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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Lost In Space S1 E1: Impact

"The Robinsons stick together."

So this writer is here to tell you that I'm pretty disappointed by a lot of things right now. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. People have lost their ever loving minds. The people in this country have gone relatively mad. I know many writers and so-called journalists who are right there with them all and they are part of the problem.

So it's fitting the opening song to the new Netflix series Lost In Space (2018) is Drift Away by Dobie Gray, because that's pretty much where I'm at. I'm constantly searching for an escape of late. It's all too damn much. You dare not say anything today for fear of offending someone. So escape is something I'm entirely game for.

And Irwin Allen's Lost In Space (1965-1968), the original series, was all about escape and about the simple chemistry of a family and tight group of a few lost souls in deep space. Allen's show was impeccably cast. It had terrific production values and some very good stories. It had a magic and a charm. And of course when I really need to escape this fan will retreat back to the classics like Allen's aforementioned science fiction gem.

This writer plunges headlong into Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless' version of a classic with Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 1, Impact. My greatest hope is that the series can generate the kind of chemistry, magic and charm that seemed to be so effortless once upon a time in the original series. Ultimately that's what I'm hoping for more than anything. If it's better than that, well then chariots of fire. Though the script output to date by both Sharpless and Sazama has not been inspiring.

Listen the last thing I want to occur is to react like Robot. Oh no, Danger Will Robinson! It's the last thing we want from this series as a creative enterprise. I'd rather not hear this isn't your Daddy's series, because, well, I am your Daddy. But believe me I know it will be different, but I want it to be good. I want it to be great. I want it to succeed. Heck, I left work early today so I could come home, squeeze a grapefruit, kick back and get lost in space along with this new family, my potential new family.

Perhaps, sadly, the era of television that I loved and still love arrived at a simpler time in a less complex world and we can just never go back apart from our vast DVD and Blu-Ray collections. Perhaps those eyes of our youth have been so severely jaded nothing can ever be the same. If that's so then I'll go back as I see fit and accept that the best of the best for family science fiction dramas has already been written and is likely never to be written again. But, let's see how it goes.

I will offer my impressions of the series across the ten episodes and offer a final analysis with the tenth episode. The episode by episode analysis will be more like a deep dive by comparison to the overly terse reviews I've read to date. This writer wanted to examine the return of the franchise a little more closely and thoroughly.

My initial reaction entering the fray of this third iteration of Lost In Space (fourth if we consider John Woo's unsold 2004 Pilot found on You Tube), following Stephen Hopkins' 1998 film, offers another variation on that beloved Robinson family dynamic.

By all accounts in the opening entry the Robinson family is close and smart like those in the original. The blended family is to be expected today (This Is Us) and that is what we have with the new Robinsons clan. Though no transgender family members in this update.

The framework from Impact appears to immediately and notably draw from and upon the story written for the first season of the original (The Hungry Sea S1, E5). The new Season One here draws from the elemental components of that original's first season and the family's initial crash.

There appears to be some retread of ideas from the original series, but hopefully following a foundation the writers will move eventually into some new, genuine science fiction ideas and stories. There always seems to be this need to stay close to the source material for fear of straying too far from the path and losing general audiences when it comes to popular culture's beloved franchises.

Nevertheless, the new Lost In Space is a visually impressive work. Suit designs and landscapes are generally spectacular, but the story surrounding a temperature drop isn't new ground.

Now for some nitpicking. I'm older and I like a nice warm hat because it can be 50 and I'm still cold. So I couldn't understand some of the logic flaws here, not that the classic series was exempt from them either. Yet, it's apparently so cold that Judy Robinson is frozen solid in the ice as it crystalizes just moments before reaching the surface, yet the entire family are completely exposed without a single one of them wearing a warm knit cap. Put a hat on I kept thinking. That must be the old Maureen Robinson in me. I mean all of the Robinsons in the 1960s had these great fur-rimmed winter parkas with the white fluffy hoods. Remember? Except they actually wore them. On top of the freezing temperatures, it rains here. Huh. I'm not a meteorologist, but it wasn't adding up. Science fiction is one thing but some of what was in play seemed to defy science.

