Friday, August 10, 2018

Lost In Space: No Place To Hide (Pilot)

"It happened that the pilot had too many climaxes in it.
We crash landed, we were caught in a whirlpool and frozen, then we saw a one-eyed giant, and more.
The plight of the family lost credibility.
So, these sequences were cut up and became climaxes for the first five episodes.
We had to shoot new scenes leading up to these climaxes...."

-June Lockhart, Lost In Space Vol.1: The Authorized Biography Of A Classic Series (Marc Cushman, p.224)-

Imagine a Lost In Space (1965-1968) world for a moment without Dr. Zachary Smith or Robot. Can you imagine a successful Lost In Space without these two key critical characters?

You can picture it for a moment clearly with the launch of Lost In Space pilot No Place To Hide. For a time Smith and Robot were actually not integral to the plan of the series. Smith was indeed an afterthought even.

Upon completion of the generally underwhelming Lost In Space reboot (2018) over at Netflix, this writer truly couldn't get back to the original series soon enough. We covered a fairly through examination of the ten episode first season of the Netflix series. Now onto the real thing.

Let this particular pilot entry serve as notice to an ongoing look at the original Lost In Space as part of its 50th Anniversary celebration, but also to properly absorb the series with its newly preserved Blu-Ray restoration (at a cost of about 700,000 dollars).

It's hard to believe it's been 50 years. And I'm beginning to feel it.

Irwin Allen's pilot for Lost In Space was written largely by the Shimon Wincelberg (Star Trek, The Time Tunnel) and Irwin Allen. It was produced and directed by Irwin Allen. It was shot over a remarkable 17-21 days including post-production. It was over budget and off schedule, but it was an adventure to behold, a special production to be sure and still is as a spectacle of entertainment.

The CBS pilot cost a grand total of 689,000 dollars just under what Desilu would spend to launch Star Trek (1966-1969) with its pilot, The Cage. Prior to this Irwin Allen's pilot for Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea held the esteemed crown of costliest production.

The Lost In Space pilot, No Place To Hide, was a massive undertaking and a success of creative talents, the chemistry of its cast and the fusion of Allen's flair for action and adventure coupled with Wincelberg's preference for character. The confluence of these variables nearly guaranteed its long term success.

As Wincelberg noted in Lost In Space Vol.1: The Authorized Biography Of A Classic Sci-Fi Series (p.190) by Marc Cushman (an invaluable Lost In Space resource), "I was not a great reader of science fiction. I didn't see many science fiction movies. So I treated it pretty much like Little House On The Prairie. It was a tight family surrounded by a hostile environment. The emphasis was very much on making it a family story." This was very much the story of The Swiss Family Robinson (1812) shipwrecked in space.

At the heart of any great science fiction is character and story and Wincelberg certainly understood the core elements and flavors of a good series and what makes for great characters and what draws people in week after week after the action fades. The combination of Wincelberg and Allen worked to great effect and both artists balanced one another with their respective strengths.

The film was shot at the Trona Pinnacles, eschewing the often favored Vasquez Rocks (Arena from Star Trek), to create the largely unique and alien landscape that truly brings to life this Lost In Space pilot. The Trona Pinnacles would reappear from this stock footage throughout Season One for example in Invaders From The Fifth Dimension (S1, E8).

Much of the footage filmed for No Place To Hide which included the Gemini 12 (to be renamed the Jupiter 2), the Chariot (a retrofitted snow cat), a rocket belt, ostriches, Debbie the bloop, a mechanical turtle, a Cyclops with a suit made of palm tree bark and so much more was essentially repurposed for the opening five episodes of Lost In Space Season One including The Reluctant Stowaway (E1), Island In The Sky (E3), The Hungry Sea (E4) and There Were Giants In The Earth (E5), the exception being The Derelict (E2). Smart editing in the aforementioned episodes would alter the story and include Smith and Robot.

Allen was a tremendously efficient effects man unabashedly recycling material where required, a workaholic and demanded a lot on budget and on time as much as humanly possible.

He recycled often for Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1964-1968) and he would do the same for Lost In Space and sometimes between them both.

Though some scenes were shot in color, the pilot would be black and white as a cost-saving measure, but the end result would be impressive nevertheless. The entirety of Season One would be in beautiful black and white. Our look back will provide you with those glorious images.

This writer wanted to crack open the 50th Anniversary Blu-ray box set and take a look at the series all over from the beginning starting with No Place To Hide, the original unaired pilot of which I had never seen.

This also included footage that never made it into the first season. Most of all I really wanted to see how Blu-ray treated and complimented the series. It looks better than ever like a new series and there will be plenty of images taken in our look back at the series thanks to this impressive remaster work done by the Blu-Ray producers.

Complete with a fun commentary track by Mark Goddard, Billy Mumy, Angela Cartwright and Marta Kristen, No Place To Hide is a breathtaking thrill ride of science fiction adventure that looks immaculate on Blu-Ray. Attention to the characters suffer a bit, but that was always the result of Irwin Allen's attraction to flashy, big excitement and to the detriment of the actors.

That lack of focus in character was well-compensated and would change with the launch of Season One of Lost In Space, The Reluctant Stowaway and the addition of Dr. Smith and Robot. The scripts of the first season would quickly remedy the shortcomings here and work to the strengths of this stellar cast.

Whatever its minor deficiencies No Place To Hide is a great piece of science fiction adventure filmmaking that is bold and bursting with eye-popping effects work. It is a classic piece of television in every way. It was awe inspiring in 1965 and it still looks astounding to day.

With the Blu-Ray set in hand Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic wanted to truly prep a proper, reverent look at Season One and with this pilot post we are ready to blast off into this beautifully restored series!

Writer: Shimon Wincelberg/ Irwin Allen.
Director: Irwin Allen.
Affection between John and Maureen Robinson was kept to a minimum.
The Gemini 12 soon to be the Jupiter 2.
Professor's log.
The premiere laundry machine yet to be developed.
The Cyclops star of Episode 4 There Were Giants In The Earth.
Penny and Debbie the Bloop riding the mechanical turtle.
Debbie the bloop. Sadly and lazily, Debbie was a chicken in the 2018 Netflix series.
The Chariot.
Footage for Episode 5 The Hungry Sea.
This captain's log of choice was a journal for Professor John Robinson before the iconic log of choice on Star Trek for James T. Kirk.
Invaders From The Fifth Dimension are glimpsed but would not return until Episode 8.


Naldoman said...

This telefilm can stand toe-to-to with most sci-fi flicks of the 50s and come out a winner.

Neutron said...

Great stuff the classic series. I had high hopes for the new Netflix series. I did not expect it to be a carbon copy of the original. But I too was underwhelmed. It wasn't that it was a bad series, it just wasn't very good either.

SFF said...

So sorry to just see your comment now.
I couldn't agree more! Just outstanding!

SFF said...

Neutron so sorry to spot your comment so late. My apology.
Well said regarding the new Lost In Space. Quite underwhelming. And yes, an average series at best. Having said that, I will watch Season Two of the Netflix series but my hopes won't be nearly as high this time.