Lost in Space: The Complete First Season review by Mike Long

Today, most television shows are made up of either self-contained episodes where everything is resolved in the time allotted, or a group of episodes which have an overriding story arc. Lost in Space was a fairly unique show in the sense that the series had a basic premise (the Robinson's want to return to Earth), but each episode typically introduced an independent story which was completed in an hour. We can now relive that golden era of TV as Lost in Space: The Complete First Season comes to DVD.

Debuting in 1965, Lost in Space takes place in the future year of 1997. The Earth has become dangerous over-populated, so a team of astronauts is being sent to the distant planet Alpha Centauri to begin colonizing a new world. The Jupiter 2 spacecraft will carry the Robinson family to the stars. John (Guy Williams) and Maureen Robinson (June Lockhart) are both world renowned scientists. They will be accompanied by their three children, Judy (Marta Kristen), Penny (Angela Cartwright), and Will (Bill Mumy), and Major Don West (Mark Goddard), the ship's pilot, as well as an advanced robot. If the Robinson's are successful in their mission, they will be the first of thousands of colonists to leave the Earth.

However, there is a fly in the ointment, and that fly is Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris), the mission's flight doctor. He has been paid by a secret organization to sabotage the mission by programming the robot to rampage on the ship. But, Dr. Smith gets trapped on-board the Jupiter 2 during take-off. His extra weight, along with the robot's destruction, cause the spaceship to become hopelessly off-course. The Robinsons are able to gain control of the ship and land it on a mysterious planet. From there, a new adventure begins for the family, Major West, and Doctor Smith, as they start a new life as cast-aways in outer space. They will have to find ways to survive as they also attempt to get back to Earth.

Clearly, Lost in Space is simply "The Swiss Family Robinson" set in outer space, and series creator (and disaster film expert) Irwin Allen must be given credit for this ingeniously simply idea. However, Lost in Space grew to be more than that. Each week, the Robinsons & co. would meet with a new alien life-form -- some evil, some friendly, some benign -- but all highly alien. These meetings would typically result in a moral and/or physical challenge for the family. Thusly, the primary focus of the series was the plight of the stranded astronauts, but it was kept fresh with the never-ending parade of strange creatures. (Far Out Space Nuts would attempt to copy this formula years later, with less than stellar results. “I said lunch, not launch!”) While Lost in Space wasn’t an anthology series like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, it certainly deserves to stand beside them as one of the groundbreaking science-fiction shows of the 1960s. The show never veered from it’s main focus and, if nothing else, it certainly brought a great deal of special effects makeup to prime-time.

Along with the show’s stories, the performances made Lost in Space memorable. Especially that of Jonathan Harris as the morally corrupt Dr. Smith. Harris plays Smith as a walking case-study of anti-social personality disorder as this evil, narcissistic, fey, and cowardly man will do whatever the situation calls for to save his sorry hide. The character has become a staple of TV history, along with the Robot, whose “Danger Will Robinson! Danger!” call is the stuff of legend. Young Bill Mumy also stands out, as many of the episodes are centered around his curious character. Yes, much of Lost in Space comes across as hokey today, most notably the special effects, but the show is still engrossing and a sense of dedication which is lacking in many of today’s shows.

Lost in Space: The Complete First Season flies onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. This mammoth 8-disc set features all 29 episodes from the show’s first season. The shows are all presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio and all of the shows from this season are in black & white. (The color episodes began with Season 2.) The quality of the episodes in this set varies, but for the most part, they all look very good, considering their age. Most of the episodes are very sharp and clear, showing only a minute amount of grain. There are minute defects from the source print visible on most of the shows. Some of the episodes do show some minor flickering and darkening of the image, but overall the black & white images look great. The shows carry a Dolby Digital mono audio track which sounds fine. The track is robust and offers very clear dialogue and sound effects, with no hissing.

This set only contains two extra features, which is slightly disappointing, as a series overview would be very appropriate. First, we have the 52-minute unaired pilot for the series, which is entitled, “No Place to Hide”. This is very different from the pilot which America saw in 1965. For starters, there is no Dr. Smith or Robot. The spaceship, the Gemini XII, thrown off course by a meteor shower. Major Don West is Dr. Don West, a controversial astronomer. It doesn’t take long for the ship to crash land, and the remainder of the show became Episode 4 of the series. It’s very interesting to see what this show could have been and it’s understandable why the changes were made. The other extra is a 6-minute pitch for Lost in Space which CBS showed to potential advertisers. The short is made up entirely of clips from various episodes with a narrator voice-over.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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