The Lost Room (2006)
'The Lost Room' is one of the most intriguing sci-fi shows I've seen in a long while. A mini-series produced by Sci-Fi, a channel that has a reputation for showing middle of the road fare (with the most notable exception being the brilliant Battlestar Galactica), isn't exactly a television event that sets pulses racing. Surprisingly however, the reviews were almost universally positive and so I gave it a shot on DVD.
'The Lost Room' is a mysterious motel room that exists outside of normal space. The motel room can only be accessed via its key, a key that when used with any door (which has a regular key based lock) opens a portal to the room. From within the room, the door can be opened to any doorway, not just the one from which the room was entered, effectively creating a teleport system to virtually every door on the planet. That's not all though, there are approximately 100 other 'objects' from the room loose in the real world, each of which exhibits strange and unique powers - a comb that can freeze time for a few seconds, a pen that can literally cook people, a bus ticket that can teleport people to a particular place (but only that place!), and so on.
The story revolves around Detective Joe Miller (Peter Krause), who acquires the key and has his world turned upside down when his daughter Anna (Elle Fanning) disappears in the room - when an item or person (except an 'object' originally from the room) is placed in the room and the door is closed and opened again with the key, the room 'resets' to its original state and the item disappears. As he tries desperately to get his daughter back, Joe is thrust into a bizarre subculture that exists and revolves around the room and its objects. He learns of a fanatical religious cabal, 'The Order of the Reunification', who believe that bringing all of the objects together will allow mankind to speak to God; another group, called 'The Legion' and represented by a woman named Jennifer Bloom (Julianna Marguiles), collect the objects to hide them away, believing them to be dangerous. Karl Kreutzfeld (Kevin Pollak) is a millionaire who collects objects for his own mysterious reasons, as does a criminal called 'The Weasel' (Roger Bart). Joe gains an unlikely ally in the form of Wally (Peter Jacobson), an object owner with a lot of information about the room and the objects. Joe walks a tight line as he works with and against the various factions to gain information and objects to help him recover his daughter, while also being hunted by his own police force for a crime he didn't commit.
The first thing that 'The Lost Room' has going for it is the overall concept, which is as original and intriguing a concept as anything out there at the moment. The second is in the way it builds on the concept in an interesting and plausible manner. The development of factions, collectors and a market for objects together with decades worth of history involving the room and the objects is one aspect of it. The other aspect is the objects themselves; they are all imaginatively and (humourously) thought up, with powers ranging from bizarre and useless to incredibly powerful. The effect the objects have on their users is also an element that is touched upon throughout the series, with many exploiting the objects for personal gain but ultimately becoming dependent on them and unwilling to let go despite the dangers associated with possessing one (the various factions are willing to kill to get their hands on them). All of these disparate elements hang together surprisingly well and none feel superficial or poorly thought out.
This sci-fi concept is entwined around the more traditional story of a resourceful cop on the run and out of his depth attempting to save his daughter. It's a conventional hook, but it is successful in giving the resourceful detective a believable reason for diving in with reckless abandon and going to extremes to learn as much as he can about the room and the objects. He becomes the audience's window into this strange world as he takes a crash course in the fundamentals of object lore. The relationship between Joe and his daughter is lightly but convincingly written, and well acted by Krause and Fanning; it's a strong enough relationship to make Joe's relentless journey feel justifiable. Wrap all of these story elements together in a lean, fast paced package laced with humour throughout and the end result is an enjoyable show. My only complaint is the sketchy characterization on display, with the plot being paramount at all times. The drama aspects definitely play second fiddle. There are also some very clunky and forced moments along the way, like a ham-fisted romance that springs out of nowhere.
On technical merits 'The Lost Room' is fairly strong, with good production values, special effects, and visuals. It definitely doesn't feel cheap. The music is also quite nice and fits in with the tone of the show. Peter Krause is excellent as Joe Miller. He has an everyman quality to him but he is also smart, resourceful, and tenacious. Additionally, Joe comes across as an innately decent sort of fellow, which makes him that much easier to sympathize with. Roger Bart is quite convincing as the duplicitous and ultimately pathetic 'Weasel' , while Peter Jacobson shines as the frazzled and irritable Wally. Kevin Pollak and Julianna Marguiles are just OK in their respective roles, with Marguiles being fairly emotionless throughout. Elle Fanning manages to be charming and doesn't have any obnoxious 'precocious child' moments as Miller's daughter.
At the end of the day, 'The Lost Room' is an entertaining, intriguing, and generally satisfying mini series. There are a lot of both character and plot elements that are just touched on but not fully developed, and plenty of unanswered questions and backstory to be addressed, which leads one to believe that the mini is a set up for a full blown series. That could be interesting, as long as it doesn't adhere too strongly to some lame 'object of the week' type formula. Regardless of what eventually happens, the mini is a successful piece of storytelling in its own right. It may not be mind blowing stuff, but it is very, very good and well worth a shot for jaded sci-fi aficionados.