With the new series now on Netflix, Neil Calloway looks at a previous attempt to bring the Lost in Space to TV…
You’ll probably be familiar, if only by name or a vague recollection of a repeat when you were a kid, of the original 1960s Lost in Space, a campy pre-Star Trek sci-fi TV show about the Robinson family who, you guessed it, are lost in space. In 1998, thirty years after the original show ended, a big budget, big screen remake came out and did moderately well at the box office but wasn’t exactly showered with praise by the critics.
All was quiet on the Robinson family front until this new outing, but that wasn’t meant to be the case. About 15 years ago, another attempt was made to bring Lost in Space back to the small screen.
Titled The Robinsons: Lost in Space, a pilot was shot for WB Television in 2003. In a world where episodes of Altered Carbon cost around $8 million each, its budget of $2 million might not seem like much but for a network show back in 2003, that was serious money. John Woo – in one of his last US projects before returning to Asian cinema – signed on as director, with a script by Douglas Petrie, who had written an episode of Rugrats, worked on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and would go on to write Marvel’s The Defenders.
Though the Robinson family are still the focus of the show, there is no sign, in the pilot at least, of the original antagonist Dr Smith. The plot revolves around the Robinsons – father John is a hero of the war against aliens that took place some years before – going to live on a farming colony. The first ten minutes are mostly taken up with domestic unrest revolving around the fact that John has been an absent father. It’s more soap opera than sci-fi, though the robot built by the youngest Robinson does get to utter his classic “Danger, Will Robinson!” line early on. There’s an amusing moment when daughter Judy Robinson doesn’t know what a cowboy is (it’s set in 2097), but you’re hardly on the edge of your seat.
The show finally gets going, after a fashion, about halfway through, with a space battle. However, it’s largely shown through close up reaction shots of the cast. You start to wonder where the $2 million went, and then you question why something directed by John Woo is so pedestrian. There’s a man-in-a-costume alien, but rather than being like H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph from the Alien films, it’s more reminiscent something out of a 1970s episode of Doctor Who when they’d used up their budget on Tom Baker’s scarves. Will’s robot eventually saves the day, but not before David Robinson is separated from the rest of his family. If it had been picked up for series, you assume, as well as Judy’s budding romance with a young hot shot pilot, the story would be about the family searching for David.
Jayne Brook would go on to appear in Star Trek: Discovery, and Adrianne Palicki, after Friday Night Lights and a couple more failed pilots, now stars in The Orville, so this could be seen as good sci-fi training for them, and the sets that were built got reused in the Battlestar Galactica reboot. Ultimately though, the pilot is underwhelming and it’s no wonder a series was never made.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future instalments.