Buy, Don't Rent

Gary Oldman, William Hurt, Matt LeBlanc, Mimi Rogers, Heather Graham, Lacey Chabert. Directed by Stephen Hopkins. Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic, 16:9 enhanced). Dolby Digital 5.1. 139 minutes. 1998. New Line Cinema N4667. Rated PG-13. $24.99.

Here we are 30 years later, and Star Trek and Lost in Space are once again fighting it out for market share. Only this time, Lost in Space wins---and wins big! Using accomplished film actors like William Hurt, Mimi Rogers, and Gary Oldman, as well as talented newcomers like Friends' Matt LeBlanc and (especially) Party of Five's Lacey Chabert, this movie manages to hold your attention for over two hours.

The original TV series was little more than an intergalactic version of Gilligan's Island, but the movie is as involved as any modern-day space yarn. The plot is in-your-face and just implausible enough to pay homage to the original series. With Earth's supply of drinkable water and breathable air dwindling fast, the Robinsons head toward Alpha-Prime to build a hyperspace gate that will link Earth to this far-off but habitable planet.

The plot is a little confused, and, like any science-fiction movie, if you pick it apart long enough, you can drive a lunar lander through the holes in logic and science. Some of the deleted scenes (which are included on the DVD) help explain these conflicts and the decisions that led up to them. But overall, "thrill ride" is an appropriate moniker for this flick.

The computer-generated special effects, all 767 of them, are outstanding. A separate documentary on how the effects were put together, as well as a full commentary track with visual-effects supervisors Angus Blinkerton and Lauren Ritchie, is fascinating. This was the promise of DVD, and New Line keeps it.

Despite all its special effects and futuristic ploys, the human factor is what makes this movie the success it is. Gary Oldman is the quintessential Dr. Smith, even feigning to file his nails in moments of self-absorption---classic! Lacey Chabert's opening declaration that "this mission sucks" proves that while hair styles might change, a teenager's appreciation of the bigger picture doesn't.

The film transfer is impeccable. The velveteen blackness of space is succinctly captured. Colors are vivid, and the image is very sharp. New Line holds the record for including tons of extras, and Lost in Space is exceptional even for them---two commentary tracks, deleted scenes, the special-effects documentary, and a few odds and ends to be enjoyed on your computer.

The sound is absolutely first-rate: plenty of intelligent rear-channel action, clear dialog, and a musical soundtrack that isn't stuck in retro shtick. Buy, don't rent.