“Lost” is easily the best show on television in at least a decade or so. If subsequent seasons hold up, it’s probably even well on its way to being one of the best shows in television history. That is unless they keep teasing us with unanswered questions about that damned hatch. The popularity of the show means of course that it’s being rushed right on to DVD. ABC, in their infinite wisdom, is releasing the DVD box set a little before the show’s second season begins, to give existing fans time to refresh their memory with the show’s complicated, interlocking plot, and to give newbies interested in figuring out what the heck this “Lost” thing is about a chance to do so before the next season commences. Whatever your reason for interest, start watching. This is a must have DVD set.
On the surface, the show sounds a lot like a scripted version of “Survivor”. A plane on its way from Australia to Los Angeles crashes on a remote, tropical island. There are 48 survivors scattered across a beach. There are wounded, there is screaming, and they desperately need help. They sit, expecting rescuers to arrive. Hours, days, then weeks. No one shows up. The group is forced to struggle to survive in desperate conditions. But then things get weird. It isn’t just hunger and thirst they’re facing. There’s something strange going on with the island. A polar bear springs from the brush; torrential rain starts and stops suddenly, in what can only be described as “end of the world type weather”. And there’s a creature, something huge out in the forest, toppling trees and killing the survivors.
However, this isn’t a show pushed by solely by mysterious, fantasy mumbo jumbo. It's character driven more than anything, with each episode focusing on a single survivor as it moves the plot of the group forward. Each character’s story is told through flashbacks to their life before the crash, integrated with the strange, daily battle for existence on a dangerous island. Throughout Season One we’re introduced to a wide variety of characters, all of whom turn out not to be the people we the audience, and the other members of the group might assume them to be.
The result is incredibly compelling television, a show carried as much by the slow reveal of its characters personalities as it is by the mysteries swirling in the plot around them. What’s really fun is how diverse the show’s cast of characters is. Some have leveled the complaint that the show’s actors are all too pretty, but if that’s true they aren’t all traditionally so. Sure, there’s the model quality Kate, played by extreme hottie Evangeline Lilly (Whom you may recognize from late night phone sex commercials… if only she’d actually been the person on the other end of the phone eh?), chick magnet nice guy doctor Jack, and bad boy muscle-man Sawyer, but the show has other more diverse people too. There’s Hurley, an overweight guy with a congenial personality and really really bad luck. There’s a father and son, Walt and Michael, who’ve just met and must grapple with building a relationship. There’s Locke, a bald older man living out this dreams of becoming a great hunter later in life. There’s Sun and Jin, a Korean married couple… who incidentally don’t speak English. The show even has an Iraqi solider, who fought in the Gulf War… no, not on the winning side.
It’s hard to summarize the depth and intensity of a full season of this show, but then I don’t have to. That’s why we have the DVD. More than just about any other show, “Lost” is wonderfully suited to DVD viewing, where you can (if you’ve got the time) watch the entire thing all at once. The connected nature of each episode means that when you put them altogether, it plays like a movie, rather than some weekly adventure on an island jungle. In fact, it’s almost better on DVD than on television, though there’s something fun about the week’s worth of anticipation that comes with a network broadcast. Whether “Lost” will wind up as great a show as it seems to be depends on subsequent seasons. But Season One is easily the best debut of any show in years, and it’s worth watching again and again.
People have been crazy with anticipation for this release, and it’s not just so they can get another look at the stuff they’ve already seen once on TV. Most TV on DVD releases are shipped out with nothing except the show. If you’re lucky, they’ll include a few perfunctory extras, almost as an afterthought. But “Lost – The Complete First Season” is stacked with extras (and clues to the next season), as befitting one of the most popular shows currently on television. ABC knows they’ve got a cash cow, so they’re doing “Lost” right in the hopes of snagging a big stack of your money. Well get out your wallets and hand it over, because they deserve it.
