On September 30, 2001, ABC aired one of the season's most intense and daring blocks of television with "Truth Be Told", the extended commercial-free pilot episode of Alias. It was a stunning move from a network facing a creativity void after putting all its eggs in the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? basket, and in spite of unimpressive ratings, the network stood by this critically acclaimed new series and gave it the coveted post-Super Bowl spot during its sophomore season. Alias still failed to achieve ratings greatness, but it did help turn Jennifer Garner into a star and, more importantly, it put the spotlight on talented writer/director J.J. Abrams who had created and executive produced the series.
It was this building relationship with the network that led ABC to turn to Abrams once more with a loose castaway concept that entertainment president Lloyd Braun had been wanting to make. Recognizing some potential and putting his own spin on the idea, Abrams was soon paired with writer Damon Lindelof (who had worked closely with Tim Kring on Crossing Jordan), and in record time (just 11 weeks), the two wrote, cast, shot, and edited what would turn out to be the most expensive pilot episode in television history. Like Abrams' pilot for Alias, this 2-hour presentation was an action-packed tour de force laying the foundations for a richly detailed dramatic story. This time, however, the dynamic pilot captured the public's interest from the outset, and as the mysterious pasts of these plane crash survivors began to be revealed, Lost became one of the most talked about shows of the 2004-2005 television season and a breakout hit for a network desperately in need of one.
On the heels of that successful first season and in preparation for its upcoming sophomore effort, Buena Vista Home Entertainment presents "Lost - The Complete First Season", a 7-disc set packed with audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes special features.
From the opening title sequence, the audience knows that something is just a little bit ... off. Against ominous and creepy music, the word "LOST" floats through space, uneven and out of focus. As the music crescendos, the text grows closer, briefly coming into focus and then blurring again as it quickly disappears. It's a simple concept that takes only a few seconds to execute, but the effect is powerful, evoking memories of The Twilight Zone and immediately setting the viewer's mind into a place where things may not be exactly what they seem. Such is the case with Lost.
The pilot episode sets the stage for the show, opening on the injured body of Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox), alone and confused in the jungle. As he regains his wits and staggers out onto the nearby beach, he sees the disturbing visuals of his current situation: the wreckage of a crashed jet plane and the panicking survivors strewn all about the area. The sounds of their screams and confusion are drowned out by the still semi-functioning jet engine lodged in the sand, and he instinctively enlists the support of others and sets about helping whomever he can. As we soon learn, Jack is a doctor, and he is just the first of many survivors we will come to know over the course of the season. This opening action sequence of disorienting chaos takes a good 8 minutes to complete before settling into the rhythm of the show, and it is unlike anything ever seen before on network television.
The wreckage in the sand is the remains of Oceanic Flight 815 -- with service from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles, California -- and its passengers represent a diverse and international group, each with a very different reason for boarding that particular flight. In spite of themselves, they are forced to work together to survive this horrible ordeal, first addressing their wounds, and then figuring out what they will do for food and shelter. But this is more than just a typical survival story. As these "lostaways" are trying to make sense of what has happened to them, they are taken aback by loud and disturbingly primitive sounds from within the jungle accompanied by significant movements in the trees. Something is out there, and whatever it is probably isn't good. As the pilot episode progresses and more is revealed, it soon becomes clear that Lost isn't just the story of some people stranded on an island but a layered mystery that will unfold before our eyes over the course of a season.
The unknown origin of the "creature" in the jungle is just one of many strange aspects of this island on which the survivors find themselves, but the mysteries of the island itself are just part of the puzzle. Each passenger from the plane had a very specific reason for being onboard this particular flight and a distinct series of circumstances that led to this ill-fated day. The way the series is structured, part of each episode is dedicated to the survivors and their struggles on the island, while an equally significant portion is devoted to backstory for a particular character whom we've come to know in the present. At its best, these two facets of the show are woven together into a coherent theme for each episode. While attempting to answer the ubiquitous question of "where are they?", Lost focuses even more prominently on "who are they?", and there are many mysteries to be revealed within these backstories, some more interesting than others.
