Wow. I’m impressed. Very, very impressed. Addicted would be a better word. Captivated would be another. Obsessed would be the best.
I had no idea what to expect when I first spun-up “disc one” from my screener copy of LOST (that only arrived a few days ago). I had never seen this show (no cable…or HD reception…that’s about to change) and only heard brief comments randomly from friends like “what great show” or “oh yeah, I’ve heard people talking about that…it’s supposed to be really good.” I was skeptical; the cover design was understated and from the look of things it seemed like some strange dramatized version of some reality-TV series. The premise of a plane crashing on a desert island with a bunch of people running around just seemed too cliché…like trying to make a workable plot out of mixing together elements of Cast Away, Survivor, and Lord of the Flies. Lucky for me, I don’t mind being proved wrong especially when I’m being proven wrong about having misjudged a film or program, and in this case my opinionating got some serious comeuppance. After about 20 minutes into the first episode, both me and my roommates were unassailably hooked with spell-bound allure.
The show is a unconventional series brought to life by many of the same folks who fashioned Alias. LOST intersects some effective devices, each of which would have been compelling enough to support a “normal” show all by itself: There is the adventure aspect of a surviving group of plane crash victims on a mysterious, uncharted island. There is the character development and relational intrigue of a drama. There is the mystery/suspense aura of a genuine thriller. All of these dissimilar lines coalesce together without abrasion and amplify the strength of the show; the whole of LOST is greater than the sum of its parts.
The show is so riveting at times that the cat happening to innocently jump up on the sofa is a catalyst for disaster. I confess that I cruelly helped fate out a little a few times when my roommates were spook-primed with a well-placed “boo” that literally tore them into shreds with fits of fear-for-their-life screaming. We *all* had to make good use of a “protection” blanket which, as anyone with experience watching good suspense/thriller will tell you, is necessary to protect your outer extremities from the invisible threats that roam the viewing room…lurking just out of view under the sofa and around the corner. The horror isn’t gratuitous or needlessly vulgar, it’s classy-suspense along the vein of The Village, The Others, and X-files.
Like all television series that have to be written-on-the-fly to accommodate a rigorous airing schedule, at times there are a few plot holes or rough spots, but the show never insults your intelligence. And don’t be too quick to judge, because more often than not, when you find yourself getting critical of the direction of the plot and assuming that you can “out think” the show and condescend to try to let it entertain you in spite of its deficiencies, its takes a quick turn, knocks you off balance, and demonstrates that the “faulty logic” you had so pridefully identified turned out to be a more complex storyline strategy that was simply waiting to unfold a new dimension to the story. What fun.
Just how addicting is this show? Well, Monday night I casually invited two of my roommates to hang with me for a while to “check out” this “TV show” I had to review. At 1:30 am we realized that we had watched the entire first-disc (4 episodes, approximately 3 hours worth of continuous viewing) no one had noticed the passage of time. We all made a pact that we’d get home as soon as we could after work the next day to get an early start for another round of viewing. The next evening (Tuesday) we watched the rest of disc two and the first episode of disc 3 (5 episodes) and again had to stop because we all had to get up early for work…we all wanted to keep watching. Tonight, with me staying late at work to get this review started, I made sure to show my roommates how to operate the HT system to they wouldn’t have to hold off an entire day without gaining any ground in their LOST journey. With Alias I was tempted to watch two, maybe three episodes in a row; with LOST, I have to force myself to stop.
My biggest challenge with this review was dealing with the disappointment that I might have to “skip ahead” to review all the bonus material before I would have a chance to finish the series…knowing that the bonus material is loaded with spoilers that would undermine the thrill and mystery of letting the story unfold. I want to express my gratitude to the HTF members who are fans of this show who all “gave me permission” to write this review without detailing the special features until I’ve finished the show. THANK YOU. I’ll list the bonus features now and over the next day I’ll *briefly* spot them to determine a few of the basics like play-time and aspect ratio, but I’ll save the in-depth viewing of the bonus feature after I’ve had the LOST, season one, experience. My goal is to finish this series for a week’s vacation on Monday (Labor day). I’m sure if I don’t manage to finish…my roommates will have no trouble watching their way through the rest of the episodes while I’m gone…
|Packaging and Presentation...|
The show takes up no less than six individual DVDs…along with a seventh DVD loaded up with the special features. Whew! Given that only four episodes are on each DVD with an approximate total run-time of 3 hours, there “could” have been space to have put a fifth episode on each disc requiring only 5 discs for the series. However, someone over at Touchstone Television is looking out for you because the play-time has been kept intentionally modest to allow for optimal compression…and boy are the results easy to see (you can read about that in the PQ section).
