Thursday, October 1, 2015

Get "Lost In Space" All Over Again!

For longtime TV science-fiction fans, there are the acknowledged classics: The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and the original Star Trek, to name a few. Then there are the classics of a different kind; the fun shows that bring out the kid in all of us, and a smile to our faces; the 1950s Superman series starring George Reeves, the 1960s Batman adventures with Adam West & Burt Ward, and of course, Lost in Space. The series, created & produced by Irwin Allen, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. To commemorate the event, Twentieth Century Fox has released a comprehensive Blu-ray box set of the series. Lost in Space, which originally aired on CBS from 1965-68, chronicled the adventures of the Robinsons, a family of space colonists, whose ship was bound for Alpha Centauri. The villainous Dr. Smith used the mission’s Robot to sabotage the ship, and the Jupiter 2 went off course. The family attempted to find their way back to their original heading, and survive in the far reaches of space. Conceived by writer-producer Allen as a space-age version of the Swiss Family Robinson, the original pilot was the most expensive show filmed for TV up to that time.

Lost In Space starred Guy Williams as the group’s stalwart leader, John Robinson, June Lockhart as his wife Maureen, and as their children: Marta Kristen as Judy, Angela Cartwright as Penny and Bill Mumy as Will. The show also featured Mark Goddard as pilot Don West, Bob May (inside the suit) & Dick Tufeld (the voice) as the Robot, and Jonathan Harris as Smith. During the first season, our heroes crash landed on an unknown planet, and while repairing their ship, fought to survive the elements, and met a host of weird creatures & alien beings. The group also had to deal with the scheming, manipulative Smith, who seemed willing to sell them down the river to anyone or anything who might help him return to Earth. These early episodes, filmed in black & white, are some of the series’ best. The shows ended with cliffhangers that brought viewers back the following week to see the story’s resolution. That format remained in place for the series' first two seasons. For the third year, the cliffhangers were dropped in favor of a coming attractions trailer with scenes from the next week's episode.

As the show switched to color and moved into its second season, stories began to focus more on the trio of Dr. Smith, Will Robinson & the Robot, who were constantly getting into & out of trouble. Smith’s character became less of an evil, unsympathetic villain, and more of a comic foil, with many episodes centered on the character’s silly antics. The show still featured colorful sets, cool special effects & wild looking (often comedic) aliens. The fantasy elements (and the camp level) of the stories were amped up, reportedly to compete with ABC’s Batman. The same thing happened with Irwin Allen’s other series, Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea, which had shifted from the Cold War centered, espionage themed stories of its first season episodes to more fanciful tales in its later years. Lost in Space tried to pull the balance back toward some of the other characters in its third & final season, but those episodes were still a long way from the relatively serious shows of the first year. Still, there are some enjoyable outings throughout the run of the show, and it remains a fan favorite to this day. The cast is wonderful & the Robinsons are similar to other TV families of the era, likable & appealing. The show also had some talented (and familiar) guest stars, including Michael Rennie, Al Lewis, John Carradine, Warren Oates and a young Kurt Russell. Even the goofiest episodes have some effective moments; well, maybe not the infamous "The Great Vegetable Rebellion," which truly has to be seen to be believed.

The new Blu-ray set features all 83 episodes of the series presented in impressive high definition transfers. The black & white episodes look fantastic, and the color shows look very good as well. There are a plethora of extras, including cast commentaries (some of them boisterous & laugh-filled) on selected episodes, TV spots & effects footage, and the option to view several shows as they aired in the 1960s, complete with vintage commercials. Also featured is is a full length documentary on Irwin Allen’s career, The Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen, originally produced for the Sci-Fi Channel, an episode of A&E’s Biography series focusing on Jonathan Harris, a Lost In Space animated TV special from 1973, and some current interviews with the surviving cast members. And you can also check out a couple of special treats: one is a table reading by cast members of Bill Mumy’s epilogue for the series, which he wrote to tie up the plotlines of the show; another is the longer version of the series unaired original pilot “No Place To Hide,” which did not feature Dr. Smith or the Robot – they were added to the series later, and joined the cast in the reworked debut episode, “The Reluctant Stowaway.”

This is the best home video presentation of the series thus far, and the extensive bonus features are truly worth viewing. Whether you watched the show during its original airings, or first saw it via syndicated reruns (as I did) indulge that young sci-fi fan inside you, and pick up this terrific release. I'm not going to review the individual episodes here, but if you 're a fan, you'll want to dig into the set and watch some of your favorites. For example, I enjoyed seeing some of the more straightforward adventure-themed episodes like "The Derelict" and "Invaders From The Fifth Dimension," but I also liked some of the more comedic stories like "A Visit To Hades" and "Revolt Of The Androids." By the way, here's a little trivia note: the theme music for the series was composed by the one & only John Williams, of Jaws & Star Wars fame. For fans of Lost In Space, this Blu-ray set is highly recommended. Follow this link to view a vintage trailer for the series: The full details of this spectacular Blu-ray release can be found here: And remember "Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!"

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