Monday, September 13, 2010

Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts, "Lost" The Complete Series Is A Perfect Television Series!

Pros: Great plot, characters, acting, effects, bonus features!
Cons: Takes some faith to trust the show is going somewhere!
The Bottom Line: A perfect series, Lost The Complete Series arrives on DVD and Blu-Ray to form the ultimate collection of one of the greatest television shows of all time.

It has been a long time since I had a television series I could truly rave about. In fact, ever since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ended, I was pretty much bouncing from thing to thing on television without as much emotional investment as I - and producers of television - would hope for. I found a love for The West Wing, but it wasn't until I sat down and watched the series premiere of Lost that I truly felt like I was encountering something undeniably wonderful in my life again. For sure, The West Wing is an amazing series, but a large part of its success was escapism during the Bush Administration (i.e. a fanbase that enjoyed watching a government far smarter than the actual U.S. government). With Lost, I - and millions of others - discovered a phenomenal character-driven series which made us excited to own a television once more.

Lost is a show created by J.J. Abrams, but which realizes well J. Michael Straczynski's vision of a "novel for television" that he attempted with Babylon 5. The show is less about individual stories and more about a sweeping narrative that follows characters who develop through their experiences unto their end. Lost is different from anything else on television in that it does not tell a single linear story each week (or, in this case, on each disc). As such, Lost - The Complete Collection is in many ways the ideal way to watch the show as it includes the entire story in one place, so one is not so caught up with the parts. As well, this negates some of the weak points of seasons which stand alone less well than they fit into the larger premise.

The basic premise of Lost is simple enough; a group of people survive a plane crash and find themselves alive on an island in the Pacific. There they discover that the island has properties that are abnormal for the real world, including healing people at an accelerated rate. Beyond that, they soon discover that there is something in the woods on the island which seems to hunt people, they find a polar bear on the tropical island and they quickly learn that there is no one out looking for them! But more than just a fantastic plot, Lost is served well because it has compelling and truly international characters. Season One is a setup, an introduction, a prelude to the actual plot that is unfolding in seasons two through six, with a sense of growth and mystery in each and every season. Almost every episode tells a story of one of the survivors of the plane crash (and later the story of others who are involved in the story of the island) and then flashes back to that character's backstory to explain how and why that character was on the plane. Usually, the past and present stories are deeply intertwined with key events in the past explaining or justifying the actions of a character in the present.

The story of Lost in its first season is truly simple enough. Oceanic Flight 815 Sydney (Australia) to Los Angeles hits some turbulence and breaks up mid-flight, depositing some forty-eight people on a desert island. Amid the wreckage, Dr. Jack Shephard treats the wounded and survives long enough to save some of the victims of the crash from exploding debris, ghastly wounds and fear. Surviving the plane crash is only the beginnings of the problems for the passengers. In short order, the survivors realize there is something massive and unseen tearing apart the forest, some of those wounded in the crash are dying and the food supply is dangerously low. When Jack and two other survivors venture into the woods in search of the plane's black box, they learn the horrifying truth of their predicament: no rescue will be forthcoming as the plane was a thousand miles off course when it broke up.

So, the survivors begin to survive, with John Locke hunting boar, Sayid applying his technical skills to the problem of creating a working transmitter, Jack learning to be a leader and leading the survivors from the desperate hope of the beach and rescue to inland caves and survival for the long haul. And in the process of their various attempts to cope and deal with each other, it becomes obvious that the survivors of the crash are not the only ones on the island, a fact reinforced when Locke discovers a mysterious hatch in the ground.

In the second season, the viewers discover what is in that subterranean hatch and what it means for the fate of the world. The third season puts the survivors of Oceanic 815 in contact with others who the survivors from the tail section of the plane knew about. The fourth season mixes things up by allowing a handful of people to leave the island. Season five is about how those who left returned and what happened to those on the island in the three years between events. And the final season ramps up the mystery with everyone still standing trying to escape the island as best they can!

J.J. Abrams is one of the creators and co-executive producers of Lost, trading on his street credibility from Felicity and the more successful Alias. Abrams delivers and with his co-creators Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof, there is a remarkably cohesive quality to the entire series. There is the overall sense from the beginning that the show is going somewhere and that the producers had a pretty firm idea of who the characters were when they began the work. Rather nicely, Lost succeeds because none of the parts had to be recast for death, illness or diva-ish actors!

