It sometimes seems that Hollywood – and the media industry generally – is caught in endless cycle of reboots. It’s often said that there are no new ideas anymore, and in the last few years we’ve seen an increasing number of reboots and reimaginings of classic films and series. Some have been good; with the likes of Westworld surpassing the original in almost every way. Many have been flat, lacking the life of their earlier iteration. Others yet have met with criticism by deviating too far from the source material. So, which category does Netflix’s new Lost in Space fall into?
The premise is basically the same as it always has been. A family from Earth embarks on a mission into space, which goes wrong and results in them being lost. They meet various obstacles along the way, basically stick together as a family unit, and have to deal with a treacherous doctor who has his (or, as in this new series, her) own nefarious goals. It’s a simple formula, that also allows for enough “episode of the week” variation to keep the viewer interested. However, unlike the original, the new Netflix serial also has an over-arching story arc, tying each episode together.
Lost in Space is one of those golden age TV series that is often fondly remembered, but is also the product of another age. It’s emphasis on family values, simplistic moralising, and self-contained story lines is alien to the modern SF genre. This means that a new Lost in Space series has a difficult line to walk: between retaining the feel of the original, while updating a premise that (some would argue) is outmoded. 1998’s very unpopular Lost in Space movie, with Matt LeBlanc, demonstrates how easy it is to get things wrong.
But Netflix’s Lost in Space serial generally gets things right. The family dynamic of the original is there, but it’s updated in a more believable way. Yes, the Robinson do stick together throughout, but they are a fractured family: tensions often arising between the family members, and this in itself leading to interesting dramatic elements. The main story arc is peppered with short flashbacks that give an insight both into the world of the Robinsons, and their individual backstories. This episode structure works really well, driving along the main story in each episode. There are also some interesting reveals in these segments that show just how different the new Lost in Space is to the original: Maureen Robinson’s intention to effectively divorce Toby Robinson being a prime example.
The series has some good effects, as you’d probably expect, but this has become the norm for Netflix serials these days. The starship effects and sets were very interesting; especially the sequence in which we’re introduced to Dr Smith, and the various Jupiter landers must escape the main ship. The Robot is very different, and has been suitably modernised for a new era; I really enjoyed the wait for this character’s introduction in episode one, and I have to admit that I got a slight chill when the classic line “Danger, Will Robinson” was finally uttered… Overall, the look and feel of the feel’s tech is close to Interstellar, and the same attention to detail has been applied throughout.
I felt that Lost in Space was very well done, and although grittier than the original, it retained overall the feel of the classic. Much like Star Trek: Discovery, many viewers will find the revision of a classic jarring, and I don’t think that it’ll be to every SF fan’s liking. But Lost in Space is definitely worth sticking with, and I think most will find it an enjoyable addition to Netflix’s SF selection.