- Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, writers and executive producers on Netflix’s upcoming “Lost in Space” reboot, told Business Insider that the discovery of a new planet in 2016 influenced their take on the show.
- The films of Steven Spielberg and James Cameron were also huge inspirations.
- The two said that the show embodies the “spirit of pioneers” and seeking a better life for your family – but isn’t a response to current events.
- They also discuss the alien robot that gets an upgrade for the new show.
“Danger, Will Robinson.”
Those are the familiar words made famous by the robot of the 1960s sci-fi show, “Lost in Space,” about a family of colonists (the Robinsons) who struggle to survive in unknown territory when their ship is thrown off course. Now, writers and executive producers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless are entering their own type of danger: updating a beloved show for a modern audience.
The two, who had worked together on movies like “Gods of Egypt” and “Power Rangers,” were well aware of the responsibility when they set out to make Netflix’s reboot of “Lost in Space,” which premiered Friday.
They told Business Insider that they wanted to balance new and old, and a sense of adventure reminiscent of movies like “Jurassic Park” and “Avatar” with a sense of reality.
Here’s our discussion with them, which swings from how the discovery of a new planet inspired them to what sci-fi influenced the series. (It has been lightly edited for clarity.)
Travis Clark: How much research was done while writing “Lost in Space?”
Matt Sazama: When we were first working on this in 2016 the news came out that a planet had been discovered around Proxima Centauri [the smallest star in the Alpha Centauri star system]. The Alpha Centauri system is the closest stars to Earth. In the original show, that’s where the Robinsons are heading because at the time that was a big discovery. We always wanted to use that because it was a touchstone of the show and then we realized there was an actual planet circling the star system that could support life.
Burk Sharpless: The philosophy for when we were coming up with this particular science fiction story is that we were very interested in science and research and an experience rooted in realism and authenticity. There’s a history of those kinds of science fiction stories that starts with H.G. Wells and then Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Crichton, who wrote “Jurassic Park.”
Clark: Did any other sci-fi stories inspire you?
Sazama: The two patron saints of our version of “Lost in Space” would be Steven Spielberg and James Cameron, and their sense of how you can have wonder and terror almost working hand-in-hand together.
Sharpless: We have this philosophy that is similar to stories like “Jurassic Park” and even “The Martian,” where you start from a place that everyone agrees is true and then as writers … we move forward. When we were in the writers’ room and building adventure moments, even in moments that were purely fantastic, we were always trying to ground it in physical laws, not in fantasy, but in what might actually happen.
Clark: Was it important for you that the science was written in a way that didn’t go over people’s heads?
Sharpless: One of the challenges is that while the show has a lot of science in it, we didn’t want it to be about science. You use the science as a building block. You create a way in for the audience that makes it relatable. Even if it’s an alien creature, it’s going to abide by the same rules we would here … People will be drawn in, in ways that make them feel engaged. That’s something that Matt and I have always felt when watching our favorite adventure cinema, whether it’s “Jurassic Park,” or “Avatar,” or “Aliens.”
Clark: You mentioned the alien robot; what went into his design? What was going through your minds when writing his part of the story?
Sazama: The robot needed to be as compelling a character as the rest of the Robinsons. What does it mean to encounter something that’s alien? That’s the science-fiction part of the show. How do you communicate with it and how do you relate with it? The question of season 1 is, “What is the robot?” For us, the robot embodies the show: How to relate to something that’s different, something that’s dangerous but could also save your life. And what you’re looking at was an extraordinary project that involved a lot of designers and a lot of artists who were extraordinary technical craftsmen.
The robot’s face was the one design element that we wanted to carry over from the original show, with the clear face and twinkling lights. We felt like that was a way that our new robot feels like the old robot, and the face was an abstract constellation of stars that would give you an emotional response to it.
Clark: In regards to the reasons behind why humanity is leaving Earth in the show, what drove the story in that direction?
Sharpless: It feels like we’re making a point about global warming, but there’s actually a mystery that’s uncovered by the end of the season. But we don’t want the focus to be, “We’re destroying the Earth.” We want this to be a more human story of, “What would you do to make a better life for your children?” Somewhere in your past, someone got on a boat for a journey to a better life. And we feel like that’s a very universal human story that we’re trying to tap in to. Our show tries to capture the spirit of pioneers, the spirit of NASA, the spirit of community.
Clark: With that in mind, do you think that this show comes at the perfect time with everything going on on the national stage in regards to immigration and climate change?
Sazama: We started working on this show four years ago, so this is not a response necessarily to current events. But sometimes shows come out at the right time. Our show is profoundly optimistic and I think people will like that right now. The Robinsons stick together, and that’s what we wanted to convey in this show – that if we stick together we can get through anything. And I think that’s a great message for now or 8 years ago or 10 years into the future.