August 29, 2010


We’ve heard a lot about dirty shenanigans in the financial sector over the last few years, but if you really want to know about a high-risk investment that hardly ever pays off, forget about the Ponzi scheme — look no further than the serialized television drama.

Much as we all love to snigger at the stereotype of the housewife or credulous college student weeping over her soap opera, there are good reasons that shows like General Hospital have lasted for decades, and chief among them is the unique pleasure of following characters and storylines over an extended period of time. The networks dress it up in different outfits each fall, but it’s that same enduring promise that lures viewers into new serialized series every year, and if you’re any kind of television fan, you’re well acquainted with the pain of giving yourself over to a show’s arc, only to watch it land with a thud — or worse, find that the show’s been canceled before it can reach a satisfying conclusion. (This writer is still smarting over the way NBC pulled the plug on Journeyman under cover of the writer’s strike.) Read more about Lost: The Complete Collection after the jump:

It’s something of a small miracle, then, when a series is given enough room by its network — and has enough audience support — to steer its own course from start to finish. As cable, the Web, and home movies have splintered the traditional television audience, the major networks have grown increasingly impatient with their ratings, and it’s harder than ever for a serialized show to take root.  Harder, but not impossible…and this massive collection is proof, as well as a fitting tribute to one of the few truly watercooler-worthy series of the 21st century.

It debuted with a lot of hype and a record-setting budget, but from its first hour, Lost was, at heart, a pretty old-school serial, one that took its most important lessons from the soaps. Take some beautiful people, toss them into a confined area, give them some secrets to hide, add some adventure, sex, and a love triangle or two — voila! You’ve got yourself a story to tell. What set Lost apart was the depth of its characters, its exotic location, and the intricate, seemingly endless mythology that head writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse constructed around them — as well as the way they brilliantly tugged viewers between the show’s bafflingly mystical elements (polar bears on a tropical island?) and its soapier ingredients (should Kate be with Jack or Sawyer?).

If you’ve never seen the show and are considering buying Lost: The Complete Collection, you certainly don’t need any spoilers here, and if you were a fan of the series, you’re already familiar with its finer points, so there’s no reason to get into too much detail. Suffice it to say that Lost revolved around the aftermath of a plane crash on a (seemingly, at first) deserted tropical island, focusing on the adventures of a group of survivors led by Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox), John Locke (Terry O’Quinn), Kate Austen (Evangeline Lilly), Sawyer Ford (Josh Holloway), Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews), Jin-Soo Kwon (Daniel Dae Kim), and his wife Sun (Yunjin Kim).

It’s a pretty basic premise for a show, but again, Lost’s genius lay in not only its hidden breadth — its main cast would grow to include nearly 30 characters by the end — but its attendant depth. Each core character had a back story that tied into the show’s mythology in some way, and as Cuse and Lindelof explored the island’s ever-expanding history and list of locations, they continually circled back to the stories, secrets, and relationships that really fueled Lost’s overall arc. The show’s magical elements gave it its flashy spark, but the seemingly major questions they posed (seriously, polar bears on a tropical island?) wouldn’t have meant as much without the utterly relatable struggle that formed the crux of the series.

That struggle — between spiritual faith and empirical knowledge — was, like the characters’ relationship dynamics, as basic and traditional as it was impossible to resolve. Lost gave viewers plenty of enthralling mysteries to ponder over the course of its 121 episodes, but none of its truly important questions were ever meant to have definitive answers. Shorn of its fancy trappings, it was a show whose biggest questions were the ones it wanted you to ask yourself: What do you believe in? What really matters to you? How do you find peace in a fractious existence? How do you let go of the things that haunt you most?

terry o'quinnTaken over six seasons, and woven between a dense narrative that pushed viewers back, forward, and across an intricate timeline, those questions were easy to lose sight of, and it isn’t hard to understand why so many people were frustrated with the way Lost concluded in May. But one of the things Lost: The Complete Collection does — aside from looking really, really cool in one of the more intricate packages you’re likely to see this year — is allow you to absorb the series in a compressed timeframe, without all the frustration of waiting for the next season to start (and trying to remember what the hell happened a year ago).

Watched back-to-back, Lost is obviously a lot easier to parse, but what’s interesting is how clearly its main themes emerge — and how strongly they endure, even during what were regarded as its weaker, more muddled seasons. Lost was far from a perfect show, and viewers endured their share of unnecessary characters, storyline stumbles, and dangling threads in the narrative. View it as a continuous whole, however, and it’s clear that Lindelof and Cuse understood their vision for the series from the beginning.

How satisfyingly did they bring it to the screen? Even if you don’t know anything about the show, you’re probably at least aware that the answer to that question was being hotly debated even before the series finale aired. Perhaps fittingly for a show so steeped in ambiguity, there’s really no answer more definitive than your own. And whether you watched Lost all along or have been waiting to have all the episodes in one place, there’s really no better way to experience the series than with the aptly named Complete Collection.

Mammoth in the best sense of the word, The Complete Collection bundles 36 discs and a whole bunch of nifty Lost-related trinkets into a hefty tomb, suitable for leaving on your coffee table to make your friends whimper with envy. Pull open the lid and start gorging on Lost goodies, starting with a handy booklet that offers synopses for every episode, a miniature ankh (with a hidden surprise), a board and pieces for Senet (the game played by Jacob and the Man in Black during Season Six), and a miniature blacklight. What’s a blacklight doing in a box of Blu-rays? You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.

