Thursday, June 20, 2019

Shimon Wincelberg: On Character In Lost In Space

"He [Irwin Allen] had written a bible listing the characters, their names and backgrounds. To me, the characters were very bland and very much alike, and there was no real source for conflict. If I had invented the whole thing from the beginning, I would have had much greater contrast among the characters, greater potential for conflict, inner doubts---all the stuff that writers work with."

-Shimon Wincelberg, Starlog Magazine #159, Misplaced Among The Stars (p.68)-


Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Lost In Space S1 E5: The Hungry Sea

"One of Lost In Space's best."
-Marc Cushman, Lost In Space Vol.1 (p.321)-
"Listen, my pusillanimous puppet, I have no intention of chasing off after that family of lunatics.
You're suppose to be an environmental control Robot. Control something!"
-Dr. Zachary Smith to Robot as temperatures dangerously plummet in The Hungry Sea-

When Cushman calls Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 5, The Hungry Sea one of the best of Lost In Space (1965-1968) it is truly no exaggeration.

The effects work on display are second to none and still look magnificent today making The Hungry Sea one of the classic sci-fi adventure installments of any science fiction franchise. It's really no overstatement.

It's true the episode implements considerable footage from Irwin Allen's pilot No Place To Hide, but writer William Welch genuinely scripts some of the show's best and even most heated dialogue to date. The entry is a real gusher of excitement.

Welch was a fixture over at Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1964-1968) as an associate producer/ script rewriter for Season One. Allen would eventually repurpose Welch as a primary scriptwriter for many episodes of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea particularly Season Three and Four. He penned ten (10) episodes of the plot-driven Land Of The Giants (1968-1970) and eight (8) installments for The Time Tunnel (1966-1967).

The Hungry Sea would be the first of four of his entries for Lost In Space.

German born director Sobey Martin would be the second most prolific director on the Lost In Space series behind Don Richardson. Martin would direct thirteen (13) entries. Martin hailed from direction over at Irwin Allen's Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea series. In fact he directed The Ghost Of Moby Dick (S1, E14) guest starring June Lockhart for the show. He would also be tapped for The Time Tunnel (also 14 directorial credits of 30 episodes) and Land Of The Giants (with 21 directorial credits of 51 episodes). No wonder Martin fell asleep on sets.

Temperatures are off the charts with extremes at both ends of the spectrum (something the 2018 Netflix Lost In Space series drew upon in its first season), but so too are tempers flaring between its two male leads generating some much needed dramatic testosterone.

We've seen Major Don West have at it with Dr. Zachary Smith in Island In The Sky (S1, E3) and There Were Giants In The Earth (S1, E4), but with crisis upon crisis taking its toll upon the group he rips Professor John Robinson while he's at it about Smith.

"The man's a pathological liar," declares West and as John Robinson disregards West's suggestions West questions Robinson's judgment. It is a riveting display of character drama throughout, the kind often missing from Land Of The Giants, and West and Robinson are really at odds. It's impressive to see the two men able to say sorry in their own ways too and West really shines at the end showing himself to be a truly stand up guy even looking out for Will's perception of his old man with West taking the fall a bit even though he's not wrong (you won't see that kind of nobility in the West character for Season One of the 2018 Netflix series remake).

The Hungry Sea indeed caps off a solid five episode start with writers like Welch coming into the fold and amending new material to Irwin Allen and Shimon Wincelberg's pilot work to stretch out the pilot into these first five rounds. The drama is truly first rate material as the Robinsons and West and Smith struggle against the elements of nature and the nature of themselves along with some self-reflection as this family of survivors is on their own.

There is a trifecta of conflicts in play that makes The Hungry Sea a truly rousing bit of science fiction drama combined with action adventure compliments of Allen and as Variety once wrote loaded with "gee whiz special effects" (LIS V1, p.330).

For the bulk of this entry the Robinsons battle extreme heat. This cold and hot episode is memorable. In fact, though Lost In Space would become a monster of the week styled series instead the Robinsons battle the elements and themselves here. The monsters within and the elements generate real suspense. John Robinson even proclaims with fear "here it comes." These early episodes stir some good conflict and drama from battles with bubble creatures to the sun to parasitic, over-sized vegetables and yet the series hits all the right notes.

Notable in spots for The Hungry Sea are some wardrobe disconnects between the new footage and the stock footage utilized from No Place To Hide. There are also some tone changes in scripting thanks to some late additions for the episode. Still, these are minor issues of note and make it all the more fun to enjoy on this  sparkling Blu-Ray release.

Along with the stock footage, music was recycled from Johnny Williams' score for The Reluctant Stowaway (S1, E1) as well as the music from Bernard Herrmann for the pilot.

Jonathan Harris was also cleverly modifying his villainous character. "The original Smith was a deep, dark, scowling villain and I hated him. Quite honestly. I thought they might have to kill me off in five episodes because he was just so damn rotten. I didn't like the idea of being unemployed again, which is a dreadful state of affairs. I decided to take a chance---and I am a chance-taker---and sneak in … comic villainy, which I adore" (Marc Cushman, LIS V1 p.326). And so it would go for Jonathan Harris on Lost In Space.

It's worth mentioning there are scenes prior to The Hungry Sea, but especially notable within The Hungry Sea that speak to the lighter tone of Dr. Smith executed by Harris. In many ways, this offers ample evidence that Smith was far from the heavy, dark villain history has pegged him to be in this first season (though it gets worse). Even very early on, as evidenced here, Smith was shooting for villainy with a comic edge.

The Hungry Sea was the first episode of the series to be shot on schedule and credit goes to Martin. It earned him considerable distinction with Allen and thus he would be the only director from the first five to return moving forward and, as noted earlier, return often he would.

The Hungry Sea rounds out a savage five episode opening for this thrilling and special family space series.

Writer: Shimon Wincelberg (aka S. Bar-David)/ William Welch.
Director: Sobey Martin.