DVD Review: Lost in Space – The Complete First Season
20th Century Fox Home Video
8 Disc DVD Box Set List Price $79.98
Released January 13, 2004
Review by ED Tucker
This is the beginning. This is the day. You are watching the unfolding of one of history’s great adventures, Man’s colonization beyond the stars.
With these words, so began the saga of the space family Robinson on the far future date of October 16, 1997. There goal was to find a new world for an overpopulated Earth to expand to but an agent of an unknown evil organization sabotages the mission and the crew of the Jupiter II became hopelessly lost in space!
Lost in Space is a ’60’s cult science-fiction series that is probably second only to Star Trek in terms of fan popularity. The show is one of the earliest and best loved of disaster movie king Irwin Allen’s impressive television track record and his love of the premise was obvious throughout the entire series. While adults tended to tire quickly of the antics of Dr. Smith and the robot, youngsters couldn’t get enough and over 30 years after it’s cancellation, it continues to entertain new generations through syndication.
The first, and arguably best, season of the series was finally made available on DVD last week in an eight-disc box set. The collection consists of a total of 30 one hour episodes of the series, all 29 episodes of the first season plus the pilot film. The packaging is no frills with the discs packed into slime line cases that feature a different cast member on each cover. Liner notes are nonexistent but a brief synopsis of each episode is provided on the case for each disc, along with the original airdates and a few technical credits. The episodes are packaged four to a disc for the first seven volumes. The eighth is comprised of just two episodes, the season finale Follow the Leader and the original pilot Nowhere to Hide. Disc eight also contains the box sets sole extra, an approximately six minute CBS promotional film comprised entirely of footage from the pilot and designed to sell the show to potential sponsors.
Lost in Space is one of my all-time favorite television series and I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the show on DVD since the format first took hold. The show has previously been incarnated on video in a complete VHS set from Columbia House Video, a Japanese laser disc set that was too expensive and elusive for most fans, and a few scattered episodes on sell through priced tape sets. Now with the advent of DVD technology the series should be getting the royal treatment but the set ultimately falls short.
The quality of the video presentation on these discs is top notch. The episodes are clear and crisp and probably the best they have ever looked. After years of watching murky prints that ranged from slightly edited to cut to ribbons (thank you USA Cable Network) on various television stations, viewing pristine uncut prints is a real treat. The audio quality is also excellent and an alternate soundtrack is included for those who want to hear what the cast sounds like in Spanish! The problem lies with the sets almost conspicuous lack of bonus material.
The only true extra included in the set is the CBS sales film. The original pilot is a nice addition, but I consider this as much a part of the first season as the other 29 episodes. You will also note that I have purposely avoided the use of the word “unaired” when referring to this pilot even though the box mentions it several times. While the first pilot to the series was never shown during the programs original run, it has circulated widely among fans since at least the mid 1980’s. During its early years, when it was actually watchable, the Science Fiction Channel aired this pilot multiple times as part of various marathons so its rarity has been greatly diminished. It is certainly a valuable component though and Irwin Allen’s desire to sell this series is most apparent here. Nowhere to Hide takes an “everything including the kitchen sink” approach by filling the one-hour running time to almost overflowing with action and special effects. After Fox insisted on a villain and a robot to flesh out the cast, Allen recycled almost every frame of this footage into no less than the first five episodes of the series! In fact, episode four There Were Giants in the Earth is an entire show built around just two impressive sequences from this pilot! These sequences just happened to feature a gargantuan cyclops creature whose rock-hurling image would remain with the series throughout it’s run and even grace two Aurora model kits.
Fans unfamiliar with the original pilot will have a field day picking out all the differences between it and the broadcast version, The Reluctant Stowaway. For example, the ship was originally christened the Gemini 12 to make it sound more in line with the NASA space program of the era and her co-pilot was one Dr. Donald West! Without the unplanned weight of an extra passenger to throw the guidance system off course, the first pilot had to rely on an unexpected meteor storm to cause the ship to become lost. The pilot also leaves viewers to wonder what would have happened to the family on a weekly basis without Dr. Smith to constantly endanger them in his attempts to return to Earth or the robot to warn them of ever-present dangers. One thing is certain though, without these mandated cast additions, Lost in Space would have never diluted the more serious tone of the first season and become the “Will, Dr. Smith, and the Robot Show” of later years.
As DVDs have become the home viewing media of choice, even the most budget-conscious discs have begun to offer bonus materials to sweeten their purchase prices. Consumers have become accustomed to these extras, especially in box sets where including entire discs of added material is almost a granted. The Lost in Space box set for the first season has the poorest compliment of extras I have yet to see and this leads me to believe that a “collector’s edition”, perhaps of all three seasons combined, must be in the works somewhere. Most fans are aware that a trailer exists for the unaired pilot and there were numerous toy and product tie-ins done with sponsors of the show. Recent documentaries on the series have shown that behind the scenes home movies and color special effects footage of the first season still exist and could have also been included. The single most objectionable omission though, is the lack of a commentary track. With a major portion of the show’s cast still around and very complimentary of their years on the program, it is almost unthinkable that none of them were tapped to do an audio track, let alone interviews for this set.
Fans of the Lost in Space series won’t be able to pass up this set even if they tried. After so many years of watching inferior syndication prints, it is just too tempting to be able to finally own the first season on DVD. Unfortunately, the marketing forces at 20th Century Fox Home Video seem to have realized this and are milking the show for all it is worth. Perhaps they are saving all this cool bonus footage for a future documentary or for an entire bonus disc for the third season box, but I doubt it. Fox is sitting on these extras like Dr. Smith on a space treasure chest but hopefully their plans to get rich will go better than his! Danger, danger Will Robinson!