Judge Dennis Prince warns you spare him your poisonous barbs over this silly space show. Alpha Centauri or bust!
"Last week, as you recall, our space family's lost planet was rocked by a series of savage earthquakes. Little did they dream that in less than 20 desperate hours, a cataclysmic explosion would rip apart the planet's core and disintegrate their entire world into galactic dust."
Invariably, casual fans and amateur pop culturists can't help but descend into the usual "Danger, Danger Will Robinson!" mockery when recounting Lost In Space. Obviously, these are the sort that aren't very familiar with the show's outstanding first season (filmed and aired in black & white), nor do they understand that the show was far more than just cowardly Dr. Smith and his cybernetic sidekick. However, when the second season of the CBS smash hit rolled around, the change to the formula was inevitable: Will Robinson, the Robot, and the nefarious Dr. Zachary Smith had usurped the rest of the cast (adding to the mounting aggravation of intended star Guy Williams), emerging as the core elements to practically every plot going forward. Besides the addition of glorious color to the show in 1966, the second season of Lost in Space introduced another plainly detectable change—it veered away from the prevalent adventure tone of the first year, electing to add farcical fare to the interplanetary proceedings (perhaps taking a cue from the wildly popular and just plain wild Batman). Needless to say, the fan base remains split over the outcome.
Facts of the Case
After crash landing on Priplanus, a veritable "island in the sky" planetoid, the space travelers have remained shipwrecked, staving off all manner of alien monsters and other such intergalactic visitors. Now it appears that John Robinson (Guy Williams) and Major Don West (Mark Goddard) have completed repairs to the Jupiter 2, readying it for liftoff at last. Barely escaping the total destruction of Priplanus after a space miner had disrupted the planet's core, the Robinsons are again aloft in hopes of finding their way to Alpha Centauri. Dr. Smith, of course, is intent upon returning to Earth and will do, say, or sacrifice just about anything (including, but not limited to, his fellow travelers) in order to make his way back home. His blind ambition and wanton avarice results in entanglements with all manner of malevolent machines, sinister circuses, alien androids, and even an encounter with his own conniving cousin.
Season Two marked some interesting changes for the show, as creator and producer Irwin Allen made some noticeable adjustments to it for both creative and economic reasons (he was actively and conspicuously recycling his own material with almost wild abandon). For starters, the opening title sequence was refashioned to make use of color, yet it was still an animated sequence similar to the first season titles and bore the same opening theme from legendary composer Johnny (John) Williams. A new theme by Warren Barker was completed for use, but was thankfully jettisoned (it's incredibly juvenile, sounding more like a quirky circus fanfare than the overture for a space adventure; then again, with the level of juvenile hijinks that would saturate the second season, perhaps it would have been a fitting choice). And, on that last note, the most apparent change here was the choice to depart from the sometimes melodramatic tone of the first season, and shift to a family-friendly, sometimes kooky, and certainly kid-centric sensibility.
Master showman and salesman Irwin Allen knew he had stumbled upon a winning formula with the ever-obnoxious Dr. Smith, the wise yet malleable Will Robinson (Billy Mumy), and the increasingly comedic Robot (Bob May with the voice of Dick Tufeld). Youngsters imagined themselves participating in the adventurous exploits of Will and Penny (yes, little girls were very much drawn to the show, though Angela Cartwright's character didn't emerge often enough) while they alternately hissed, then forgave, the transgressions of Dr. Smith. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast was quickly relegated to "prop roles," used briefly to move the plot along, but not much else. Mark Goddard and Guy Williams (again, the purported star of the show) were the most vocal in their displeasure; always assured by Allen that their roles would be expanded, they never were. (Allen finally made good on his word during the show's third and final year, showcasing Guy Williams in an excellent dual role in "The Anti-Matter Man," arguably the best of the season.) Neither June Lockhart (as Maureen Robinson) nor Marta Kristen (as Judy Robinson) have much of a record of complaints or grievances.
Though he had already become well-recognized for his role as Dr. Smith, veteran actor Jonathan Harris cemented this as his defining character through the show's second and third seasons. While some of his co-stars were grumbling over becoming veritably lost in space, Harris, in an earlier TV Guide interview, characteristically quipped, "Happy as a clam, I am." Say what you will about his turn of good fortune and his unashamed inclination to seize the moment—Harris truly shines in this role, playing it for all it's worth and with unwavering energy every time he's in front of the camera. When casual observers proclaim, as they usually do, "I hated Dr. Smith," therein is the undeniable testimony to Harris' success as an actor and pop culture icon. Indeed!
