I recently experienced a generation gap at a viewing party for the season premiere of The Pick Up Artist when I mentioned Bill Cosby’s Picture Pages and was greeted by a silent room of blank faces. Admittedly, all my friends are children between the ages of 5 and 7, so it’s not unusual to have these gaps in pop culture reference points, but it’s always kind of a cold water moment. To not know something new that people are talking about can make you feel out of touch, but it’s quickly remedied by finding out about it. While to talk about something that other people have never heard of is more alienating and uncomfortable, because those memories are the building blocks of your social personality. Which might in some cases explain Hollywood’s insistence on remakes. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that there is ever going to be a better idea than the one you fell in love with the first time, usually during your adolescence, which is the age when we’re all exposed to all the ideas, including the college idea that there are no new ideas. Ugh. College ideas are the worst.
But I would like to propose an even worse alternative to the standard generation gap, which is when the pop cultural reference point for something that you loved is replaced by the failed remake. Luckily, there is no Bill Cosby Picture Pages movie, so either you’re with me or go to your room. But as someone who never cared about the original Lost in Space, I can only imagine what Lost in Space lovers must have felt to see their beloved ’60s camp TV show turned into this late ’90s robodump.
Lost in Space is based on the TV show of the same name, which is itself based on the classic family story The Swiss Family Robinson, except that instead of getting shipwrecked on an island, the Robinson family gets shipwrecked on strange galaxies. In this movie adaptation, it’s the year 2058, and humans are getting ready to colonize a faraway planet called Alpha Prime. But the Earth is embroiled in a war against terrorists called the Global Sedition who want to stop the construction of the hypergate? This movie is confusing! The Robinson family is going to go to Alpha Prime first and get it ready. Somehow. So they get into their spaceship and go to sleep. But, Gary Oldman, a Global Seditionist, programs a robot to kill them and blow up the ship. But he gets double-crossed and is stuck on the ship. And then the robot starts a fire. And then everyone wakes up and fights the robot.
This movie is more than two hours long!
Then they use the ship’s hyper-drive so that they don’t crash into the sun, but without a hypergate, the hyperdrive will drop them randomly into the universe. Then they fight space spiders! Uh oh, a space spider scratched Gary Oldman! But the good news is that they found a Jar Jar Binks space monkey. Then they crash on a snow planet in the future. Then there’s about forty-five minutes of hyper-complicated time travel plots that’s insanely difficult to wrap your mind around for a movie this dumb, but basically there is a time bubble and they meet the future Will Robinson who looks like he’s been sleeping out in line for Phish reunion tickets for, like, a hundred years, and Gary Oldman is an evil CGI spider monster who wants to use a time machine to carry his egg sack back to Earth and turn it into New Spider Earth 2 or whatever, but then young Will Robinson reminds the robot about friendship, and William Hurt is not just a scientist he’s also a dad, and then in the end what’s important is family.
As with any family-friendly science fiction movie, this one is full of half-heartedly laughable attempts at depicting children in the future. When the girl from Party of Five sneaks out of the house on the Robinson Family’s last night on Earth, Will Robinson warns her that if their parents find out “mom’s going to go thermal.” No. She’s not going to go “thermal.” You know why? Because it’s 2058 and moms haven’t gone thermal since ever, because that’s stupid and has always been stupid.
Then again, it’s just as laughable when they don’t update things. Like when Gary Oldman receives a call on his HOLOGRAM PHONE and tells the person “I thought I told you never to call me here.” HAHAHAHAH. Whoops. I hate it when I am trying to hide my illicit sexual affair and I keep getting those late night HOLOGRAM PHONE CALLS. Awkward!
Other than that, this movie is just an expensive toy that isn’t actually any fun to play with. If we were to keep with that awesome metaphor, it’s the kind of thing that would sit on the shelf and eventually disappear not because it was dangerous or harmful or out of any parental protest, but just because no one wanted it. It’s not the Worst Movie of All Time by any means, it’s just kind of shiny and stupid. Sure, Matt LeBlanc is kind of silly as an ace star captain, and yes, the girl from Party of Five seems like a human incarnation of Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and no, space spiders are not scary, and yes, even the most casual use of time travel as a plot device will take a film into deeply complicated mindfuck territory because the space bubble was created by future Will Robinson’s time machine, but future Will Robinson would never have been able to create the time machine if it wasn’t for the space bubble in the first place, AND THAT’S JUST PART OF MY LONG TREATISE DEALING WITH THE PROBLEMATICS OF TIME TRAVEL AS IT RELATES TO NEW LINE CINEMA’S LOST IN SPACE (1998). But there are worse movies. I know. I’ve seen many of them.
This movie did provide me with a new saddest thing, something that I believe is unique to modern big budget Hollywood franchise films of the past 20 years or so, which is the eternal cliffhanger. At the very end of the movie, the Robinson family is forced to use the hyperdrive to escape from a black hole, but as we know, the hyperdrive is unpredictable! There’s no way of knowing where the Robinsons will end up! Except there is. They will end up in a discount DVD bin at a Big Lots somewhere. It’s called dramatic irony.