Lost in Space Season Three (2021)

loasts3Attentive readers will likely recall my glowing reviews of the surprisingly good Season One and Season Two of the Lost in Space reboot.  Season Three is the end of the series (kudos to Netflix for letting the show run its course and not cut it short like they have done the recent Cowboy Bebop) so I guess the question is, did they stick the landing?

Well, that’s a tricky one really. There is some weird expectation -maybe its just a general narrative thing, maybe its a Game of Thrones thing- that a series finale has to be some big epic event, a grand conclusion to leave fans buzzing. Its the way they mostly went with Lost in Space, and I’ll be honest, I could have been forgiven during the last two episodes for  thinking I was watching a Marvel movie: infact, it DID occur to me a few times. There are some big climactic moments, particularly during what amounts to a huge battle between good and bad robots across a desolate battlefield of fire and smoke and destruction, where it looked like something from the climax Avengers: Endgame, complete with ‘hero shots’ of human characters posing in essentially slow-motion moments, that felt very ‘Marvel movie’. And sure, for a television show to even approximate that is achievement in itself, even if it is a show made with what I imagine is an inflated Netflix budget. But was that good for the show?

It just made me question why the showrunners felt the need to go large like that, to go so epic. Personally I see so much CGI spectacle now, it quickly gets boring no matter how well its executed, its just a distraction from what should be more genuine drama. There’s a sense that its just a ticking of boxes- bigger explosions, crazier stunts, noisier music- that ruins so many blockbuster movies now. Blockbuster movies used to be a term referring to movies that had crowds queuing around city blocks, like in the glory days of Jaws or Star Wars in the 1970s, but these days its seems to be describing films as loud and noisy as a city block collapsing in an explosion, and its something increasingly infecting television shows all the time too. One of the most depressing things about Star Trek: Discovery (thank goodness I won’t be seeing that show’s latest season since Netflix dropped it) is how much it felt it needed bigger and bigger spectacle, at the expense of actual ideas (or rather it excused its lack of ideas and good writing by blindsiding viewers with flashy vacuous visuals).

To be sure, season three of Lost in Space is visually amazing, as the show always has been. Its production design -sets, costumes, hardware- has always been top-notch, and I’d argue its visual effects have been some of the very best I’ve ever seen on a television show. Its always been a very cinematic series, very strong indeed. But I also think that, some irritating character arcs aside, the series was at its best with regards its characters, especially the dynamic between the young Will Robinson (Maxwell Jenkins) and the Robot, which is something one would certainly expect from a Lost in Space show and one of the reasons this reboot has been so enjoyable. While that isn’t entirely lost in this series conclusion I think it did lose its way, fell out of focus as the show became distracted by trying to become a big Marvel movie. 

Which is why I had mixed feelings as regards season three. It certainly had its moments and the finale largely worked, minus some major plot-holes that irritated me no end which I guess I was supposed to ignore amongst all the CGI and noise. Maybe I should be prepared for more of the same, maybe its just how things are done now. I hear a live-action Blade Runner series is in the works… must say that makes me more than a little nervous, but perhaps much of this is just symptomatic of increasingly poor writing/box-ticking and maybe studio expectations. 

Just because you can do something, visually with all the tools film-makers have now, doesn’t mean one necessarily should- I think that’s a lesson taught us by George Lucas and his Star Wars special editions back in the late 1990s, but here we are and it still hasn’t been heeded. Character-based drama always wins out, but that relies upon a sophistication of writing seemingly lost to the current generation. An army of Replicants, a series of Spinner-Car chases… is that what Blade Runner in future incarnations is destined to become? Likewise an army of Aliens rampaging the Earth in a mooted Alien series, no doubt. Perhaps Lost in Space got away lightly after all.

Lost in Space: Season Two (2019)

lost2A little bit late to the party? Yes I guess so, since Netflix dropped this second season of the surprisingly good Lost in Space back on Christmas Eve, 2019, if I recall correctly. I suppose that might have been a genius move for many, having a family show like that available for the holiday, but it obviously didn’t suit me as I’ve only gotten around to it several months later. Indeed, funnily enough two episodes in I was asking myself why I’d waited so long, as this show is pretty great, and it was like I’d forgotten just how good/successful that first season had been (reviewed here and here back in -gulp- 2018).

