What Was Once Old Is Now Old Again

Robert Roe
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Here’s a question for you: should a person say “spoiler alert” after watching a television or cinematic reboot that bears no resemblance to the original?

I ask because I binged the new Netflix series “Lost in Space” recently, expecting to enjoy a modern retelling of the Space Family Robinson, the Robot, and (of course) the comically sinister Dr. Zachary Smith. More on that in a minute.

I have long held a grudge against Tom Cruise for ruining what was once one of my favorite television shows. “Mission: Impossible” was a television gem, with a team of covert spies jet-setting around the world righting wrongs with style, aplomb and convoluted storylines. The plots were usually thicker than mud soup: if you missed the first five minutes (where team leader Jim Phelps was given the week’s mission), you might as well turn the channel to “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour” and call it a night.

Fast forward a few decades to Tom Cruise’s cinematic retelling of the stylish thriller. Not only is there no Rollin Hand, Cinnamon Carter, Willie Armitage or the indispensable Barney Collier. There was Cruise as Ethan Hunt (?), with Jim Phelps the only holdover from the TV series. BUT PHELPS WAS THE BAD GUY! Mr. Cruise, Mission: Failed.

I would say Spoiler Alert, but the revised versions of these TV series have already been spoiled. The shows I once enjoyed as a child were ruined by the Hollywood machine, which takes beloved memories and cranks out films whose only similarity to their original premises are the series titles.

Here is another beloved show that went through the Hollywood shredder. Do you remember the frontier take on the Bond films? It was “Wild Wild West,” starring Robert Conrad as government super agent James West, and Ross Martin as sidekick, master of disguise and fellow agent Artemus Gordon. The stories were exciting, the gadgets were steampunk before steampunk was cool and the villains were larger than life, especially the diminutive genius with an overgrown case of megalomania, Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless. Through guile, muscle, and gadgetry, West and Gordon save the nation on behalf of President Grant each week.

Then the movie was released. At one time Will Smith’s newest movie was the sign that the Fourth of July was officially here. Until “Wild Wild West.” The big screen version featured Smith as West, Kevin Kline as Gordon and Kenneth Branagh as Loveless. West and Gordon fought constantly and Loveless was a paraplegic with delusions of the Confederate South rising again. Throw in a few racist jokes that were intended to be funny and cinema goers were reminded once again that there is a reason California can’t have nice things.

I could go on and on (and usually do). From “the Addams Family” to “Dark Shadows” to “Star Trek” (ST-The Motion Picture should have been a franchise killer), tinsel town has shown time and time again that the most dreaded words on a studio lot are probably “I have an idea…”

Which leads me back to “Lost in Space.” You would think producers of a show that has the entirety of space as a playground would think a little bit out of the sand box when it came to a decent story line. No such luck.

Watching reboots of childhood cinematic favorites is like belching after a heavy meal: it is not always better the second time around.

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Robert Roe