Meanwhile Will is in an area not too far away with vegetation. I know this is an alien world so anything is possible one could say. And people loved to call the old series campy. So we should be doing better here right? I mean we've come to expect a lot today, but let's face it this series, like the original, is already showing a few holes and a few shortcomings. Hopefully, in the end, we can still love it like we did in the 1960s.

Impact is a straightforward introductory tale of survival for Will, Judy and the Robinsons on a strange frozen/hot planet. The family's struggles are intercut with flashbacks on Earth to further develop the cast. What would television be today without flashbacks?

The family casting appears uniformly solid. One major development, even suggested by the trailers, is that Robot is not an Earth creation. The origin story for Robot here is significantly altered instead presented as an alien life form (though a series of, you guessed it, flashbacks leaves this determination in some question in the early going) that also crashed on the same planet during the meteor shower like the Jupiter 2 (and as we'll discover other numerically identified Jupiters).

The effects work is commendable and with time I could grow to like the humanoid version of Robot (though I'm really on the fence here), but nothing can replace the memory of the original Robot brought to life by Bob May and Dick Tufeld. This version is radically different from the original, even reminiscent in design of the Guyver, the robot from Neo Tokyo (1987) or Canti with its TV head from the anime FLCL (2000-2001). Even its annunciation of the words "Danger Will Robinson" are not as impactful, perhaps more ominous, but certainly colder and less memorable. But should we not be thankful in 2018 that it's not some CGI nightmare? Look would that 1998 film did to Bloop. That was a CGI debacle of epic proportions yet still more tolerable than Jar Jar Binks.

Briefly introduced is Don West and Dr. Smith, a woman assuming the name of the real Dr. Smith during the assault on The Resolute station from which all of the Jupiter ships were launched.

Say what you want about the original and those often dismissive remarks about the series as campy---damn them all, but the family chemistry and the dynamic of that group was never campy. It was sincere and charming and genuine. In the old series the Robinsons drew you in and stuck together and fortunately from what's on display in the early going here, they stick together today too. I like this group okay, this family and that's what I needed to see for starters.

Honestly unlike those people who simply cannot be open to another interpretation of a property I'm interested. I don't count myself among the reactionary. Seeing new ideas in properties like Battlestar Galactica and Ghost In The Shell are always a thrill and keep things fresh and alive. It's not that I feel the originals are bested in any way by them. They remain untouchable for me. Aptly speaking, even frozen in time, forever to be enjoyed, but new interpretations are exciting and different like the All New, All Different X-Men comic book and look how well things went for that enterprise in the 1970s.

The direction is solid here by Neil Marshall who directed the wonderfully intense horror film The Descent and episodes of some of my favorite TV series. Visually the pilot entry is in solid hands and doesn't disappoint on that level.

Still, there's much to learn about the series, how it's handled, where it's going, the characters, but it was a good start. Did Impact have an impact on you?

Impact Easter Egg: Potentially missed by non-fans in all of the action is a cameo appearance by none other than Bill Mumy, the original Will Robinson himself, in a scene at the end opposite one villainous Dr. Smith as played by Parker Posey.

Actually, in a clever spot, Mumy plays Dr. Zachary Smith and the Posey character, June Harris (named in tribute to the original actor), steals his jacket in effect handing the baton from an old cast member to the new, from one series to another. Keep an eye out for him because some of the camera shots work to obscure his face until he's revealed briefly in shadows.

Further this moment had to be bittersweet for Mumy who adored Jonathan Harris who played Dr. Smith and considered him a close friend until his passing. It had to mean a lot to the actor.

Writer: Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless (creators).
Director: Neil Marshall (executive producer, The Descent, Game Of Thrones, Hannibal, Hellboy).