Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lost In Space S1 Ep4: There Were Giants In The Earth

Moments like this populate Lost In Space bringing viewers back to Earth and making it special on an emotional level outside of the science fiction adventure trappings.

There is something beautiful and obviously nostalgic about watching Lost In Space Season One in black and white. Obviously it takes you back in time to those innocent, seemingly easy wonder years. Granted, it was comfort food upon arriving home following the dangerous traversing home from school. Nevertheless, there is something warm even antique about seeing this classic show in black and white. It's a special experience.

Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 4, There Were Giants In The Earth picks up right where we left off. Robot, in attack mode, makes way for Will Robinson at the Chariot. Will stalls the Robot by using his lame Dr. Zachary Smith vocal impersonation. It halts the Robot long enough for Will to utilize a series of chess commands to check the Robot's circuits. It is a clever move and further proof Will Robinson may have been the smartest one of the bunch. Major Don West threatens bodily harm to Smith if he doesn't get out to help Will. Smith arrives on the scene to deactivate Robot.

Poor Robot. I always hated seeing him used as a pawn in the manipulative hands of Dr. Smith. I truly did. It bothered me. I suppose on the one hand Robot was never played as a straight ahead "good guy" and it did play into the reality that inevitably he was a machine susceptible to sabotage or command. In my tiny mind, Robot was a force of good and I didn't care to see Robot toyed with. Jonathan Harris is brilliant as the conniving stowaway. The man is pure villiany who simply cannot be trusted. It will be interesting to see where his performance morphs along the way into the territory of comic villainy. As of this writing he is note perfect with the cowardly lion part of his personality mostly in check. There are everso brief glimpses. Jonathan Harris created the Dr. Zachary Smith as the man you love to hate that we know today. It's easy to see why people clamored for more of the scrumptiously evil Dr. Smith, while still others felt his performance eroded the show's credibility.

Dr. John Robinson establishes a plan to set up a self-sufficient community. A garden is built including peas, squash and other vegetables. His daughter Judy Robinson is just a babe doll. I couldn't help but notice those Colorado-like backdrops for the planet they are stranded. However unnatural the location shooting was for the program, I absolutely love those set designs and backdrops. There is a cleverly conceived look to the show.
Once again, that score by Composer John Williams expands their world even more. The photography combined with great performances makes for a beautiful show despite all that CHEEEESE to come! Yummy Cheese. I love it. Actually, the other thing I love about Lost In Space is the complete absence of CGI. Special visual effects are limited. Thankfully, I love styrofoam rocks and battery-powered models and all the other good stuff that went into the classics of the '60s and '70s. It's pure creative ingenuity.

Dr. Smith reports to Maureen Robinson that he has come up with some kind of hydroponic solution for the garden. Elsewhere, John Robinson is setting up equipment to create a high energy defense shield around the Jupiter II encampment.
Mrs. Robinson looks an awful lot like The One To Be Pitied with that laundry basket. A woman's work is never done. She declared sarcastically one evening, "I love doing the laundry. There's plenty of it and I love doing it!" Without missing a beat, the Boy Wonder quipped, while eating his bag of chips, "Now that's the spirit mom." Dangerous. Danger Boy Wonder! Indeed.
Morning comes and John and Don head off to repair the Chariot. Will attempts to get the okay to repair the Robot, but gets his wings clipped with the old "William" in that voice. You know the voice your parents used. You always knew you were in trouble when your folks called you by your full proper name in a stern tone. End of story. I love the juxtaposition of Maureen Robinson with the laundry basket against the Jupiter II spaceship. Funny enough, no matter how modern things get you still have to take care of the chores and do the laundry. It won't wash and fold itself. The show, which is often referred to as a kind of Swiss Family Robinson in space is grounded in domesticated life against the backdrop of monsters and adventure. Instead of a Swiss family shipwrecked in the East Indies based on the novel The Swiss Family Robinson [1812], we have the space family Robinson shipwrecked in space. The combination of family life and interstellar action is most alluring. The ladies are gardening and making dinner while the boys are out shooting ray guns. Sweet! You'll note the family has corralled some kind of alien ostrich-like lifeforms in the background to the right in the photo. In fact, they are definitely ostriches.
Whoa! Those pea pods could give new meaning to the fears of "EAT YOUR VEGETABLES!"
Everyone rushes out to the Garden where Dr. Smith's vegetables have mutated into massive veggies. He opens a giant pea pod and it explodes to life. Will is there to shoot a laser into the pea pod killing the ferocious, voracious pea plant. Yes, it's suppose to be a monster pod, but springs out like a pea pod in the box. Ah, the crazy space existence of the Robinsons.
With the Chariot repaired John and Don head back to camp. Unbeknownst to them, the men drive right over gigantic footprints. Back at the camp John and Don study the biological makeup of the vegetation's growth. Neither animal or vegetable. Whatever incubated in that six foot long garden pea is a lifeform from the planet's soil, a single celled organism that grows at a miraculous rate of speed.

