Sometimes, I close my eyes real tight and time-travel back to 1966. It's Thursday night, I'm 10 years old, and "Lost in Space" is on TV. No one in my family was allowed to breathe when "Lost in Space" was on. Breathing might interfere with the delicate but determined attempt by the Space Family Robinson to find their way back home. I was, quite simply, enthralled with the show. My friends used to tell me I looked like that proto-Luke Skywalker, Will Robinson. I loved that. For I longed to be the son of John and Maureen Robinson, the perfect dad and the perfect mom. I longed to have a robot that I could boss around, like a dog. And, finally, I longed to blast off into outer space, leaving my own dear family far, far behind. I hadn't seen the show for 30 years when I tuned in to watch part of the Sci-Fi Channel's "Lost in Space Marathon" last week. If Proust had his madeleine, I have the sound of Dr. Smith calling the robot a bumbling booby or a pusillanimous pip-squeak. I realize now that "Special Guest Star" Jonathan Harris created one of the great comic characters of our time--right up there with Barney Fife and Granny Clampett. The other thing I realize is that the show didn't just run in the '60s, it was about the '60s--specifically, the '60s family. If the Robinsons were lost in space, the average '60s family was lost in time, reeling from culture shock. Thirty years later, the whole idea of a perfect family...does not compute. My first thought when I heard that New Line Cinema was making a movie version of "Lost in Space" was, "What took them so long?" My second thought was, "Don't they have anything better to do?" Do we really need a $90 million movie version of a TV show that used to flaunt its cheapo production values and bargain-basement F/X? (Like "Bewitched," "Lost in Space" got a lot of mileage out of cut-and-hold shots.) No, we don't. But the folks at New Line think we do. Or hope we do. Or hope we think we do. Director Stephen Hopkins' Lost in Space, which stars Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers and Heather Graham, is an attempt to replicate the incredible success that Warner Bros. has had with its Batman series. Holy cash cow! And a holy mess. Like Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, Lost in Space is a supersonic drag--a video game from the louder part of hell. With over 750 special-effects shots at its disposal, the movie never lets up, hurling us from one potential disaster to another and then dropping us into a strain-your-brain time-travel scenario. Akiva Goldsman's script (he also wrote those two Batman movies) is two hours of exposition sprinkled with not-so-bon mots. The third time I heard John Robinson explain that you need a hypergate to go into hyperdrive, I thought, "That's the movie's problem, it's too hyper." As for the production design, it's both impressive and depressive--sets as wide as the Milky Way galaxy and yet strangely claustrophobic.
If the TV Robinsons were supposed to be the typical '60s family--dad the protector, mom the nurturer, kids a little willful but not by the closing credits--the movie Robinsons have a streak of '90s dysfunction. Hurt's John Robinson is so busy saving the world that he's losing his family. ("Reminder: apology video to Will," he voice-mails himself when he realizes he's missed another student science fair.) That's a fine way to go, I suppose, but the movie nails the point to the screen with a sledgehammer. Of course, it nails everything to the screen with a sledgehammer. By the end of this overproduced demolition job, I'd given up on the family that once meant more to me than my own.