”The battle between technology and the family unit. Between artificial intelligence and natural intelligence. The notion of amorality as represented by the Dr. Smith character. These are the things that intrigue us all. That’s what’s going on here.”
William Hurt speaking. And don’t let the fact that he’s wearing a space suit and carrying a ray gun fool you. He couldn’t be more serious — even if what’s really going on inside this massive soundstage on the outskirts of London is the filming of New Line’s $70 million-plus big-screen adaptation of Lost in Space.
Based on the loopy 1965-68 CBS sci-fi series — famed for its plywood rocket ships and aliens with visible zipper lines — it’s Hollywood’s latest attempt to spin box office gold from old cathode-ray-tube kitsch. Hurt stars as Prof. John Robinson, a 21st-century astrophysicist who takes his wife and kids on a trip through the cosmos, makes a wrong turn, and — typical dad — won’t stop to ask for directions. Mimi Rogers (The Mirror Has Two Faces) plays his biochemist wife; 11-year-old Jack Johnson is boy genius Will Robinson; cover kids Heather Graham (Boogie Nights) and Lacey Chabert (Party of Five) are daughters Judy and Penny; Friends‘ Matt LeBlanc is ace saucer pilot Maj. Don West; and perennial nutcase Gary Oldman (who played another interstellar psycho in The Fifth Element) is the notorious Dr. Smith. Also figuring prominently in the plot — not to mention New Line’s ancillary toy spinoffs — is a menacing 9-foot-tall robot who barks out ”Danger!” in an eerily familiar voice.
Naturally, the new, ’90s-style Lost in Space has been tweaked with some modern, post-ironic twists. ”It’s less campy,” promises producer-writer Akiva Goldsman, the brains behind the project. ”It’s a lot darker.” Or at least as dark as any movie can be when it features people-eating space spiders and a June Lockhart cameo. Its story line: Earth is torn by civil unrest and on the verge of ecological disaster, so the Robinsons blast off in the Jupiter 2 to colonize a distant world called Alpha Prime. Enter Smith, who sabotages the mission — just as he did on the TV show — and sends the ship hurtling into an uncharted corner of the galaxy. Oh, the pain, the pain!
In one sense, though, Lost in Space actually is serious business: It’s the biggest, most expensive film New Line has ever released — at a time when the studio could sure use a face-saving hit — and it’s designed for maximum sequel potential, with plans underway for at least two more movies. In fact, if all systems are go at the box office, we may be witnessing the birth of the most ambitious sci-fi franchise since Paramount turned another cheesy space show from the 1960s — the one that went where no man had gone before — into one of the most profitable movie series in history.
”Some people only think about how they can make millions and millions of dollars, but I’m not looking at the movie for its commercial potential,” Hurt continues, getting more and more serious — and incomprehensible — by the minute. ”To me, it’s a question of artistic realization. Of answering the question that made the series so interesting. Whether or not hetero-androgynous relationships can absorb and accept and tolerate critical situations and eke out a solution. That’s what intrigues me.”