At last, his journey has been completed and our Judge Dennis Prince has proven, without a doubt, that there is no intelligent life at Fox Home Video.
In a final bid to reach their original destination—Alpha Centauri—the space family Robinson ultimately sees their hopes of realization (or rescue) go up in the fiery flames of the Junkman's furnace.
Last time, you may recall, the Robinsons survived a frightening encounter with an anti-matter world where a ruthless alter-ego of John Robinson nearly absconded the Jupiter 2 and the Robot in a desperate attempt to escape the prison of his dark nether world. Thanks to the bravery of Will Robinson and the clumsy cooperation of the nefarious Dr. Zachary Smith, the Robinson's ultimate destruction was narrowly avoided. Now, our space pioneers are once again aloft and continuing their now two-and-a-half year search for Alpha Centauri. Their renewed mission: to colonize the planet and relieve the struggling Earth in its impending failure under the pressure of vast overpopulation.
Facts of the Case
The Jupiter 2 is speeding through the uncharted reaches of deepest space in search of a familiar star system. Meanwhile, the bored and obnoxious Dr. Smith has succeeded in splitting the Robot, sending his lower tracks adrift in the Space Pod. Caught in the gravitational pull of an unknown planet, the Robinsons follow the Pod to the mysterious planet's surface only to become captives of a dying race of aliens who create a duplicate family. Having reprogrammed the Robot, the aliens launch the Jupiter 2 on a course back to Earth to take over and cultivate a new breeding ground for their own monstrous race. Can Will and Dr. Smith, who secretly boarded their overrun vehicle, stop the aliens and save the rest of the Robinsons?
Lost in Space
As the third season of Irwin Allen's highly-rated, highly campy space opera trudged on, it was clear that the brass at Twentieth Century Fox weren't as interested in the Robinsons or their fate. And even though Allen himself was perpetually wrapped up in nurturing or germinating other concurrent television shows (such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, and Land of the Giants), he still maintained he had a winner in Lost in Space. Although the critics were uniformly unkind, the ratings held high, buoyed by the faithful family audiences and propelled by the youngest in the homes, for certain.
The second half of the third season continued to boast an exciting new theme song by the now-legendary John ("Johnny") Williams and the thrilling on-screen countdown succeeded by new live-action images of the cast. Cribbing a note from the now-competing Star Trek on the NBC network, Allen ensured the formerly land-locked space travelers remained free to roam exciting new worlds, aided by the newly-introduced Space Pod (first seen in the season's third episode produced, "Hunter's Moon," although it actually aired fourth behind the intended number-four installment, "Kidnapped in Space"). The proffered promise was non-stop and never-ending adventure as the Robinsons drifted from planet to planet, encountering a colorful enclave of alien life forms around every moon. The promise was fulfilled but was it fulfilling? The Robinsons found themselves battling clay-like duplicators, a time-frugal time merchant, perpetually youthful space teenagers, a flaming knight in search of a beauty, and a makeshift junkman ready to evolve with a little help from the Robinson's soon-to-be-mothballed machinery. Oh, and there's also the matter of Tybo, the walking, talking carrot man from the universally scorned "The Great Vegetable Rebellion." Yes, there were plenty of aliens on hand, for better or for worse.
Clearly, producer Irwin Allen, master costume designer Paul Zastupnevich (Allen's long-time and loyal assistant), and the cast of regulars gave the show all they had to maintain a melodramatic sense of seriousness in their work. Leading man Guy Williams postured in uber-heroic fashion in an attempt to regain his promised starring role. Steely-eyed Mark Goddard stood eye-to-eye with Williams in an effort to retain his scant lines (which were increasingly acquired from the unwilling Major West by the former Zorro star). All-American mom to the Robinsons, June Lockhart, delivered an admirable square-jawed resolve in the face of danger (although she finally lost all composure while arguing with the ambulatory carrot—and was written out of the show's final episode as punishment). Blonde beauty Marta Kristen struggled mightily to remain relevant although she was ultimately cast aside as just another pretty face on hand to decorate the Jupiter 2's flight deck. Angela Cartwright agreed to wear a bob-cut wig for almost the entire duration of the show and was likewise curtailed into a lesser character despite her numerous Season One successes (although she did get to shimmy and sway with the mod space teens in "The Promised Planet"). And what of the remaining three? Well, Billy Mumy as Will, Jonathan Harris as Dr. Zachary Smith, and Bob May/Dick Tufeld as the Robot continued to do what they had done best from the outset: they stole the show. Kids who had been watching the show early on still imagined themselves in purple stirrup pants and vibrant yellow turtle-necked dickies just like Will Robinson, regularly thwarting the evil designs of intergalactic evil-doers. All ages continued to energetically hiss the ill-meaning and idiotic exploits of Dr. Smith, the only character who many wanted to see jettisoned out the airlock from the get-go (but would likely miss him terribly if the lovable louse ever met with such a fate). And the Robot was just as amazing as ever, growing more and more "human" with e
ach episode and developing a bond with Will and Dr. Smith that would become iconic in the annals of fantasy television. Sure, the show was very apparent in its leaning toward the younger viewers and its unapologetic recycling of special effects shots and craggy set pieces, but it was still buoyant and poised for a fourth thrilling season come fall of 1968.
But, alas, it was not to be.
