I just finished watching the Sci-Fi Channel’s original miniseries, The Lost Room (2006). It aired in Australia in 2008 and was given to me by a friend about a day or so ago. Now, I had my doubts about this show – I remember seeing the trailer for it on the Sci-Fi Channel at the time (Sci-Fi, Syfy, whatever they have it as currently) and thinking, urgh, this looks like rubbish.
I thought the same about Warehouse 13 and ended up loving that show, so whoever is in charge of advertising at that station needs to be axed immediately. Maybe they should just not advertise, period. Let it be a surprise. Because currently everything I’ve seen of their trailers has put me off and they do have some quality content. But enough about that.
The Lost Room revolves around a mysterious motel, abandoned since the 60’s, and the room number 10 – a motel room that doesn’t exist in our space-time but can be accessed as a kind of in-between dimension at any point, from anywhere, so long as you have the key and a door. Once it was found and items were taken out of the room, it was discovered that they each had special properties. They became “Objects”, indestructible items with special properties. Ever since then they have been fought over, both by rich individuals and opposing cabals, each with their own agenda.
The protagonist is Detective Joe Miller (Peter Krause) who, on discovering the all important Key, and its properties, loses his daughter Anna (Ella Fanning) in the room. If you are left in the room without the key, and the door is opened once more, the Room is reset to its initial state, as it was in 1961 when the “Event” took place that warped reality. And so Joe goes on the hunt, trying to find all the clues and solve the puzzle, while competing with the cabals for the Objects, to get his daughter back.
The first episode of this three-part series was crap. No two ways about it. It was hokey as hokey can be. Clunky, poorly written, cliche, you name it, it had it. From the set up at the pawn shop; to the sweaty, nervous double-dealing guy; to the latino kid with the criminal background who was really-just-trying-to-do-good-but-got-mixed-up-in-the-wrong-thing (who also had the most unconvincing death scene I have ever witnessed); to the villain, “the Weasel” and his cronies, the bizarre manner of deaths that followed; to the detectives that walked in the next morning and their entirely unconvincing partner cop routine. I could go on. There was even a scene where two guys in black suits and black glasses jumped out of an unmarked black Range Rover and emptied their clips at the latino kid, looked at each other in that meaningful ‘oh yeah, we’re bad guys’ way, and jumped back in the car. I kid you not.
On top of all that there was this really odd and jarring directing going on, that was bizarrely fixated on the faces of the characters. Often to the point of obscuring all else. It took a lot of getting used to (it never became okay, it kept putting unnecessary emphasis on the facial features of actors that were just barely doing their jobs) and I wonder if that’s why the actors often looked so uncomfortable. I blame a lot of the issues I have with the show on that. Oh, and Peter Krause. He is truly awful in this show – I mean, yes, he gets better as he goes on but he only ever elevates his game from awful to bad – and to an extent, I blame the writing, but he really could’ve put more effort into it. He’s an automaton too much of the time, only when his character gets to any extreme does he exhibit any emotion and even then…it’s just bad.
The problem with the writing for me is mostly to do with the pacing, (once you get past all the hokeyness and dodgy lines – with the occasional good one, too) it’s too slow and haunting for what (at its best) is more of a race-against-time-to-solve-the-puzzle plot. And that too, has to do with the camera work, the slow shots, the emphasis on facial features, even the delivery of lines was a bit off-pace. Now occasionally this works, it can be nice and atmospheric but it’s overdrawn here and shouldn’t have been the focus to the extent that it was. It also jarred with the more action-based elements of the story that often just exploded into being out of nowhere.
However, despite Peter Krause’s valiant and stubbornly persistent efforts to ruin this show, the support cast mostly did a really solid job. Top notches go to Peter Jacobson (Wally Jabrowski) of House M.D fame and Kevin Pollack (Karl Kreutzfield) as well as a general nod to several others, notably Ella Fanning who is simply too cute for words. And the show, after the first episode, really began to pick up. I enjoyed the discovery of each new Object and what they did and the consistent build up of mystery surrounding the Event, the motel, and the wreckage of the original cabal, The Collectors. The pacing was able to speed up, casting off the shackles of would-be-mystery-psuedo-horror and delving into a more entertaining action adventure.
However, even though the second and third parts were more fluid and seamless, there were still a lot of hiccups on a line-by-line basis. Aside from that, my major concern lies with the characters. There were some truly strange and random turn-abouts. Take the Weasel for instance, his first appearance is marked by the burning alive of two men, one of whom was left midway through the ceiling (in an as yet unresolved mystery as to how the fuck that occurred). This was followed by shots of him being driven around by his cronies, saying typical villainy things like “Find him” and “Follow him” and “What?” – I mean, this guy was an old school baddie who then kidnapped the protagonist’s daughter.
During the scuffle at the hostage-hand-over-scene however, he suddenly becomes a super whimp – “She’s not dead! I know how to find her!” – and following this really becomes quite a helpful guy (and yes, he does try to attempt the odd sneaky backstab later, but it was more of a ‘oh-o! you got me!’ type of thing). They actually go around together! In a mostly amiable fashion! This is the guy that callously burned two people alive, and was singlehandedly responsible for Joe’s daughter getting all abductified by the Room. Meanwhile, ultimate-bad-guy, Karl Kreutzfield, begins as the you-wouldn’t-pick-it-big-bad (but really you would, and you do) that goes through a similar transition into ‘I’m-just-a-concerned-father-too’ let’s all work together.
If that’s not enough to indicate Turn-About-Turn-Coat-Turn-back-About Syndrome (TATCTBAS) then let me tell you about Dr. Martin Reuber who begins as a forensic scientist, an ageing, quiet man in a sedate suburban marriage who quietly follows the evidence in his mundane way (an angle I really enjoyed actually) while Detective Miller was off jumping between rooms all over the place, then suddenly and inexplicably goes insane, going so far as to shoot his long time friend and companion, Detective Lou Destefano. That was a major what-the-fuck moment for me, there had been little to no indication of anything even remotely approaching that level of drastic obsession/insanity, he was simply following the clues. It was bizarre. Happily, his craziness remained fairly consistent from that point on, but even he goes through what I’m going to call a “let’s-all-help-joe-segment”.
Hell, with the amount of help he had, I’m surprised the show went for three parts.
Having said all that, I really did enjoy the show. Certainly parts 2 and 3 and I’d definitely say give it a watch. It has solid special effects and pretty much everything involving the construction of mystery around Sunshine Motel was well done, I just felt that the first part was hokey, the pacing was off and jump-started in jarring fashions, the camera direction was bizarre and the characters were weirdly inconsistent. There’s a whole lot about the actual concept of the Room, the allegory for God, and religion and the mythology some of the cabals built around the Room and the Occupant, that I didn’t mention, that were the coolest parts of the program really and that’s because this took far longer than I thought it would. And because I’m afraid if I pick that apart too, I won’t end up liking the show after all.
Anyway, those are my thoughts. If you’ve seen it, and want to talk about that last bit, feel free! Or anything else for that matter. If you haven’t, give it a shot, it’s decent sci-fi once you get past the opening 45 minutes.