The first science fiction adventure about a family's intergalactic voyage
aboard a sabotaged spaceship, Lost In Space is inspired by the nostalgic
television series which has become a cult classic.
Producer and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman remembers playing "Lost In
Space" games as a kid. "When Richard Saperstein, New Line's executive
VP of production, called me and said, The project is available, and we will
buy it if you will write it,' I thought Wow, it was my favorite TV show.'"
Goldsman then faced the challenge of taking a popular, often campy television
series and translating the franchise into a blockbuster movie that would
appeal to audiences of the '90s.
"When adapting material like this, you have to be true to the history
of the project," said Goldsman, "but you have to give it a new
interpretation and voice. What captured my heart and mind was the story
of the family. I grew up in a family that was very fragmented, as did a
lot of kids in the '60s in America. It was a time when everything was coming
apart and reforming, and the series was about the cohesion of family --
a family forced to stay together when they are hurled into space and become
dependent on each other. The idea of a father who protects, a mother who
nurtures, siblings who work with each other, and everyone wearing space
suits with ray guns and fighting monsters was great. Those were the things
I remembered when the movie was proposed."
Both Goldsman and New Line knew the success of their dream of bringing Lost
In Space to the screen hinged on their choice of director. "Richard
and I talked with a few directors that were interested," said Goldsman,
"and Stephen Hopkins had a wonderful vision for it, which harmonized
with ours. He has truly elevated the material."
Crucial to the story was the casting. "Putting the Robinson family
in outerspace is a crisis that must have real emotional resonance, and to
do that you need great actors," said Goldsman. The producers decided
to cast the role of Dr. Smith first. "We wanted an anchor, and Gary
Oldman was always our first choice."
"I met with Stephen and Akiva," Oldman recalled, "and I liked
Stephen's vision of the movie they were going to make."
The next step was to approach William Hurt for the role of John Robinson.
"I had seen a few episodes of Lost In Space' as a kid," said Hurt,
"and it raised interesting issues, like artificial intelligence versus
natural intelligence. These were big questions that were ahead of their
time, and I think that is why it attracted the audience that it did. Like
the original series, the film intrigued me because it was saying that human
beings need each other more than they need machines."
With Oldman and Hurt in place, the rest of the cast was quick to come aboard.
The role of Maureen Robinson went to Mimi Rogers, one of the most versatile
actresses in Hollywood. "I play the ultimate space mother," Rogers
joked. "What I found so appealing about the script, is that you have
got the sci-fi and the adventure and all the bells and whistles of the special
effects, but it's rooted in a family situation."
Playing the Robinson daughters are Heather Graham and Lacey Chabert. Graham,
known for her many roles in independent feature films, including the critically
acclaimed Boogie Nights, was cast in the role of Judy. "I wanted to
try something new that I had never done before," she said, "This
is not your typical action-adventure; it's kind of quirky and has a lot
of heart to it."
For Lacey Chabert, Lost In Space marks her big screen debut and a radical
new look from that of her role as Claudia Salinger in the highly popular
FOX television series "Party of Five." "I play Penny, the
rebel of the family. When I got the part and I heard I would be working
with Gary Oldman and William Hurt and such an amazing cast, I was in shock.
At first it was intimidating and scary, because the whole action element
was really unfamiliar to me with planets exploding, spiders, Green Screen
effects and everyone screaming, but they were all so great and made me feel
The final cast member to join the Robinson family was ten-year-old Jack
Johnson in the role of Will. "It was really great when I got the part,
because at the time I was in the middle of building my own robot,"
Once the casting of the Robinson family was complete, the producers turned
their attention to finding an actor for the pivotal role of Major Don West,
ace pilot of the Jupiter 2 spacecraft. They found the perfect Don West in
Matt LeBlanc. Recalled Stephen Hopkins, "Matt completely blew me away
when he came in to audition. He's playing a character so different from
his role in Friends,' and he is terrific."
Apart from the demands of playing a new kind of character, LeBlanc also
took on the grueling schedule of commuting between the United States and
the United Kingdom in order to complete episodes of "Friends"
and film his first scenes for Lost In Space.
"Don West is a guy that runs on instinct and adrenalin. Playing this
action role was really fun; it totally serviced my inner child," said
LeBlanc. "I was a big fan of the TV series, and I like the idea that
the movie has a darker, edgier feel to it."
Principal photography on Lost In Space began March 4, 1997 and wrapped August
16, 1997. The production was filmed entirely at Shepperton Studios, England,
utilizing 11 sound stages and a crew of 500 to bring to the screen a futuristic
epic that would dazzle the eye.
"The easy thing in sci-fi films is to make everything creepy and dark
and gloomy. The hard thing in any piece of entertainment is to make people
feel emotional and uplifted." Director Stephen Hopkins used this as
his point of reference when he took on the awesome task of bringing Lost
In Space to the big screen.
