Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lost In Space S1 Ep5: The Hungry Sea

One of the Lost In Space classics featuring a little friend called the Chariot, a.k.a. the Snowcat in space.

"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." -Shimon Wincelberg [from LISFAN #6], The Lost In Space Encyclopedia II, [p.426]-
What an outline The Hungry Sea was by Shimon Wincelberg.  It was a simple, driving, linear, effective narrative tale of adventure for the space family Robinson.  We all have extremely fond memories of a whole host of key episodes from our favorite shows when we were growing up. With those fond memories comes a unique perception of those shows that doesn't necessarily hold up when watching them as adults. Anyway, Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 5, The Hungry Sea is hands down one of a handful of key entries in the Lost In Space run for me. We all have our favorites. This is by far and away the one I remembered vividly for the exciting adventure that befell the Robinson family inside the confines of their embattled Chariot. For me The Hungry Sea = The Chariot. This episode truly highlighted the excitement that befell the Robinson family when journeying in their Chariot. I always remembered this episode for that cool vehicle and it was my first exposure to that cool glass house with tank tracks that hooked me for many years to come. Honestly, I could have watched the Robinsons just trek all over the map in that thing as a kid and been just as happy if the cast never muttered a word of dialogue or happened upon another exciting event. I think the only time I've seen a vehicle awe me in such a way would be in the cheesy cool movie Damnation Alley [1977] starring Jan-Michael Vincent and George Peppard. Anyway I'm hungry so off we go.
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Let's face it Lost In Space may seem a wee bit campy by today's standards. It certainly doesn't hold up with the science fiction intelligentsia as it were like Star Trek has managed all these years. But there are clearly different expectations and it was a show created with different expectations by Iriwin Allen separate and apart from those created by Gene Roddenberry. But can we agree that today's standards suck! Because, Lost In Space, Season One in all its black and white glory, is a sight to behold. It captured the series at its most substantial and was certainly assured in its family-driven, science fiction identity. Whether it was the more significantly revered first season or the more colorfully discarded second and third seasons, it was always pure family-geared adventure and on that level it was simple, exciting and inviting each time out. Perhaps, at times, it was a little too simple, but that indefinable something captured by all involved, fronted by a conglomeration of acting talents and scriptwriters established a quality production comfortable in its own skin. Lost In Space has stood the test of time with much love and admiration by the likes of people like myself as a result of that singular focus.
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As we head into the fifth installment of Lost In Space via The Hungry Sea we see the creators giving serialized television a run for its money with cliffhangers and continuity as the series has been linked to this point since its debut.
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Our fearless family is trapped inside a lost city. Siblings Penny Robinson and Will Robinson are trapped behind a wall. Somehow Major Don West and Judy Robinson manage to get the stone wall to turn and maneuver to the other side to rescue them both. In a real head's up move by the major he turns his back on the shifting wall and it closes locking all four of them inside. Not West's brightest move to date. Professor John Robinson and Maureen Robinson find their loved ones. John starts blasting the wall with his laser-cutting weapon to free them.

The inspiration for the Chariot?
The credits roll with John Williams amazing score. The music signals it's time to be transported to another place in space. My God. I never seem to tire of that theme song. It really is a phenomenal score.
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Another Snowcat gem.
So the Robinson family breaks free of the city of death and off they go in the Chariot! I love The Chariot. I suppose in many ways it's not much more than a snow cat with glass encasing, but I still love it. Who wouldn't want one of those Snowcats. Back at the Jupiter II, Dr. Zachary Smith is in typically gleeful form snapping away at Robot. I have friends who love this show right along with me, while there are still others who scoff at the writing. Let's put it this way, sure it has its moments, but it's pure escapist family entertainment, not Farscape. The show was always good for some witty banter and tremendous barbed dialogue. Here's a pretty classic exchange between the good doctor Smith and Robot.

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"RRRRapidly." I love how Robot can roll those 'R's. We get a glimpse of Dr. Smith's cowardly underbelly in those final seconds. It's now 51 degrees in the Jupiter II.

125 degrees below outside. Temperatures are dropping rapidly for both Smith and the space family Robinson who are now making their way across the frozen Inland Sea. Don suspects it couldn't be less than 20 feet of thick ice. Nice computations with no scientific evidence from which to draw. Meanwhile back at the Jupiter II Smith uses Robot as his own personal hot coffee maker. Smith suspects the Robinsons have become either human Popsicles or monster meals.
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104 degrees below outside. 98 below and rising. Temperatures are quickly taking a turn for the better as it turns out to the benefit of one Dr. Smith. Smith is quickly worming his way out of another potentially doomed jam. The computer readings indicate things are going to heat up substantially very quickly. Smith, with some relish, regards the Robinsons as sure to be vanquished. His character continues its gradual transformation to coward. Not surprising, Smith wouldn't know what to do without the Robinsons.

