Space Travellers

By Judy Sloane
Director Stephen Hopkins brings the '60s TV classic, Lost in Space, to cinemas in one of the year's most eagerly-awaited movies.

Stephen Hopkins directing Lost in SpaceSTEPHEN HOPKINS is no stranger to movie franchises as the first film he directed in America was A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Now he has taken on one of the most successful TV franchises of the '60s, the cult Science Fiction series which chronicled the adventures of the Robinson family who became... Lost in Space. "I saw the show when I was a kid in England," Hopkins acknowledges. "I started watching it again before I began doing the film, and I thought, 'I don't want to watch it now'. I wanted to remember how I felt when I was a child watching it. How I wanted to be a member of that family, go on adventures and wear a cool silver suit."
Although he wasn't in awe at the thought of transferring the Robinsons' saga to the big screen, he was careful when updating it to the '90s not to disappoint the fans of the original series. "I wanted to have reverence for it because some people remember it with great sincerity and nostalgia. I didn't want to betray that. Obviously, you couldn't make a 'camp' two-and-a-quarter-hour epic Science Fiction movie. At the same time, we didn't have all the money in the world, like Godzilla or Titanic, so we wanted to approach it in some kind of stylistic, wacky way. I had to start from somewhere, and I didn't have a lot of time to think, so I just flew into it and tried to be a kid again. I tried to remember in the '60s and '70s how they saw the future." Unfortunately, we are not as technologically advanced as they imagined we would be three decades ago when the show premièred. Lost in Space was set in 1997!

Metal Mickey

Hopkins also attempted to keep certain elements of the original series intact, devising ingenious ways to incorporate the old with the new. "I wanted to put the robot in, but I didn't want to put it in like it was in the script, so I had the idea that Will [the 10-year-old son of Professor Robinson] would rebuild it and that's why it looked as funky as it does. There's something about that robot that's almost like Mickey Mouse, like an icon. People love it. I wanted Dick Tufeld's voice back. He has a wonderful voice, and people think of him as that character. I think everyone wanted that robot to be their dad, or their big brother."
For Hopkins, the personal relationships in the movie are as important as the 750 state-of-the-art special effects, which permeate the picture. "The easy thing in Sci-Fi films is to make everything creepy, dark and gloomy. The hard thing in any piece of entertainment is to make people feel emotional and uplifted. 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. 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."
In keeping with the family theme of his movie, Hopkins showed the rough cut of the film to his daughter after whom, he admits, he fashioned the character of Penny Robinson. "She made it very clear to me that I was patronizing towards the children. I was seeing the kids through the parents' eyes, and how I see kids. I really wasn't portraying them from their own point of view. So I made some big changes there, trying to bring the kids forward in the film so they had their own identity. And, yes, she did recognize herself!"

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Lost in Space photo copyright: New Line

Read the full interview with Stephen Hopkins in Starburst Special #36

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