Originally airing on The Sci-Fi Channel as a three part mini-series (December 11-13, 2006), The Lost Room took plenty of unsuspecting viewers by surprise. A strong marketing campaign helped to raise interest for the supernaturally-charged thriller; in the end, the strength of the episodes sold themselves, earning The Lost Room multiple award nominations and excellent word of mouth. Though I didn't catch it during the original broadcast, it's this same word of mouth that drew me to the subsequent DVD release. Boasting strong performances by Peter Krause (Six Feet Under), Kevin Pollak (Casino), Julianna Margulies (ER) and more, this limited three-night engagement pushes nearly all the right buttons.
WARNING: MILD SPOILERS BELOW
To be fair, The Lost Room isn't a traditional sci-fi puzzle. The closest comparisons might be to The Twilight Zone or The X-Files...minus all those pesky aliens, of course. Joe Miller (Krause, seen above) is our protagonist, a Pittsburgh detective who lives alone with his young daughter, Anna (Elle Fanning). While investigating a strange murder at a local pawn shop, Miller unwittingly discovers a key that transports its holder to a particular motel room on Route 66...simply by "unlocking" any standard door and stepping through. Upon leaving the motel room, the user can transport to any door they've already seen or been to. Failure to think of a specific door results in a random location.
Miller soon learns that this key is one of many "Objects" from the motel room, but something happened in 1961 that gave them power. Some of these items, like the key and the comb, are particularly useful. Others are not, but some can be combined with different Objects for more potent effects. Predictably, these powerful weapons and tools eventually corrupt those who become dependent on them; additionally, some Objects have unfortunate side effects and other undesirable qualities. The key, for example, has one serious catch: if someone is left in the motel room without it and the door closes, they vanish immediately. Miller's daughter unfortunately does so during his struggle with a fellow Object holder, and she seems to be gone forever. But with the right combination at the right place, Miller might be able to get her back.
Naturally, Miller's attempt to rescue his daughter is the driving force behind The Lost Room, as he scours the countryside looking for Objects and those who carry them. These folks are sometimes colorful but always eccentric, giving the mini-series a "road trip" atmosphere that keeps things from becoming overly familiar. There's also something of a war going on for control of these items, including a group that wants to destroy the Objects---represented by Jennifer Bloom (Margulies)---and a group that worships them like a religious cult. Third parties, like the wealthy collector Karl Kreutzfeld (Pollak), have their own reasons for collecting various Objects. The war doesn't interest Miller, of course; while he can't help but become directly involved, he's only interested in bringing Anna back home.
Tense and atmospheric, those new to The Lost Room should find themselves intrigued almost immediately. The story is told almost exclusively from Miller's perspective; that is, we find out new things when he does. Despite the story's other-worldly elements and supernatural undertones, The Lost Room flows quite naturally and doesn't seem forced at all. Krause is believable as the single father and detective, bringing an everyman quality to a role that anchors the mini-series firmly. In nearly all respects, this Sci-Fi Channel original is about as entertaining as television gets.
If there's one flaw on display, it's only because of The Lost Room's condensed format. The three part mini-series is almost bursting at the seams with characters and plot devices, making certain advancements feel a bit rushed and unexplained in retrospect. Additionally, those hoping for a neatly-tied ending may be disappointed, but there's a reason for the mild cliffhangers. It's obvious that this mini-series was created in the hopes of expanding The Lost Room's universe, either in the form of a second mini-series or a future ongoing one. The former may be the favorable option---as a full-blown series may dilute such potent material---but there's certainly enough here to build upon.
Presented by Lionsgate Entertainment, The Lost Room translates very well to DVD. One minor format change has been made along the way: each of the three 90-minute episodes has been divided in half (creating six parts, essentially), though the default "Play All" format ensures that the story flows smoothly. The technical presentation is solid enough, but those looking for plenty of extras won't find many to dig through. With this in mind, The Lost Room is still a fantastic two-disc package that sci-fi veterans and newcomers alike should thoroughly enjoy. Let's take a closer look, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, The Lost Room looks fairly good from start to finish. It's obvious that this isn't a slick, big-budget production, but the color palette appears bold and black levels look fairly solid. Moderate grain and occasional compression artifacts were spotted during certain sequences (mostly during the pilot episode), while other segments show mild hints of softness. This is a slightly flawed presentation, but these problems are thankfully few and far between.
The audio is on par with the video; presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, this dialogue-driven show sounds clean and clear. Music and atmospheric effects occasionally liven up the rear channels, but the soundstage is mostly anchored up front. Optional English and Spanish subtitles (white with blue outlines, oddly enough), as well as Closed Captions, are also included.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the animated menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. Each episode "half" has been divided into six chapters, while no obvious layer changes were detected during playback. This two-disc release is housed in a standard black hinged keepcase; a matching foil-enhanced slipcover and promotional insert have also been included.
It's a shame we couldn't get more to dig through here, especially since The Lost Room has plenty of interesting layers. The only supplement on board is "Inside The Lost Room" (18:15), a quasi-promotional featurette included on Disc 2. The formula is fairly standard---briefly touching upon the characters, story, set design and special effects---but those who enjoyed the show will want to check it out. Featuring participation from key cast and crew members (including Peter Krause, Julianna Margulies, co-creator Christopher Leone and others), it's a well-rounded but not particularly deep affair. An audio commentary or two would have sweetened the pot, but it's hard to complain with such a reasonable price tag.
An unexpectedly clever and well-executed effort, The Lost Room packs plenty of suspense and intrigue into six streamlined episodes. Those who appreciate sci-fi in the vein of The Twilight Zone and The X-Files will enjoy this supernatural mystery, highlighted by solid performances, tight pacing and a strong atmosphere. Whether this universe will be explored again---in the form of a second mini-series or an ongoing one---has yet to be determined, but at least the debut plays great on DVD. The technical presentation is mostly satisfying, though the extras could've benefited from more attention. All things considered, The Lost Room is a solid blind buy with a very reasonable price tag. Highly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.