Too Silly: Lost in Space, Anaconda, Escape From L.A.

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, Universityof Wisconsin - Green Bay
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Lost in Space

Sure, Lost in Space was a campy TV show in the Sixties, so awful it was fun.Could the movie version really be that bad? Oh yes! It’s a bad news, goodnews, bad news thing. The bad news is the movie doesn’t have a coherent plot.The good news is that you get three mini-movies instead. The bad news is thatthe mini-movies are really awful. It's not Plan Nine From Outer Spacebad, just decrepit.

The earth is doomed. Recycling and conservation have come too late to stopthe eventual collapse of the environment. The only salvation is to leave, and todo that we need a portal in space. So a starship is dispatched to install one.Without the portal at the far end, ships using hyperspace jump to random,unpredictable locations in space. Sort of like the script of this movie. But(ominous music here) an evil conspiracy wants the plan to fail. Why? Do theywant to die? Do they have an alternate plan of their own? Why don’t they justhijack the mission and hold earth for ransom? What exactly is their agenda? Wenever find out. But hey, that’s merely the first of many details to fallthrough the cracks. The cracks eventually widen to interstellar scale, so thiscrack, a mere ten meters wide, is microscopic in comparison.

So the evil conspiracy sneaks evil Dr. Smith aboard the ship to sabotage it.After he reports success, the conspirators zap him by remote control and leavehim for dead. Does this make sense? Here you’ve got a good evil henchman whosuccessfully pulls off a piece of sabotage. So why not take him out for a HappyMeal as a reward, maybe give him a promotion and a medal? Or if you really mustkill him, get him off the ship first so the crew doesn’t start wondering “Hey,where did this body come from?”

The starship, which is a huge disc-like affair, takes off from the surface.They don’t build this monster in orbit, they launch it from the ground. Then,to ensure maximum fuel inefficiency, they launch it straight up so the disk isplowing face-on through the air. Then, once it’s in space, the protectiveshell falls away to reveal - a ship more streamlined than it was when it tookoff. With this sort of approach to energy conservation, maybe the human racedeserves to die out.

Doctor Smith isn’t really dead, just stunned, and alerts the crew just inthe nick of time so they can avert destruction. But the only way to avoidplowing into the sun is to activate the hyperspace drive, except that withoutthe target portal in place, the ship could end up anywhere. They are - you’llnever guess - Lost in Space. That’s where the title comes from. Pretty tricky,huh? The pilot wants to kill Doctor Smith, but everyone else realizes that afamily isn’t complete without a villain perpetually escaping from confinement,scheming to kill them, then wheedling his way out of trouble to do it all overagain.

A bunch of stuff happens, then the ship receives a transmission that turnsout to be from a friend, sent ten years after the starship took off. What’sthe significance of the message? Another item that fell through the cracks. Theycome upon an abandoned ship and board it. On board they find a bunch ofextremely nasty spider-like creatures. Where did the spiders come from? What didthey eat on the ship? More details. Also they rescue a little digital lemur-likecreature, which serves two purposes: to be a really cloying pet for teenagePenny Robinson, and show that someone on the production crew can write simple animationprograms in BASIC.

The starship crash lands on a planet where the family detects a "time bubble." Thehole in time is a few miles across, or a lot smaller than the holes in the plot.When the time bubble starts shrinking, everyone escapes to the ship except thefather, who watches in horror as the ship takes off and blows up.

At the center of the bubble is another copy of the starship, thirty years inthe future. Aboard it are son Billy, now forty years old, and Doctor Smith, whoconceals himself with a hood. All the other family members died years before.Doctor Smith connives to use the shrinking time bubble to escape to the othership before it crashes, sort of like jumping ship to be picked up by theTitanic. Billy discovers to his horror that Doctor Smith had been bitten by oneof the spiders and has turned into one himself (you have to wonder why he neversuspected something might be unusual with the weird costume and all). DoctorSmith, it turns out, killed (and probably ate) everyone else. So Billy turns onSmith and helps his father escape just in time to assist in controlling theother ship and prevent it from crashing. But if the ship escapes from theplanet, it won’t be there thirty years later, so what’s in the time bubble?Avoiding time-travel paradoxes is hard enough in good science fiction. In thismess, forget it.

I may have a few details wrong, but in this film, where no detail isconnected to any other, it really doesn’t matter any.


