It is the late twenty-first century and Planet Earth is heading for disaster due to the environment being so depleted by humankind. Do not despair, though, because science has discovered an Earth-like planet somewhere across the galaxy and technology has advanced sufficiently to allow the use of hyperspace journeys. Unfortunately, there is a terrorist organisation called The Sedition who are determined to sabotage the mission to the new world and have sent Doctor Zachary Smith (Gary Oldman) onto the spaceship to ensure the endeavour ends in failure. For the Robinson family who are the crew, the adventure is only beginning...
And ending as it turned out for what was meant to be a three film series finished abruptly with this first and last instalment when Lost in Space underperformed at the box office. At least it had the satisfaction of being the movie which knocked Titanic off the top of the American movie charts, but for those hoping for more after the cliffhanger ending of this, they were to be disappointed - for all we know, the Robinsons never did get home. Mind you, they never got home in the television series this was based on either, so maybe that was perfectly fitting.
There's a split personality to this big screen incarnation, as one one hand it seems to be happy to be as ridiculous as producer Irwin Allen's original was, but on the other it has a yearning to be taken very seriously, not only as a sci-fi adventure but as an examination of the family unit as seen through the bordering-on-the-dysfunctional version of the Robinsons seen here. Needless to say, any important messages bolted onto a pulp entertainment such as this have trouble taking, with a result that much of it comes across as hopelessly corny.
This may be part of the reason that this Lost in Space has suffered from such a poor reputation since its release, with many movie buffs looking down their noses at it from a great height of superiority. The fact that the script was brought to us by Akiva Goldsman, who also offered us the Joel SchumacherBatman movies among other resistable would-be crowd-pleasers, does nothing to further endear it to them. But for once, the writer is ideally suited to the material here, and his screenplay does justice to a series which was, let's face it, incredibly idiotic at times and to inject it with a dose of real drama, or as close as it was possible to get considering, makes for a far more enjoyable experience than many would allow themselves to admit.
For a start, the cast is overqualified, yet brings a genuine sincerity to what could have easily been a knowing self-parody. Oldman especially is an inspired choice to play Doctor Smith (although Jonathan Harris's signature lines included here will always be his alone), and he conveys a real menace and intelligence for a fairly two-dimensional villain. He also sells the uncertain theme of bad fatherhood, which sees young Will Robinson (Jack Johnson) neglected by his real dad (William Hurt) and finding guidance - or misguidance - in Smith, which you could argue was present, in a more humorous form, in the original. And Stephen Hopkins' direction produces a real gee-whizz love of technology that is at odds with the nineties rendering of the concept, but sympathetic to the mood of the sixties Allen was working in. All in all, Lost in Space '98 was and still is undervalued; it may well be a mishmash of conflicting ideas, and Bill Mumy should really have played grown up Will, but it's a lot of fun regardless. Music by Bruce Broughton.