Saturday, December 30, 2017

Lost in Space - The Space Primevals



**½ / ****

By this point in the Lost in Space run, camp was simply inescapable. Peter Packer couldn’t help himself and his scripts just ran roughshod with sight gags and paid homage to every kind of genre and character type. On occasion, though, a Packer script offered some entertainment that wasn’t entirely kitschy. The Space Primevals is an example of the third season’s schizophrenic storytelling quality. Good adventure mixed with odd lapses. 

The synopsis (as also listed in my past user comments on the IMDb) had some adventurous elements I quite enjoy:


A volatile volcano threatens to erupt and destroy everything (and everyone) in its path, needing to be “plugged”, as Major West and Dr. Smith drive in the Chariot to its location to cap it so that the Jupiter 2 could blast off from the planet on schedule. West and Smith, unfortunately, are interrupted by a race of “primitives” (they have disheveled coifs, grunt, wear skins, etc.) that worship a machine as ultimate deity. The machine uses one of the primitives, Ragnar (Arthur Batanides) as its mouthpiece.


It stretches credibility as John goes into the volcano despite the excessive heat, Robot performs magic tricks that make things appear out of thin air and vanish, Major West decides to carry [of all people] Smith along with him on such a dangerous mission, and despite being subservient to a machine that can do wondrous things it fails to give the tribe that worships it any perks. Never failing to just use a blast so things disappear, that special effect is exhausted several times at the very end. The gold man with the discus….just surreal. The machine doesn’t appear to necessarily need a humanoid to speak through as when West and Smith are stuck in the cavern, it speaks to them directly without Ragnar. Yet, for some reason, I thought it was an interesting touch to have Ragnar speak for it then reverting back to his primitive state, back and forth throughout the episode, to clearly show that without the machine he would just grunt and wield his spear it seems. The machine deciding it was wrong to have the beings serve it instead of the other way around (yet instead of changing its programming to serve them it destroys itself) ultimately seems to be its undoing. I dunno…I gave up at the end. Robot in tribal paint…what more needs to be said? The drum beats and Robot “bum, bum, bumming”. Yeah.

A volcano is about to erupt so Don and Dr. Smith are driving in the chariot to put a bomb in it, hoping the detonation will cap it so lava won't threaten the Jupiter 2. What Don and Smith encounter are Neanderthals who worship a machine that seems to have artificial intelligence. It considers the presence of Don and Smith as trespassers who have contaminated its followers, preparing to evolve them into superior lifeforms when it sees fit. All Don knows is that he needs to cap that volcano, but the power of the machine makes this task especially difficult. Imprisoned in a cave, Don will have to think of an escape route, having taken a bit of bomb fuel hoping to damage the machine as to get free and to the volcano, needing Smith's help if he is to do so. Meanwhile, the likes of John, Will, and Robot will try to outsmart the machine, not only to help Don and Smith (who are trapped in the cave after the machine causes a cave-in and losing oxygen) but explode the inside of the volcano. Robot and the machine will have a contest to determine who is superior while John sets in motion a rescue operation and mission to detonate the volcano. Many will look at "The Space Primevals" as a Don/Smith episode as the action centers around them, while John gets to once again play hero as Robot and Will try to do their part to help defeat the machine (or talk sense into it) so that lives will be protected by a dangerous volcano. The dynamic of Smith and Don, usually at each other's throats, declaring peace, even talking about being friends as the end seems to draw near, is especially noteworthy here if you are a dye-in-the-wool Lost in Space fan. The chariot's return will most likely be celebrated as it became the forgotten prop no longer of much use, with the Space Pod also showing up, even landing with John exiting it (really cool). Some props were used to dress up the machine, very familiar to those who have seen an episode like The Golden Man or others from the second season, blinking computer controls and monitors that made their returns time and again because of budget constraints. It seems like all manner of sci-fi series had an episode featuring Neanderthals and Lost in Space was no different. Without the machine, they would just be primitive, grunting, and unintelligent but with its help the Neanderthals can communicate, being afforded certain powers (objects disappearing/reappearing, such as Don's laser pistol, the bomb, even Dr. Smith himself at one point). The cave scenes are actually kind of fun as Smith and Don rely on each other for not only survival but moral support. The ending flat goes off the rails of a crazy train, with Robot tribal dancing, performing magic tricks (making objects appear, like a torch and a rock), and turned by the machine into a little version of itself. What the machine's Neanderthal leader turns into (a golden man with a disc who strikes a pose before explosively disappearing along with the machine controls, the machine itself, and anything else associated with the machine) is goofy. The plot sure is busy, though. I think this is best remembered (and loved by series fans) as the episode where Smith saved West's life and the two actually work together as a team, forced into quite a predicament. If anything, you get a more substantial role for the West character. –July 12, 2012

I think those involved in the writing of the characters could have decided (pulled the trigger…) to finally put to bed the rivalry between Smith and West with this episode. It would have been nice if they had, from this point forward, moved on from the petty squabbles and persistent bickering. Smith never lived up to the ode to be better and behave himself. But he does save West’s life in that cavern from a fall to his doom, putting in jeopardy his “aching, sensitive, delicate back”. Again, the goal never was to evolve the characters but keep them right where they are, just introducing potential change as a tease but not fulfilling on it. I think there might have been possibilities for the characters after that really well executed coming to terms with their rift and finding the ability to let bygones be bygones. Yet as usual with those two, West and Smith were right back to chewing each other out and absconding each other.

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