Tag: PITB Reviews

PITB Reviews: Lost In Space (Netflix)

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Netflix’s reboot of Lost In Space.

Would it hew closely to the brightly-colored 1960s original in all its cheesy glory? Would it aim for a darker tone, as so many television series do these days? Would it be a low-effort nostalgia cash-in like so many ill-advised reboots of the past decade? And would the series, which was slated to keep things PG, have enough going on to appeal to adults as well as kids?

With Netflix delivering the third and final season last month, my verdict is in: Lost In Space is the rare worthy reboot, a visually spectacular retelling of the original that tweaks and modernizes the details in all the right places. There’s a generous amount of adventure, quiet character moments, and an overarching theme about the importance of family. Over the course of the story, the latter group that widens to include not only the Robinsons but also their closest friends who brave the cosmic dangers alongside them.

Speaking of danger, the original show’s most-used catchphrase — the robot’s “Danger, Will Robinson!” — will be familiar to almost anyone, even those of us who were born in the decades after the show went off the air. It’s become part of the pop cultural fabric.

In the original Lost In Space the Robot is a human-engineered tin can, a 1960s retrofuturistic vision of what sentient machines might look like that was dreamed up at a time when servers occupied entire rooms and a computer’s output came in the form of punch cards.

Lost In Space: Original and reboot Robot

In the reboot, the Robot is an alien intelligence: a towering, six-limbed, digitigrade machine with an inscrutable face and serrated claws. Where the 1960s Robot was risible, the reboot Robot is terrifying in its default form — until a brave Will Robinson, who encounters it after crash landing on an unnamed planet, helps the dying machine repair itself.

He does so as a raging fire engulfs the forest around them, reasoning that he can’t escape, but perhaps the robot can.

The curious Robot, awash with gratitude, immediately rescues Will and, on safe ground, studies the boy for a moment before rearranging itself into an androform shape to mirror Will. From that point on, boy and Robot become inseparable.

Lost In Space: Will Robinson and the Robot
The Robot and Will Robinson form a mysterious bond, with the machine becoming fiercely protective of the boy.

It’s Robot who gets the Robinson family out of trouble in the first episode and many times over subsequent installments, earning the trust and eventually the love of the Robinson family, their friend, mechanic Don West (Ignacio Serricchio), and the mercurial Dr. Smith (Parker Posey).

It’s a credit to the writers and visual effects team that the series appeals to kids as well as adults. I watched the first episode with my eight-year-old niece, who’s younger than the target audience. She was absorbed in the story, her attention beginning to wane only during moments of expository dialogue.

The series is probably better suited for kids at 11 or 12 years old, as there are some relatively heady science fiction concepts and subsequent episodes range from PG to PG-13ish.

There’s no sex, the relatively little violence happens off camera, and the narrative regularly stresses the importance of family. Will, his sisters Penny and Judy, and the Robinson parents all rely on each other to meet challenges. There are, however, adult themes like divorce and near-death experiences, and occasional bad language which never gets more profane than Dr. Smith derisively calling Don West out on his “bullshit” in one episode.

penny
Judy (Taylor Russell) and Penny (Mina Sundwall) play important parts in the narrative and bring different skills to the table.

The show takes off right away and delivers excitement and mystery, but it takes a little while to find its rhythm, with early episodes following a “crisis of the hour” format more suited to episodic television. The writers were clearly trying to convey the power of the united Robinson family, and how each member brings different skills and ways of thinking to the table, but the show is at its best when storylines work in service to the overarching narrative.

Mom Maureen is a brilliant engineer who designed the colony starship Resolute and its Jupiter landers. Dad John Robinson is a former Navy SEAL, a man of action who encourages his children to make bold choices. Eldest daughter Judy Robinson is a young medical doctor who, despite her obvious talent, often feels she has something to prove. Her younger sister, Penny, is the least scientifically-minded member of the family. Penny’s better with people, serving as a peacemaker and scribe who documents the Robinson family’s adventures.

Last but not least, young Will Robinson is a dreamer who marvels at alien worlds and distant stars, and takes after his mom in scientific aptitude. He becomes something of a legend among the colonists for his inexplicable bond with Robot, who is extremely protective of the boy.

Lost In Space: The Resolute
The Resolute is attacked en route to Alpha Centauri, forcing its passengers to flee to their Jupiter “lifeboats” and make emergency landings on a nearby planet.

Of course there wouldn’t be much of a story to tell if the Robinsons and the other colonists simply made it to the idyllic colony at Alpha Centauri without incident. It turns out the colonists fled the Resolute — and crash landed on an inhospitable planet — because Robot’s brethren attacked the ship.

Although the viewers are shown the act of kindness that sparks the bond between Will and Robot, the other colonists aren’t as trusting once they realize Will’s seven-foot-tall protector came from the same place as the murderous machines that attacked the Resolute. Dr. Smith also has her own designs on the mysterious Robot, and the Resolute’s crew has been hiding a secret from its passengers that will come back to haunt them.

Can the colonists survive on a dangerous world without the resources they need? Will they ever reach Alpha Centauri?

Why did the robots attack the colony ship? What do they want from humans? And who made them?

Those are the questions at the heart of the mystery, but the characters can’t hope to answer them if they’re stranded on a hostile alien world.

Netflix spared no expense with Lost In Space and the writers clearly had a complete vision for the story, wrapping it up in just three seasons over the course of 28 roughly hour-long episodes. (The first two seasons had 10 episodes each, while the final season had only eight.)

