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The Film


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Last Viewed:2005.10.02
First/Last Reviewed:2005.10.02/2005.10.22

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I have recently been working on a series of reviews of TV series on DVD. I started with 24, where you can find the introduction to all those reviews, and i have continued with The Batman TV Series, Nip And Tuck, Rescue Me, Desperate Housewives, The L Word, and here, Lost.

If you have followed American TV Networks over the past few years, you'll know how much of a transformation they have been through. Several years ago, NBC was the king of prime time. But when beloved series such as Friends, Seinfeld or Frasier closed down, there wasn't really a single show that took over from a popular success point of view. For several years now, most networks have been doing reality shows, to the point where the Film Actors Guild... Ooops, i mean the Screen Actors Guild, issued a warning about the fact that the TV acting profession was decimated as a result. Reality TV invaded our world with non professional actrors, and each new show tried to top the previous one with more shameless disgusting trash: people do love to watch other people being miserable and making asses of themselves. Then, 2004 showed a turn of events. People started to be bored by reality shows, and while most networks stayed the course, ABC decided to refocus on dramas and drop reality poo. A year later, it is now the top network with hits like Desperate Housewives and of course, the darling of critics and viewers alike, Lost.

With its intriguing premise, great cast, and mind bending cliffhangers, viewers were transported to another world for an hour each week. Lost quickly became a hit, with great viewership numbers and a cult following. It wasn't all a given at all back in September 2004 when the series premiered, and many had predicted that it would get cancelled eventually because (1) it was a great show, (2) it was too strange, and (3) had lots of non American characters, with strong accents and, God forbid, even subtitles as two of the characters are Korean and do not speak English. You see, many pundits think the American public is unreceptive and too dumb for shows like that. Well, Lost might be the exception that confirms the rule, but certainly, after a massive overdose of reality, the American public seemed to be ready for something more out there, and welcomed with open arms the fantastic tale of 48 people, stranded on a strange island after having survived a plane crash. I must give great credit to ABC for sticking to its guns and let the series become the hit that it deserved to be. Given the climate at TV Networks in the summer of 2004, a lot of exec took on a big bet when the series took final shape and they realized what they had greenlit.

When a flight from Sydney, Australia, to LA crashes, 48 people survive and find themselves stranded on an island. They try to make do with whatever they find in the wreckage while they wait for some rescue to arrive. Quickly, they realize that no one will come. Where are they? The island reveals itself as being rather strange. One day, one of the survivors is attacked by a polar bear. Another day, some giant monster makes a racket far in the distance, bringing down trees and attacking people. One day, one of the survivors discovers a hatch buried. What is it? Where does it lead? How can it be opened? And then, we find out the 48 survivors are not alone on the island. Who are the others? And then there is that French woman who has been stranded on the island for 16 years. And, anyways, how could anyone have survived a plane crash like this in the first place?

The series is completely supernatural but it succeeds in weaving together a series of strong characters so that overall, it feels more like an intricate drama. In between strange events on the island, and the day to day lives of its characters, the series ventures into flashbacks to disclose various aspects of the past of 13 main characters. Slowly, an intricate tapestry of personalities emerges, combining the behaviors of each of them on the island, and what they have done in the past.

  • Jack (Matthew Fox) is a young surgeon with a domineering father who one day comes to the operating room drunk. Thanks to his skills and composure, he quickly becomes the leader of the castaways.
  • Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) is a one-hit wonder with a heroine addiction.
  • Hurley (Jorge Garcia) is a big friendly fat guy convinced that he has been cursed with bad luck.
  • Syid (Naveen Andrews) is a former member of the Iraqi Republican Guard who served in the Gulf War. He was a communications officer, meaning he knows electronics and Math, but he is also good at torture.
  • Michael (Harold Perrineau) is an estranged father who flew to Australia to recover his son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) after his mother died.
  • Locke (Terry O'Quinn) is a mysterious man who was paralyzed when he came aboard the plane and fully recovered the usage of his legs when he woke up on the beach after the crash. Imbued with a trust in fate and the island, he feels quite at ease in this situation.
  • Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and his wife Sun (Yunjin Kim) are two Koreans who do not speak English.
  • Kate (Evangeline Lilly) is a gorgeous woman trying to run away from the law. She uses her charms and skills to manipulate many on the island.
  • Shannon (Maggie Grace) and Boone (Ian Somerhalder) are sister and brother.
  • Sawyer (Josh Holloway) is a hot-tempered redneck with a troubled past as a conman.
  • Claire (Emilie de Ravin) is a na´ve young pregnant woman near term with a terrible secret about her soon-to-be-born child.
  • The series is definitely meant to confuse you, with strange events that you can't possibly explain or understand. Typically, when such cliffhangers or unresolved matters pile up so high, you are in one of two possible narrative structures: the Dream or the Puzzle. In the first case, events are meant to be symbolic. You won't really find satisfaction in the resolution because what really matters is the journey, not the destination. Typically, the ending will disappoint, but if well done, the whole will be enlightening with great symbols, thrilling connections between people and events, and a great sense of magic, fate, mysticism, and mystery. David Lynch is a master at that, and his 1990's cult TV series Twin Peaks was so enjoyable for all those reasons.

    In the case of a Puzzle, you are put off course on purpose, and the whole only makes sense when you discover the last piece and the puzzle is complete. What matters most is buildup up to that last moment when you finally get it. The pleasure of reaching the destination overweighs the mounting confusion during the journey. 24 is great at that, but it is also structured appropriately as a single story arc over each season. Lost is not structured that way as its story arc spans multiple seasons.

    So which is it? Is Lost a dream or a puzzle? The writers, producers and cast want to you believe it's a puzzle and that eventually it will pay off. If they are right, this tells me that this is not a series meant to run for years on end. It will eventually end after 3, maybe 4 seasons? But most importantly, although i feel really hooked, i also feel like i am in a cab in an unknown city and something in the back of my head tells me i am being taken on for a unnecessary ride. I can't imagine how the puzzle will fit together. I feel like i am eventually going to get to some destination, but stuck with a huge bill that was not worth the trip. We'll have to see. So what about the other option? What if this is all a dream? That is also an option that doesn't quite satisfy me. I don't think that the symbolism and confusion are strong enough for a dream. This is definitely not a Lynchian piece of work.

    On other aspects, the series fares very well. The overall art direction and cinematograph are really good for a TV series. The location of the island (filmed in reality in Hawai) is fantastic. The cast is also first rate and managed well the duality of the series with hidden personas on the island, and their real selves during the flashbacks. This is so well done, and a tribute to each of those actors.

    Overall, the rich characters, great location, strange events, and great great cast won me over. However, i have this nagging feeling that i am being taken on a stupid ride. The cliffhanger at the end of Season 1 is not a good one in that structurally, it was expected, yet, does not lead to anywhere, or answer any question. I am left with waiting for the second season to come out on DVD sometimes in the summer 2006 (i refuse to watch it on TV) and then i can better decide whether this series will remain in the annals of television as a great show, or just a pointless tease that was badly tied up together in the end. Right now, i am completely willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt.

    - Laurent Hasson