Netflix’s sci-fi extravaganza series Lost in Space, premiering worldwide on April 13, has drawn a line in the sand. On one side there’s a newer, darker, more forward-thinking interpretation, and on the other, there’s the original 1960s series of the same name.
The shows share a basic premise — the Robinson family must stick together when their spaceship veers off course and plunges them into the perilous unknown. But they differ in virtually every other way.
For instance, women actually matter in this rendition. Unlike in the original plot, lead actors Toby Stephens and Molly Parker portray an unhappy couple in John and Maureen Robinson. And, to the benefit of today’s viewers, they do away with relegating women to the kitchen, both figuratively and literally.
“Maureen Robinson in the ’60s show spent a lot of time asking people if she could make them a sandwich. They’re in space, and there’s aliens, but that was it. It was a sort of idealised idea of the nuclear family from the 1960s, which clearly was not the way it was then, either,” Parker told Gulf News tabloid!, speaking at a sit-down roundtable while promoting the show in Dubai last week.
The new show takes place 30 years in the future. And from the get-go, the Robinsons have to survive disaster after fatal disaster, with their matriarch in the lead.
“Maureen tries to take her children to this colony so that they can have a future, essentially,” said Parker, who advised against packing up ship and heading to another planet once Earth is destroyed.
“Because, clearly, what happens to them is that it’s not some utopian future out there. It’s trying to kill you. There’s a reason there’s no life out there — because you can’t live,” she said.
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
Aside from the overarching theme of survival, Parker and Stephens also had to portray a nuanced and fractured marriage. They wanted John and Molly’s broken bond to be believable, even when the creators raised concerns over how serious their dynamic was.
“I find that quite fun as an actor, making an audience believe in something that is totally preposterous. It’s like, ‘Well, this is a ridiculous scenario, but yet, I actually really care about these people,’” said Stephens.
Adding to the challenge was their spacesuits, which filmed better than they felt.
“The suits look so great, but they’re absolute torture. At the end of this season, I was like, ‘We are never wearing those suits again,’” said Parker.
“They were crippling,” agreed Stephens.
Hailing from the UK, Stephens comes from a stage acting background. On the big screen, you may recognise him as Bond villain Gustav Graves in Die Another Day. Parker began in indie films, and has been on Netflix for years in her Emmy-nominated role as Jacqueline Sharp on House of Cards.
The younger Robinsons — Judy, Penny and Will — are portrayed by promising newcomers Taylor Russell, Mina Sundwall and Maxwell Jenkins. (All three were surprised to land their roles. Sundwall had performed so poorly that showrunner Zack Estrin came out of the audition room to tell her she had “actually messed up my lines so badly that they were printing another script for me to read over.” The 16-year-old got the role days later.)
Onscreen, sisters Penny and Judy bicker despite an underlying closeness, while baby brother Will gallivants around with his robot companion.
Jenkins only had to think of his rescue pit bulls back home in order to build a believable bond with his non-speaking sidekick onscreen.
“They both have bad reputations, they both look scary on the outside, but when you get to know them, they’re the nicest, sweetest creatures on the planet. I mean, my dogs cuddle up with me at night after a long day at school, and they just watch movies with me,” said Jenkins, who hoped his misunderstood robot friend would become a mascot for misfits around the world.
CGI VS THE UNIVERSE
When it comes to sci-fi, particularly expensive-looking sci-fi, green screens and CGI are a crew’s best friend. But a surprising amount of Lost in Space was shot outdoors in British Columbia, one of the coldest provinces in Canada.
“We thought it was going to be lost in space, so there was going to be a lot of [filming in] spaceships and on set. We didn’t realise we were going to be out on location quite so much, in Vancouver, in the winter,” said Stephens. (The spaceship was built by ‘hundreds of people’, said Sundwall, equipped with hydraulics that allowed it to move and shake, and contained functional doors, fridges, and buttons.)
“It was much more physically demanding than I had anticipated,” agreed Parker, who planned to hit the gym before a second season.
Twelve-year-old sci-fi fanatic Jenkins was more enamoured by Vancouver’s isolated locations: “They’re so beautiful, like a new alien planet. Some of them are untouched. Like, we filmed on a glacier that no person has ever stepped foot on before us, and the cast of the Planet of the Apes,” he gushed.
Post-production continued to be a large part of the project, from changing the weather to making flowers sprout from an unsavoury mud pit.
“None of the flowers were there. It was disgusting. It was awful to stand in. But it looks really great,” said Sundwall, watching the transformed scene on a TV screen in the interview room for the first time.
Russell found it challenging to act out scenes without knowing what the final product would look like.
“All you can do is prep, and then trust. It is a difficult show in a lot of ways to keep the integrity of, because there’s so much action. But I’m glad people like it,” she said.
The younger cast members were born years after the original series aired — and even after the 1998 movie remake (sans 23-year-old Russell), which was a critical failure — but they dipped into the archives to see what legacy they were building on.
“I knew it was going to be completely different, and the characters were going to be completely different than what they created, just based on the roles of the females had at that time,” said Russell, who portrays older sister Judy.
“Having seen the original, it is very campy. That was something that, reading the script, not really knowing the direction that they were going to take it eventually, made me nervous,” confessed Sundwall, who was relieved with the tonal differences.
“We’ve been incredibly lucky to have the support of the original cast. I’ve been really good friends with Bill Mumy. We go over to his house when we visit LA,” said Jenkins.
The 64-year-old Mumy, who played the original Will Robinson in 1965, even helped Jenkins with his music homework; when he had to write a song about one of his heroes, the pair chose to honour Pete Seeger together.
But would the rebooted Robinson siblings consider blasting themselves off to space in the real world?
“My family wouldn’t do very well in space. We’re not very practical. I would avoid it as much as possible,” said Sundwall, with a laugh.
“My dad’s a welder, so he could build us a spaceship if need be,” interjected Jenkins. “My sister could help him, too. She’s like crazy good with power tools — and she’s 10 years old.”
“Oh, wow,” said an impressed Russell. “I wanna be on your spaceship.”
And on April 13, she will be, with the entire cosmos watching. Or at the very least, the portion of it with a Netflix subscription.
Check it out!
Lost in Space streams on Netflix in the UAE from April 13