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Lost in Space review: Christopher Nolan won’t come to Netflix, but Netflix can go to him

Lost in Space review: Netflix’s big-budget space adventure has the grand visuals of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, but with none of the intelligence.

tv Updated: Apr 14, 2018 18:52 IST
Rohan Naahar
The clunky robot is the most interesting character in Lost in Space, Netflix’s big-budget space adventure about a family stranded on a strange planet.
The clunky robot is the most interesting character in Lost in Space, Netflix’s big-budget space adventure about a family stranded on a strange planet.(Netflix)

Lost in Space
Cast - Toby Stephens, Molly Parker, Parker Posey, Maxwell Jenkins
Rating - 2/5

You probably don’t remember this, but perhaps by mistake more than anything else, 2012 - which is one of the most commercially successful Hollywood films in India ever - showed uncharacteristic insight when you least expected it.

So the central objective for the protagonists in 2012 was to find a way aboard the massive arks the world’s governments had (secretly) built in order to save a small percentage of humanity in anticipation of the coming apocalypse. And since space was understandably tight on those ships, only those with the necessary means (money, $1 billion of it) had managed to secure spots. If you remember this, then you’d also remember that quick shot of the Queen scurrying along to find her room, followed by blinged out sheikhs and other generic billionaire-types.

The reason why 2012 is such a fine example of the sort of movie that it is - and also the reason why no other disaster movie has managed to come close to it in the decade since its release - is because it had the intelligence to pursue these ideas, in addition to delivering the mass mayhem that audiences had paid for. The family at its centre, and indeed the other ‘underprivileged’ supporting characters, was just generic enough to be universally relatable. No matter what the setting is - the apocalyptic future of 2012 or the period claustrophobia of Titanic - class-conflict is a theme we can all understand, regardless where we actually stand on the socio-economic ladder.

The Lost in Space reboot has changed the villain’s gender. (Netflix)

So when we learned that only a certain kind of people were allowed on board the ships that would carry the future of our species, we began rooting for John Cusack and his family to somehow smuggle themselves in.

While we don’t see the evacuation of Earth in Netflix’s new show, Lost in Space, the ideas it presents about social cleansing are just as intriguing, but infinitely more problematic in their portrayal.

As with 2012, at the centre of this story there is a family - the Robinsons - whose spaceship crash-lands lightyears away from its destination, a faraway paradise that would have housed a new colony. But the planet they’ve crashed on is hostile. The show, a quasi-remake of a beloved 1960s television drama, follows the Robinsons’ adventures as they struggle to survive on this mysterious new land, surrounded by stunning natural landscapes, and attempt to locate the survivors of their expedition - as a family.

The Robinsons must work as a family to survive the harsh planet. (Netflix)

Think of it as a children’s version of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar crossed with Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant and Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse’s seminal show, Lost - sadly with none of the storytelling ambition.

In the five episodes (of 10) made available for advance viewing, Lost in Space struggles to find a compelling enough narrative thrust to engage on a level deeper than the purely superficial - because Netflix certainly hasn’t skimped on the budget on this one.

Netflix has left no stone unturned in making Lost in Space look expensive. (Netflix)

I’m often asked - as if I’d know - how Netflix manages to create the amount of content that it has in the last couple of years. And this is a legitimate question that deserves a well thought out answer, especially with Netflix having recently announced that it will invest $2 billion on original content in 2018. That’s the sort of money that could save you and a lucky friend in the event of an apocalypse. The only thing I can think of, without a hint of irony, is world domination.

If you were to scroll along the Netflix homepage, you’d notice extremely narrow categories - content is categorised based on ‘quirkiness’ and tagged with phrases like ‘life-affirming’ and ‘cerebral’. Expect these categories to become even narrower as the Netflix algorithm evolves in the next couple of years, and we arrive at a point when there is literally a show tailored to suit the entertainment requirements for every human being on this planet.

It’s difficult to say exactly for whom Netflix paid through the nose to make Lost in Space, but if there’s an audience for it, it’s likely to be satisfied. I’m not that audience. And while it’s easy to notice the stunning production value - they’ve created entire CGI worlds, large sets, and actual working vehicles - the distraction wears thin after a while.

Soon, the restlessness begins to set in, because without a narrative compass to guide it, Lost in Space doesn’t know in which direction to take its characters. It floats, aimlessly, through hours and hours of inconsequential nothingness.

That’s the expression you’ll have on your face on hour 3 of your binge. (Netflix)

Ironically for a show about the importance of family in a post-Earth age, the most interesting character in Lost in Space is a robot. And it isn’t even one of those super-expressive CGI characters that have the ability to emote with simple facial movements - this robot is clunky, it’s unhurried in its movements and uncomplicated in its intelligence. And yet, it is more fascinating than any of the Robinsons, who are the blandest privileged white family (with a mixed-race member whose inclusion should have yielded better drama).

But after a point, it becomes painfully obvious that Lost in Space doesn’t really care about these ideas - which is unfortunate because, as we’ve discussed, even a film as overblown as 2012 found time for them.

Watch the Lost in Space trailer here

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The author @RohanNaahar for more