The DVDs are presented in a “fold out” cardboard case with two discs per section holding the discs in overlapping-style (the seventh disc is housed by itself without any overlapping partner). While normally I bemoan the “overlapping” disc presentation which causes you to have to remove the top disc to gain access to the lower…in this case my opinion is that the choice is the right one—I honestly can’t think of a better way to have combined so many discs into such an efficient presentation that fits nicely on the shelf when folded; When folded and slid back into it’s protective outer-sleeve, the packaging is only slightly wider than a typical “double DVD” case.
All discs are clearly labeled and easy to read. The included booklet clearly denotes the disc location of each episode with a brief synopsis of the show’s storyline to help jog your memory when trying to identify where you left off (and what disc holds the episode...the episode titles are not printed on the DVDs directly). The DVD’s are nicely silk-screened which is a cosmetic touch I personally appreciate. Overall I’m giving a thumbs up to the presentation.
The picture of this Standard-definition DVD set is breathtaking. Having never seen the show in its native hi-def glory, I can only imagine how much clearer and more vivid the 1080 image would appear. I will be eager to hear from those of you who’ve enjoyed the hi-def broadcasts who can share with us how closely behind this DVD follows; but I’ll assume now for the sake of argument that this standard-def DVD edition does justice to the HD image within the confines of the 720 x 480 format.
The image is presented in the precise 16x9 (approximately 1.78:1) aspect ratio and completely fills the 16x9 frame. Though this show airs in hi-def, it’s source medium is film…this is not a “live cam” HD show. Therefore, many of the same issues that affect film “movies” are at play here…film introduces a moderate softness in some scenes, fine film-grain that can make backgrounds “dance” with a wind-like whir as the grain changes frame by frame, a sometimes exaggerated sense of depth-of-field, and colors/contrast that often deviate from reality. None of these “artifacts” I described should be considered as faults…they are all inherent aspects of the film medium and are often used to artistic affect by directors and cinematographers; I’m certain that the choice to shoot this program on film rather than live-HD had a similar rationale, and the mood and visual tone of the program are enhanced by the film-medium and its attending artifacts.
Compression is handled outstandingly well, and I have yet to see a single “compression artifact” I can plainly identify. Each dual-layer DVD only houses four episodes, which amounts to a total running time of about 3 hours. This leaves lots of “headroom” space to relax compression requirements and let the MPEG codec breathe. The results are apparent, and the decision to use more discs with fewer episodes on each was a wise one; with the swarming fine film-grain and many dark/dimly lit scenes, compression is already challenged. Programs like this often get over-filtered to reduce grain, then have EE added to amplify the softened edges to “sharpen” the image which also makes a digital-noisy mess out of the remaining grain, and then this whole then gets compressed (Master and Commander). With LOST, it appears that the mastering engineers have attempted to preserve as much original image detail as possible and avoided heavy HF filtering. Also, minimal HF boosting has been applied so the film-grain maintains its natural, “analog” appearance even after compression. The image is beautiful.
The only possible criticism I have is that perhaps the image could have been a tad more detailed. Once or twice I have noticed signs of “edge ringing” but such instances are anomalies in an otherwise stellar presentation and don’t really distract. And having never seen the original hi-def airings I can’t reliably compare with how sharp or detailed the film source material really looks. You need not fear. Those wide-angle/big-screen viewers among you are in for a treat. And those of you who watch your displays from greater than 2 screen-widths away are in for a razor-sharp treat. This show is gorgeous and it’s gorgeous on this DVD edition.
Note: The first episode seemed ever-so-slightly less sharp to my eyes than the rest of the episodes…so wait until you see episode 2 before making your final judgment.
Picture Quality: 4.75 / 5
In the past I think I've been too ambiguous with my scoring or at least haven't applied it consistently from title to title, so I've endeavored to define my rating system more clearly to help make the scoring more meaningful (for all titles reviewed December 2004 and later):
|1-2||An absolute abomination. Hurts to watch. Think "Outland" (scan-line aliasing, chroma noise, dotcrawl)-- truly horrid.|
|2-3||Has some serious problems, but one can at least watch it without getting a headache despite all the problems though you might try to talk your guests into picking a different movie to watch if you have a large projection screen. Think Cold Mountain.|
|3-4||Good or at least "acceptable" on a big-screen, but not winning any awards and definitely room for improvement if you view the image wide-angle (though smaller-screen viewers may be quite content). Think the first extended cut of Fellowship of the Ring...decent picture but still some HF filtering and some edge-halos.|
|4-5||A reference picture that really makes the most of the DVD medium and shows extraordinary transparency to the film-source elements. Non-videophile observers can't help but remark "WOW". Think The Empire Strikes Back or the Fifth Element Superbit (full “5” would be sans EE).|
The 5.1 Dolby Digital English mix appropriately suits the series…neither sounding too benign nor sounding too aggressive. Dialogue is clear, music and effects are recorded with a “big budget” sound, and surrounds are used both atmospherically during low-key scenes are used to more point-source effect during action sequences. The thing that most impresses me with the audio mix is the subtle way that it’s used to create acoustic contexts that match the on-screen situations. For example, if you’re on the beach, you can hear the waves and wind rustling and it sounds like you’re on the beach. When you’re in the jungle, again you hear subtle cues that help create a believable sense of “place”. These subtle nuances and ambient sounds are nicely spread around all the main channels including the surrounds…nothing blatant and head-spinningly distracting (unless called for in the scene…like an explosion that catapults shrapnel over your head) but just enough to paint out the 3-dimensional acoustic picture in which you’re situated. This really becomes effective during some of the “creepy” scenes where the subtle acoustics really make you feel like you’re inside the world you’re looking at and it can get chilling! Be sure to lock that cat out of the room if you have a heart condition.