As the best serialized television shows all have strong characters in common, Lost has a powerful ensemble that keeps viewers returning week after week. The advantage of this series is that with such a large ensemble, the show kept going for quite some time, exploring the different characters. Here are the characters who are Lost in the for the series:

Dr. Jack Shephard - A surgeon who survives the plane crash only to become the de facto leader of those who want to adapt and survive. He takes on the responsibility of caring for the survivors of the crash and in the process becomes entrusted with many secrets of the various personalities of those who survived as well as the firearms that the survivors possess. Over the series, he fights John Locke over his belief in reason over faith,

Sayid - An Iraqi who served in the Republican Guard, Sayid is a technical genius bent on getting off the island. His skills allow the survivors to learn that they are not alone on the island and, in fact, he is the first to meet one of the island's other inhabitants. His skills are called upon in leading those who want rescue above all else and he finds himself drawn more and more to the charms of Shannon. He is often asked to do unpleasant things to learn the secrets of the island,

Claire - A pregnant Australian who is on the plane because a psychic told her there was a family in Los Angeles her baby would be safe with. She frets about her unborn child and finds a close friend in Charlie. When her baby is born, she becomes obsessed with keeping him safe, especially from the Others,

Hugo "Hurley" Reyes - A good-natured and rather large guy who is often the negotiator on the island, running between different groups of people. His streak of bad luck makes him think he was responsible for the crash. As his tenuous grasp on mental health continues, he finds himself seeing and conversing with the dead,

Shannon - A spoiled gold-digger whose lifestyle is not supported by being trapped on a tropical island. She starts as one who would use anyone to keep herself comfortable, but when her asthma returns, she finds herself dependent. Close to her brother Boone, Shannon's story takes her away from her protective brother when Sayid finds a use for her translating French,

James "Sawyer" Ford - The rogue of the survivors. A con man and a scoundrel, Sawyer becomes the quartermaster as he was the first to scavenge the wreckage. Much of what people want they have to go through him to get. His past is a dark one and he is not on the island for redemption. As the story progresses, he acts as sheriff often putting his needs above those of the group. He has an attraction to Kate,

Jin Kwon- A Korean who does not speak English, he attempts to keep himself and his wife isolated from everyone else. Once he attacks another survivor, though, he is forced to accept that their lives and fates are intertwined. He provides fish for the survivors, but otherwise has no ability to communicate with anyone other than his wife. When he is separated from Sun, he works to get back to her, first with the survivors of the tail section and eventually through time itself,

Sun Kwon - Jin's wife and a woman with a secret. Disappointed by Jin's domineering qualities, Sun had a plan before getting on the plane and the crash has made her rethink her reasons for taking the flight. Sun works to mediate between herself, Jin and the others, realizing that Fate may have deposited her on the island as punishment. She grows a garden and becomes Jack's de facto nurse. When Jin returns to her, she becomes pregnant, which makes it a priority for her to leave the island,

Kate Austen - A woman who was in custody when the plane crashed, Kate is a hardened criminal whose exact crimes remain something of a mystery. She, like Sawyer, is something of a rogue and she bonds quickly to Sawyer, Sayid and Jack. She never reveals more about herself than she has to and as a result is quite a mystery to most everyone on the plane and her agenda is mostly just to escape if rescue does come. She is often impetuous, going against Jack's wishes in her efforts to help. Oddly, she is eager to get off the island and when the opportunity arises, she has a responsibility she did not count on thrust upon her,

Charlie Pace - The bass player of "Driveshaft," a one-hit band that left Charlie a has-been and a drug addict. He is searching for himself as he goes through withdrawal and finds Claire affectionate toward him. He often ends up on important hikes with Jack or Kate and knows much of what is going on on the island. Charlie wrestles with his addictions more when drugs are found on the island and he begins to hallucinate,

John Locke - An older man who is in no hurry to leave the island for a simple reason; he was the beneficiary of a miracle when the crash occurred and he comes to believe the island is an entity or a force of its own. Locke hunts boar for the survivors until he discovers a mysterious hatch in the ground, a hatch he believes is manifested by the island and holds a purpose for him. That belief will motivate his actions and change everything for the survivors. He becomes obsessed with the hatch, the island and fate, which puts him at odds with Jack frequently,

Michael - An artist and construction worker, he is the father of Walt. Struggling to become Walt's father, he often finds himself in conflict with the boy and Locke, who has taken an interest in the child. His is a story of loss and conflict, adversity and the attempt to triumph over it. Disturbed by what he sees on the island, he decides he must get himself and Walt off the island and he begins construction of a raft. He is bound to Walt and will do anything to get him off the island,

Walt - A ten year-old boy who was raised by his mother and stepfather in Australia. There is something unsettling about the boy and it does not take long before it becomes apparent that he possesses some gifts that cannot be seen and might not be good. He becomes hunted by the Others and his story is severely truncated as a result,

Boone - Shannon's brother. Obsessed with Shannon and protective of her, he often finds himself appalled by her bratty nature. Thus, he finds it rather easy to apprentice himself to Locke when the opportunity comes along, a move that changes his life radically,

Ana Lucia - The deeply angry leader of the survivors of the tail section, she is a former police officer who is brutal in her zeal to keep those in the tail section alive,

Libby - A psychiatrist from the tail section, she is an unlikely survivor who bonds with Hugo,

Mr. Eko - A Nigerian priest, he survived in the tail section and becomes a spiritual leader to the survivors,

Desmond Hume - A man who the survivors discover on the island, he is tied to the fate of the hatch and the survivors,

Juliet - One of the Others, she is attracted to Jack and knows about the island's power over pregnant women . . . and the dangers that await Claire,

and Ben Linus - The apparent leader of the Others, he is a compulsive liar and uses getting beaten up as a way to size up his opponents.

