Lost In Space (2018): Season 1
Remakes have been part of the entertainment-industrial for as long as people were willing to enjoy a story. The rate of proliferation of this methodology has rapidly increased in recent years. as with anything that is used so frequently the results will statistically settle into a bell curve, most examples occupying the middle with outliers on the worse and best results. Of late it appeared that the studios were concentrating on the least imaginative screenplays offering little if any true entertainment value. Salvation for those of us whose childhood was built upon the original movies and television series there is a studio committed to giving these stories the treatment they warrant and the respect for the audience we deserve. That studio was not part of the traditional movie and broadcast television entities. Nor was it an extension of the wildly successful cable networks that have freed the artistic forces driving popular entertainment freedom from the restrictions of the FCC and MPAA that controlled content for many decades. the latest paradigm dominating home entertainment resides with the streaming video services, in this instance, Netflix. Among their constantly expanding catalog of original movies and series, they have undertaken to modernize one of the most lovingly remembered and exceedingly campy series on television, ‘Lost In Space’. The original premise was to bring the novel The Swiss Family Robinson), a from the early eighteenth century to a television audience. While the reference to the book with the name Robinson, is mostly forgotten, that name has become integral to the spacefaring interpretation. The original series was a staple for homes in the sixties, coinciding with the public fascination with the exploration of outer space spearheaded by the race to landing a man on the moon. There was an attempt to revitalize the property in 1998, met with lackluster reviews and Backoffice. Now, in 2018, Netflix has done what they have excelled in, retooling a campy story into a mature, dramatic series that entertains and challenges the viewers.
The perennial dilemma facing a showrunner attempting to resurrect a television series that was such a significant part of popular culture is the balancing act that often results in failure, retaining the elements that made the original such a hit while simultaneously revamping the story into something capable of appealing to both the original fans and a new demographic. The movie failed largely because the filmmaker attempted to substitute the revitalized craft of special effects. Choosing style over substance is frequently a fast lane to disappointment. Netflix has an expert at blending the character-driven storylines, reminiscent of the independent film, with the use of special effects, not to drive the story but enhance it. This is precisely the techniques mastered by a company that started as a mail-order DVD rental service. The business model of Netflix has been exceptionally robust, changing to keep pace with the changing technology, currently blazing new trails in media consumption.
Whereas the original Robinson left planet earth in search of adventure, this modern take became refugees when a meteor crashed into Earth cataclysmically destroying the biosphere. A massive interplanetary craft, the Resolute, was built that would carry hundreds of smaller, short-range ships, along. These ships were the Jupiters, designed to contain a family unit safely bringing the humans to a new world and providing a home and base during the period of settlement and acclimation. The Robinsons where assigned Jupiter 2, part of the 24th mission of the Resolute to mission to colonize Alpha Centauri. While superficially like their previous counterparts, this narrative introduces a far deeper character background and realistic personality differences. The father, John (Toby Stephens), until recently had been an active U.S. Navy SEAL. His constant absences resulted in estrangement from his wife, Maureen (Molly Parker). She is a brilliant scientist with a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering. She was also part of the design team for the mission. John was the biological father of the two youngest children, Penny (Mina Sundwall), a bright and inquisitive 15 year with a tangle of red hair, and her eleven-year-old brother, Will (Maxwell Jenkins), slight of build but extremely intelligent. The eldest of the three siblings is Judy (Taylor Russell), 18-year-old biracial daughter and eldest child. She is a mission doctor, having received accelerated medical training. Much to the credit of the showrunners, no mention of her different ethnic heritage is ever mentioned. Judy is a Robinson and a young adult with crucial specialized training. Typically, a television series would overcompensate for the difference with content annoying and insulting references and justify exposition.
The series is rich in backstory transforming a camp, science fiction into a tautly crafted drama with threads of mystery, intrigued and betrayal weaved into a fascinating tapestry. This is a technique that Netflix has mastered, transmuting light-hearted family fire into a mature view of the themes capable of serving as a showcase for incredibly nuanced performances and storylines. The narrative methodology employed in this series is compelling. All the requisite components are present but with completely novel twists. This is the goal of all remakes, retain the popular elements while infusing the story with captivating alterations that provide an excitingly new experience. One of the most fundament of these change permits an opportunity for the audience to bond with the characters. Before the mission was to lift off, John and Maureen were on the precipice of divorce. The papers were drawn, but at the last moment, John joins his family on the Jupiter 2. A significant storyline is concerned with two people reigniting the love held in their younger days. This all too familiar theme is juxtaposed with one of the most commonplace motivation in human behavior, sibling rivalry. Undoubtedly the sisters love each other unconditionally but the dynamic between an older sibling, favored with special treatment, and the middle child’s feeling of parental invisibility, is present. Judy was thrust into an adult role in the family and community thanks to accelerated training in the elite profession of medicine. Maureen gravitated to Judy leaving Penny feeling isolated. With John absent for long periods leaving a will in dire need of a strong male figure. A big brother, of sorts, is found when Will when he encounters the Robot (Brian Steele). The automaton is imposing with a face place od swilling colors. N keeping with a long-held trope, the colors are blues and violet under normal conditions but tum to an ominous red when the robot is in attack mode. It turns our=t that the disaster that resulted in many Jupiters ejected from the mother ship was the robot on a killing spree on the Resolute. Although the Robot has proven benign and helpful, devotedly answering to Will, survivors only remember the deadly carnage the robot inflicted on the Resolute.
The beloved, ‘bubble-headed ninny’ has become a deeply textured character germane to the progression of the central plot. Another character that made a similar journey to a darker role is Doctor Smith (Parker Posey). The original, brilliantly portrayed by Jonathan Harris, was a mischievous, family friendly antagonist frequently used as comic relief. Ms. Posey has a substantial background in a myriad of independent films. She was once hailed as the ‘queen of the Indies.’ Her interstation of Dr, Smith is dark, a seriously damaged malignant narcissist. He murdered the original Dr. Smith when the Resolute was attacked. This was after replacing her sister to get on board, in a nod of approval from the original, the true Dr. Smith was played by Bill Mumy, who as a child was the original Will Robinson. This Dr. Smith is overtly friendly, helpful and pleasant posing as a psychotherapist. As a seasoned con-woman, this disguise is ideal, encouraging others to speak openly concerning their deepest fears and desires. Playing the victim, she insinuates herself into the trust of the Robinsons, biding her time to advance her sole objective of personal survival. Ms. Posey is brilliant in this character with a concerned smile masking one of the most dangerous villains on television. Her goal of self-preservation in unbounded by even a modicum of civility or ethical constraints. Ms. Posey’s incarnation of Dr. Smith lies, steal, betrays and murders without an iota of concern. One scene provides a glimpse into how this woman came to be such a psychopathic monster.
While the previous Dr, Smith was self-centered, his degree of villainy was severely restricted by the FCC and the pervading moral limits imposed by the sponsors and audience. Netflix quickly adapted to the removal of traditional limitations including profanity and sexual content/nudity, in their original content. What is amazing about their reaction to such artistic liberation is they have master the art of moderation. A few mild, scatological expletives are sprinkled in the dialogue but, unlike other examples of their original material, Netflix has successfully achieved a symbiosis between mature themes and family acceptance. Finally, fans of vintage have entertainment have a creative source for quality movies and series.