Another Snowcat beauty.
As the Robinson family rolls along Debbie the Bloop sit in tow happily on Penny's lap as snug as a bug in a rug. Ultimately, it was Debbie who caused a lot of grief back at the lost city despite the family escaping with their lives. Debbie managed to return back to the Chariot just in time for a free ride following her latest adventure. She's a trip! Don and John discuss the readings and the rise in temperature and begin to question their decision to flee the Jupiter II. Don stands by his decision.
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They really need to make coffee makers like Robot.
Back at the Jupiter II Smith continues to enjoy his Robot brow beating time. I wish I had a dollar bill for every time Smith threw out a zinger at the Robot. I'd be a rich man. He has the best lines. They are really caustic, sharp and witty. Jonathan Harris came up with much of his own dialogue and Irwin Allen allowed it thanks to the growing popularity of his character.
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Robot [warms coffee with several electric zaps].
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Smith: "I said warm it up not boil it away." "I'd get more companionship from a cuckoo clock." Boy, he is rough. Robot would essentially become Smith's closest friend as much as that is mechanically possible.
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The ground quakes as the temperature rises. Smith just can't stand it and sensing the possibility he might actually be all alone should the Robinsons perish decides he's not so fond of the solo idea. Smith makes the decision to warn the Robinsons in the hopes they might live.
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Note plastic figurine family inside The Chariot. They look to be a few family members short.
There's an absolutely brilliant shot of the Chariot rolling along on land and it's close enough to the camera you can see the doll-like figures inside positioned as the Robinsons shaking back and forth from the movement of the craft. It's hysterical. Don comments how the darkness has given way to daylight. John ingeniously observes "it's a strange planet." Yes, you're in outer space and a long, long way from home. As they rove along on their Chariot tracks Smith reaches out to the Robinsons. Smith has done nothing to earn the trust of the Robinsons from the get go given his prior covert status as saboteur. Smith is like the boy who cried wolf at this point and is rarely given the floor due to a lack of credibility. The Robinsons move forward without heeding his warnings. Smith is beginning to plot and scheme as he sees fit to meet his needs and his ends without necessarily destroying the family that remains his final connection to humanity. We all need the human touch right?
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Smith: "Lame-brained, misbegotten skeptics, now they'll all die."
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59 degrees Fahrenheit outside and rising.
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Smith [referring to Robot]: "Stranded on an alien planet, no one with whom to exchange intellectual ideas, no one to talk to except this, this animated weather station."
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Pre-green screen.
Smith decides on sending Robot on an 80 mile mission. He must deliver a message to the Robinsons. Oh my God! So the Robot is standing in place while ice scenery scrolls behind him as evidence he is making his way to the Robinsons. It's a classic. I thought the ice was going to melt with the temps rising. Robot, watch out for that melting Inland Sea.
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I will quote John Robinson to makes sense of the nonsense. "Very little on this planet makes sense." there you have it. It's dark again. Don and John find burned vegetation. Moments later Robot comes strolling into their makeshift camp and Don grabs his laser pistol and blasts him despite Will's protests and outcry. Wow, all that way and that's the thanks he gets. Geesh. Granted, if I was 80 miles away I'd be a little concerned about seeing the Robot waving his arms about and yelling "matter of life and death" based on his short, erratic track record here on the series.
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John and Don have their first verbal beef when John tells Don "you could have waited Don we always had our lasers." Don looks at him with the classic Major West 'hey, thanks a lot for having by back' look. Will correctly surmises Robot was bringing the family a message. Yes, Robot was bringing the family a string of tape filled with orbital data regarding the planet's weather conditions. Here is our first official battle of testosterone-driven fun between titans Don and John.

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It's a great exchange and I love the last parting comment from Will as he goes and strolls off. He cracks me up. Well, Don is pretty steamed up and Judy visits Don sort of adding insult to injury by taking her father's side. So we have our first Judy and Don lover's spat here. Talk about feeling all alone in space. Ouch!