The first survivor we meet, Jack, is an American spinal surgeon who is committed to always doing the right thing. It is this commitment to others, in addition to his skills as a doctor, that immediately places him in a leadership role on the island. Others are constantly turning to him for guidance, even if it has nothing to do with medicine, and while he is far from an expert on island survival, he reluctantly accepts the status that is thrust upon him. Through his flashbacks ("White Rabbit", "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues", "Do No Harm") we learn about his tenuous relationship with his alcoholic father and gain some insight into why he is the way he is. While this is an ensemble cast, Jack is clearly one of the more central characters, and Matthew Fox is very strong in the role.
Another central character in the leadership of the island is Kate Austin (Evangeline Lilly), a beautiful and resourceful woman who quickly establishes an emotional bond with Jack. Along with Jack, she is one of only two characters to have three flashback episodes devoted specifically to her. Unfortunately, while the first one ("Tabula Rasa") establishes a very interesting story and gives some necessary depth to the character, the more we learn about Kate, the less interesting she becomes, and by her third flashback episode ("Born to Run"), we just want it to end. For a relatively inexperienced actress, Lilly does a fine job in the role for the most part, but there are times when her emotional performance is a bit lacking. In fairness to her, though, the writing could be a bit better as well.
Completing the budding love triangle is Sawyer (Josh Holloway), who quickly establishes himself as the "outsider" of the group. While everyone else has been working together to survive, he has been stockpiling supplies from the luggage, and it puts him in an interesting position of power. He has an acerbic wit and an antagonistic Southern charm and is prone to referring to the other survivors by (often offensive) nicknames. Almost all of the best dialogue is handed to his character, and Holloway delivers it perfectly. For as hilarious as his comments can be, though, he is a deeply damaged individual, and he often tries to remain at an emotional distance from the others, constantly pushing everyone's buttons so they'll leave him alone. He has a truly dark side to him, and his two flashback episodes ("Confidence Man", "Outlaws") explore this past very effectively.
Lost isn't just about attractive White Americans, though. There are also plenty of attractive foreign characters like Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews), who before crashing on the island was a communications officer in the Iraqi Republican Guard. His skills prove invaluable among the group as they try to piece together a radio system to contact others, and like everyone else he has a very specific reason for being on the ill-fated Oceanic flight that is revealed through his flashbacks ("Solitary", "The Greater Good"). Andrews is fantastic in the role, and he is certainly one of the more interesting survivors, but there is a certain aspect to his character that rings a bit hollow in the latter episodes.
Representing the United Kingdom is Charlie Pace (Dominic Monaghan), the bassist in a one-hit-wonder rock band from Manchester, England called "Drive Shaft". He is constantly trying to help out, but he really doesn't have much of a function within the group, and this frustrates him. Worse, he is addicted to heroin, something that won't go over too well on a deserted island. He does build a relationship early on, however, with Claire Littleton (Emilie de Ravin), a single pregnant woman and native Australian, and Charlie finds a place in the group as he tries to take care of her.
The strongest character story comes from an unlikely place: a Korean couple who do not speak English. Jin Kwon (Daniel Dae Kim) is a businessman working for the powerful industrialist father of his wife Sun (Yunjin Kim), and the two of them are traveling on a vacation/business trip. Jin's father is a fisherman in a rural part of Korea, and so Jin has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to catching food for the group. While he doesn't speak the language, he is immediately valued for these talents. Sun also provides a valuable function on the island, as she carries a surprising amount of information with regards to herbal medicine. While functional, the two of them are relatively isolated from the rest of the group, largely at Jin's insistence. The couple has two flashback episodes, "House of the Rising Sun" that shows their relationship more from Sun's perspective and "... In Translation", focusing more heavily on Jin. Each of these episodes was written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, and they are both wonderfully executed. Watching the relationship between Jin and Sun is so moving and heartbreaking and hopeful, and it is one of the best aspects of this first season.