Against his father's wishes and direct orders the curious Will reactivates the Robot. A huge growl rumbles from the dark of night. Robot investigates, but finds the force shield is operative. Robot decides to deactivate. A very bad idea. Will, you are in such hot water. Will's father comes running out and he is none too happy. I love these father-son moments. I love how Dr. Robinson is so stern with Will. It's called parenting. Remember when parents parented with real parenting? There still out there just not as many. Friendship comes before parenting for many. I'm certainly not an expert, but the hammer has to fall sometimes.

Yes. Tough love. Those were the days. Anyway, while on patrol Robot discovers a humanoid sixteen meters tall and repeats "does not compute." It just doesn't jive with his data banks so Will pulls the plug on him. Again, poor Robot, they love pulling his power pack. They pull that poor bugger's power pack like I put on underwear. I think it happens at least once a day. Dr. Robinson writes in his journal.

The garden vegetables are growing quickly thanks to that terrific mutant soil. Unfortunately the plants are also dying. The family suspects cold temperatures, but would never know while inside the Jupiter II, which is equipped with automatic heat. Mrs. Robinson indicates the weather could drop below zero and they simply wouldn't know it. John and Don go on a little scientific expedition to determine the weather patterns. Atop a precipice Dr. Robinson's equipment indicates the temps will dip 150 degrees below zero in just over a day. The Jupiter II could never isolate them from that kind of cold. They need to get out of dodge and fast.

America's version of Japan's kaiju eiga.
Don and John stumble upon some huge footprints and inevitably run into the very beast that has been leaving those tracks. It is officially monster #2 in the series, a giant cyclops and definitely more impressive than the papier-mache beast found in Episode 2, The Derelict. Granted, the Boy Wonder is not fooled and refers to the monster as 'a man in a suit with one eye'. Still, cool enough he says. I agree. The footage looks great and I was reminded of the story of The Galileo Seven from Star Trek. There Were Giants In The Earth pre-dates that episode of course, but the concept is similar. The production is a marvel to behold.

Will spots the giant and runs off to help his Dad despite his mother's pleas to return. Child-driven episode or not, it is truly astonishing to me how exciting and how well this entry holds up visually after over 40 years. I am humbled by the vision of this installment. Will shows up to blast the gargantua with his laser pistol just in time to get verbally whacked by his father for disobeying his direct order once again. Get used to it Will.

John, Don and Will return to the Jupiter II to inform the family they must leave this place before the estimated deep freeze strikes. Smith refuses. He will go it alone. Will says goodbye and it is a less than sentimental exchange. The Robot is deactivated again! It would be interesting to get a count on deactivations.

The family is unable to find daughter Penny Robinson. John orders Don to leave within the half hour as the temps are going to drop quickly. Off John goes with the parajet. There are some ultra-cool bits presented within the show like the parajet. I can understand why kids were glued to the set in the '60s absolutely riveted by the stroies, action and characters. Speaking of cool, Penny is off with her spiky turtle pet [I love turtles!] and pointy-eared Debbie bloop. She makes friends with some pretty nifty alien animals. A turtle with spikes and a monkey with pointy ears make for great domesticated pets. Still, those animals look awfully familiar. I could swear I've seen animals just like them here on Earth. John finds Penny and takes off with Debbie in tow. I guess the turtle is on her own. She is either doomed for turtle soup or accustomed to the temperature shifts, because the others parajet off like 'smell ya later'. I imagine the turtle has done just fine on the planet all these years and really doesn't need the help of the Robinsons. There are times when I think Debbie would prefer to go it alone too. John and Penny make it back to camp just in time to exit in the Chariot and leave the coming cold behind.

