Depending on your age your first encounter with The Space Family Robinson may have been courtesy of Master of Disaster Irwin Allen, who brought the show Lost in Space to US TV for three seasons in the late ’60s. Joining the technicolor wonder of the original Star Trek in their second series (the first was shot in Black and White) the Lost in Space series was reflective of a future-looking American society, whose own journey to the stars was taking place at the time.
With the best science fiction holding a mirror up to the dreams and troubles of contemporary society, the original Lost in Space may come across as a kitsch take on Forbidden Planet and the numerous other outward bound adventures. However it drew on the public’s fascination with the colonisation of space, as well the encroaching advent of the Cold War, to serve up a memorable slice of ’60s small screen sci-fi.
With Allen at the helm, spectacle fired by the imagination was also going to be high on the show’s agenda. Much like the aforementioned Star Trek and the colourful and incredibly popular Batman serial there was a silliness to the show which endeared it to a wide audience. It is well remembered for the indecently healthy Robinsons and their saboteur stowaway Dr. Zachary Smith (played with relish by Jonathan Harris), and the famous Robot. Never given a name in the series (excepting the designation Class M-3, Model B9, General Utility Non-Theorizing Environmental Robot) his catchphrase, which was said only once, “Danger, Will Robinson!” was barnacled to the show in popular culture.
It was so memorable that it was used heavily used thirty years later for the big screen version of Lost in Space. Starring William Hurt, a Friends-era Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers and Heather Graham, the film is remembered mainly for the presence of Gary Oldman as Dr. Smith. As before, society’s fears and ambitions were first and foremost fuel for the family’s narrative. Earth was becoming uninhabitable, and the Robinsons were setting out to find a new home. With concerns about climate change finding their way into the public arena in the mid to late nineties it made complete sense to have this as part of the new narrative.
With an Apollo 440 theme tune, lines such as “Last one to kill a bad guy buys the beers…”, and an early CG transformation for one of the lead characters do date the film. However there were some wonderful callbacks for fans with many of the original cast returning to cameo, giving their blessing for what was meant to a brave new franchise for the series. It didn’t make the money it needed, and thus it can now be seen as a product of its time, yet there are moments worth reliving. The Robinson’s ship leaving Earth was jaw dropping then and returns its power. Plus Penny’s Robinson’s video dairies are spot on predictions for today’s YouTube culture.
Another twenty years later and Netflix have brought their considerable power to bear on a new iteration of the show. Prison Break’s Zack Estrin is serving as showrunner for the new version, produced by Legendary TV. As with their other sci-fi shows (Altered Carbon and The Expanse are two recent examples) the budget allows for the ten episodes ordered thus far to explore the future in even greater detail.
The cast and crew have been quick to assert that though the show will be tailored for modern audiences the central notion of a fractured family, stranded far away and searching for home, will remain in place.
The streaming giant have brought many new visions of the future to their platform. Duncan Jones’ Mute is one of the best, and is indicative of the type of progressive content Netflix are looking to bring to their audience. Hopes are high for the series, which debuts on the service on the 13th of April. The many iterations of the show over the years go a long way to proving the idea is an evergreen one. How this particular version of Lost in Space will take inspiration from today’s society is yet to be seen. But it’ll certainly be a fun ride.