We start off with an anthropological expedition heading up the Amazon insearch of a lost tribe. Actually, the tribe isn't lost, but nobody elseknows where it is. There's the anthropologist (Eric Stoltz) and a filmdirector (Jennifer Lopez), who apparently have, or had, a relationship.There's Lopez' black assistant (Ice Cube), the sound man and his girl friend BabyBird (a nickname she acquires later in the film), and an abrasive,arrogant English narrator we can call The English Impatient. ApparentlyDavid Attenborough wanted too much money. He brings aboard, among otherthings, cases of champagne and golf equipment. There's also theriverboat pilot who gets in a few scenes shirtless, looking a bit likeFabio with mange.

Hmmm. Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube. Are we perhaps looking at Anaconda: TheMusical if this film succeeds?

On the way upriver, they pick up Sarone (Jon Voight), a stranded ex-seminarian turnedsnake catcher. He just happens to know where the lost tribeis, but really wants to lure the boat into the territory of a hugeanaconda, which he intends to catch. The logic of this is a tadbaffling, since kidnap victims are not going to make for very effectivehelp, and the money he plans to make off his catch ought to be enough toattract any number of desperadoes willing to take risks. (But the filmis only starting - the logic of the rest of it makes this part look likeAristotle.) Mike Nelson in Movie Megacheese claims Voight has the accentof the commercial cartoon character the Frito Bandito. How an otherwiseperceptive writer can be so wrong amazes me. He doesn't have the accentof the Frito Bandito. He has the accent of the Frito Bandito doing a really bad impression of Marlon Brando in The Godfather ("We're gonnamake that snake an offer he can' refuse). 

The propeller gets fouled, and Stoltz goes down with scuba gear to freeit. He apparently went to the Scuba School Where They Don't Teach You ToInspect Your Gear, because he is stung by a large, poisonous wasplurking in his mouthpiece. Voight announces this is very serious, andthat Stoltz must get to a hospital immediately, and he just happens to know a shortcut. Unfortunately, the fuel barrels all get knocked overboard soon after and sink.The physics of this is just a wee bit perplexing, since the barrels werefull of diesel fuel and air, both of which are lighter than water. Well,maybe it was leaded gas. 

Now they need fuel, too. Or maybe they couldjust get into the main channel and let the current carry themdownstream. No, they come up on an abandoned building where they stop totry to find more fuel. It's there. So is the anaconda, who gulps downthe pilot.Voight muses that it's really too bad about the pilot and all, but asnake like that could really be worth a ton of money, and recruits thesound man into his plot. Sound Man soon pays for his treachery bybecoming a sound bite in full view of Baby Bird, who was also his lover.

Voight takes over the boat for real, nyah-hah-hah, and in one of the fewredeeming scenes in the film, slaps around The English Impatient andforces him to carry his gear. The other passengers plot to take the boatback. Lopez tries to seduce Voight in a style so ham-handed even he cansee through it, and when Black Dude tries to sneak up from behind, Voight is quick to stop him. But the passengers have a back-up plan (about theonly intelligent idea in the film) and The English Impatient blind-sides Voight with a golf club. So Voight ends up tied up in perfect cartoonfashion with 3/4 inch rope around the hands and four loops around thebody. Not under the arms so he can't wriggle loose, just around thebody. Why people think it's more secure to tie up someone with bigropes, I'll never know. Have you ever tried to tie a tight knot in athick rope? Give me the PVC cord they use at the lumber yard to tie downplywood any day. 

Now, what to do about Baby Bird? She's cute, but we already haveJennifer Lopez, and she's so hysterical over the loss of Sound Bite thatwe can rule out any nude scenes. And a snake eating a tiny, pretty girlwould be in poor taste even in this film. So we have to get rid of hersomehow. The boat gets fouled on a sandbar next to a waterfall, and theother passengers, with great trepidation, get into the water to fixcables to winch it free. That leaves Baby Bird and Voight on the boat.Baby Bird comes at Voight with a knife, seeking revenge, but Voightwhips out his legs, which were not tied, grabs her around the neck andstrangles her. I have my doubts this could be done even if Baby Bird werethe one tied up, but she obligingly forgets the use of her hands and theknife and dies. Voight pushes her overboard and gets free. 