Another strong relationship that existed prior to the crash is between Michael Dawson (Harold Perrineau, Jr.) and his son Walt (Malcolm David Kelley). Michael is a construction worker and part-time artist, and as we learn in the pilot episode, hasn't seen his son since he was a baby as Walt's been living with his mother in Australia. Michael has never been a father before, so everything is a learning experience for him, and Walt certainly isn't making things easy. The two of them have a great dynamic, and Perrineau does a wonderful job creating this flawed father character who wants to do the right thing but just doesn't quite know how.
Providing non-stop comic relief is the everyman character of Hugo "Hurley" Reyes (Jorge Garcia). While so many of the others have secrets and dark pasts, Hurley is ostensibly just a nice guy trying to help everyone else out. Garcia is so great in the humorous role, and he provides some of the best moments during this first season. His flashback episode ("Numbers") comes about two-thirds of the way through the season, and it adds a completely new wrinkle to the show that sends the Lost mythology into overdrive.
Probably the least interesting of the group is a brother/sister duo: Boone (Ian Somerhalder) and Shannon (Maggie Grace). Shannon is a self-centered and seemingly vapid rich kid who constantly manipulates men to get her way. While there is a particularly shocking aspect to her character, she is neither interesting nor engaging for most of the season. Since she is really only given a partial flashback episode, I can only hope that there is more to her character than we currently know. Grace is great as the character, but aside from her devious quality, the writing just doesn't make her interesting on any level. Boone, on the other hand, has some great moments, particularly as the right-hand man to Locke (Terry O'Quinn).
Which brings us, of course, to Locke -- John Locke (a name strategically chosen to be sure) -- by far the most compelling and intriguing character on the show. His perception of the island contrasts with Jack's, and through the course of the season, there is a subtle rift building between those who want to follow Jack's lead and those who are more sympathetic with Locke. Terry O'Quinn is a great actor who has had numerous strong roles, but this is the performance of his career, and he was appropriately nominated for an Emmy this season. Also nominated for an Emmy is Locke's first flashback episode "Walkabout", written by brilliant Buffy/Angel alum David Fury and easily one of the best hours of television during the 2004-2005 season. Locke is a survival expert, disappearing into the jungle for long stretches of time and returning with boar he's killed on a hunt, and the others are frequently turning to him for guidance. While Jack is a vocal leader, Locke is much more soft-spoken, going about his business without many words but making a profound impact on the lives of the others. The journey of his character alone makes the show worth watching.
In total, there are 14 major characters among the plane crash survivors, and each of them is given time to shine as the season progresses. While not every one of them is as strong as the others, it really is a staggering accomplishment that so many individual stories could be woven together the way they have been in this first season. It isn't just the primary plot advancement on the island itself but the building stories of each of these characters' pasts that sets this show apart from so many others. No television show has so successfully approached storytelling in this manner, and it presents such a wealth of possibilities. Learning about the histories of these characters is sometimes more interesting than seeing what happens next on the island. Sometimes.
While it is certainly fun to watch all these mysteries unfold, one aspect of the show that proves a bit annoying is the way the audience is so often manipulated into thinking a story is going in one direction, but at the last minute it goes in another. This technique is fine when the story demands it, and some of the season's best episodes make use of it very well, but there are points in "Deux Ex Machina" and "Do No Harm" where what might have been clever becomes downright irritating. Sometimes the theme of mystery and revelation is pushed a bit too far, and the show suffers because of it; however, this is just one of many themes to be found in this first season.
The balance between science and faith is another prominent component of Lost, and it seems very likely that this balance will become even more pronounced in the upcoming second season. So many things happen on the island that defy conventional explanation, and the characters are left to draw some interesting conclusions. One fascinating aspect to the writing is how careful the creators of the show are to walk an incredibly fine line between fantasy and reality. Nearly everything that happens could have a completely logical (albeit improbable) explanation, and how much of the series is science fiction/fantasy (if any) is left not only for the characters to decide but the viewer as well. It is an interesting dynamic, and it demands quite a bit of patience from the viewer, but at least through this first season, it has worked very well.