This is a wonderful eclectic group of characters and their interactions and conflicts make the show far more intriguing than the mysterious unseen creature in the woods. As relationships form (and dissolve) between them, it creates a powerful drama that keeps the viewer coming back for more and eager to see what will happen to them next.

But great characters are nothing without actors to portray them. This is a show that is impressive for its lack of ego in the actors. The cast is listed alphabetically, despite the fact that the character with the most screentime is easily Jack, portrayed by Matthew Fox. Fox is an excellent binder for the actors, approaching the role with good humor and intensity. This is very different from any other role Fox has done and it works quite well for him. Similarly, Dominic Monaghan - best known, before this, as Merry in The Lord of the Rings - gives a great performance as Charlie that is quite different from his supporting Hobbit role. Here he is given much screentime to be awkward, pained, and comical. His moments of revelation where he reveals much with his eyes make him an actor to watch.

All of the women of Lost are incredible actresses. Emile de Ravin is great as the pregnant Claire, adding a lot of humor to her young character that works very well. Maggie Grace, one hopes, is a fantastic actress as she pulls off spoiled and rich very well. Because of how unlikable her character is, Grace often gets the short straw for attention. She does wonderful work with her voice and body language that sells her performances and make her character. Evangeline Lily is excellent as well as Kate, using facial expressions and expressiveness of her eyes to take Kate from sympathetic to hard within an eyeblink. Her character is a strong woman and Lily effectively balances the internal strength of her character with a powerful bearing with a vulnerability that creeps into her eyes and lips when she needs it to. Yunjin Kim is extraordinary as Sun, especially in the earliest episodes of the season where she is given the greatest acting challenges. She pulls it off admirably.

Complimenting Yunjin Kim's performance is Daniel Dae Kim, whom I've enjoyed as a recurring guest actor on Angel. Kim's performance as Jin is memorable in that in all other roles I've seen him in, he speaks perfect, fluent English without any trace of any accent. As Jin, he speaks fluent Korean and he completely sells the viewer on the idea that he does not and cannot speak English. That's quite a feat! As the series progresses, Michael Emerson as Ben Linus masterfully steals the show.

The real star to watch on Lost is the always excellent Terry O'Quinn. O'Quinn starred in Abram's other work, Alias, and in the fabulously dark Millennium. In Lost, O'Quinn plays a quiet man with deep convictions and he sells the viewer on Locke's vision. O'Quinn is forced to do a lot of physical work on the show and he plays the part of hunter/provider excellently. O'Quinn is given significant passages of dialogue and he manages them perfectly, stealing every scene he is in.

Lost as a show is wonderful and on DVD and Blu-Ray includes all of the bonus features that the original pressings of the discs had. In fact, in terms of content, these are basically the six seasons of the DVD sets with no new commentary tracks. Each season has selected episode commentary tracks (many of which step around revealing more than those who are current with the series would like) and each season has featurettes on locations, new cast members and the overall story. There are also deleted scenes, blooper reels and a few easter eggs.

Lost - The Complete Collection also has a bonus disc that is not included in the "Season 6" set, which includes things like cast members touring Oahu to show fans different locations from the series, a look at the Lost phenomenon and featurettes on props and dead characters. Also, the online series "Lost Slapdown" will appear on the bonus disc (it is still available on-line). The grail of bonus features here is 12 minutes kept out of the aired Series Finale which fills out part of Hurley's storyline (to say more would spoil it). The Complete Series packaging is made to look like the island and includes a game from the show, an Ankh, a penlight (a blacklight) and a full series episode guide. This set does not include things like the Best Buy exclusive disc materials from each season, nor will the bonus goodies from the Season 5 Dharma Initiative Orientation Kit. Still, for those upgrading to the full series, there is a lot to love on the bonus disc for the true fans.

Ultimately, Lost is a great drama which will stand the tests of time by being one of the most clever, engaging shows and Lost - The Complete Collection is the best way to get it. Take a chance if you haven't seen it already, pick it up and enjoy what the fans who fell in love with it years ago didn't have: the opportunity to watch the entire, complex story with an immediacy and completeness without the week and month breaks in between. Lost - The Complete Collection is the entire story, no lines, no waiting. It's what we've pined for for years and with this complete set what we no longer have to miss.

For a more comprehensive understanding of the series, please check out my reviews of the individual seasons:
Lost Season 1
Lost Season 2
Lost Season 3
Lost Season 4
Lost Season 5
Lost Season 6


For more television program reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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