Although Irwin Allen was continually annoyed that his ratings-reaping space adventure was the target of ensuing budget cuts year after year, he still maintained a fourth great season was well within reach. He hadn't anticipated the final swinging of the budget-cutting axe, the one that called the sometimes-contemptuous producer's bluff: cut the show's budget or cancel. Prior to this, fourth-season scripts were written, Jonathan Harris was in New York meeting with sponsors, and the rest of the cast was preparing for a continuing journey. Across the Fox lot, though, all productions were asked to tighten their respective belts (puportedly due to the expensive flop of the studio's epic Cleopatra) and Allen felt his show was being burdened with an undue share of the cuts. The show was costing a reported $170,000 per episode and the prickly producer was shouting that it couldn't be done for a penny less. Whether Allen's demeanor had any play in it or not, the CBS executives simply didn't like the show and didn't feel the ratings were strong enough to proceed on the current budget. Sponsors were likewise dismayed that the target audience—kids—weren't interested in buying the laundry detergents and other household products being pitched during prime time. Despite his reported outburst that the show had "another 10 years left in it," Allen pulled the plug before the new season started filming.
The cast was shocked to hear this unexpected news; Billy Mumy cried.
The irony that pervades the third-season episodes is almost too uncanny to seem coincidental. Although viewers continued to hiss Dr. Smith (one 92-year-old viewer even wrote to CBS stating she loved June Lockhart but couldn't watch any more because he ruined the whole outing), they learned in "The Time Merchant" that Dr. Smith actually saved the space travelers. His added weight caused the Jupiter 2 to veer off course and ultimately become lost in space, preventing the ship from being struck and destroyed by an uncharted asteroid. In what would become the show's final aired episode, "Junkyard in Space," all of the hardware shown off in the preceding three seasons—the Jupiter 2, the Space Pod, the Chariot, various force-field and surveying equipment, and John Robinson's Bell Jet Pack—were paraded in front of the camera a final time before being relegated as the "junk" of a canceled series. Most stinging was the real-world assessment of the show by the American Council for Better Broadcasts who, in 1968, issued a report that this show accused of being overly whimsical and childish was "marked by violence, greed, selfishness, trickery, and disregard for accepted values." If memory serves, the Robinsons were practicing Christians.
Clearly, Lost in Space has withstood more than its share of slings and arrows. The assault continues with the release of this highly indifferent series-ending DVD boxed set. After a stellar complete first season release, complete with tantalizing bonus features, Fox Home Video once again drops the ball with an unceremonious "thud" in this final set. Here in this Lost in Space—Season Three, Volume Two set, you'll find the following nine episodes, presented in chronological broadcast order across three single-sided discs:
• "Target Earth"
In this season-ending series-wrapping three-disc collection, Disc One contains four episodes; Disc Two contains three episodes, and Disc Three contains just two episodes. While this might incite many to expect stellar transfers waiting in the spacious disc sides, the same VHS-like quality is present here as in the previous half-season release. The image, framed at the original 1.33:1 fullscreen format, isn't atrocious, but it is atrocious that it wasn't cleaned up much at all. The image is soft most of the time and grain and film dirt tends to crop up faster than an overused outcropping of rocks. The color is vibrant, to be sure, but a bit smeared on occasion. It's as if someone simply didn't care (gee, imagine). The audio is of reasonable quality, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Nothing horrible but nothing honorable either.
So with just nine episodes on board here—all which could have been managed on one-and-a-half flipper discs (three sides)—it seemed compelling to conjecture why so much apparent extra disc space. Hardcore "LIS" fans at last were given hope that long-coveted extras and fabled rare treats would finally be served up. They weren't. Like a kick in the rear treads, fans were tossed masticated morsels touted as "exclusive interviews" and "a rare outtake moment." While it was good to see 1997 interviews with Bill Mumy and the late Jonathan Harris, this was more extra material from the oversaturated "Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen," which fans have seen endlessly since its original release. The outtake moment is also from the same shooting where, humorously enough, Jonathan Harris is "bleeped" when he utters a candid exclamation upon a malfunction of the Robot. That's it, space travelers, except for the tacky excising and repositioning of the original next-episode teasers, originally intended to follow the close of the current episode but now ripped away and plopped into the static DVD menus as some sort of faux bonus. We all know there is so much more material available in the way of rare photos (you can see plenty of them at the Irwin Allen News Network web site), special effects outtakes, cast-made 8mm home movies, and a purported blooper reel. There was also plenty of footage captured at the 25th Anniversary Convention in December 1990 that saw a reunion of the entire cast minus Guy Williams who passed away a year earlier. Although it wasn't a stellar production of any sort, the Australian-made Lost in Space animated special, which was originally broadcast on ABC-TV's Saturday Superstar Movie, has long been sought after in fully restored fashion. Some conjecture that Fox is planning a major re-release of the series DVDs with these long-awaited extras but there's no credence yet given to such a rumor.
I think Shatner and Nimoy are somehow behind all this.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This perpetually rebuffed show, like it or not, is a mainstay in our popular culture and was cited in 1979 as one of the best examples of TV science-fiction by the Academy of Science-Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror.
And to the tireless critics: "Begone, Booby!"
"Oh the pain, the pain."
And so it ends, friends and fans. Again, Lost in Space enthusiasts must withstand more of the same mishandling that left our beloved space family adrift among the stars, still unable to reach their destination—Alpha Centauri or Earth.
The cast and crew of Lost in Space are hereby fully exonerated of any misdeeds, intentional or unintentional, in their efforts to fuel a fun and family-friendly fantasy outing. Fox Home Video, after ignoring several verbal reprimands by this court for their indifferent handling of the final four DVD boxed-set releases, is hereby banished to the barren surface of Priplanus.
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