Black Dude sees a ripple coming through the water weeds and yells foreveryone to get aboard. The English Impatient is cut off from the boatbut scrambles ashore and starts climbing the rocks of the waterfall,pursued by the snake. Now snakes look like fire hose and have an IQ onlymarginally greater, so how this particular snake evolved a conception ofrevenge is a biological mystery. Also, anyone who's ever kept a snakeknows they can eat, say, a mouse and be happy for a week. This snakesnorks down human beings like popcorn. The snake corners The EnglishImpatient high on the waterfall. From below, the falls looks like theyare perhaps a hundred feet high, but from his vantage point it lookslike looking over the edge of Angel Falls. You can see the Eiffel Toweron the horizon. But the English Impatient decides to jump and the snakecatches him in mid-air!The snake is coiled around a tree, which falls from the extra weight andlands on the boat. Jennifer Lopez goes to shoot the snake and chaosreigns as Voight battles for the gun. Stoltz (remember him?) recoversfrom his stupor long enough to zap Voight with a tranquilizer dart.Voight falls in the water. And the tree? Now they're not only stuckunder a sandbar but tangled in the branches of a tree? Nope. Black Dudeannounces "The tree knocked us free." 

Now we're down to Stoltz, Lopez, and Black Dude. They sail on and pullin at an abandoned sawmill hoping to find fuel. Lopez and Black Dude goashore (Stoltz is unconscious again). There, they are met by Voight andthe snake. This is a major medical mystery, how unconscious people canfall in the water and not drown, but recover and get someplace ahead ofthe heroes. (The very best illogical pursuit scene ever is in Disney'sThe Emperor's New Groove, where the villainess and her klutzy assistantare pursuing the king and his rescuer, but get to the palace ahead ofthem. "Wait. How did we get here first? I dunno, logically we shouldn'thave. Oh well.") Voight, whose entire scheme has depended on needinghelp because he couldn't catch the snake alone, tries to catch the snakealone, using Lopez and Black Dude for bait. They are - you'll neverguess in a million years - tied up back to back cartoon style with fourloops of rope around the body, outside the arms. The scheme backfires,Voight gets et, and then the snake, still not satisfied (are humans likeChinese food to anacondas?) goes after Lopez. Black Dude douses thesnake with fuel and sets it afire, and suddenly the snake has otherthings on its mind. It writhes in agony as it burns, but although it hasspent most of the time up till now in the water, for some odd reason itstays on the surface and burns. The snake gets in one last shot atdevouring someone before Black Dude finishes it off.On the way home, the surviving trio see the lost tribe and decide, hey,roll film. 

Now isn't this going to present just a wee bit of a problem when thesurvivors get home? They started out with seven people and come homewith three. Aren't people going to ask a few questions? And won't thepo-lice be just a bit skeptical of "oh, they were eaten by a giantsnake?" Won't the riverboat company wonder where their pilot is, or willthey merely say "hey, don't cut that last paycheck?" Shouldn't theyatleast have fished the dead snake out and brought it back for some kindof proof? And when they get home and the dead folks' relatives hirelawyers, Stoltz and Lopez are going to wish they'd let that anaconda eatthem. 

Escape From L.A.

A cheerfully awful movie, starring Kurt Russsell as Ssssnake Plissssken, andthere ought to be an Academy Award for whoever came up with than name!

In the near future, the U.S. is ruled by a theocracy that dumps all its badapples in the ruins of Los Angeles, which was turned into an island by a superearthquake. The President's rebel daughter has stolen a Doomsday device and fledto L.A., and prisoner Plissken is sent in to get her back. The incentive? He'sbeen infected with an engineered virus that will kill him if he doesn't.

It's your typical post-apocalyptic zoo, featuring warlords, mercenaries andthe obligatory gladiatorial combat. The daughter has linked up with one rebelleader who's in league with foreign forces planning to attack the U.S. TheDoomsday device is the control to a satellite system that can generate acrippling electromagnetic pulse that will knock out all electrical equipment,"even batteries." Plissken captures it, finds out that the fatal viruswas all a hoax, sets off the device and walks off into the global dark age.

The special effects are so stupendously terrible they're fun. They look likewhat I was doing on an Apple II in 1985. Don't miss the scene where a tsunamiwashes Plissken up a ravine on a surfboard, and he overtakes and leaps into aspeeding car.

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Created 15 August, 2001, Last Update 24 May 2020 

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