In a sea of Netflix content, Lost In Space stands out as one of the streaming giant’s best original shows, especially for fans of science fiction and parents looking for a show they can watch with their kids.

Buddy’s Verdict: Four Paws out of Five paws45

Big Buddy’s Verdict: Recommended

Lost In Space: The Robinsons
Will Robinson, front, with Dr. Smith, Judy, Robot, Penny and Maureen Robinson.

PITB Reviews: The Platform

Movie: The Platform (2020)
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Genre: Horror, social commentary
Medium: Netflix

The premise of The Platform is simple: A man wakes up in a concrete prison cell. The center of the cell is dominated by rectangular gaps in the floor and ceiling, and when our protagonist warily steps closer he can see levels of identical cells above and below him. The cells extend as far as the eye can see in both directions, each populated by two prisoners.

Every day, a platform is lowered level-by-level, laden with a massive feast: Meats, wine, cheese, bread, cake, soup, pie, fish, escargot, paella, salads, grapes, apples and other fresh fruit, vegetables, juice. Every kind of food you can imagine, cooked and prepared to perfection by professional chefs.

Goreng, our protagonist, is greeted by his cell mate, a kindly old man named Trimagasi who sits down next to the edge of the hole in the floor in anticipation of the platform’s arrival. When it descends to their level he pigs out, shoveling as much food as he can into his mouth before a buzzer sounds and the platform descends another level.

Goreng looks on, digusted: The food is scattered all over the platform, much of it half-eaten. Clearly, these are someone’s disgusting leftovers.

The Platform
Trimagasi, top, pigs out while Goreng picks at food scraps.

Trimagasi urges Goreng to eat, and explains that they are very fortunate indeed: At level 48 there’s still enough food leftover from the prisoners on the 47 levels above that they won’t starve this month. At the end of every month, he says, each pair of cellmates are put to sleep with gas and wake up on a new level that is chosen at random by the people operating the cruel social experiment.

Trimagasi tells Goreng he once spent a month on level 132, where not a scrap of food is left by the time the platform descends. Goreng asks the old man how he survived, and Trimagasi demures.

We also learn that Goreng voluntarily entered in exchange for a real-world opportunity promised to him after he spends six months inside. Trimagasi was sent there as punishment: Infuriated by a TV commercial for a self-sharpening knife called the Samurai Plus after he’d just purchased a knife sharpening kit, Trimagasi threw his TV out of his window and unintentionally killed an illegal immigrant who was riding a bicycle below. He’s approaching the end of his two-year sentence in what the authorities call the VSC, short for Vertical Self-management Center.

Each prisoner is allowed to take one item with them inside: Goreng takes a copy of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, harboring romantic notions of finally reading the book with his time in the prison. Trimagasi, who loves to use the word “obviously,” told Goreng his choice of item was obvious: His prized Samurai Plus, which he cradles lovingly as he boasts about how it can cut concrete without dulling.

Goreng puts two and two together, realizing how Trimagasi survived on level 132.

The Platform
Going down: Just a portion of the feast as it exists on the platform before it’s consumed, defiled and excreted, level by level.

The Platform is a blunt allegory for human civilization, specifically the enormous wealth disparities of modern societies. The occupants of level 1 are the Jeff Bezoses and Walton families of the world, people with unimaginable, multigenerational wealth pigging out on life’s resources without thinking of the starving street children of India, the homeless of cities like New York and San Francisco, the families in North Korea eating tree bark.

Some reviewers think it’s a critique of capitalism, but I think it’s more universal than that: The kleptocrats of countries like Mexico, Russia and Brazil, the monarchies and emirates of the Middle East, and the party bigwigs of communist countries like China pig out on their own respective first levels while the people 130 “levels” down starve just the same.

The rest of us? We’re in the 30s, 40s and 50s, happily scarfing down the scraps from above, the ad revenue the Zuckerbergs and Pichais allow us by their forbearance, the slightly comfortable salaries allowed by corporate shareholders, the house and garage we might enjoy if we’re fortunate enough to run a successful small business in an industry that hasn’t been pillaged by the multinationals yet.

Some people might find the movie heavy-handed, but I don’t see it that way. As uncomfortable as it is to watch at times, reality is much, much worse. The fact that some of the movie’s scenes are difficult to watch is testament to how lucky we are to be born in circumstances where that kind of suffering isn’t part of our experience, let alone our daily lives. Show The Platform to one of the handful of people to ever escape a North Korean hard labor camp, for instance, and they probably won’t even blink.

It also shows how our betters divide and conquer to keep the rest of us distracted and themselves secure. The idea that most people who receive social services are lazy bums is a popular one in some quarters, encouraging people not to have empathy for the less well off, but to loathe them. Likewise, the people occupying the higher floors of The Platform’s prison don’t feel sorry for those beneath them. In one scene, two cellmates tell a man they’ll help him ascend to their floor, then literally shit on him as he’s just within reach, cackling with delight as he falls.

I didn’t take it as a call for socialism either. The movie makes it pretty clear that neither asking people to moderate their consumption, nor trying to enforce sharing works out for the people who try those methods. Indeed when socialism has worked in real world circumstances, it’s been part of a hybrid model that still uses capitalism as its economic engine.

Mostly, The Platform exists to make people think. While Jeff Bezos goes to sleep tonight in his $50 million compound estate, dreaming of his next vanity flight to low Earth orbit or the next hypercar he’s going to buy, there’s someone shivering on a park bench with 15 cents in their pocket, stomach grumbling, knowing the people who pass them by every day don’t even see them as human.