Not unlike J.J. Abrams' work on Alias, the failing of fathers is another central theme to this first season, indicated quite literally in the episode title "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues". The lives of Jack, Locke, Sawyer, and Sun have all been profoundly affected by their fathers, and to an extent, the same can be said about Walt. One of the great things about the show is that while most of these issues are in the past, Michael still has a chance to do something about his relationship with his son, and it makes for some very compelling drama.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Lost deals with the search for redemption. A quick look through this season's episode guide reveals just how much talent came from the set of Angel, a series that adeptly revolved almost entirely around redemption, so it's no surprise that it is handled with such skill on Lost. Each of the characters on the show is not just physically "lost" but emotionally as well, and the circumstances surrounding the series have forced each of them to face those things that haunt them. On a deserted island, there is nowhere to hide, and those demons which have been deeply buried unavoidably must come to the surface and be addressed. The island offers each of the survivors a chance to come to terms with his past and hopefully find the redemption he so desperately needs.
Through 22 episodes, each of these themes helps to anchor the show and provide stability as everything builds to the massive event that is the 3-hour season finale. Unfortunately, that finale only partially delivers. Lost asks its viewers for a great deal of patience as it bombards us with mysteries wrapped in enigmas and questions we really want answered, and by the season finale, there are so many questions and so much ground to cover that the series comes dangerously close to collapsing under its own weight. Fans of the show were understandably frustrated with the finale, but there is a lot to love about the way the season closes, and while certain questions are not answered, from a dramatic perspective, the final hours of the show are at times very moving and powerfully executed. In the end, the question of how good this series really is will ultimately be answered as the second season begins, and that makes fully analyzing this inaugural effort a difficult proposition. Lost ends its first season at a crossroads, building a mythology so mysterious and so detailed that it absolutely must deliver the goods or risk alienating the audience it has so patiently built. Whether or not that will happen, I cannot say, and it's disappointing to note that Alias backed itself into a similar corner and has failed to emerge victorious. However, from talking with Damon Lindelof at the recent DVD Launch Party, I have faith that he understands the tightrope on which he stands and that he has a plan worthy of our continued patience. I can only hope such optimism is rewarded in the show's second season.
Regardless of what is to follow, this first season of Lost is a wonderfully engaging show with interesting characters and mysterious backstories. With the action-packed pilot episode, it grabs you from the start and doesn't let go until the credits roll on the final episode. As the story slowly builds, we simply cannot wait to see what happens next and where the writers are ultimately going with the plot. For the attentive viewer there are countless clues and hints and self-referential moments, and an entire online community has emerged chronicling the numerous subtle references to elements of the show. Rewatching the series for the 3rd time in preparation for this review, I was struck by just how much forethought went into the entire story. Even the smallest movement from a character foreshadows a later occurrence, and I think current fans of the show will really enjoy watching this season again on DVD; in fact, I think it plays much better on DVD than it did the way ABC originally aired the episodes. So much depends on what follows in the upcoming season, but no matter what happens, this first season release is well worth the effort.
"Lost - The Complete First Season" is presented as it should be in a widescreen aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement. The quality of the transfer is quite good, and the lush color palette of the island is captured fairly well. There are times when the colors feel a bit muted and outdoor scenes sometimes exhibit an understandable amount of grain, but for the most part, it's an excellent transfer, free of any dirt or noticeably annoying edge enhancement.
This first season release boasts a strong Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track (English only), and the creepy sounds of the jungle are captured in surround quite nicely. The special effects sound great, and the dialogue sequences are crisp and clear. While watching the series, not once did I have to adjust my settings because something was overbearing or muffled.
English subtitles are provided on the episodes.
This set is spread across 7 DVDs, and they are effectively packaged in a folding cardboard case that extends to reveal 5 panels. The far left panel contains a partial pocket that holds the printed episode guide (and obnoxious promotional material), while the three inner panels hold two DVDs a piece in an overlapping manner that saves space. The remaining panel simply holds the 7th disc, which is devoted exclusively to special features. Each of the discs has nice artwork on its exposed side detailing one of the major cast members from the show. Considering there are currently 14 major characters, and there are 7 discs, the math seems perfectly suited for dividing everyone up, but there is only one cast member per disc, and so numerous major characters have been left out. Hopefully they'll get their glory in Season 2. The cardboard package folds up nicely and slides into the bottom of a clear plastic sleeve. One minor annoyance is that on the inner packaging, there are some obnoxious promotional quotes talking about how great the show is. Considering that this is inside the package, it seems a bit silly to try and sell the show to someone who has opened it and presumably is already the proud owner. I can let this annoyance slide, however, because thankfully, the front cover of the package is wonderfully quote-free and will look great on a shelf.
