Lost in Space (1998) Is Bad, Actually

News to absolutely no one but me.

I actually really, really liked this abomination when I was a kid. We had it on VHS, and I’ve seen it an embarrassing number of times. Like, enough times that when I saw that it was on Netflix, and decided to watch it on a whim, I still knew basically every line before it came despite the fact that it’s probably been close to two decades since the last time I saw it. And while I’m not remotely shy about defending movies that I loved in my childhood that are traditionally considered Bad and Terrible, with this one… yeah, not so much. Like, yikes, how could I have been so blind?

I’m not the sort of person to take a lot of joy out of ripping movies like Lost in Space to shreds, but I do find it interesting that I used to have such strong affection for it, and I’m a little curious as to why that is. I mean, superficially it does have a lot of elements I’m pretty into. I do have a well-documented weakness for anything involving space travel, so there is that. And when I was 12 (which I was when this came out), I was pretty susceptible to toyetic shit like, “Look! There’s a badass robot but later in the movie when they have to strip him down to repair him he looks like the robot from the old show.”

It’s just, I also remember very specifically being really into this movie’s dialogue, and the dialogue is just… so bad, actually. Like, if you had to point to any one thing that’s wrong with Lost in Space, that might be the first thing. And this is coming from someone who recently defended Batman & Robin and is shortly going to defend Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (stay tuned for that one!). But while those movies have their famous clunkers, with this it’s just every line. It’s inexorable. And it doesn’t matter what kind of dialogue it is. Exposition. Attempts at emotion. Jokey banter. “Badass” moments. None of it lands. None of it.

Regarding that last category, whose idea was it to bring Friends’ own Joey Tribbiani into the fold as a badass alpha male type? That is just not a good fit for him at all. It should’ve been really telling to whoever was doing casting on this movie that his best moments in Friends came when he was intentionally undercutting his own pretentions of alpha maleness. It’s like someone saw that and went, “Hey, yeah! Let’s have him do that, but unironically!” And I’m not saying there aren’t plenty of actors who can pull that off, but you have to be pretty careful with that when you’re essentially working against the audience’s muscle memory. And either way, Matt LeBlanc was not equal to the task here and Lost in Space both started and ended his career as an action hero.

The rest of the cast is basically a who’s who of very talented actors who plainly don’t believe in the characters they’re playing. It’s not their fault their dialogue is a mishmash of exposition and forced “banter,” or that it was all written by somebody that doesn’t seem to have the first idea of how human beings actually talk. But the only person who actually figured out what to do with that was Gary Oldman of all people. Whatever else I might think of the man, the movie was like 200 times better every time he was on screen.



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