Judge Eric Profancik cautions you that The Lost Room is not a place for Lost fans to watch the Season Three finale.
Some doors are better left closed.
Many years back, my cable provider didn't carry the SciFi Channel. Day after day I dreamed of all the glorious programming that I was missing, including unending reruns of Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Battlestar Galactica. Finally after months of desperate waiting, the channel arrived on my TV set. Much to my dismay, the anticipated reruns weren't there. Instead, it was filled with a lot of infomercials and bad programs. Many years later, the SciFi Channel has gotten better, but there are still way too many infomercials and bad programs. In fact, it's pretty much a given joke that SciFi shows a lot of crappy "original" programming and that 98% of these movies are C-grade junk. But every once in a while they get things right. They were the first to get the rights in America to broadcast the new Doctor Who, and they also are showing the new Battlestar Galactica. And once in a blue moon, the even get a movie right. The Lost Room is one of, if not the, greatest moments for the SciFi Channel.
Facts of the Case
1961. In room 10 of the Sunshine Motel, something happens. Some magnificent event transforms the room and everything in it. While the room no longer exists, the contents of the room do. These Objects, about 100 of them, are infused with powers from the mundane to the magnificent.
Over the years, individuals and groups have hunted these Objects. Individuals want them usually for protection or power, but the groups want more. Some of the groups revere the Objects like a religion, other groups want to destroy the Objects, while others want to collect them all and hide them away.
Forty-five years after that mysterious event, during a transaction to acquire one of the Objects, the meeting goes awry and several people die. Detective Joe Miller (Peter Krause, Six Feet Under) suddenly finds himself caught up in the Object hunt, for he is now in possession of the Key. As he soon discovers, the Key will open any hinged door and that door will take you to room 10 of the Sunshine Motel, as it existed in 1961. Once at the hotel, you can then leave the room and go anywhere you want. But there's a danger to the Key, for when the door closes the room "resets." Anything left in the room that is not an Object disappears. Caught between opposing forces, Joe must dive into the strange world of the Objects to retrieve something he lost in the room.
Every once and while things are just right, and The Lost Room is just right. I really love this miniseries, and watching it again made me salivate over the idea that this would make a stunning series. Not that it's on anyone's agenda, but think of the perfect possibilities. You have 100 Objects, so your show could revolve around an Object per episode, with the series finale centering on the collection of the 100th and final Object. It would be spectacular, as long as the flavor of this miniseries is kept intact.
What makes The Lost Room such an exquisite experience is the simple idea of these ordinary Objects and their powers. The Key, as detailed above, is the most magnificent of them, doing what a key should do. But it's all the other Objects and the powers they have, that they shouldn't have, that makes you crave what's coming next. While you want to know the mystery behind the Room, you also want to know about the next Object. What will it be and what can it do? Without spoiling too much, a few of the other Objects are a pen, a pencil, a comb, and a clock. What do these Objects do? That's the fun part. One of them stops time. Which one would you guess? If you said the clock, you would be wrong. It's the comb that stops time for ten seconds. The clock sublimates brass. As for the pen, it microwaves objects, and the pencil creates a penny when tapped. There's a wristwatch with the power to hard-boil eggs…mundane to magnificent.
These wacky and immensely creative powers kept me perfectly riveted to my screen last year. What object would be next and what would it do? They were all so wonderfully clever, and they "all" found great use in the story. And, really, what it all comes down to is the clever script. While you delight in the mystery of the Objects, it's really the mystery of room 10 that tickles your brain. What is going on with this room? What happened there, and why did it create the Objects? It's a fantastic mystery that is slowly, carefully, and ingeniously divulged over this six-part series. It's meticulous pace, craftfully solving the puzzle, is a refreshing and rare delight.
Also of note are the characters themselves. Joe Miller is your typical standup police officer, and he's about the most normal of the lot. Other people you meet have obsessed over the Objects for too long and are a bit off center. They include Jennifer (Julianna Margulies, Ghost Ship), Karl Kreutzfeld (Kevin Pollak, The Usual Suspects, Wally (bus ticket guy), Stritze (comb guy), and the Weasel (pen guy). Their quirks help propel the exposition moments along nicely.
Put this together and you have a miniseries that is wildly creative, unique, and a fresh experience.
As great as the miniseries is, the DVD has its flaws, starting with the video transfer. With its 1.78:1 anamorphic treatment, the video, at least during the first few hours, is filled with artifacting. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing so much artifacting in anything else. It pops off for a second or so each time, it's noticeable, and it's not acceptable. If it weren't for that, this would be a solid TV to DVD transfer with rich colors, solid blacks, and good detail. The audio is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is mostly front loaded with little use of the surrounds. Dialogue is clean and understandable. The last and most grievous oversight on the DVD is the lack of bonus materials. All you get is one brief featurette, "Inside The Lost Room" (18 minutes), quickly giving a brief overview of the series, actors, and some of the Objects. For such a creative story, where are the commentaries, details on the Objects, or other stuff on the mythology? This miniseries could have easily yielded a couple hours of bonus material, not 18 minutes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As much as I loved this series, it is far from perfect. Perhaps my greatest complaint comes from the casting of Julianna Margulies. I'm not sure if I didn't like her character or her interpretation of it, but anytime she was on the screen, I wanted her gone. Her role is necessary to move the plot forward on occasion, so her acting was lacking. She claims she was excited to join the project, but it seems she didn't fully embrace the role.
I could nitpick a great many other things (and perhaps you will), but my only other mention would be the ending. You get this delicious buildup, tons of mystery and wonder, and yet the ending lets you down a little bit. Something is missing in the resolution, which I can't discuss for fear of spoiling things. My second viewing didn't feel as "empty," but I was hoping for something different then what I got. It doesn't ruin the experience; it just makes you a bit disappointed. It's is different, a semi-logical place to end up, but not what you wanted.
The Lost Room is a ton of fun to watch. Seeing the obtuse logic play out, seeing the tantalizing possibilities of the Objects, and stepping into room 10 is a rewarding viewing experience. For the SciFi Channel, The Lost Room is a perfectly prepared filet mignon. If served up anywhere else, it would still be one delicious New York Strip. And though the series can be nitpicked, and though the DVD has its weaknesses, I still give this miniseries a huge recommendation. Add this one to your collection.
The Lost Room is hereby found not guilty of opening a tear in reality.
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Scales of Justice
• "Inside The Lost Room"
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