As the Robinson family heads toward the inland sea the collosal creature is there to greet them with giant styrofoam boulders. Not good. Don gives it a couple of whack-a-zaps with his super-duper laser rifle and down the monstrosity goes like a sack of potatoes. Debbie gives a couple of claps to cheer on her newfound family. I would imagine that Debbie could be the source of much amusement on any journey in the Chariot. No wonder they want to keep her. I wonder what it was like filming with that little monkey on set. Anyway, Debbie is cute and funny and looks like a chimpanzee version of Spock. That critter's a keeper.

The Chariot is damaged and the power unit is in need of repair so the family camps out for the night. There's no bean-eating, Blazing Saddles-styled farting around this campfire friends. I love this bit. Billy Mumy as Will on guitar with a delightful little number while Penny dresses Debbie like a doll. Hysterical.

Billy Mumy actually does play the guitar. Penny sees Don kiss her sister Judy's hand. The sequence reminds me of some of the old films like It's A Wonderful Life. Composer John Williams really lends the sequence a touch of class and substance. Next day, the Chariot is on a tear burning tracks as the lightning is flashing everywhere. The family takes cover from the storm and finds an ancient city of ruins. Ancient cities of ruin always leads to fun, adventure and excitement for kids of all ages.
Welcome to the fantastic NO-CGI world of Lost In Space.
This family finds action and adventure at every turn. It's great being a Robinson and it's great being a kid watching the Robinsons. I've often been accused of being a third child by The One To Be Pitied I'll have you know. If it means a steady diet of science fiction fun like this, call me 'kid' anytime you'd like. My Boy Wonder likes Lost In Space. Well sort of, he finds it a bit scary and creepy. I think he buys into this series more than others because the black and white stock delivers the chills compensating for the classic special effects often derided by my son. This is a good, old-fashioned science fiction thrill quest.

Penny loses Debbie and she and Will run off to find her only to happen upon skeletons inside the temple. It's like a maze of hidden rooms. There's all sorts of alien life on this planet. Debbie the Bloop, spiky tortoise, the Giant and now these skeleton folk. Could they be related to the giant? Could the soil grow beings like they grow that peapod? Granted, the folks in the lost city appear to have two eye sockets. The rocks begin to shift and crumble and the family is cut off from one another. John and Maureen begin using the laser pistol to cut through to the other side of a wall to get to Don, Judy, Penny and Will. It's a cliffhanger folks and there's more action here than a bowl full of Mexican jumping beans.

Make fun of a show like this all you want as camp, but it's often considered one of the best in science fiction for a reason. There is just so much damn fun to be had. Season One is certainly the best of the three seasons when it comes to delivering the sci-fi action minus the camp. Each episode is chock full of wonder. There is a true cinematic appeal and scope to many of these early, black and white entries too, which may explain why they worked so well with audiences. Is the Chariot still out there in somebody's junkyard? I'd really like to have it. Is it fit for roadway transportation?


There Were Giants In The Earth: B+

Director: Leo Penn
Writer: Carey Wilber/ Shimon Wincelberg


Anonymous said...

It will probably come as no surprise, considering my avatar, but I think that this is my favorite episode of Lost in Space. I tend to think of the first 5 episodes as one big movie anyway. But this episode had the almighty cyclops. That thing had such a ridiculously awesome roar.

This was a moment in the series where the big budget was really evident. It feels more like a movie than a TV show in those first 5 episodes.

It's kind of disappointing that nowadays there's a much more obvious split between TV and movies. TV shows are so often never able to deliver on the creators visions. Babylon 5 was one of the greatest TV shows ever made, thanks to the amazing writing and acting. But, as with every show, the TV budget was obvious. I'm amazed at how epic it managed to feel anyway. That's just a testament to how great it was.

SFF said...

Duely noted! I love your User ID icon!

