The impetus for the production of Lost in Space sprung out of the mind of screenwriter and producer Akiva Goldsman: "I believe that as every generation takes the helm, it likes to revere its icons," Goldsman told Entertainment Weekly, explaining why Lost in Space was made. "And our icons were on TV. We were raised by TV. We were weaned on it. And so we're reinventing that which came before us. That's the great thing about icons--they're durable. They blossom from reinterpretation." Case in point: the Robot. Director Stephen Hopkins wasn't keen on making the Robot to look like the old one from the TV series, but Goldsman was reluctant to let go of that popularly recognized icon. So the two of them came up with the plot point of having both of them in the film. Stay tuned to see just how they managed to have their interplanetary cake and eat it too.
Star William Hurt had developed a reputation for being rather intense, even before the start of production of Lost in Space. His ruminations to Entertainment Weekly on why he was involved in the science fiction fable proved that light-hearted conversation was a foreign term to him: "The battle between technology and the family unit. Between artificial intelligence and natural intelligence. The notion of amorality as represented by the Dr. Smith character. These are the things that intrigue us all....Some people only think about how they can make millions and millions of dollars, but I'm not looking at the movie for its commercial potential...To me, it's a question of artistic realization. Of answering the question that made the series so interesting. Whether or not hetero-androgynous relationships can absorb and accept and tolerate critical situations and eke out a solution" (Don't worry: we had to look up "hetero-androgynous" too).
Hurt was equally out-there with his fellow cast members, often engaging them in intellectually stimulating, but usually baffling conversations. Oldman told Entertainment Weekly, "There were times when William would come up to me on the set for a little chat...Matt would come up to me afterwards and ask, 'So what'd you guys talk about?' I'd tell him, 'I have no idea.'"
Lost in Space employed some 750 special effects, from Jim Henson Creature Shop animatronics to CGI. It was a colossal production, spreading over 11 soundstages at Shepperton Studios in England. Angela Cartwright, who appears in Lost in Space as "Reporter No. 2," played the role of Penny Robinson in the original TV series, while Mark Goddard, the original Major Don West, plays the General in the movie adaptation. June Lockhart, the original Maureen Robinson, plays Will Robinson's principal. Originally, all surviving cast members of the TV show were meant to have cameo appearances. Ironically, Bill Mumy and Jonathan Harris, the two actors most supportive of the idea of a new movie (as well as the two most popular characters on the show), did not appear in it. Harris was to have played the man who hired, then betrayed Dr. Smith. Mumy, who would have played the adult Will Robinson, was unable to appear due to contractual obligations elsewhere. However, director Stephen Hopkins maintained that Harris was upset that someone else was playing his signature role.
Perhaps the most important original series cast member who takes part in Lost in Space is Dick Tufeld, who reprises his role from the TV series as the voice of the Robot. It was Tufeld who made the phrase, "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!" a common household exclamation during the run of the TV series for little space cadets everywhere. Ironically, while working on the TV show, neither Tufeld nor Bob May, the man inside the robot suit, were ever listed in the credits. Executive producer Irwin Allen, says Tufeld "wanted the audience to think this was a real mechanical man. He actually thought people would believe that."
Casting the film was rather tricky for the producers, since the actors had to be willing to sign up for at least two sequels. Gary Oldman was first to climb aboard. "I wanted to do a movie my son could see," he says. Originally Sean Patrick Flanery was picked for Major Don West, but he was dropped during rehearsals when it became clear he was too small to act against William Hurt, a "towering figure," explained Akiva Goldsman. Matt LeBlanc took his place, initially shuttling every week between Los Angeles and England. LeBlanc would fly to London Saturday morning after shooting NBC's "Friends" on Friday night, work the on the film Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. LeBlanc would then hop on the Concorde to New York and the red-eye to L.A. to shoot "Friends." On Saturday, he would do it all over again.