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There's all kinds of tension with the heat rising here on The Hungry Sea. In preparation for the bake-a-thon the family sets up their aluminum foil-based solar deflectors. Thank God they had those supplies with them. Who knew? It's 108 degrees now and at least their solar deflector-like awning is ready to roll.
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Cut to a tender moment between John and Maureen. There isn't a bit of sexual heat between these two actors [remember, it's a family show], but they are sweating up a storm. They do engage in a sweet hug with John rubbing her shoulder. Before you know another tremor greets the family. It is a strange and volatile planet to be sure. Shields are back in place. Geologist John Robinson and pilot Major Don West are at odds and continue to be so. I always liked the strong male personalities as a kid. I always loved both of these guys and sometimes I wasn't sure who I was rooting for. It was like Starsky & Hutch in space for me. They were both tough and I admired both of them at different times equally. What's a young lad to do? The sequences made for some terrific, albeit brief, character development for the two heroes we so admired in the series.
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The sun comes along in all its blistering glory as the family takes cover under the shields. Twigs and rocks flame and steam all around them from the scorching heat. Those better be some strong solar deflectors. Later, even the Robinson shields are charred and blackened from the heat. Still, they somehow manage to survive, dehydrated, weary and weakened, but glad to be among the living. It was like Kenny's honey roasters for awhile there. The family prepares to head back to their home away from home, the Jupiter II.
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This is another great exchange between pilot Don and geologist John while whippersnapper Will pipes in freely with little respect for his elders. I do think his father tried to give him a cue to hit the road, but Will needs to cool it. Still, his affection for the Robot is growing and it's never more evident than it is here. He declares Don is murdering the Robot as it is disassembled. Now that's a stretch Will. It is a robot after all. Don is clearly more than just a pilot, but pretty good with machinery as well. By the way isn't an "animated hunk of machinery" the same thing as a "robot"? The writers on Lost in Space do their best with the family plan.

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The family prepares for the journey home and the hungry Inland Sea. As a kid, this kind of just rocked the house with coolness for me. The modelling shots, while certainly explainable, are classic and outstanding even by today's standards. I'm reminded of similiar model shots used in Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds and Space:1999. There's nothing better than miniatures. This is beautiful work.

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Watercat.
A storm arrives and the Chariot is tossed about to and fro, but does an impressive job of staying the course and absorbing the shock and pummeling of the Inland Sea's raging waves. "We're not getting any power" hollers Don. The Chariot is unresponsive. Yeah John, maybe you should have listened to Don. As a child with a thirst for excitement and adventure this was the scene to end all scenes when Don went topside to reconnect the solar batteries. It's one of those standout scenes that absolutely takes your breath away as a kid. I've never forgotten it and may have re-enacted the sequence in my own backyard a time or two.

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"Get me the solar wrench." That is hysterical! The solar wrench! How they filmed that scene to look so beautiful and so awesome is a small miracle I'm sure. Don spots a whirl pool. Not sure how in that crazy mess of a storm he does that, but he does, because he's kinda like Super Don. With the water pouring into the Chariot as Don makes every effort to repair the ship, the craft is whirpooling around like a wad of toilet paper being flushed down the drain. The Chariot is getting knocked around like a rubber ducky in a bathtub full of kids. It's getting the tar kicked right out of it. Eventually Don does get knocked off by a crashing wave, but hangs on for dear life, because, again, he's like Super Don. Don is gone. Now what I'd like to know and I've always wondered this, how on Earth could they not see Don hanging on with all of those glass windows around the Chariot. Hmmm. I mean it's a giant window box with wheels. How come you can't see Don? Judy is upset, but John holds her and yet no one seems phased by the rapid intake of water that is pouring relentlessly into the Chariot creating a potential submersible situation. Somehow the Chariot is knocked free of the whirlpool and Don miraculously crawls back inside the Chariot. With the power restored and the Chariot half full of water the family makes its move toward landfall. God love the Chariot! That thing is unstoppable!
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John takes time to write some thoughts in his journal and the family stops and gives thanks in "a weird tropical paradise." Well guys, it's not nearly as weird as that Cyclops or even Debbie the Bloop. This planet is a treasure trove of oddity and has made for an exciting run up to this point. The family gathers for a moment of Christian prayer and thanks for their blessings. I'll tell you, it's rare to see a sincere moment like that in television with characters giving thanks. It almost seems strange watching it now after being so desensitized to the mindless violence or prankster comedy of today's television shows. I also loved when Don waits and pulls Debbie from the Chariot. This is pretty sweet stuff.

Smith sees the family coming over the horizon and cannot believe his eyes- John Robinson is alive. Why? Perhaps because Smith had actually programmed Robot to take care of him specifically. John does the right thing and apologizes to Don for not listening to his solar battery concerns. Don, too, demonstrates himself to be a very standup guy here especially to young Will. Will also makes ammends with Don in his own way. Then there's young precocious Will trying to see if his Dad was wrong behind his back.

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As Maureen brings her husband a cup of coffee I couldn't help but wonder how prepared they were for food and drink. Thank god for gardens, although I'm not sure how those things are fairing in the extreme hot and cold temperatures. Just a thought. John's journal says it all, "the supreme question has now become one of whether we can survive."
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Because you demanded it. K-TEL presents ROBOT playing the hits.

