'Space' Mission Flounders

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

The movie version of "Lost in Space" starts pretty much the same way as the 1960s television series it's based on.

An adventurous family boards a spacecraft for a voyage to the stars; a nasty scientist sneaks in to sabotage their ship; his plan goes haywire, and he becomes an unwilling stowaway on the journey - but not before sending the vessel a jillion light-years in the wrong direction, which launches a great deal of intergalactic excitement for the Robinson clan and dashing Don West, the handsome pilot at the helm.

This said, there are inevitably a lot of changes in the '90s version, reflecting Hollywood's current ideas of high-profit material. Most obviously and predictably, the Robinsons are now a dysfunctional family, spending half their time airing the kinds of household problems - dad's too preoccupied, son feels neglected, younger daughter wants no part of this particular family outing - that stayed decorously beneath the surface of '60s television fare.

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The new "Lost in Space" might have been interesting if it explored and resolved these personality clashes in a serious and creative way. But the filmmakers can't decide what sort of picture they're trying to cook up, so they keep oscillating among shallow psychological drama, high-tech action sequences, and comedy scenes that are themselves an uneasy mixture of sitcom-style dialogue and self-mocking campiness.

William Hurt and Mimi Rogers do their best with their shakily written roles - at least they seem a trifle more human than Guy Williams and June Lockhart, their TV predecessors - and Gary Oldman is his usual flamboyant self as the scientist. But in the end, "Lost in Space" is one expedition that should have been scrubbed long before the final countdown.

* Rated PG-13. Contains violence and sexual innuendo.

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