It was the first television space
fantasy of the sixties, the second prime-time success story
(after Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) for cult producer Irwin
Allen, cinema's future 'Master of Disaster' who went on to make
such landmark movies as The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering
Inferno. But fans of the campy charms of Lost in Space are in for
a shock with the $100-million-plus movie version: the
out-of-this-world kitsch humour that defined the original TV show
has been cut back to virtually nil.
"I fell on the floor
laughing when I watched videotapes of the old series" Stephen Hopkins, director
Director Stephen Hopkins (The
Ghost and the Darkness) is behind the camera on New Line Cinema's
biggest-ever production and he was, he says, initially attracted
to the off-the-wall aspects of the original. "I loved the
show because it wasn't restricted to galaxies exploding: it was
also about who was the best go-go dancer in the universe! I fell
on the floor laughing when I watched videotapes of the old
series, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. It
plays better in the memory now. People don't want to sit around
watching two hours of camp. Clearly we had to change focus and
direction with the movie. It had to have plot-tension, danger and
importance because, otherwise, who would care about the stranded
Space Family Robinson?"
Long in gestation as a
small-screen concept waiting for big-screen redefinition - much
like The Addams Family and Mission: Impossible - the movie
version of Lost in Space started out at Twentieth Century Fox.
But, when interest there waned in developing the property
further, producer Mark Koch secured the rights from Sheila Allen,
Irwin's widow, and began looking for finance. One of the parties
interested was Richard Saperstein, executive vice-president of
production at New Line.
Explains Saperstein: "Akiva
Goldsman (scriptwriter of Batman Forever and Batman & Robin)
and I went to college together and we absolutely adored Lost in
Space. So I called Akiva and said that, if he would write the
script for the film, I would buy the property."
"People don't want
to sit around watching two hours of camp." Stephen Hopkins
Goldsman, (whose other credits
include The Client and A Time to Kill) adds: "It's true that
Lost in Space was my favourite TV show. I watched it every day,
surrendered to its charms constantly and couldn't wait to take a
crack at a script. But my recollection of the show was different
to the actual show itself. What I held in my heart was an
action/adventure about people surviving in adverse circumstances.
What I saw after watching it again was a bit of that, sure. But
mostly I saw a great deal of high camp and sixties silver
face-paint. It scared me.
"So I set out to write a
script that was true to the TV series in its original form, but
also true to what I loved about the show, either evident or
implicit. The later episodes were silly and funny," he
continues. "Our film isn't. There's a lot of humour in it:
we've tried to be true to the spirit of the show in those places
where it seems appropriate, and there are well-placed reminders
of it. But the scale, scope and focus has changed drastically. In
the original show, the Jupiter II spaceship seemed to be the size
of a two-bedroom condo. Now it's as big as the Coliseum!"
Lost in Space began its hefty
21-week production schedule on March 4, 1997, and was shot
entirely at London's Shepperton Studios on eight sound stages,
where the anticipated franchise project utilised enormous sets
depicting alien landscapes and the impressive Jupiter II
interiors. It stars Gary Oldman as the villainous Dr. Zachary
Smith, with William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, Heather (Boogie Nights)
Graham, Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) and Jack Johnson playing
the Space Family Robinson, with Friends star Matt Le Blanc taking
on the role as their devil-may-care pilot, Major Don West.
Populated with other-worldly
creatures and hi-tech robots created by Jim Henson's Creature
Shop, Lost in Space features over 700 computer-generated visual
effects (an industry record) as it tells the story of the first
family unit selected to test out the experimental warp-drive
‘Hypergate’ route into the far reaches of the galaxy.
The goal is to research the colonisation possibilities of the
stars, but the explorers are marooned along with stowaway Smith
when the latter’s sinister sabotage lands them in a perilous
corner of space. There, the cosmic castaways must deal with an
insidious latent threat from alien moon spiders they encountered
earlier aboard the bandit Proteus spaceship, as well as confront
erratic time portals which bring the resilient family face to
face with their past and future selves.
Oldman was one of the first
actors to read Goldsman's script and thought it would be enormous
fun to play. "It's as simple as that," remarks the
star. "Akiva's screenplay said a lot of nice things about
values, family, father/son relationships, caring and love. It
wasn't just a wham-bang shoot-'em up.
hours of Carry On Spaceman would have been totally boring.
I'm completely behind the way Akiva and Stephen have
reinvented the concept" Gary Oldman
"Lost in Space has heart and
a great story along with marvellous special effects," he
continues. "In all honesty, I'm tired of playing villains,
but Stephen's take on the subject intrigued me enough to consider
the Smith role. Stephen started his career in comics and had been
conceptually in on Lost in Space right from the start, so I felt
in safe hands. Plus they decided to pay me a lot of money..!
"Akiva's writing has done
all the hard work for me," Oldman adds. "He's kept the
tenor of the original show but balanced it with what audiences
expect from a multi-million-dollar movie today. Actually, I kept
falling into a set pattern at first. I'd always want to have more
fun with Smith than I was being allowed. Believe me, it's hard
not to resist overdoing the camp with a character so ripe for
wanted to give Lost in Space a unique look - one you've never
seen before." Norman
Garwood, production designer
But Oldman understood why he had
to resist the temptation. "Sure, there's a segment of the
audience who want that and the papier-mâché boulders and the
wobbly Doctor Who sets," he says. "But I hope they come
and see the movie with as little prejudice as possible. It has
become a challenge to prove everyone wrong and show them our
choices are exactly the right ones. Two hours of Carry On
Spaceman would have been totally boring. I'm completely behind
the way Akiva and Stephen have reinvented the concept."
Putting that concept physically
on screen is three-time Oscar-nominated production designer
Norman Garwood who explains: "Stephen is an absolute comics
buff and his two comic-artist heroes are Jack Kirby and Steranko.
We looked at their sixties work and derived our own design style
out of theirs. We wanted to give Lost in Space a unique look -
one you've never seen before."