Several versions of this pilot exist but most agree that the original version begins with the opening credits (the other version splices the credits later into the episode and is missing a few seconds of dialog involving John Penny and the Bloop). The music behind the credits was recycled from the earlier Fox sci fi movie masterpiece Day the Earth Stood Still, as is much of the episode's otherworldly score. Additional music was provided by another Fox blockbuster film Journey to the Center of the Earth.
A panoramic view of Alpha Control and the date (October 16, 1997) open the show, and the first character the viewing audience sees is not a Robinson but the TV news commentator played by Don Forbes. The commentator introduces us to the intrepid Robinson family, their spaceship the Gemini 12 (so named, perhaps, to cash in on NASA's then in the planning stages Gemini program), and their mission. He narrates until the ship escapes the meteor storm and vanishes from the radar although Dick Tufeld was to re-dub many of Forbes' lines for the Reluctant Stowaway (hereafter referred to as RS).
Less than two minutes into the show the first major science error is committed. The commentary by the announcer has the Gemini landing on Alpha Centauri which was amended to read "a planet orbiting the star Alpha Centauri" by the time RS was aired. Also altered was the ninety-eight years the mission was to take originally, shortened to five and a half years when broadcast on CBS.
A faceless Alpha Control announcer explains that a liftoff delay was caused by an electrical power failure at the Bermuda Tracking Station (changed to the Lunar Tracking Station in RS) and some difficulties with the Liquid Oxygen loading valve. The late costume designer for Irwin Allen Paul Zastupnevich has a cameo in the "foreign correspondent" scene-look for the man in the goatee. The enormous two-story Alpha Control set was discarded after the second episode and probably re-dressed for use in the film Fantastic Voyage.
The first shot of the Gemini on its launchpad is an impressive one and the black and white photography conceals the fact that it's a miniature. Then the audience is taken inside the massive spaceship and a shot filmed behind the freezing tubes as the crew prepares for its frozen sleep indicates some of the control panels behind the tubes were removed for the filming of this scene (this can be seen on card #3 of the 1966 Topps Lost in Space card set "Ready For Takeoff"). Several of the spaceship panels/walls were mounted on wheels to allow easy removal. Sadly this was never taken advantage of again while filming the series. If the viewer looks closely they will notice there is no hatch in the spaceship at this point in filming just a solid wall.
The President of the United States (played by the late Ford Rainey) appears on the screen to deliver a somber speech that wishes the space family well but still sounds less than optimistic. Though this was the year 1997 Rainey appeared as the President in a few first season episodes of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea where the year was 1973!
Finally the Robinsons are flash-frozen and the brightly-glowing spaceship exits the Earth's atmosphere. Almost immediately the Gemini 12 runs into an outer space anomaly-a ring of meteors, some traveling as fast as 25,000 MPH that slam into the vehicle and cause sparks, fires and and lots of smoke, Irwin Allen-style! The ring of meteors was eliminated before RS aired and the close-ups of the space rocks striking the ship were re-shot also.
Traveling at 18,400 MPH, the spaceship must now rely on its automatic repair systems to save the lives of its occupants. The ship is saved of course and the Gemini 12 heads toward an ominous-looking planet with canals scattered across its surface. Was this planet supposed to be Mars? A debate has raged for many years but the script does describe the alien planet as "familiar" in an early draft and Penny mentions Mars as a possible landing site later in the episode.
Back on Earth, the announcer's last comment is not good news-'The ship is either destroyed or must be presumed to be hopelessly Lost in Space!"
Looking through the ship's viewport as it speeds toward the mystery planet one sees footage shot over Red Red Canyon in California specifically for this sequence-dizzying and often tilted to one side, its effect is disorienting. Dr. West is seen immobile in his tubes in every scene so when "Island in the Sky" was written to incorporate new shots featuring Dr. Smith and the robot Writer Wincelberg had to make sure Don "rode out the landing in the freezing tubes" again for easy footage addition.
With a cloud of dust the Gemini 12 crashes thanks to some inventive camera work. The original script and one original blueprint suggested the crash caused an enormous tear in the aft section of the spaceship indicating another lift-off would be all but impossible. This was dropped before filming and an optimistic footnote was added to Dr. Robinson's diary suggesting the ship could rise again eventually. In this logbook narration (pre-dating a certain starship Captain's log by a year) John says he believes the date to be December first 2001 though he can't be sure how long he and the family were frozen. In RS the family woke up still in space so this problem was eliminated.
"No Place to Hide" introduces us to Debbie the Bloop (with little white horns on the tips of her ears) with no explanation as to how she and Penny met. Additional scenes were shot for the "Island in the Sky" episode that explained their first encounter in more detail. Another denizen of this strange planet, the 'space ostrich', is seen briefly as Will chases him across the camp. One reviewer described the creatures as "wearing pantaloons" and "like something created by Dr. Seuss" but instead of behaving like storybook animals the two giant birds were angry and dangerous. Any hopes of using them extensively in the show were dashed on the first day of filming because these difficult wild beasts refused to follow the director's cues and were even rumored to have attacked the cast & crew. After this scene (which was cut) they were relegated to standing in pens behind the actors in a scene or two of the aired version.
The planet set featured prominently in many first season episodes is seen next as Don and John head for a remote weather station. This time there is no foliage and the wind howls, indicating an almost arctic-like area of the planet. When they reach the station data indicates that the planet's temperatures will drop considerably and rapidly. "It's moving day, Dr. West!" exclaims Robinson, but before they can return to the ship and warn the others their path is blocked by an enormous cyclopean monster! The pilot as originally conceived featured this truly frightening creature on at least three different occasions, representing three different animals. These beasts inhabited this planet, perhaps in large numbers, as did Earth's dinosaurs millions of years ago, meaning they would be a constant threat to the space family's survival. While this no doubt would have opened up a fascinating set of storylines, this concept, too was excised when the series went into production, probably due to budgetary restrictions (the optical effects would have cost a fortune!).
As the late Paul Zastupnevich explained in the "Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen" the Cyclops' body was made of flattened strips of palm tree bark, fireproofed and sewn to a union suit ('long johns'). The single eye in the creature's forehead could roll around in its socket but the mouth did not move since "Irwin didn't feel that was important." The talents of both Robert "Big Buck" Maffei (seen as the giant caveman in the Star Trek "Galileo Seven" episode) and Lamar Lundy ex-football player were used to film the Cyclops scenes in this show.
While Don and John attempt to escape death at the hands (claws?) of their hairy adversary Will is seen fixing the ship's radio telescope as Maureen exits the ship with a basket full of her family's dirty laundry, ready to start her day's domestic chores on this alien world. This is a terrific scene-a sweeping view of Red Rock Canyon serves as Mrs. Robinson's somewhat dismal point of view. She looks out at her bleak surroundings-home for the foreseeable future-sighs resignedly and heads down the ramp to the futuristic washing machine of 1997, an amazing device that even bags the cleaned clothes. In a later episode we learn it washes dishes, too.
Will finally gets the telescope to function but it is Maureen who first sees her husband and Dr. West in deadly peril thanks to the one-eyed monster! Something must be done to save them-but what?
TO BE CONTINUED