Color did much for the show, giving it a definite visual "pop," largely thanks to Irwin Allen's reliable man of all works, Paul Zastupnevich (that's pronounced "zass-tupe-NYAY-vich," though the cast members just referred to him as "Paul Z."). While he tended to many aspects of the production design, Zastupnevich was most notably responsible for dressing the Robinsons in their colorful uniforms. Although we had seen these new designs unveiled during episode 19, "Ghost in Space," of Season One, this is our first opportunity to see them in striking color; the effect was quite impressive. Zastupnevich also was responsible for the various creature creations; some remarkable, others ridiculous. Fans, along with Zastupnevich himself, proclaim the giant Cyclops from Season One's fourth episode, "There Were Giants in the Earth," as his crowning achievement, while alternately bemoaning Season Three's carrot man, Tybo, from "The Great Vegetable Rebellion."
After a stellar release of the entire first season, Fox Home Entertainment pulls a scheme right out of Dr. Smith's own playbook by dangling just the first half of Season Two here, making us wait (and spend again) for the remaining 13 episodes. Which means Season Two, Volume Two will begin with the singularly silly episode "The Questing Beast." Oh the pain, the pain.
On this Season Two, Volume One collection, you'll find the following sixteen episodes presented in their original chronological order, and each with its original cliffhanger ending:
• "Blast Off Into Space"
(Incidentally, Fox released the entire second season in a single DVD boxed set to the Region 2 market in July of 2004.)
In this new four-disc collection (each disc containing four episodes), you'll find original full frame presentations that generally look quite good, but not markedly superior to those released in the Columbia House Home Video Library tapes of 1996. Each disc has a static main menu with episode-specific sub-menus, also static. The actual episode images are a bit soft at times, and the quality of the source material varies slightly from episode to episode (likely due to the actual production elements). Thankfully, there are no occurrences of edge enhancement, pixelation, or other annoying compression artifacts. Overall, the transfers have been handled competently, yet not as stunningly as longtime fans would have preferred. The audio is presented in a very energetic Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mix, which makes the most of the isolated track while keeping the dialogue clear and intelligible throughout.
Unfortunately, despite the hopes and expectations of fans, this first volume contains absolutely no extras. Given that there will be an imbalance of episode content on the next volume (the 13 remaining episodes compared to the 16 included here), we can only hope there will be some bonus material in the second half release.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"Spare me your poisonous barbs, Major!"
With the second season, the show had become significantly sillier; there's no denying that. On this first volume, the most troublesome episodes will be "Space Circus," "The Curse of Cousin Smith," and "West of Mars." The more effective episodes are "Blast Off Into Space," "The Prisoners of Space," and "The Golden Man." Your personal conclusions, of course, may vary from mine.
There are some new effects to be found in these episodes—but not many. Here you'll see the lift off of the Jupiter 2 from an exploding Priplanus, during "Blast Off Into Space" (including a scene where the explosion actually dislodges and deactivates the ship's fusion core); the landing of the Jupiter 2 on the circular landing pad during "The Ghost Planet," a sequence that would be reused numerous times; and the low-budget but somehow compelling radiation shield effect, also from "The Ghost Planet," and also to be reused many times.
If you have difficulty with recycled effects or refashioned props, sets, and creature costumes, you'll likely struggle with Lost in Space. Since he was concurrently producing Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, producer Allen and costume designer Zastupnevich freely shared and swapped elements between the two shows, often redressing them slightly, but sometimes using them without an attempt to disguise their origin. Irritating though this may be, it generally still plays well and demonstrates Allen's creative cost-cutting efforts to keep the show on time and within the constantly shrinking budget.
Without a doubt, the second season of Lost in Space is a mixed bag for some, but is still highly regarded by long-time "spacies." The colorful but far-fetched adventures here were produced during what is often considered one of the most creative eras in television. Forget logic, forgive some inconsistency, and enjoy the journey. The remainder of the season is slated for release in November 2004.
The cast and crew of Lost in Space are found not guilty of any wrongdoing. While circumstantial evidence might implicate Irwin Allen in overt acts of cost-cutting and wanton retooling, the truth has been revealed—his fiscally responsible actions were instrumental in keeping the program in production and performing well in the ratings. Fox Home Entertainment, however, will be closely monitored by this judge as they prepare the second volume of this season; one that, if it contains additional content beyond the remaining episodes, will be deemed pleasing to the court.
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