Lost In Space: Season 1

Lost In Space: Season 1 (1965)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Extras: Unaired Pilot, Network Presentation Reel

"When we last left the Robinsons, they were trapped in the boundless reaches of syndication, unaware that their exploits were carefully being documented for digital posterity…"

For some, the universe is a never-ending sea filled with awe and wonder. For others, it represents the "final frontier." From 1965-1968, producer and showman Irwin Allen gave television viewers an altogether unique view of the cosmos. Taking place in the far-flung future of 1997, "Lost in Space" chartered the weekly exploits of the first truly "nuclear" family – the Robinsons. Sent to the neighboring star Alpha Centauri for exploration and colonization, the intrepid space travelers braved the perils of the universe when they become "hopelessly lost in space."

For three seasons, creator/producer Irwin Allen subjected the hapless Robinsons – father John (Guy Williams), wife Maureen (June Lockhart) and children Judy (Marta Kristen), Penny (Angela Cartwright) and Will (Billy Mumy), along with pilot Major Don West (Mark Goddard) — to all manner of galactic insanity after another. Aboard their squeaky clean spaceship, the Jupiter 2 (what happened to the first Jupiter?) and aided with their faithful Robot B-9 (simply called "Robot"), they encountered such scientific oddities as space hillbillies, department store androids, cowboys, zoo keepers, pirates with mechanical parrots, obsessed sea captains, time merchants, prospectors, medieval knights, circus folk, buxom Wagnerians with horned helmets, hippies, and – finally – talking vegetables. Oh yes, there was also a certain stowaway named Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris). Primarily responsible for the Robinsons’ plight (he sabotaged the ship, only to be caught inside at liftoff) and consumed with the desire to return to Earth, Dr. Smith’s contribution was to regularly bring everything to the edge of doom.

Watch just a couple of episodes (doesn’t matter from which season) and you’d be convinced that Allen viewed outer space as one big insane asylum. Light on the science, heavy on the melodrama, "Lost In Space" to this day sparks debate between its fans and those who favor the other 1960s space opera, "Star Trek." My dad and I frequently sparred over the merits of each show. Guess which show I championed? Yup, I’m a die-hard "LIS" fan. (Confidentially, I dig both.) Despite the "anything goes" attitude of the stories, the weird thing about the show is that it’s weathered well. As a kid, the plots were easily digestible and the effects pretty impressive – except for the meteors that look like balls of aluminum foil. As an adult, I’m convinced the show represents one of the few genuine attempts to bring Dali-esque surrealism to a mass audience. As long as we’re talking unreality, another amazing thing about the series is that the only character that had any kind of arc was the Robot. He goes from mindless automaton in the beginning to "loving" family member by the end. Credit goes to actor Bob May inside the bubble-headed body and Dick Tufeld’s distinctive voice.

Riding the crest of "TV on DVD," 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has just released Season One of "LIS" in an eight-disc set, housing the first twenty-nine episodes. It’s about frickin’ time.

The first season was filmed in black and white, with the remaining two seasons in color. Presented in their proper full-frame, the transfers by and large look quite clean and sharp. Grayscale and contrast read nice and balanced. The source prints exhibit some wear but otherwise shows that Fox has done an excellent job of keeping the series in good physical shape.

The <$DD,Dolby Digital> mono distorts occasionally during a musical peak or during one of Dr. Smith’s shrieks (which is quite often after the sixth episode) but performs on par with television audio from the 1960s. One thing I have to hand to producer Allen: he knew the importance of music. Some of the best episodic TV scoring came from "Lost In Space" courtesy of "Johnny Williams," perhaps better known as Academy-Award winning composer John Williams of "Star Wars" and "Indiana Jones" fame.

Each disc comes in its own case containing four episodes and the last disc holds the set’s two – yup, just two – supplements: the original unaired pilot episode "No Place To Hide" and a network presentation reel designed to bring sponsors aboard. What makes the pilot such a rarity is that the original concept of the show did not include the Robot or Dr. Smith! Can you imagine "Lost In Space" without either of them! Those elements were added at the request of CBS after they green lighted the show, which explains why Jonathan Harris was billed as "Special Guest Star" for the show’s entire run. (Also the spaceship’s original name was Gemini 12.) Transfer-wise, the pilot looks exactly the same as the episodes: sharp, detailed and not too contrasty. Same with the mono audio: serviceable if shrill at times. Even with the pilot, Allen knew the right music to set the mood, using snippets of Bernard Herrmann’s score for "The Day The Earth Stood Still" as a temp track. The CBS "Pitch" presentation runs about six minutes. Designed to convince prospective sponsors to advertise during the show, clips are interspersed with voiceover explaining the premise, spotlighting how the production values and fantastic elements will win over viewers. Even from the outset, the show was designed for "the younger and larger families."

So, with the first season of "Lost In Space" now on DVD, questions remain: Will seasons 2 and 3 eventually appear? Will other Irwin Allen shows like "Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea" or "Time Tunnel" get DVD’d?

TO BE CONTINUED… (insert dramatic John Williams music cue here)