------------------------------- Movie review
XX 1/2 "Lost in Space," with William Hurt, Gary Oldman, Mimi Rogers, Matt LeBlanc, Heather Graham. Directed by Stephen Hopkins from a screenplay by Akiva Goldsman. Several theaters. 130 minutes. "PG-13" - Parental guidance advised for violence and profanity. -------------------------------
Long before family values became a political issue, the space family Robinson spread a theme of familial bonding throughout the galaxy. From 1965 to 1968, TV's "Lost in Space" portrayed the adventures of the five Robinsons, Major Don West, Dr. Zachary Smith and a jovial Robot as they tried to find their way home from a mission gone horribly wrong. The underlying message was: The family that strays together, stays together.
Advance word suggested that 1998's "Lost in Space" would be an earnest, high-tech rendering that turned up the dramatic volume while faithfully re-creating a wayward family of space explorers for the late-'90s. There's some familiar terrain here - time travel, alternate futures, alien bugs, a dying Earth - but also a lot of intriguing new ground for the space travel sci-fi genre, and the virtual environments in which the characters interact are uniformly spectacular. Unfortunately, the resulting mix of family values and thrilling imagery often works at crossed purposes.
In the year 2058, Professor John Robinson (William Hurt) has volunteered his family and cocky pilot Don West (Matt LeBlanc) to fly in cryogenic-sleep aboard the Jupiter 2 for a 10-year journey to planet Alpha Prime. Earth is used up and Alpha Prime is the closest planet that can be colonized.
As the advance team, the Robinsons' mission is to build a massive hyperspace exit door to match the entrance in Earth's orbit. Once complete, the rest of Earth's population would make the quick trip through to their new world.
Enter the odious Dr. Zachary Smith (Gary Oldman, back in scenery-chewing mode), who has sabotaged the mission and managed to get himself trapped aboard Jupiter 2 in the process. It's up to the Robinsons and Major West to get back on course, or humanity is doomed.
The bigger problems in "Lost in Space" come when the family stops to talk. Though they reinforce the tight bond that's at the heart of the movie - particularly, the bond between father and son - these Disney-fied scenes bring everything to a screeching halt.
Despite all this sappy chat, many of the relationships that made the TV show popular are effectively duplicated. Hunky Don West and brainy Judy Robinson (the adorable Heather Graham) trade cheesy, flirtatious barbs, and rebellious teenager Penny ("Party of Five's" Lacey Chabert) plays her scenes with spunky good humor. As intrepid eggheads, father John and mother Maureen (Mimi Rogers) struggle to create a traditional family milieu even as the Jupiter 2 is foundering in parts unknown.
The best of the old alliances are translated in the dynamics between 10-year-old Will Robinson (Jack Johnson), Dr. Smith and the Robot. Created by Jim Henson's Creature Shop, the Robot exists in various incarnations, all of which are affected by the guileless Will (and all are given voice by Dick Tufeld, who originated the signature phrase, "Danger, Will Robinson!"). Oldman's Dr. Smith drips with dangerous smarm in his dealings with both of them, and the Robot remains Dr. Smith's pawn and his nemesis.
Much of the movie plays like a live-action video game, and the sequel-ready ending feels akin to falling off a cliff. But with its appealing mix of heart and adventure, "Lost in Space" is great fun for children of the '60s or the '90s.
Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.