"Guys, where are we?"
Jack. Kate. Sawyer. Locke. Hurley. Sayid. Charlie. Jin. Sun. Michael. Walt. Claire. Rose. Shannon. Boone. Vincent. Icons, all of them. Television history begins right here.
A close-up of an eye opening. A man in a business suit lies on the ground, surrounded by jungle trees. A dog jumps out of the bushes and licks his face. He stands. His suit is tattered. He is disoriented. He walks through the tree line toward a beach, toward the ocean. There are noises behind him. He turns and walks toward them. The noises grow louder. And louder. Then we see it, a little bit at a time, slowly revealed. People scurrying everywhere. The wreckage of a jumbo jet on the beach, one engine on a dismembered wing, against all reason and logic, still running, shrieking, as if in its death throes. There is screaming. People are hurt. The man clears his head. He's a doctor, he remembers. He runs to help.
So begins what is certainly one of the greatest pilot episodes of any television series -- the first act in what will become one of the medium's most daring, most complex, and most rewarding works of long-form storytelling.
I remember when 'Lost' premiered in September of 2004. I approached it with skepticism. A few years earlier, I had fallen in love with Executive Producer J.J. Abrams' previous series, 'Alias', a show that began with such amazing promise, but somehow squandered away all of its potential in a dreary third season that had just finished airing. I was disillusioned. I didn't have much faith in Abrams at that point, and I didn't know anything about the rest of this new show's creators. All I knew of 'Lost' was its basic premise -- a plane crashes on a deserted island, and the survivors must band together until rescue comes for them. It sounded like a cross between 'Cast Away' and 'Gilligan's Island'. Could be interesting, could be terrible.
The pilot episode arrived with mixed buzz. Critics and preview audiences raved about it, but the ABC network showed little faith. Budgeted at $13 million, the first episode was the most expensive pilot in television history. Infamously, Disney CEO Michael Eisner hated it and fired the network executives who had greenlit the show. Having already spent the money, the network aired it anyway, but shafted it with an 8 PM mid-week timeslot usually reserved for crappy family sit-coms. Things did not bode well for the show. I anticipated the worst.
And then I watched the episode. Instantly, all my concerns melted away. I was in love again. This show was something special. Other audiences agreed. The premiere was a huge ratings hit.
Subsequent episodes didn't disappoint either. 'Lost' proved to have not just an intriguing concept, but also an amazingly complex storyline mixing elements of personal drama, operatic tragedy, suspense, and perhaps even some supernatural intrigue. At the heart of the series is a mystery. What really is this island, and why haven't rescue crews found the crash survivors yet?
Filling this story out is a huge cast of richly-drawn characters with a variety of personalities and backgrounds. There's the heroic doctor, the oily con man, the woman with a past she doesn't want anyone to learn, the drug addict, the former Iraqi soldier, the pregnant girl, the bickering brother and sister, the dysfunctional father and son, the Korean couple who speak no English, and more. On the surface, these seem like schematic archetypes. But 'Lost' is not about surfaces. It's about digging deep. Each new episode highlights a character or set of characters. Through an intricate series of flashbacks, we learn their histories, secrets, and even their hidden connections to one another. As the ongoing mystery plot moves forward, the character stories reach backward, each end broadening and deepening our understanding of the other. Nothing is as simple as it seems at first. The further the show progresses, the clearer it becomes that this plane didn't just happen to crash on this island, and these specific people didn't just happen to survive. They were chosen. But how, and why?
With five seasons now complete and one more to go, 'Lost' has only grown more complicated and more compelling with time. Looking back on the first season now reveals just how ambitious the series was right out of the gate. It's rather amazing to catch the little hints and clues to the mystery that wouldn't pay off until years later. In light of the events of the fifth season finale, I'm convinced that one particular scene in the pilot episode, in which Locke explains the game of backgammon to Walt, has much greater significance than we could have realized at the time.
