Netflix’s Engaging Lost in Space Explores Humanity’s Destructive Ambitions
There is a sci-fi renaissance occurring on television at the moment, and a modern update of the 1960’s Lost in Space was certainly perfect timing by directors Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless. After enjoying Star Trek: Discovery, for the most part, another adventure into the realms of space and the galactic feats of the imagination that it requires was a tantalizing offer. Walking into the series without any expectations also added to the mystery, and with the series following a portentous beginning, it was easy to become gripped to the series from the start.
I admittedly had never seen the original series so I can’t compare them – and thanks to some wonderful fortune, have long forgotten the 1998 disappointment starring eternal 90’s dissapointer Matt Le Blanc (yes, that includes Friends). Perhaps it is an advantage to walk into a series without nostalgia, or perhaps I will miss something that the original writer Irwin Allen had sought to portray. However you find Lost in Space, though, there’s enough merit on its own to enjoy this reincarnation as its own standalone series.
Much like many science fiction dramas, Lost in Space relies on the fear of the unknown, using flashbacks to piece together its final portraiture. Arriving on a frozen wasteland after a disaster occurred on their ship, the series begins as a survival flick that adds more complex elements with each episode. Much like a Minecraft biome, the frozen wasteland is merely an enclosed terrarium for set the internal conflicts between the Robinson family as the series progresses; soon enough there are other biomes that create unique challenges for the Robinsons and the other stranded people that found their way to the planet when the disaster hits the ship.
Conflict of moralities is a constant theme throughout Lost in Space. With the discovery of robotic alien life, and with each passing flashback, the dilemmas become more and more nebulous. Will Robinson, portrayed by Maxwell Jenkins, befriends a robotic alien that becomes highly protective of the young boy. Indeed, it is the relationship between a fragile boy and a dangerous robotic life-form that all events orbit around, eventually swirling into the black hole of fate itself. To my surprise, Maxwell Jenkins did a fantastic job of portraying Will Robinson. Child actors have a terrible habit of 0ver-acting; the Harry Potter franchise is a prime example of this phenomenon, the three main protagonists often struggled to blend in with the amazing cast and their scenes felt like a pantomime at times.
Beneath the mist of ethical questions lays a feel-good 80s/early 90s cheesy movie, and I mean that in a good way. In this instance, Will’s baseball becomes an iconic symbol. Not only does he teach the robot how to catch, but it’s a symbol of the neglect he felt from his father John (Toby Stephens). How many films of that era featured a boy, a negligent father, and baseball? There were a few, and the cheesiness from that era finds its way into Lost in Space. The difference here is his mother (Molly Parker) has much more substance to her character, with flaws that match her talents, particularly the tenacity that can become oblivious. The power struggle between the parents is a reality that is close to home for many families and makes the series more relatable. The clashes overflowed into the community as a whole, and with the necessity to find a way off the planet, the series benefits from the additional layers.
One of these additional layers is Dr. Smith (Parker Posey) who isn’t all she appears to the rest of the community. If Will and the robot are the ship, Dr. Smith is the tide, pushing the story into the depths of struggle and sometimes deprivation. Sometimes her character feels overplayed, verging onto being unbelievable. Dr. Smith is a necessary antagonist that helps to pull the family to the limits, but the villainous side clouds the potential for her inner demons to conflict with any sense of morality; an obvious sociopath from the beginning. A more subtle introduction to her intentions would have made the series less predictable, allowing the audience to be as lost as the Robinsons were.
Nevertheless, Dr. Smith has a positive impact on the series as a whole, providing the despair of humanity when left in a survival situation. The disconnect between humans and their environment becomes a whisper within the galactic theme. With the planet they’ve crashed on suffering increasingly from destructive geo-activity, their escape becomes more and more hindered as the community is slowly torn apart by Dr. Smith and fear of the robotic alien. It becomes a great source of irony that a technology-reliant community finds its solution to leave the planet from the environment itself, and that helps to bring the connection between space and the natural world closer. It’s in this gap between the environment and the galaxy that Lost in Space is set, and the trials and dilemmas are conjured by these forces.
While Star Trek is an idyllic future of cooperation and compassion, Lost in Space is the naivety and destructive ambition that modern humanity too often shows; a dream versus reality. A pursuit of happiness. During the series, it’s revealed that Earth is dying and that they were leaving for Alpha Centauri for a better life. A dream becomes a nightmare, like walking into the bear trap you set up while hunting innocence, awakening to the cold reality. Much like humanity today, Lost in Space is left on a cliff-hanger, only this time a second series is highly likely.
Lost in Space is a series of plot twists and turns, packaged as an 80s/early 90s style, feel-good cinematic. After the disastrous movie, a return to the franchise was a brave endeavor by the directors. After watching the 2018 edition of the series, I’m now curious about the 1960s series and will undoubtedly watch it sometime soon to reach my own conclusions as to how well they compare. However, without the baggage of nostalgia, I’ve found myself enjoying this updated version and await the second season with a sense of optimism.