So its still good then? Like the Ron Moore BSG reboot, this Lost in Space is much, much better than its original: the 1960s Irwin Allen show was a childhood favourite of mine (I loved all those American sci-fi shows, really) but it was decidedly camp and hasn’t aged too well, but this new incarnation is much more serious and brought bang up to date. Obviously its still family entertainment, much less dark than the BSG reboot was (which was informed by Post-9/11 sensibilities, terrorism and dangers of AI into something quite removed from its Glen Larson original), so it has certain limitations, but it has to be said, within those limitations of a show that tries to offer something for all the family, it works very well indeed. The danger, particularly for sci-fi shows, is that there is a tendency to alienate adults by aiming for a kid audience, with sillier genre tropes, and likewise when aiming for an adult audience danger of no longer being family-friendly with darker, more violent genre tropes. Lost in Space manages its balancing act very well, indeed much better than recent seasons of the BBCs Dr Who, and I rather think CBS Access’ recent forays into Star Trek might benefit from learning a few lessons from the show too.

lost2bStill looks pretty? Crikey, almost absurdly so. Particularly so in 4K and HDR on Netflix- its absolutely gorgeous.  The sets, the costumes, the whole thing looks very spectacular and convincing and the visual effects even more so- really, shows such as this really cross the wide divide that lay between TV and film productions a few decades ago. Quite a few times early in the second season I was seeing sets/locations and effects that looked up there with recent Ridley Scott genre projects such as The Martian and Prometheus. I’m not sure how realistic it is to describe some of these cable/streaming-giant productions from Netflix, Amazon etc as television shows. Strictly speaking some of them have motion-picture budgets, really, and some of it is a little derivative, but fair play, its mightily impressive most of the time. Actually, it does give me some pause in considering what ‘proper’ movies can do to really distinguish themselves from some of these ambitious small-screen genre projects. Hopefully Villeneuve’s Dune will make things particularly clear for me. And certainly the script-writing and acting can actually be better than those movies, and while some of the acting talent may be a little suspect the characterisation and narrative writing is top-notch and on the whole, part of the success of the show is just how endearing the characters are. The irony that it doesn’t really need to look that bloody good because the character arcs and writing is rewarding enough to warrant a watch is quite amusing.

So another season…? Yes, a third season has been commissioned for next year, and its been announced that it will be the last season too, so I assume the show-runners have laid out a plan to wrap things up satisfactorily. I would imagine that there’s a danger Covid-19 might delay things as usual of late, but if the pre-production has been progressing in the intervening months since the commissioning in March, then perhaps things will move along roughly to plan: shooting I think was due to start in September and I believe many tv and film productions are aiming to be operational in September/October.

So looking forward to it, then? Punch me. Well, okay, maybe not, best pinch me instead. Yeah, really, its hard to believe that a Lost in Space remake/reboot all these decades later is so enjoyable.

The Towering Inferno- uncut!

inferno1Flicking through the tv channels this afternoon, avoiding the news in a desperate attempt to stay positive about all things 2020,  I stumbled upon The Towering Inferno, as I found myself slumming in the darkest scheduling corner of ITV4. The Towering Inferno is a guilty favourite of mine ever since it thrilled me as a kid, its got an incredible cast, cheesy characters, ropy effects and predictable drama but its a safe harbour these days, you know? Anyway, I settled down to watch the remainder;  it wasn’t far from the midway point- Dan Bigelow (Robert Wagner) and his mistress Lorrie (Susan Flannery, who I had a crush on back in the day) have just been enjoying some fun away from the party above when they realise the fire has broken out and trapped them. Dan eventually makes a run for it to fetch help but is engulfed by the flames leaving Lorrie to suffer an explosive end and… hold on, I’m sure Dan suffered a bit more in the flames for his indiscretions (extramarital sex = death in these period films, after all) and Lorrie… well, its awfully quick… did I blink and miss her plunge out the window…

Waitaminute. This thing has been cut.

The Towering Inferno, from 1974… whats this thing doing in a tv version? I used to hate tv versions, but back in the 1970s and 1980s they were what we had to suffer with. To be honest, I thought those days were over. This is 2020 now, after all, and The Towering Inferno… well, it was hardly The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when it came out, right?

In a spell of Sunday afternoon laziness I  could put up with the commercial breaks, maybe, but a cut version of the film? So I go and find my Blu-ray copy and resume the film from where the tv transmission has paused it, the picture is much better as is the sound and I really enjoy it- probably should have put it on from the start really.

