has gone to The Chariot to make repairs, because he's a boy genius. Smith indicates the danger of being outdoors with Robot lurking implying Robot may not actually help him, but rather hurt him. Robot approaches Will. "Phase 1: When unessential personnel alone - destroy!" To prove he means business he points to a dead stick and electrifies the appendage and the limb of wood explodes. Hysterical! Well, there you have it. We are left hanging once again and the cheese factor definitely increased a touch with Island In The Sky, but it sure is pure dang fine fun [say that fast]. Lost In Space is indeed an island in the sky of science fiction.
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TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK! SAME TIME SAME CHANNEL SAME BLOG.
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Island In The Sky: B-

Director: Tony Leader
Writer: Norman Lessing/ Shimon Wincelberg*

*Writer Shimon Wincelberg penned the first six episodes of Lost In Space. He would also pen Star Trek's Dagger Of The Mind and The Galileo Seven under the pen name S. Bar David.

6 comments:

Noel said...

Yep, I too could watch the Chariot roam the Mojave for 50 minutes!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Ha! I'm glad you're with me. Thanks Noel.

crowmagnumman said...

It's pretty amazing that they actually used a real jetpack for some of the shots in this episode, albeit a jetpack that could only run for around 90 seconds. But man, what fool wouldn't want a jetpack? I know I have always wanted one, ever since Lost in Space, The Rocketeer, and Thunderball. There aren't enough jetpacks in movies/TV shows these days.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

HA! yes, we need more jetpacks! I agree. Bring on the jetpacks.

Iron Man is closest to Jet packing and as much as I love the Iron Man suit, and the films are good, it's still not quite jet packing.

There's discussion of a Micronauts film in the works and perhaps the jetpack will return with the relization of the Space Glider character!

Great point Crowmagnumman. Thank you.

SpaceLove65 said...

I absolutely LOVED reading your review. It was fun and at times hilarious. The Jupiter II does look overstuffed...much too small for two decks, the chariot, and also the space pod. But I read that the Jupiter II was originally called the Gemini 12, and it only had ONE deck. That's why the Jupiter II looks so small...it was originally meant to be only one deck. The Bloop was seen up into early season 3. But it was just old shots of her. I think she officially left the 2nd season. Jonathan Harris said that the Bloop actually bit Angela Cartwright several times...and Allen fired her. She was brought back for the 2nd season because the trainer had the Bloop's teeth removed. When Harris tried to shame the trainer...the trainer said, "Just you watch it...she'll gum you to death."

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

I have read of this background history regarding Bloop and some of that will definitely be quoted from sources in future entries.

Thanks for mentioning it though. I don't catch everything.

Regards,
sff