Before making his mark as the Master of Disaster in epic blockbusters like “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno,” producer-director Irwin Allen began his film career making nature-themed documentaries. Exploring the physical and animal limits of Earth, Allen also volleyed between studios during the 50s, producing an eclectic series of fiction films (“Dangerous Mission,” in gimmicky 3-D), and directing a Biblical epic (“The Story of Mankind”) before establishing a fruitful relationship with Twentieth Century-Fox, in the 60s.
“The Lost World,” Allen's riff on strange world phenomena (in this case, our own unkempt backyard) led to “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” and in 1964 the TV series of “Voyage” filled a void in family-friendly science-fiction/fantasy programming. With “The Twilight Zone,” “The Outer Limits” and “One Step Beyond” going for cerebral, weird, and frequently lethal entities, the family unit needed a boost on network TV.
Allen's proposal seems oddly simple – Swiss Family Robinson in space – and the filmed pilot for the one-hour show, included in this DVD set, follows the family as the ship is thrown off course by a pesky meteor shower, and crashes on a planet inhabited by a giant cyclops. Tracked with music from Fox sci-fi flicks, the show's conclusion had the Robinson family kneeling and praying after a safe beach landing, with two aliens watching behind thick foliage.
Retooled (with music by Johnny/John Williams) for broader appeal, Allen added the iconic Dr. Zachary Smith, a stowaway, whose homesickness fosters an intense self-preservation streak. Clearly spouting witticisms aimed at the adults, the Robinson family fit the network's desire to capture the “mass family market” with “mass purchasing power,” as stated in the brief network pitch to advertisers, also archived on Disc 8. (It's also fascinating to watch how most of the pilot footage was flawlessly integrated over the first five episodes, adding the Smith and Robot characters.)
Allen's own youth would have exposed him to the old Buck Rogers serials as well as the elegant visuals of George Pal's sci-fi moralistic space epics, and the first season of “Lost In Space” embraces both distinctive visions – using episodic cliffhangers, and futuristic imagery, respectively – but the show is best-remembered by the baby boomer generation as a fun, comic book-styled escapism. (Naturally, nifty comic books followed.) Previously issued in boxed laserdisc sets (with the unaired pilot) only in Japan, 20th Century Fox's set includes all 25 episodes (running almost 53 minutes a piece), beautifully mastered from clean black & white prints. (The following year, the show switched to color, and altered the series' tone to a far younger age group.)
Irwin Allen's prime time, family-friendly sci-fi empire subsequently spawned “The Time Tunnel” in 1966, and “Land of the Giants,” in 1968. Though a feature film appeared in 1997, the alien planet as ‘unexplored playground' clearly affected a generation, with “Earth 2” adding New Age spiritualism and planetary wonderment in 1994.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan