Screen Test

Heroic family reboot and a legend's fall from grace

Just when you despair of television reboots, along comes Lost In Space - a better-than-expected take on the 1960s science-fiction show of the same name - itself inspired by The Swiss Family Robinson, the 1812 book about a family shipwrecked on a desert isle.

It would not appear an auspicious property to revive. The original was at best campy and Hollywood already tried to update it with a dreadful 1998 film starring Matt LeBlanc.

But this Netflix stab ticks all the boxes: a family-friendly space adventure with some psychological depth and room to grow.

The fine cast includes Toby Stephens and Molly Parker as John and Maureen Robinson; Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall and Max Jenkins as their children Judy, Penny and Will; and Parker Posey as the sinister Dr Smith.

Set in the not-too-distant future, it posits an asteroid-induced crisis triggering an evacuation of Earth. The Robinsons are among the few chosen to colonise space, but their craft unexpectedly crashes on an unknown planet and they have to improvise.

The show's strongest point is its layered family dynamics, which are believably loving yet prickly.

Lost In Space, inspired by The Swiss Family Robinson, stars (from far left) Molly Parker, Max Jenkins, Mina Sundwall, Taylor Russell and Toby Stephens.
Lost In Space, inspired by The Swiss Family Robinson, stars (from left) Molly Parker, Max Jenkins, Mina Sundwall, Taylor Russell and Toby Stephens. PHOTO: NETFLIX

  • Available on Netflix


    3.5 stars

    Premieres at 8am on Sunday on HBO (StarHub TV Channel 601), with a repeat telecast at 9pm on the same day. Also available on HBO Go and HBO On Demand (StarHub TV Channel 602)

Maureen and John were estranged before leaving Earth and there is also friction among the kids - Judy, the overachieving eldest sibling; Penny, the classic middle child; and Will, a sensitive soul with an inferiority complex.

Like the best Star Trek episodes, there is a nice emphasis on science and smarts, with the kids just as capable and heroic as the adults.

When a robot alien finally shows up to deliver the iconic "Danger, Will Robinson" line from the original series, the reboot gets an endearing boy-and-his-dog element too.

However, as with the other sub-plots, the psychological details are made eminently relatable, but not too dumbed down.

Even the robot has a dark past and the casting of indie-film darling Posey signals the bad guy is not going to be as expected either.

The show does grow more predictable as it brings in more characters and new practical predicaments. But the Robinsons keep you watching, which is all a show like this can hope for.

Midway through the TV film Paterno - which looks at a beloved football coach's role in letting child sex abuse by his subordinate go unchecked - a character asks: Why are we even talking about Joe Paterno, instead of focusing on the victims of the abuse?

It is a fair question, and one this film, starring Al Pacino as Penn State's legendary coach, does not answer satisfactorily.

After a sluggish start, the movie does offer a suitably enraging expose of how the powerful close ranks to protect one another. In this case, they were the top officials at Penn State and its football programme as well as the police and prosecutors, who did nothing when young men came forward saying coach Jerry Sandusky had raped and molested them.

As with the 2015 film Spotlight, about similar goings-on in the Catholic Church, this follows a journalist, Sarah Ganim, as she tries to uncover the truth, which eventually won her a Pulitzer.

It is a handy way into the story, but the character is underdeveloped and Riley Keough, with her limited acting range, is miscast.

At the other extreme, there is Pacino, who turns in one of his excessively mannered performances, the kind awards voters go mad for.

Where this movie may really lose you, though, is when it asks you to care about what and when Paterno knew of the abuse, or even to feel sorry for him.

This will be especially hard for those who do not give two hoots about American football or sports, though the film does capture the fanaticism of the fans at Penn State, where the game was religion.

The movie tries to create interest by mining the grey areas. On the one hand, it imagines Paterno was callously indifferent to what happened to the victims (something the film pays scant attention to as well). But he was also a frail old man who watched his hard-won reputation disintegrate.

It would have been easier to make the story about the clear villain, Sandusky, rather than the harder question of the culpability of those around him. And Paterno's supporters were right in that there is no moral equivalency between what he and Sandusky did.

Yet none of it is that interesting or important in the scheme of things, and the film feels very small because of it.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2018, with the headline Heroic family reboot and a legend's fall from grace. Subscribe