The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Fox plans remakes of four
Irwin Allen sci-fi series

March 14, 2002
By Franklin Harris

During the '60s, one man was the undisputed king of television sci-fi — Irwin Allen.

From 1964 until 1970, Allen produced "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," "Lost in Space," "The Time Tunnel" and "Land of the Giants." Since then, there hasn't been a time when one of them wasn't on the air in reruns.

Now, producers Kevin Burns and Jon Jashni have joined with Fox to remake all four, starting with "The Time Tunnel."

It all began in 1961, when Allen produced and directed the feature film, "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea," starring Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine and Peter Lorre.

When the Van Allen radiation belt catches fire (!), Adm. Harriman Nelson (Pidgeon) sets out in his futuristic submarine, Seaview, to save the world. His plan is to "blow out" the fire with a well-placed nuclear missile.

As the Seaview sails to the one spot on the globe where it can take its shot, Nelson contends with a saboteur, a religious zealot, skeptical politicians and not one but two giant squid attacks.

Even Capt. Nemo never had to put up with all that.

Even with its silly science, "Voyage" is an enjoyable adventure romp, thanks to an excellent cast. And it was enough of a hit for Allen to try it again on the small screen.

Allen saved money by recycling the film's sets, models and underwater footage.

The only thing he didn't reuse was the cast. Richard Basehart replaced Pidgeon as Adm. Nelson, and David Hedison ("The Fly") came aboard as Capt. Lee Crane.

For four years, the Seaview's crew battled foreign spies, extraterrestrials and creatures from beneath the sea, resulting in Allen's best and most successful series.

For his next effort, Allen recycled yet again, turning the story of "Swiss Family Robinson" into Space Family Robinson in "Lost in Space."

The science in Allen's sci-fi was as dubious as ever, but that didn't matter. By its second season, "Lost in Space" was going the way of all-out camp. Episodes focused on the misadventures of the youngest Robinson, Will (Billy Mumy); the family's robot, Robot (Bob May); and the cowardly saboteur who got them lost in the first place, Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris). Villains ranged from evil circus ringmasters to giant talking vegetables.

"Lost in Space" aired on CBS for three years. When a young man named Gene Roddenberry came along with a TV show he described as "Wagon Train to the Stars," CBS told him to take a hike. When you have "Lost in Space," who needs something called "Star Trek?"

Next came "The Time Tunnel."

Instead of being lost in space, scientists Tony Newman (James Darren) and Doug Phillips (Robert Colbert) are lost in time, popping from one historical event to the next while scientists in the present try to bring them home.

But "The Time Tunnel" lasted only one season, and as far as anyone knows, Newman and Phillips are still stuck out there. Maybe they'll run into Sam Beckett?

Lastly, in "Land of the Giants," seven passengers on a commercial spacecraft find themselves stranded on a hostile world where everyone is 12 times their size.

Allen resurrects the Dr. Smith/Will Robinson dynamic by pairing a bumbling spy (played by Kurt Kasznar) with an annoying brat (Stefan Arngrim).

Meanwhile, hot on the trail of the "little people," is the evil Inspector Kobick, played by Kevin Hagen, better known as the kindly doctor on "Little House on the Prairie."

"Giants" aired for two seasons, and between all four of his series, Allen produced nearly 275 hours of television sci-fi over just six years.

Which brings us to today.

Fox is developing a new "Time Tunnel" for its own network and is preparing a two-hour "Lost in Space" pilot for NBC.

The new "Lost in Space" will not be a sequel to New Line's 1998 "Lost in Space" movie, starring William Hurt and Gary Oldman, which reimagined the Robinsons as dysfunctional geniuses.

Burns and Jashni are still planning what to do with the other two series.

Whatever they come up with, however, they'll have a hard time matching Allen's success.

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