On the first disc of the set, there are some promotional previews for various upcoming films and DVD releases, but fortunately they can be easily skipped by pressing the MENU button (or equivalent) on your DVD player. The first is a long ad that promotes 6 TV-on-DVD titles: Desperate Housewives, Lost, Alias, Scrubs, Home Improvement, and Golden Girls. Next is a more targeted teaser for Lost's second season, and finally there is a longer ad for the upcoming 4th season DVD release of Alias.
The menus themselves are wonderfully done with really cool atmospheric animated backgrounds that evoke some of the more mysterious and creepy aspects of the show. Every menu that should have a PLAY ALL feature does in fact have one, and interestingly, there is no gratuitous SCENE SELECTION menu creating an extra obstacle for those who just want to see the episode. In nearly every way, it seems clear that Buena Vista Home Entertainment tried to do right by this DVD, and the result is very positive.
WHISTLES & BELLS:
Let me state this up front. This is a great DVD release and is representative of how every modern television show should be released. First up are the five audio commentaries. Executive producers J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Bryan Burk are on hand for both parts of the pilot episode, and they came prepared. Aside from a few very brief pauses to listen to some dialogue, there isn't a moment of dead air, and these three creators of the show go into as much detail as possible about the production of the series. Even better, the DVD producers have branched the episodes in such a way that during the commentary, Abrams can say, "OK, pause the show right here", and the DVD automatically branches into behind-the-scenes footage of a particular scene. I was quite impressed when I saw this approach, and with the exception of some small difficulty distinguishing whose voice belongs to whom, there is absolutely no reason any fan of the show would not want to listen to this detailed commentary.
The season's best episode to date, "Walkabout", is accompanied by its writer David Fury, director Jack Bender and star Terry O'Quinn (John Locke). Fury and Bender are in the same room together, while O'Quinn is on location in Hawaii. While listening, I was afraid this would hurt the commentary, but after the first few minutes, it becomes just like any other, and the thoughts on this great episode from the three men most chiefly involved with it make for a wonderful listen.
Dominic Monaghan (Charlie Pace) joins Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk for commentary on "The Moth", and all the seriousness and insight from the previous commentaries is thrown out the window for this one. The whole thing is completely sarcastic and is filled with joking and obvious misinformation. While not as insightful as the others, it still makes for a fun listen, if for no other reason than some of the hilarious comedy.
The final commentary is on the episode "Hearts and Minds", with writers Carlton Cuse and Javier Grillo-Marxuach, along with stars Maggie Grace (Shannon Rutherford) and Ian Sommerhalder (Boone). Like O'Quinn, Grace and Sommerhalder are contributing from another location, but here it is awkward and ineffective as Cuse and Grillo-Marxuach try to spice it up by feeding them questions, but the answers are relatively short, and the level of detail is lacking. I'm not sure why they chose this episode, as it really isn't one of the better ones, and you should probably only check this out if you're a major fan of the series.
The 7th disc is devoted entirely to bonus features, and they are numerous. "The Genesis of Lost" (8:40) tells the story of how the show went from an ill-defined concept in Lloyd Braun's head to a full-fledged script by Abrams and Lindelof and ultimately a network series. "Designing a Disaster" (7:59) details how the crew went about creating the massive crash site that is introduced in the pilot episode, and it is really interesting to see exactly how they approached the task. "Before They Were Lost" (22:55) chronicles the casting process for the show and goes into detail on just how they assembled this wonderful group of actors. Following this featurette are selected segments from the audition tapes of all the cast members, with a runtime of 23:34. It's really interesting to get a look at this part of the process and fun to note who is reading for which parts initially.