It’s a well put together DVD set, starting right with the exterior packaging. The season’s seven discs are contained in the standard, cardboard and plastic flipbook style that’s most common with these sorts of television on DVD sets. It’s not as sturdy as putting them all in individual plastic cases, but it sure takes up a lot less space. What’s really nice about it is that the flipbook fits inside a semi-hard plastic slipcase. Now I think everyone has complained at some time or another about slipcases… usually they’re lame cardboard affairs that don’t really seem to serve much purpose. But “Lost’s” slipcase is made out of a nice plastic that should actually go a long way toward protecting the plastic DVD flipbook inside. Plus, it looks cool. I love the way the cover changes as you pull the DVD flipbook out of the case. There’s a clear slot in the slipcase through which you can see part of the artwork on the DVD flipbook inside. At first it’s an image of the island, but as you pull it out it changes to an image of the character’s faces. Perhaps it’s silly to be geeked about something so simple, but it’s a really sweet little touch that has to be intentional it’s so in keeping with the spirit of the show.
Take those DVDs out and pop them in the player. The first six discs are entirely devoted to episodes of the show, the seventh is wholly given over to extras. On the discs with the actual episodes on them, you'll find the expected menu items: Scene Selection, Extras, and a Bonus Features selection which will take you to the commentary tracks included with the episode. These are actually really special There's commentary on four episodes, the Pilot and then three others. The tracks contain a nice mix of cast and crew, with the cast members mostly popping up on the episodes that focus on their characters. What makes them really wonderful, is the way they've used the DVD's branching technology to turn the commentary tracks into more than just voiceovers while you watch the movie, it's more like a guided tour. The people talking walk you through the film, and when a place is reached where there's something more to be gleaned, one of the commentators says "let's stop the film a minute" and the film really does stop. The picture flips to an on-set scene, and the commentators talk about something specific about the shooting process as it relates to what's happening right there in the show. When they're done, they flip back to the episode and things continue onward with the various commentary teams talking you through the show. I've seen branching technology used on DVDs before, but never so seamlessly, especially in conjunction with a commentary track. Instead of being the annoyance it usually is, it's really a wonderful tool, and makes the commentary all the more valuable. Let's see some more of this on other discs.
Also in the Bonus Features section on the Episodes disc, is something called the "Lost Script Scanner". It's absolutely useless as long as the disc is in your DVD player, but if you pop it into your PC, you can watch the movie while reading the script along with it. What makes it more than just a humble curiosity, is that while reading along, clicking on a line of dialogue in the script allows you to interact with the scene. Normally I'm prone to ignoring anything on a DVD that requires me to put it in my computer, but I've got to give the "Lost" team some points here for trying. It's a unique idea, and one that people might actually try out.
On disc seven is where you'll find most of the bonus materials. This release is so packed with information, I could probably spend another 5,000 words or so prattling on about it. Just know that it's loaded. You'll find things like making of documentaries, personal stories and audition tapes, fun footage from Jimmy Kimmel, deleted scenes, extra character flashbacks, bloopers, and even a backstage peek at the fictional band Driveshaft. One of the things I found most distinguishing about it was something called "The Art of Matthew Fox". While just about every DVD has a photo gallery, it's rare that they're even remotely interesting. This one is, because it's presented as more than just random stills, but as art. "Lost" star Matthew Fox is an amateur photographer, and during the shooting of the pilot he took pictures of the production in his downtime. He's assembled his photos into a book (which you can actually buy), and most of them have been transferred onto this disc. Select "The Art of Matthew Fox" and Fox introduces the pictures, and then talks about why he likes them and why and where he took them as they scroll past.
However, it's on the bonus disc that I found my only real reason for complaint with this set. The menu screens on the bonus disc are a mess. They're confusing, and I frequently found myself lost in them or losing track of what I'd watched and what I hadn't. I realize that they're trying to recreate the creepy theme of the show in the menus, but I don't think DVD users are interested in becoming lost… literally.
One of the big things that has fans excited about the "Lost – The Complete First Season" release, is information about Season Two of the show. ABC has been quick to tease their viewers with the idea that this release has some sort of hints about what they'll see in Season One. Well it doesn't, not really. On the episode discs there are Sneak Peaks of other upcoming releases. Mixed in with those is a trailer for Season Two of Lost. Trust me, it doesn't reveal anything. There are a few tidbits scattered about the rest of the disc, but predictably it's nothing major. But then, would you want it to be? We're all hungry for "Lost" info, but no one really wants it spoiled.
Despite one minor menu complaint, this really is a great set. It's easily one of the best TV sets I've watched in the past few years. Of course it doesn't hurt that the show's brilliant. Let's hope "Lost" holds up in subsequent seasons, but if it doesn't we'll have "Lost – The Complete First Season" to revisit instead.