All of which is perfectly well and good, but you’re buying this set for the main event: All six seasons of Lost in glorious hi-def. The series Blu-rays are packed in a sturdy cardboard sleeve that holds six fold-out jackets, one for each season. Here’s a loose overview (skip ahead if you haven’t watched the show):

Season One (six discs, 24 episodes): Oceanic Flight 815 crashes, leaving its survivors to try and carve out an existence on the island, despite the interference of a horrifying smoke monster, a pack of grubby natives known as “The Others,” and those freaky polar bears. Added wrinkles: the discoveries of Danielle Rousseau, a mysterious Frenchwoman who may or may not be out of her mind, and a seemingly impenetrable hatch leading beneath the island.

Season Two (six discs, 24 episodes): We are introduced to survivors from another segment of the plane (the so-called “Tailies”), the conflict between our heroes and the Others deepens, the existence of the shadowy Dharma Initiative is revealed, and we learn what caused Flight 815 to crash in the first place.

Season Three (six discs, 23 episodes): The history of the Others begins to be told — and their rivalry with the Flight 815 survivors erupts into full-blown war. Meanwhile, a ship looms off the coast of the island, and its passengers may (or may not) be sailing to our heroes’ rescue.

Season Four (four discs, 13 episodes): The arrival of the ship makes its mission clear, with far-reaching implications for the island’s residents; viewers are given a glimpse into the characters’ futures through a series of flash-forwards.

Season Five (five discs, 16 episodes): The show’s narrative splits into two timelines — literally — as events separate the castaways in time and space. The inner workings of the Dharma Initiative are seen for the first time.

Season Six (four discs, 16 episodes): The endgame, in which our heroes are reunited amidst a jumble of flashbacks, sideways jumps, and a high-stakes battle between the forces of good and evil. (No, really.)

Given that Lost operated with one of television’s more impressive budgets, it should come as no surprise that watching these episodes in hi-def is more rewarding than, say, Blu-rays of The Office. The video is AVC-encoded 1080p, framed at 1.78:1, which is technobabble for “it looks great.” Even if you were watching the broadcast series on a hi-def set, Lost on Blu-ray is a richer visual experience; the colors of the island are deeper and more lifelike, and details jump out at unexpected moments.

The soundtrack is presented in lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, which wouldn’t matter much with most TV series, but Lost was always a show that made significant use of its sound, and it sounds even better here — especially Michael Giacchino’s Emmy-winning score.

And then, of course, there are the bonus features.

Previous Lost season sets didn’t skimp on the extras, and everything that came with the original Season 1-5 collections is included here. The show’s tradition of rich added content continues with the Season Six set, which includes the following all-new features:

Audio Commentaries for four episodes: “LA X” (Lindelof and Cuse); “Dr. Linus” (Michael Emerson with writers Eddie Kitsis and Adam Horowitz); “Ab Aeterno” (Nestor Carbonell with writers Melinda Hsu Taylor and Greggory Nations); and “Across the Sea” (Lindelof and Cuse). Sharp-eyed readers will note the lack of commentary for the series finale, which is sure to be a point of contention…but on the other hand, there are other features that deal with the end of the show.

Deleted Scenes: Nine in all, and a little over nine minutes in total. Strictly in standard definition, but don’t let that keep you from watching them; there’s some good stuff in here, and some of it will leave you wondering why it was cut.

Bloopers: Lost wasn’t a particularly funny show, but the cast and crew could still crack up on occasion, like during these five minutes of goof-ups.

Crafting a Final Season: A 38-minute featurette offering a behind-the-scenes look at the final season from start to finish, featuring Lindelof, Cuse, and various members of the cast and crew. Not exactly in-depth, but surprisingly emotional.

A Hero’s Journey: Fans of the show might assume that this nine-minute featurette’s title refers to Jack Shephard, but that isn’t exactly true.

Lost on Location: A roughly half-hour look at what went into putting together sets and wardrobe for the final season, which is more interesting than it probably sounds. Worth watching if only for the footage of the always entertaining Jorge Garcia joshing around on the set.

See You in Another Life, Brotha: Eight or so minutes offering additional analysis of the sixth season’s “sideways world.”

Lost University: Masters Program: If you didn’t take advantage of the BD-Live “Lost University” feature when Season Five came out, you can now just go ahead and download the entire course load and earn a “masters degree” in Lost. It’s the kind of thing that’s decidedly for hardcore fans — but you could probably say the same thing about spending hundreds of dollars on an extra-laden set like this one, so why quibble?

The New Man in Charge: The 12-minute coda that everyone’s been talking about, “New Man” offers a glimpse of life on the island after the events that closed out the series. If you were pissed that the finale didn’t answer every single question you ever had about Lost, this might be the cure for what ails you.

Is that it? Of course not. In true Lost fashion, The Complete Collection boasts a few hidden surprises — a hidden disc, even! — but you’ll have to discover them for yourself (hint: that blacklight will come in handy).

All in all, Lost: The Complete Collection is an immersive, engaging collection that does justice to one of the most scrutinized shows of the last 20 years. Just as each episode of Lost contained questions to answer and riddles to solve, so does The Complete Collection offer more than your average stack of discs slapped into a cardboard container. It’s a suitably impressive — and probably the last — manifestation of the love, hard work, and playful spirit that went into the creation of the show. Its $279.99 list price might cause sticker shock (or heart palpitations), but buying each season separately will cost you a lot more than that — and if you’ve got the cash now, Amazon is currently selling the set for just under $195. Finally, here’s a Lost mystery that’s easy to solve: The Complete Collection is well worth owning.

Jeff Giles is the editor-in-chief of Popdose and Dadnabbit, as well as a frequent contributor to Bullz-Eye and an associate editor at Rotten Tomatoes.

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