Well said my friend. These episodes are clearly linked by Allen's vision and Season One is particularly strong in this way.

The cinematography and sweeping pans of the planet surface and other details really contribute to an epic science fiction yarn.

So many series, even with all their CGI access, failt to compare in this way.

Think about it. Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica always looked like they were filming in British Columbia on those forest surfaces.

Series like LIS and ST:TOS offered us clear variety of location and generous detail my masterful artisans that worked on these series. Great point. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Very true. I'm a big fan of both shows, but it was hard to ignore that they were Vancouver-based productions. SG-1 managed to vary it up a bit, and SGU has put some genuine effort into trying to film in varied locations. But with Atlantis it was particularly bad. Every planet looked like a Canadian forest. Is it just a lack of effort? Or is it really that hard to do on-location shooting for a TV show?

I think a lot of what helped create the alien atmosphere in Star Trek TOS and Lost in Space was that they filmed exterior locations on sets with matte painted background much of the time. They did that with Forbidden Planet too (my favorite sci-fi movie) and it worked wonders. Such an eerie and alien-looking location. Maybe they should do that more today? Film on sets and digitally add in some alien-looking backdrops. The least they could do is take a normally boring exterior shooting location and digitally augment it. Throw in some crazy-looking atmospheric effects and maybe some weird mountains in the background. It can't be that hard, even on a TV budget.

SFF said...

Well articulated my friend.

The shows today often look lazy.

Farscape seemed a cut above with its efforts to use color, etc, but the Stargates [and I like them] just make little effort in this way.

Anyway, the artists behind these early shows simply CREATED and WORKED with pure ingenuity and generated something akin to visual magic. These are special shows to behold to be sure.

Thanks so much. Glad to have you on board!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, good point about Farscape. I actually haven't finished that show yet. But I've seen a lot of it, and I know exactly what you're talking about. That show was an exception in that it put a lot of effort into making the planets and the aliens look truly alien. They'd go to a jungle planet and it looked completely unlike any jungle on Earth. I don't know how they pulled that off so consistently.

SFF said...

Exactly. Farscape paid attention to detail, like these shows. I should qualify that. Lost In Space may not have paid mind to some continuity issues or logic details, but set design details were really special.

Farscape captures that feeling and is probably a great example of utilizing traditional techniques combined with the computer embellishments along with the classic mattes.

Mister Nobody said...

Great thread. AWESOME pictures.

If you really love LIS check out this forum I found (its not mine, but its really cool)


SFF said...

Thank you Mister Nobody that is clearly somebody!

Thank you

SpaceLove65 said...

I agree with what you said. This was a beautiful episode. It showcased Angela Cartwright's acting abilities. It has always been a favorite of mine! :)

SpaceLove65 said...

SpaceLover65: Thanks for the great review of There Were Giants. You had wonderful pictures.

I thought you and some of your readers would enjoy this video by Bill Mumy so I'm sending it.


Here are the words:

The Ballad of William Robinson

My name is William Robinson and I’m forty-two years old.
I’ve seen the hot side of the sun, I’ve seen blue icy cold.
I shot the one-eyed giant down with laser in my hand,
And I’ll never see my home again or walk on Earth’s green land.

In 1997, we set out on the Jupiter II,
Bound for Alpha Centauri, my family and small crew.
We ran into a meteor storm, the wrong time and wrong place,
It’s been six months and thirty years since we’ve been lost in space.

My father died five years ago, there was no better man than he,
My mother’s never been the same , so now it’s up to me.
Our pilot is a handsome man, my sisters both could tell,
And Dr. Smith could get us killed, but that may be just as well.

I’ve worked the mines of many worlds to fuel and power our ship,
I’ve got a robot for a friend and to help along our trip.
I’m sending out this message now from this ungodly place,
In hope that someone will rescue us from being lost in space.

My name is William Robinson, I’ll never take a wife,
No children will I father, I have no normal life.
Show me mercy in this universe or show me God’s true grace,
Amidst I am among the stars for I am lost in space.

SFF said...

HA! That is great. Thank you and thank you for the link! Terrific!

Anonymous said...

Isn't space much colder than 150 below zero?