"Lost In Space is a clever and sophisticated adventure story that touches
on family issues, making it different from other sci-fi films. The idea
of an entire family in space is very interesting. When I started, I talked
to NASA, and they said they were talking about the dynamics of groups going
into outer space and one of the ideas was to send a family. They're actually
doing studies to see how families would work," said Hopkins. "I
think the fun part of this is that we all have family issues, and the Robinson
family is the same. They start off rather dysfunctional in that the parents,
who are both brilliant scientists, are so busy trying to save the world
they don't have time for their kids."
The biggest challenge for Hopkins was maintaining the balance between the
adventure element and the story of the family. "The characters are
reliant on what happens in the story," he explained. "The dynamics
of the family are very much locked into what happens during their adventures
-- some of which are very wild and scary -- and how those experiences push
them together or pull them apart, forging a different way of looking at
each other. They are not a team of commandos, they are just a bunch of people
who never expected anything other than to go to sleep on a spaceship, find
a planet, start a new life and go on as a family."
In addition to being story driven, Lost In Space boasts a stellar cast of
distinguished acting talent. "This film is a real ensemble piece. We
relentlessly chased after this class of actors, and we didn't give up until
we had them. These are quirky roles, and these guys weren't used to doing
this kind of stuff. None of the characters is what you expect, and the actors
are playing quite complicated people."
Aside from putting a diverse cast through their paces, Hopkins also had
to deal with the incredible number of effects that weave the film together.
"It makes my brain hurt to think that in three quarters of the shots
in this film there is at least one effect, while the other quarter of the
film contains robots and animatronics. Every form of effect that has been
invented -- some we've put together for the first time -- has been used.
We have had to design a reality from scratch. From frame one of this film,
it's a spectacle for the eye."
Production designer Norman Garwood enjoyed sitting down with Stephen Hopkins
to begin creating the total environment of Lost In Space. "Stephen
has a great visual sense. With his background as an illustrator and in videos,
he has a great eye and is an idea man. Images just bounce off him, and he
appreciates what you are visually trying to create."
Lost In Space is Garwood's first venture into sci-fi, the nearest he has
come to screen fantasy since his Academy Award nomination for Brazil. A
great admirer of films like Blade Runner, Lost In Space gave Garwood the
opportunity to take on the challenge of a different genre.
"To create something that is new -- that doesn't bear any resemblance
to anything that has been done before -- is quite a daunting task,"
said Garwood. "At the same time, it's a wonderful opportunity to let
your brain go mad."
"There were a couple of very strong images that we knew would set the
tone for the film. The Jupiter 1 was instrumental as the big mother ship
that takes off into space and reveals Jupiter 2, a much sleeker craft. I
think this transformation will satisfy the original "Lost In Space"
fans as well as new audiences," he added.
To create the world of Lost In Space, Garwood and his art department and
construction team took over 11 sound stages at Shepperton Studios, England,
to build more than 15 cathedral-sized sets. The set pieces included Mission
Control, Jupiter 2, the alien Proteus ship and the exterior of the planet
complete with crash site.
"It was an amazing process for construction manager, Malcolm Roberts.
I don't think there was a straight line in any of the sets. It got to be
a joke since everything had this oval, egg-shaped look. It began when we
were putting the concept of the space craft together and Stephen kept saying,
I never want to see a straight line.' It kind of stuck and we tried to give
everything a roundness. This non-linear look has a lovely quality to it,
it is very organic and gives everything an immense sense of depth,"
Garwood also stressed the importance of his collaboration with director
of photography, Peter Levy. "You can design the most amazing set, but
if it is lit wrong, it can look like a shopping mall. I had a wonderful
relationship with Peter on Lost In Space. Because of the nature of the film
there is a huge amount of built-in lighting to each set; the sets more or
less illuminate themselves. So Peter, gaffer Chuck Finch and I worked closely
to give the movie a very special look. We wanted to avoid the sinister and
show an amazing world that is non-threatening -- a future that is friendly."
Visual effects supervisor, Angus Bickerton, headed the team responsible
for the more than 750 special effects in Lost In Space. "It was a very
ambitious script in terms of effects -- so ambitious that when I first came
on board, I didn't realize the sheer complexity and diversity of it,"
said Bickerton. "I estimated 600 effects, but it turned out to be more
Bickerton joined Stephen Hopkins and the creative team in September 1996
to prepare for the two years which would take them from script to screen.
Following pre-production, he faced the massive challenge of overseeing three
main live units, motion control, models units, and more than a dozen effects
"Audiences are always craving something new," said Bickerton.
"We've reached a peak where effects have to be better and better. Now
we have CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) which is capable of giving us complete
visions of what we were never able to see before, so we are constantly pushing
to get something even more amazing."
