According to dictionary definition, a "block-buster" is "an expensively produced and commercially successful movie". But maybe this description should change. There's a new breed of super-movie in town: Godzilla, The Avengers and Lost In Space are perfect examples. So, describing the "blockbuster" as "an expensively produced, high-concept, low-brow, plot-lite, effects-heavy merchandising opportunity with room for a sequel (if not a franchise)" is closer to the truth.
Lost In Space is a relatively story-free lump of eye-candy, but unlike the much-hyped Godzilla, this over-stylised sci-fi adventure does amuse and entertain. Or at least it does for about an hour, until the script loses momentum and plummets into a preposterous finale. It's an electrifying thrill-ride up to the point where giant spiders attack the family; thereafter, it's a messy, time-travel oddity (with a ripped-off Return Of The Jedi ending).
Groaning under the weight of 750 special-effects shots (killer arachnids; a dazzling Blade Runner meets The Jetsons vision of Earth), the movie flings away the cheesiness of the '60s TV show, injecting what's left with the darker themes of eco-disaster, techno- terrorism and the dysfunctional family.
If one half of Lost In Space is an impressive blastwave of CG excess, the other is a clap-happy morality tale; an attempt to make the sketchily drawn ensemble cast appear more human and more '90s. There's the workaholic father who has no time for his son; the wayward teen daughter; the frosty, elder daughter; and the brash pilot with ego to spare. All have learnt their lessons and become better people come the fiery, planet-crumbling denouement.
William Hurt struggles to rally the clan against increasingly absurdist plotting, while only Matt LeBlanc's pilot and Gary Oldman's villainous saboteur get the chance to flesh out their characters. LeBlanc, who is at ease playing Joey from Friends playing Major Don West, is initially difficult to accept in this new, butch, gung-ho capacity. But he improves as the film motors onwards, his motivation simply to stand tall, rattle off one-liners and bombard Heather Graham's standoffish Judy with crude but hopeful come-ons.
As usual, the villain nabs most of the best lines, and veteran bad guy Oldman turns in a charismatic, darker version of Jonathan Harris' camp, bumbling original. Cutesy CG sidekick Blawp, a badly-animated, irrelevant, wide-eyed, alien `thing' (which goes "blawp"), has no real function other than to start a long life as a mass-produced, Lost In Space-branded, cuddly plaything.
It all amounts to a loud, achingly visual mix of science-fiction, action and humour that veers alarmingly between the good and the bad. The film has one or two moments of inspired brilliance (10-year-old Will Robinson virtually controlling the huge, damaged robot to battle a massive onslaught of space spiders) but also contains some embarrassing shite (a cloaked, soot-faced, quite `different' Dr Smith at the end).
It's certainly not the best thing you'll see this summer, but it's far from the worst, and is perfectly enjoyable if approached with no expectations and an open mind. Cursed by its block-buster nature, Lost In Space is a slave to the demands of marketing and possible franchise potential and perhaps tries too hard to be all things to all people. A definite case of special-effects first, characterisation second and story (what there is of it) a distant third.