Friday, April 27, 2018

Lost In Space S1 E2: Diamonds In The Sky

"What are you?"

Could the second episode of Lost In Space be a play on the original series episode 3, Islands In The Sky? The creators appear to be paying some homage to the original series in spots and a respect of older fans' love of the series.

Just hearing the update and variation on that original John Williams theme music by composer Christopher Lennertz for the opening will bring you back.

By drawing from the plot elements of the original series the new Netflix series is definitely styling itself as a reimagining or retelling of that show.

With Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 2, Diamonds In The Sky, one can't help but imagine Irwin Allen himself might have been excited by its epic, grand scale adventure opening with a tribute to the space program (though Billy Mumy will tell you Allen was protective of his property). The latest installment begins with the focus on Don West and Dr. Smith. Though whether this writing team can execute the new series like the master of disaster Allen himself once upon a time is still in question.

So rather than a single ship, the Jupiter 2 as the island in the sky, the title here repurposes the concept of the original into a series of diamonds in the sky referring more definitively to multiple Jupiter launches.

It's not uncommon to see a series switch things up and play with gender roles for a distinctly popular, even iconic, male character. And there's something about a female Dr. Smith too that gives me promise in the way Katee Sackhoff quickly won me over in the role of original Dirk Benedict's Starbuck. Tits aside, call me a sucker for gender changes in characters because it does offer a different set of variables and dynamics yet to be explored in a series. I'm not opposed to trying a new approach. Doctor Who as a woman or another interpretation of The Thing are experiments worth trying. I'll be curious. In fact, there will be two female science fiction doctors in 2018. But gender application to a classic male character aside doesn't mean it's a guarantee to work.

Elsewhere, as John Robinson and Robot work to dry out the submerged Jupiter 2 in the ice below one begins to realize the bi-ped Robot in this Lost In Space is certainly more mysterious, more menacing and more imposing or intimidating for a new generation. As John Robinson begs the question looking into the face of the machine intelligence, "what are you?," you recognize Robot is something of a miracle worker too, a potential deus ex machina for any number of troubling scenarios and life-threatening events. We'll see how that goes and how the character is implemented with time. But as a character I could well imagine being quite intrigued and terrified by the machine as a child.

Following the events of Robot warming up the very cold family Robinson in Impact, Robot is at it again. The Jupiter 2 was completely submerged frozen in a massive block of ice, but Robot has them back in the thawed Jupiter 2 underneath the ice miraculously almost lickety split. Not bad for a single machine with alien intelligence.

Diamonds In The Sky continues to slowly reveal the family dynamic and for the most part the show seems to be establishing the beats about right between them. There's minor sibling squabbles and rivalry, but also a mutual respect and love for each other. The kids too show respect for their parents something often absent in today's film and television fare when illustrating those relationships. So I'm pleased to see Lost In Space attempting to set the right tone with the family dynamic rather than dumbing the characters down and going for snarky and sarcastic or even mean-spirited as some television tends to do in the modern era. Though it's not entirely absent. Even the language used by the children is suggestive this family is intelligent. These are not dumb people. The dialogue still suggests these are kids, but these are smart kids. I'm pleased the kids are more smart than smart ass generally speaking. We tend to lose all sense of propriety today. Lost in Space on that tip is shaping up to be entirely family accessible.

Regarding intelligence, only John Robinson gives me pause as he doesn't appear the genius that he was in the original series. He's more the contemporary man of action, which of course Guy Williams was as well. Guy had it all. Toby Stephens (Black Sails) appears to be strong, but of average intellect complemented by the always necessary common sense.

The casting of Don West isn't working for me yet. Don West was hot headed and much less the swashbuckling, self-serving, space pirate-like goon.

Something that's also a bit off for me is a complex marital connection between John and Maureen Robinson. It's not the romantic tried and true love of the original. The two are definitely impacted by the contemporary stresses of a modern marriage for a variety of reasons and that does give the family chemistry a slightly less rosy vibe. Would you expect anything less in today's television?

Rescued, Smith (aka June Harris) unites with the Robinsons in this entry while leaving Don West to his own devices lost somewhere else. Questions about Robot's safety emerge and the family makes it back to the safe confines of the Jupiter 2 following a nifty ride in the brand new Chariot. Still for all of its sharp production values and sleek, all-terrain design it's hard to beat the original Chariot or the excitement that surrounded one of the all-time, great, sci-fi adventure episodes in the original's The Hungry Sea.

I've seen some criticism of this new series as "sleek, shiny and boring" (Boston Globe). And the series' use of color and production design is mostly impeccable to the eye. It is a splendid looking production, with moments of real visual wonder, but boring? We'll see. One point to the contrary, in fact, I found when the show sped things up with giant leaps in logic this writer felt it ran away a bit. When it slowed things down for the simple quieter character exchanges I was reminded of those loving moments between the Robinsons of the old series (see clip). This writer prefers the latter if the writing and chemistry is worthy.

So with just two episodes it's early. The new Lost In Space has my attention and I'm as giddy as a school girl that they did bring the franchise back. If they can do it for Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica, keep a Stargate franchise running, why not Lost In Space. So thank you.

But the questions remain and where exactly this new series is going has me wading as cautiously into the unknown as Will and Penny venturing into the ancient caves of There Were Giants In The Earth (S1, E4 of the original series). I'll withhold judgment until more is revealed.

Writers: Matt Sazama/ Burk Sharpless.
Director: Neill Marshall.

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