"Welcome to Oahu: The Making of a Pilot" (33:20) is a longer featurette that details the whole process of making the pilot episode. Surprisingly, there isn't very much overlap with this and the two ones before it that covered somewhat similar material. It is a really good look at the formation of the show. One of the coolest features on the disc is entitled "The Art of Matthew Fox" (6:07), and it gives us a glipse of a photo scrapbook Fox created for the cast and crew at the end of the season. Set against Michael Giacchino's subdued music from the series and calmly narrated by a relaxed Matthew Fox, this is a special piece that I'm thrilled was included. Lastly, in this first section of the DVD is a brief clip (1:50) from the Lost stars' appearance at ComicCon before the pilot initially premiered.
The next section is titled "Lost: On Location", and it's yet another really well done series of featurettes that focus specifically on certain episodes of the series and how particular scenes were filmed. "The Trouble with Boars" (5:19) is the only one of the group that addresses multiple episodes, and it shows the differences between the boars the producers initially found and the ones that were finally used in the episode "Outlaws". "House of the Rising Sun" (7:19) goes into some detail on the Jin/Sun backstory as well as Charlie's experience with the beehive. "Confidence Man" (4:24) is all about a particularly intense scene from that episode. "All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues" (4:56) covers Charlie's difficult scene in the tree as well as the fight choreography used in the episode. "Whatever the Case May Be" (2:58) is pretty brief and not all that interesting, covering Kate's backstory from that episode. "Hearts and Minds" (6:20) details Shannon and Boone's adventures in the jungle for that episode as well as a pretty funny practical joke from the set. The climactic scene between Locke, Michael and Walt is the subject of "Special" (3:05), and finally "Exodus" (9:21) provides some detail into how various scenes were structured and shot for the season's big finale. Using the PLAY ALL feature, these make for an interesting look into how the show is created for the screen.
Also included on this set are two "Lost Flashbacks" that didn't make the final cut of "Exodus". One is for Claire (3:07), and it is a really endearing exchange between her and the pilot before the flight takes off. Sayid is on the second (1:28), and while a fun look at his last moments before boarding the plane, it is understandable why it was ultimately cut out. In addition to these two, there are about 15 minutes of deleted scenes, and many of them are surprisingly good. Often it is really obvious why scenes were cut, but there is some really funny stuff in here that I am glad made it to the DVD.
Finally, there are 4 minutes of bloopers, a fun bit from The Jimmy Kimmel Show (7:15), a behind-the-scenes segment called "Backstage with Drive Shaft" (6:40) and brief pieces from the cast's appearance at the Museum of Television & Radio (10:56). On top of that, there is a DVD-ROM feature for viewing the pilot script along with the episode, and there are three fun easter eggs to be found.
The best thing about these bonus features is that none of it seems gratuitous. So often a DVD will contain inane and completely useless promotional shorts that were used to promote the show in the early days and have no value other than something to list as "extras" on the box art. There is none of that here. Also impressive is that the featurettes have a distinct and properly executed purpose. Often it is obvious that the producers interviewed everyone first and then just loosely organized the interviews into somewhat thematic groupings that may or may not make sense. Here, each featurette has a purpose, and the segments stand strong on their own. The whole thing really is a great effort, and it is clear that a lot of forethought was put into making a quality DVD long before the show was popular.
Lost has achieved something few shows even hope to approach. It not only brings in the ratings of a mainstream audience, but it carries with it the type of cult fanbase you typically find with shows only a small group of people are watching. The former comes from the great writing and compelling stories, while the latter stems from an incredibly involved mythology that constantly references itself, dropping clues for the audience to find. Telling the story of survivors who are not just physically but emotionally lost and doing so with the use of this flashback style provides a wealth of possibilities, and in this first season, Lost has largely done that with great effectiveness. How effective the show continues to be will not be known until the second season begins airing, and until that time, its mythology hangs dangerously close to collapsing upon itself, but I choose to have cautious optimism in the series' future and Locke-sized faith that the writers know what they are doing and have a plan to answer all the questions they have raised. Either way, this first season of Lost is great entertainment that makes for a wonderful thrill ride, and with a wealth of special features and a quality DVD production, it is a complete no-brainer to Highly Recommend it.