Monday, August 27, 2018

Lost In Space S1 E2: The Derelict

"I mean they're not like us,
but maybe they are."
-Will Robinson-

The second episode of Lost In Space (1965-1968) is so vividly remembered for its eerie voyage into space and into the very bowels of an unknown space craft. The episode's effects and truly alien designs leave an impression on the viewer that truly stand the test of time.

The mammoth vessel, the derelict, that literally swallows the Jupiter 2 is the profound image left upon viewers of Lost In Space, Season One, Episode 2, The Derelict.

The episode picks up from the thrilling space hanger of The Reluctant Stowaway with John Robinson in peril. These cliffhangers would be the norm throughout Season One.

The series continues to be filmed in glorious black and white.

The Robinsons, Major Don West and Dr. Zachary Smith encounter their first alien race. Strange, crackling, buzzing electrical sound effects reverberate from Bubble creatures. It is dark and mysterious in the derelict ship. The episode is a true gem of science fiction unease.

It's this kind of exploration of the unknowns that have worked so well for other science fiction enterprises. Space 1999 (1975-1977), Star Trek (1966-1969) and Stargate Universe (2009-2011) would take similar approaches into the dark unknown. But Lost In Space was indeed doing it first with Irwin Allen's journey into space via space family Robinson.

The aliens themselves here are unusual, like the Horta that would one day grace screens in Star Trek: The Original Series episode The Devil In The Dark (S1, E25). There's nothing humanoid or monster of the week in the biped sense about these creatures. This popular form would take root as the series would progress.

And not unlike our resident Earth family, these aliens are seemingly awakened from suspended animation as the Robinsons were an episode earlier in The Reluctant Stowaway (S1, E1). Who are the aliens now? "I mean they're not like us, but maybe they are," as Will Robinson implores.

The Derelict suggests that Earth humans are just as alien to the creatures of the derelict vessel as the Bubble creatures are to the Robinsons.

The environment within the derelict vessel is also incredibly alien. It is a truly foreign creation and one that immerses viewers fully in the unknown. There is so much dangling glitter strands it half-reminded me of my grandmother's tinsel-draped and drenched Christmas tree from my youth.

Smith continues to shine forging an uneasy alliance with the Robinsons out of survival and his delicate balance in the role demonstrates how much better Jonathan Harris was at naturally walking that line then Parker Posey would be as Dr. Smith in the Netflix reboot (2018). But Harris though much more severe as the villain early on in Lost In Space as noted here, also plays the part with a touch of knowing humor especially with Robot in well-placed moments.

Additionally, Major West is still skeptical of the not so good doctor but the relationship has yet to deteriorate and become downright contentious or irksome as Smith would tell him outright in Return From Outer Space (S1, E15).

There are a host of nice moments throughout The Derelict. Professor John Robinson records his thoughts via a diary long before Captain Kirk was making entries into a Captain's Log. We get a glimpse of the Robinson family living quarters. Robot has been programmed to respond to Dr. Zachary Smith, though based on a request by Will Robinson pretending to be Smith (with his voice) Robot clearly doesn't have the latest and greatest voice-recognition software. This episode also appears to be the one to use the least amount of footage from pilot No Place To Hide if any.

Writer Peter Packer, from S. Bar-David's story (aka Shimon Wincelberg), spun a real gem of dark, creepy science fiction exploration for our family lost in space in this fist season effort. It would be one of twenty-five (25) stories he would pen for Lost In Space across three seasons. There are many sterling entries to come. Packer also wrote one each for Irwin Allen's Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and Land Of The Giants (The Flight Plan S1 E6).

The overall, epic scale of the entry was thanks in part to the wonderful technical and creative artisans that worked on Lost In Space. Wardrobe designer Paul Zastupnevich, photographic effects men L.B. Abbott and Howard Lydecker, special effects supervisor Johnny Borgese and others all contribute to a wonderful series. The immense set designs were in part thanks to the film Fantastic Voyage (1966) also being filmed at the time.

The mood of the entry was underscored by composer Herman Stein who would compose on three additional episodes as well as one for Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea and eighteen (18) episodes for The Time Tunnel.

This would be director Alexander Singer's only contribution to the series. He would go on to direct for Mission: Impossible (1967-1969), Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994; 6 episodes), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999; 6 episodes) and Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001; 10 episodes).

The Derelict cost nearly $190,000 dollars roughly $60,000 more than the target cost for each entry. This is the only one I'll mention as each of the episodes largely went well over budget.

I've noted that this writer was unfairly critical of my initial look back upon this series. It was clear the artisans on the series without a smidge of help from computer technology created something wonderful and imaginative entirely by hand and it is a wonder to behold looking back particularly on this gorgeous new Blu-ray release. To compare the production here and the production of something like Stargate Universe or something as near perfect as Penny Dreadful (2014-2016; a recent obsession) is nothing short of comparing an apple to an orange. It's just not fair. What is on display in Lost In Space is a bona fide classic of beautiful work by everyone involved. You will either love and embrace the pace of something this hauntingly beautiful classic offers or you simply won't have the patience and that would be a shame. Lost In Space easily ranks among the best of what Irwin Allen had to offer.

The Derelict is another Season One work of art. Perhaps that it looks this amazing on Blu-Ray has me gushing but this is truly fantastic stuff.

Writer: Peter Packer/ S. Bar-David.
Director: Alexander Singer.