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Robot performs a little Paddy McAloon and some Prefab Sprout or is it Duran Duran's 'Electric Barbarella' or perhaps Styx 'Mr. Roboto'?
With the family finally safe at home I found myself to be bloody exhausted. There's enough adventure here to lay a six year old out cold for a good night's sleep. With the heat rising tensions between everyone were also rising. That nasty old Dr. Smith is finding a way to place a wedge between certain members of Team Robinson.

An electrical storm upon them, John gives everyone a lesson in Electrical Storms 101. The radar picks up a blip and "it's a missile and it's headed straight for us." Good Lord. Just as everyone was about to hit the hay. Is there no rest for this weary band of travellers? The Hungry Sea is loaded with great moments of action and character growth and remains one of my favorite entries of Lost In Space.

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TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK ... Same Time, Same Blog!
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The Hungry Sea: A
Director: Sobey Martin
Writer: William Welch/ Shimon Wincelberg

6 comments:

John Kenneth Muir said...

Sci-Fi Fanatic:

Again, you have put together a beautifully-written and illustrated post.

I have the first season of Lost in Space on DVD and I occasionally watch an episode with my son, Joel.

"The Hungry Sea" is the episode he always wants to watch...because of that gorgeous chariot. I agree with his taste in sci-fi vehicles. That craft is just so cool...and this tale of survival on an alien world is pretty fine too.

It's easy, of course, to make fun of Lost in Space, but these early b&w episodes highlight a great sense of retro-futurism. I love the tech...

Great post.

best,
John Kenneth Muir

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thanks so much John. Always there for me.

Well, it sure sounds like your son has mighty fine taste and a keen eye for the best in SF vehicles I must say.

This was indeed one of Irwin Allen's finest moments.

You hit it too. I loved the sense of survival and adventure.

Say what you want about Lost in Space, you have to admit the creators did a splendid job of creating an expansive universe that this tiny family appeared to be lost in. You really had the sense these people were lost and very alone.

There was a definitive sense of survival for the Robinsons. They were indeed lost in space.

le0pard13 said...

I'm a sucker for the early LOST IN SPACE episodes, and this one in particular. Great write-up (and I always wanted one of those vehicles as a kid). The b&w photography really lent itself for this kind sci-fi exploration and narrative. I have to admit, though, my enthusiasm waned some when the later seasons went color. Nothing wrong with the color, but to me it signaled more campiness and less sci-fi aspect in latter stories of LiS. Dr. Smith also became a much less dark character, and more like an irascible relative in the family Robinson. He was more for getting everyone in trouble and comic relief. But, he was so good at being bad that first season. It still is my favorite. Thanks for this, SFF.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

You're not wrong. Your comments are spot on. That's very much a reality of the series. It certainly doesn't compare to Firefly or Farscape as far as depth. I'm with you. But, it's still good, old-fashion fun.

SpaceLove65 said...

I LOVED this episode too. The show was already in reruns when I was a small boy, but I couldn't wait till after school to rush home and watch the show. Just about every thing you said...I agree with. I've never let the special affects bother me...even when they were really bad. The show and the actors did their best. Allen developed other interests and the funding for special affects was virtually stopped. I'd almost rather see those cheesy affects than so much of the really lame CGI of today. Sometimes CGI is good...but other times...horrible.
I thought John and Maureen had great chemistry myself. But I always did view Maureen as a mom. Especially after LIS and Lassie. But I thought it really sweet when they had their moments. Every now and again John would lay a nice smack on Maureen. However, the network didn't like the public display of emotion.:(
So...they kinda ruined the relationship. I won't even bother to mention how the network and censors ruined Judy and Don. They eventually became more like brother and sister. That was pathetic. But I'll forever adore many of LIS episodes. This one is a favorite. So is "Mr. Nobody," "Follow The Leader," and "The Anti-Matter Man." I guess I adore these episodes because they weren't solely based upon Dr. Smith...who kept stealing the limelight. Although I do like Dr. Smith...you can't base EVERY episode on that character. That's what helped ruin the show.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Loved your remembrances here of the series. I couldn't agree more.

I will happily take these traditional, vintage effects over contemporary effects any day.

Mainly, I believe, because these shows centered on character and intimate moments. Today's television (often times) and film, both of the science fiction variety, can often be more sound and fury than solid character science fiction.

So, these shows may be nostalgic but they are solidly entertaining. I do wish, though I enjoyed him immensely as a kid, that Dr. Smith was more of an ensemble contributor in retrospect.

I really liked Mr. Nobody too, probably more than I gave it credit for when I covered it.

Thanks so much for writing.
sff