As for William Hurt, he had his own reasons for joining the Robinson clan, which he makes clear: "As far as I'm concerned, this is as serious a character as any I've ever done, I thought the TV show was really ahead of its time. I remember watching it as a kid, and the whole social structure was completely interesting to me."
Gary Oldman later made a hilarious appearance in the 2000-2001 season finale of Friends on NBC with Lost in Space cast member Matt LeBlanc. LeBlanc's character, Joey, lands a gig acting in a movie with Oldman, playing himself in parody.
Heather Graham, who later appeared in Bowfinger as an actress who falls for B-movie director Steve Martin, fell for Lost in Space director Stephen Hopkins. She told an interviewer, "It's supposed to be a big mistake for an actress to go out with the director, but, you know, life's too short." In an amazing coincidence, another actress named Heather Graham played the part of Marie Robinson in Irwin Allen's TV series Swiss Family Robinson (1972) which is often attributed as the basis of Lost in Space. In another curious coincidence, the TV series took place in the future of 1997, the year this movie was shot and produced.
A great deal of blood, sweat, and potential tears were riding on the success or failure of Lost in Spaced at the box office. At the time, it was the biggest, most expensive film the financially struggling New Line Cinema had ever released. Not surprisingly, the film was designed for maximum sequel potential, with plans for at least two more movies. There's no word on whether or not New Line will be making Lost in Space II...
For those who developed a rather jaundiced view of director James Cameron's colossal, Titanic (1997), you'll be happy to know that after 15 weeks, the Boy-Meets-Girl-Meets-Marine Disaster epic finally lost its place at the top of the box office to Lost in Space. Despite earning many negative reviews, the special effects space adventure earned an extraordinary $20.5 million against $11.6 million for Titanic (1997), breaking a box-office record for April of that year. In an interview with the Associated Press, Al Shapiro, New Line Cinema's distribution chief boasted that if Lost in Space had "opened six weeks ago, Titanic would not have lasted as long as it has. The special effects are beyond compare and audiences are applauding at the end of the show." Lost in Space eventually grossed about $50 million in the US, after its April 1998 release.
Around the time of the release of Lost in Space, Gary Oldman, who made Entertainment Weekly's list of the top 25 actors of the decade recently, beating out such stars as Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford and Dustin Hoffman, told the BBC that he has "lost the fire" for acting. In an interview for the program Hardtalk, Oldman observed, "I haven't acted for a year since Lost in Space, and I'm not chomping at the bit to get back to it." During the interview Oldman was critical of a number of his recent films, including Lost in Space ("not my cup of tea").
The intrepid Robinson clan's journey through space didn't garner quite as many popular awards as New Line Cinema might have hoped, but it was met with a few notable kudos from the movie industry and from science fiction circles. The ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards® awarded Lost in Space the 1999 ASCAP Award for Top Box Office Films, while the Motion Picture Sound Editors nominated the film's cutting with a Golden Reel Award® for Best Sound Editing. Science fiction circles thought highly of the film, as evidenced by the Academy of Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy Films nominating Lost in Space for several Saturn Awards® in Best Costume Design, Best Make-Up, Best Performance by a Younger Actor/Actress (Jack Johnson), Best Science Fiction Film, Best Special Effects and Best Supporting Actor (Gary Oldman). Aside from its disappointing box-office returns, perhaps the most ignoble attention for the film was its 1999 Razzie nomination for Worst Sequel or Remake.
Dr. Zachary Smith: I'm a doctor, not a space explorer.
Penny Robinson: Never love anything, kiddo, you will just end up losing it.
Don West: Eight years of flight training. Navigational holographics online. Fifty combat missions. Course confirmed for slingshot exit of the solar system. Just so I could take the family camper on an interstellar picnic.
Robot: Why did the robot cross the road? Because he was carbon bonded to the chicken!
Lost in Space episode titles in original CBS broadcast order, all seasons
Or here for Hal to open the pod bay doors