Of course, as with any first season, the show also struggles a bit to find its footing. It's amusing to see which story threads went nowhere (like Sayid's romance with Shannon) or have apparently been dropped, and to realize which clues pay worthwhile dividends later and which don't. If there's anything at all disappointing here, the season ends on a predictable and flat cliffhanger. The show's creators hadn't yet perfected the art of the mind-bending finale, as would soon become a staple of each following season.
As I write this, I'm still waiting to find out how the series ultimately ends. But I have faith. This isn't another 'Alias'. The show's prime creative forces, producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, have guided it safely thus far. What's more, they've layered so much intrigue and drama into every episode from the beginning that the show is compulsively rewatchable. 'Lost' is one of the greatest experiments in television drama, and this Complete First Season is essential viewing.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
ABC Studios and Buena Vista Home Entertainment have finally brought 'Lost: The Complete First Season' to Blu-ray, released simultaneously with a separate box set for the second season. For reasons that only marketing executives will ever understand, the show's later third season and fourth season were both previously released on the format in advance of these earlier, critical episodes. It is imperative that the series be watched in proper sequential order.
The 24 episodes of this First Season come as a 7-disc set packaged in a multi-panel keepcase with slipcover, much like the Fourth Season's Blu-ray. Once again, the first disc in the set is burdened with several annoying promos and trailers (including one for the very Blu-ray you're watching) before the main menu. Unlike previous releases, the studio has not provided a printed insert with episode guide or content listing. The set's packaging also contains several print errors regarding the available audio and subtitle options.
I don't often give out 5-star scores for video. 'Lost' is one of the few live action productions that truly deserves it. This is a fantastic picture, the very definition of what a quality high-def viewing experience should be.
Even in its 720p broadcasts on ABC, 'Lost' is easily the best-looking show on television. The Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer (which retains the 16:9 aspect ratio of the HD broadcasts) takes things to the next level. The image is remarkably sharp and detailed. Every one of Kate's freckles and all the stubble on Jack and Sawyer's faces are visible in perfect clarity. Colors are extraordinarily vivid, especially all those rich greens in the jungle. The contrast range is also crisply delineated at both the high and low ends.
Because the show is a 35mm production, a light veneer of film grain is visible when appropriate. In a couple of shots against the sky, some of the grain may look a little noisy, but these occurrences are very rare. For the most part, it has been well digitized and compressed. Any flaws are so minor that they aren't worth deducting points over.
Since the Blu-ray's release, scattered reports have complained that the First Season is a step down in quality from the previously released Third or Fourth Season box sets. I see no evidence of that. The picture here looks every bit as good as the Third Season Blu-ray, and has none of the artificial sharpening artifacts that plagued the Fourth Season. This is High Definition at its finest.
Marking a change from the previously-released seasons, 'Lost' switches away from PCM 5.1 format to lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround for this First Season set. The results are every bit as good. 'Lost' is also one of the best-sounding shows on television, and the lossless track captures everything from the subtle nuances of quiet dialogue scenes to the roar of polar bears and thunder of gunshots.
For a TV production, the show's sound mix is surprisingly dynamic and immersive. Bass slams with precision when needed. The surround channels, although rarely overtly showy, are frequently utilized for ambient jungle atmospheric sounds. They're also put to more aggressive use at times, such as every appearance of the "monster."
Fidelity is excellent across the board. Michael Giacchino's score is rich and resonant. This television show has better sound design than many feature films, and the Blu-ray does it full justice.
The DVD box set for the show's first season, released back in 2005, contained a bounty of bonus features. Almost every single item has been carried over to the Blu-ray as well. Unfortunately, all of the supplements remain in standard-def video.
It's about time. 'Lost' is one of the richest, most fascinating, and most compelling series on television. Its feature-film quality photography and production values demand to be watched in high definition. DVD just doesn't cut it.
This is also a show that absolutely must be viewed in sequential order. While Buena Vista had previously released the later Third and Fourth seasons on Blu-ray, this 'Complete First Season' is an essential starting point, and arguably the show's strongest year. The Blu-ray has outstanding video and audio quality, and retains the rich selection of bonus features from the earlier DVD. The box set is highly, highly recommended.