Sound Quality: 4.5 / 5
The following applies to first-time viewers:
DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT check out the special features until after you’ve finished viewing the entire series (the only exception might be the commentary for the episodes you’ve already seen, but even then you’re taking a risk). There are serious spoilers in just about every special feature, and you’ll be disappointed to discover who gets killed and that the monstor is a giant robot (just kidding...haha) blah blah blah if you don’t heed this advice you’ll be sorry…and no even keeping your fingers primed on the remote’s skip button won’t save you…trust me.
- [*]Commentary:Decent. Really Decent. The only downside is that the commentary is only included on 4 episodes (the first "two" are the pilot shows). It’s engaging and really digs deep into every aspect imaginable…from casting to special effects to location difficulties to story-line decisions to behind-the-scenes trivia…it’s all there. Fans will enjoy and even some casual viewers (if it’s possible to be a casual viewer) may enjoy too. One very cool thing that I noticed while watching the commentary…there are some “hidden scenes” that are available to PC users (next item)…while watching the commentary, I was able to access those scenes by selecting the “next” button on my remote.
[*]PC Bonus Footage:For those of you with a PC, you can watch the commentary tracks and view special “making of” footage about key shots on your computer. However, I was able to access these “PC” clips by hitting the “next” button on my remote while watching with commentary. When you see a scene that looks like it might have some making-of stuff attached (like the plane wreckage)…just hit “next” and see if your DVD player doesn’t reveal these mystery clips as well. They are 4x3 formatted and shot on video…but it was REALLY cool, very interesting, and they detailed several key shots in the Pilot that were worth watching. Normally I disdain PC-specific features but in this case I’m all over it given the fact that I was able to access them on the sly…
[*]Lost Flashbacks:These are basically 2 deleted "flashback" scenes. I really enjoyed the one with the pregnant girl at the airport terminal and wish it had been left in. 4x3 lbxed "video" source which bummed me out.
[*]Deleted Scenes:Deleted non-flashback scenes. A whole bunch but each are very short (usually it's not really "deleted" scenes so much as "extended" compared to what's in the series). 4x3 lbx video source.
[*]Welcome To Oahu: The Making of the Pilot:OMG...do you know what these people went through to get that airplain to Oahu in time to shoot the pilot? Highly recommended...all of these featurettes (about 10 mins each) are really interesting and I couldn't turn them off or skip ahead...I was glued.
[*]The Genesis of LOST:Very cool to find out about how the idea for the series came into being and how the writing and production team got together. Fans will enjoy.
[*]Designing a Disaster:See what goes into setting that plane crash up on the beach.
[*]Before they were Lost (Audition Tapes):Very cool...all of the primary cast are featured. Find out about how various characters were conceived and how actors were chosen. In many cases, the actors came first and their characters came second...fascinating. Their full-length audition tapes are placed at the end...and your skip button on your remote will pace you conveniently through them.
[*]Bloopers from the Set:One of those "with music" montages. Cute but these rarely entertain me personally...but worth checking out.
[*]LOST: On Location:A featurette about production of several episodes...worth watching.
[*]On Set with Jimmy Kimmel: This is awsome. I mean REALLY funny. WATCH THIS FEATURE FOR SURE. It had me *rolling*. Brilliant!!!!
[*]The Art of Matthew Fox:A look at some of the concept artwork for the show.
[*]LOST at Comiccon:Join the team for the opening of the pilot as the fans and actors get to watch it during a test run. Really cool.
[*][b]Live from the museum of Television and Radio:Hardcore fans will enjoy but this may be a bit tedious for the lesser-die-hard enthusiasts.
[*][b]Backstage with Driveshaft:A publicity reel that didn't engage me personally but you should check it out at least to see if you find it worth a watch.
What a show. What a DVD presentation. What don’t you understand? Look…I gotta get home so I can watch the next episode--