Sometimes being a science fiction fan demands the locating and viewing of programs that, save for the individuals involved in the show’s production, almost nobody knows exist! Enter The Robinsons: Lost in Space, a 2004 science fiction drama that never made it past a single episode/ pilot that, though unaired, had managed to snag the directorial talents of none other than John Woo.
Written by Douglas Petrie, the individual responsible for countless television episodes including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, CSI, True Calling, Angel, and even the animated WB series The Batman; Lost in Space represented his return to dedicated science fiction writing (after a couple episodes of The 4400).
Interestingly, The Robinsons: Lost in Space shared little in common with the 1998 major motion picture Lost in Space (starring William Hurt and Matt LeBlanc) in favor of paying more direct homage to the 1965 television series of the same name. And it makes sense too considering 2003 witnessed SyFy’s (then The Sci-Fi Channel) incredible success with its reimagined Battlestar Galactica TV Miniseries that would go on to spawn what is considered by many to be one of the greatest space dramas of all time.
2004’s Lost in Space worked off the requisite family-dynamic only in this incarnation of the franchise, John Robinson is a retired space marine colonel who persists on migrating his family (wife Maureen, teens David and Judy, ten year-old Will, Will's robot and a baby Penny) to a distant planet where they will give living off the land as farmers a go.
The plot, though occasionally radiant, makes certain to interject abundant family-driven melodrama: Except for John, none of them seems overly pleased to take the voyage or the lifestyle change that will follow, Judy is apparently battling with her teen hormones, Will gets picked on at school and builds a robot bodyguard, David is fed up with his father’s military devotion and so on.
While plodding alone to make certain the viewer understands just how important these trials of tribulations of the space-family Robinson really are, the departure is swift and under-emphasized. Shortly after departure their mother ship (the Jupiter) falls under alien attack, and the Robinsons (minus son David) along with young pilot Don West are forced to jettison via their landing module (appropriately named the Jupiter 2). It’s off through a black hole for the Jupiter 2 and hence the Robinsons, just like the two incarnations before this one, find themselves lost in space.
Notably missing in this version however is the villainous Dr. Smith character, a staple in the other two variations as the lead antagonist.
A bit of a departure for John Woo, his signature style isn’t evident until the alien attack sequence, which spans both an exterior CG firefight and interior human/ alien confrontation. Woo’s artful slow motion sequences and unique camera-angles are especially present in the latter.
Tracking a copy of this 41-minute pilot down isn’t the easiest thing to do but is by no means impossible thanks to the power of the Internet. In fact the entire piece has been uploaded for viewing pleasure to sites like Youtube and homemade DVD burns are periodically available for purchase.
In all, the Robinsons: Lost in Space is an interesting, if not slightly cliché example of a modern space drama that sadly, never got picked up by its intended network (the WB) who were clearly toying with the concept of competing with SyFy’s immensely popular Battlestar Galactica. Though not without its flaws (in this case a bit too much emphasis on the emotionally dramatic), the pilot does serve as an adequate stepping-stone to what could have been a decent show. The disgruntled family element would likely have succeeded as the backdrop for Judy and Don West’s budding love interest and it definitely would have been interesting to discover more about the intentions fueling the malicious alien attackers.
On an interesting and somewhat related note, not all of the elaborate sets built for this pilot went to waste when the project failed to ignite a series. In effort to recoup some of its investment, WB sold the set of the Jupiter 2 spacecraft to the producers of none other than Battlestar Galactica where viewers would come to know it as the interior of the Battlestar Pegasus.
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