I just can’t believe they are still airing a tv version of this movie. Infact, I’m looking at the title of this post as if I’ve gone a little stir crazy under lockdown. What a strange world we are living in: I had no idea people had to be protected from the brutality of Irwin Allen’s opus.

 

 

 

San Andreas (2015)

san1In many ways San Andreas is everything I abhor in so many modern blockbusters; lazy writing rasing all the old tropes and cliches with predictable plotting and cynical insults to audience intelligence. On the other hand, it does everything it says on the tin, as it were. It is what it is and doesn’t pretend to be anything different. I knew going in that it was hardly going to be high art and if you’re in the mood for a high-octane disaster movie you’ll be in for a treat.

san3Positives? Well, the effects guys pulled out all the stops on this one. There are jarring exceptions that sneak in no doubt due to the sheer amount of effects shots in the film (alarmingly for the film the first effects shots are the worst which creates an initial sense of cheesiness), but on the whole the scenes of destruction are well staged and convincing. You certainly get plenty bang for your buck, whether it be a rental or a purchase or (originally) cinema ticket. The casting is fine (Kylie Minogue though is so out of left-field its just utterly bizarre) and the acting is fairly good, though you suspect that all the actors know the effects are the real draw so they don’t bother breaking much of a sweat trying to make much of the dialogue they are given. Alexandra Daddario as Dwayne Johnson’s daughter is probably the exception here and the best of the bunch- yes she is extraordinary eye candy but she seems the only one who thinks she’s in a better movie and makes an effort. She really does shine in this and it ideally should lead to some leading roles in better films (if she somehow never turns up in some Marvel film in a headlining role it’d be something of a crime). Daddario’s clear efforts here are opposed to the apparently-ageless Carla Gugino and the great Paul Giamatti who both know full well they are slumming in a popcorn pot-boiler with dialogue clearly beneath them.

san2Negatives? Well I could go on awhile but here’s my chief gripe. What annoys me is just this; why is a huge man-mountain like Dwayne Johnson -who does very well in the part given him, to be fair- always the leading man/hero of this kind of film? I think the film would be much more interesting and exciting if it was the balding/middle-aged/overweight Paul Giamatti playing the hero trying to survive the disaster and rescue his daughter. You know, put an ordinary guy in peril and see him making his way through it. It’d be so much more interesting. Irwin Allen’s 1970s disaster movies are often remarked upon these days as being formulaic and cheesy but at least their leading men are fairly ordinary-looking leading men. Dwayne Johnson here is some kind of Masculine Ideal, a helicopter rescue pilot who can hotwire cars and parachute out of planes and race a boat up a tidal wave while dodging falling freight containers… its just preposterous stuff. Its fantasy casting/writing and very irritating  Of course, I well appreciate the fact that no-one is going to spend $110 million on an action blockbuster starring Paul Giamatti as the leading hero. Its been like that for years, its why the original Total Recall starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and not Richard Dreyfuss or James Woods. But wouldn’t they all be much more interesting films? As it is we are stuck with highly unlikely plots with highly unlikely people in them.

The key family dynamic is the best thing in the film but even that is pure formulaic stuff. Following the death of one of their daughters, Johnson and Cugino have split up and Cugino now has another fella who just happens to be some kind of billionaire who travels in private jets/limos and builds skyscrapers for a living. Loving dad Johnson dotes on his remaining daughter Daddario while still clearly having feelings for his wife who has moved on to her billionaire and is starting divorce proceedings. Of course the disaster strikes and Johnson has to save the day. But just look at those leads- Johnson looks like some kind of man mountain, Cugino is a statuesque icon of age-defying motherhood and their daughter Daddario is just breathtakingly hot. Johnson drives a truck all shiny-chrome and gleaming paintwork fresh off an assembly line, Cugino’s new bloke lives in a millionaire palace with swimming pool and servants. The whole thing is utterly divorced from the real world, or at least the world I’m living in.  Its just dumb and lazy and generic nonsense.

I realise we shouldn’t really expect anything more from these kinds of films and San Andreas is just what it was intended to be, but then again, maybe we should be expecting more from these films. This shouldn’t be what these films aspire to be, just dumb trash with beautiful people in extraordinarily stupid situations (the airport is out of action, so lets jump out of this plane and parachute down into that baseball stadium). As these films get ever more expensive to produce and studios become ever more conservative about avoiding risk etc, then these films are just going to get louder and dumber. Where will we end up in ten years or twenty years? I shudder to think.