Bickerton pinpointed three of the most technically challenging sequences
in the movie: "The big ones were definitely the space spiders, Spider
Smith and the Bubble Fighter. Those were the ones where we pushed just a
little bit further than we thought we could go. In terms of the Bubble Fighter,
the only real' elements in the sequence are the actors Matt LeBlanc and
Lennie James, and the fighter rig. The rest is totally CG. There is a lot
of buzz about virtual sets, and with the Bubble Fighter, we were doing a
90% virtual scene. With the space spiders and Spider Smith, there were different
challenges and new techniques. There is a lot of tracking with CG, and it's
the sheer bravado of the shots that I hope thrill the audience."
For Bickerton, the opportunity to work alongside Stephen Hopkins was rewarding.
"Stephen saw the overall shape of the project very early on. Details
formed and changed, but he really did have this clear vision. He would often
throw me a curve. Things I now totally accept seemed like wild ideas at
the time," said Bickerton.
Some of the effects Bickerton put together were composed of as many as 10
components. The challenge was to see them as individual components, while
knowing they would not be put together for several months. He added, "The
post-production period was when we were really creative and went for it."
Designer Vin Burnham, who made the batsuit for Michael Keaton in Batman,
was the perfect choice to create the space costumes for Lost In Space. She
began her career at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden, making
Swan Lake head dresses for the ballet, and moved into television and film
"The kind of designs I get involved with are technically complicated,"
she said. "Stephen Hopkins wanted the space costumes to look very functional
and not be just decorative; they had to have a purpose. He also wanted everything
dark and monochrome -- partly because the sets are quite colorful."
"The most complex costumes are the Cryosuits worn by the Robinson family.
Stephen wanted them machine-like, which presented a huge challenge because
they had to be worn for long periods of time by the actors," said Burnham.
"To create the latex, formfitting Cryosuits, the actors had to be life
cast, standing completely still in fiber glass. It takes about 21/2 hours
to do the whole body head-to-toe. The designs also had a network of wires
which light up sections of the costume. They look great on film, but they
are a nightmare to get on since the actors have to be glued into their Cryosuits
with medical glue. For the first fittings, it took 90 minutes to put them
in their suits, and in the end we got it down to 20 minutes."
Burnham clearly got a buzz out of designing the futuristic look. "I
love anything that uses your imagination. The initial designs were just
a starting point, you don't find out until you're doing certain things just
how it is going to work."
"Unfortunately," Burnham joked, "actors don't like wearing
my designs. They are usually hot or heavy and take ages to get in or out
"Danger, Will Robinson!" are the immortal words of warning from
one of the most beloved characters in Lost In Space -- the robot. This leading
cast member was one of two robots and several galactic creatures to be designed
for Lost In Space by Jim Henson's Creature Shop.
Following guidelines from director Stephen Hopkins and production designer
Norman Garwood, the Creature Shop, headed by project supervisor Verner Gresty,
began the design and concept phase to create Robot I and Robot II, as well
as alien characters and space spiders.
"Robot 1 is really a stunt robot," Gresty explained. "It
performed in many of the action sequences, and it had to be capable of total
subtlety with precise movements when working with the actors."
The challenge for the Creature Shop was designing and building a large industrial
robot that could be transformed into Robot II, a smaller more friendly robot.
Robot I had to be big, powerful and intimidating. Robot II had to be born
out of Robot I but with some re-engineering. It also had to be able to move
backwards and forwards on alamac tracks and travel under its own propulsion.
The main upper body had to rotate at 360, and its legs, arms and face had
to be fully animatronic.
"The main challenges were coordinating and fitting in all of the different
elements involved in the final design and structure, without interfering
with any of the moving elements," said Gresty. "Over 3,000 components
were used. Constant modifications and additions to the external body panels
were necessary to accommodate new parts, while great care was taken to maintain
the smooth curves and aesthetic lines of the original sketch design."
As the robot was nearing completion, the weight implications became apparent.
Two over-head chain hoists and a hydraulic crane were required to manipulate
and assemble the robot parts. At the same time, the electronics team installed
motor drives, gearboxes and power supplies. The final weight of the robot
was 500 pounds, and up to four Henson puppeteers were needed to manipulate
the robot at any one time.
The Creature Shop's next challenge was to design and build Blawp, a friendly
chameleon-like space monkey, described as a baby of alien species.' This
character would need to interact with the human cast, and a model was needed
for CG scanning for running and jumping shots. The first of a series of
maquettes was produced for Stephen Hopkins, who made the character less
monkey-like and more alien-looking.
The Creature Shop then concentrated on producing different skins' for the
chameleon-like character. After lighting tests, the skins were made from
a combination of foam and silicon. Many different skin types were necessary
as they were frequently changed and fitted throughout the filming and needed
to withstand the vigorous movement required of the character. Members of
the Creature Shop were on set to dress, paint and maintain the character
throughout the shoot, while a team of up to seven puppeteers was used to
manipulate the small animatronic Blawp.
The final Creature Shop design was the alien spiders. "In terms of
scope and scale, the range of things we had to do on Lost In Space was incredible.
From the smallest mechanisms of Blawp, to the killer robot and the spiders,
it used the widest range of technology we have ever employed, and it was
exciting seeing it all come together," said Gresty.