Saturday, January 27, 2007

Review: The Lost Room

A door that opens to anywhere in the world. That's a staple plot device of many a hack churning out a Twilight Zone-type story. As a concept, it's so overused that the mere mention would probably send audiences groaning in boredom.

Quite an achievement, then, that The Lost Room takes this old cliche and manages to turn it into something new, thrilling, and eminently watchable.

The titular Lost Room is exactly that, a motel room that disappeared from our dimension in a reality-altering event some 45 years ago, specifically, May 4, 1961. Open any door in the world with the key to this room, and you end up in the Lost Room. Walk out of the Lost Room to any place you visualize.

What gives The Lost Room a refreshing twist are the Objects that used to be in the room and have made their way out into the world. The Objects are everyday, well, objects: a comb, a bus ticket, a deck of playing cards, a clock, a picture....

There are about a hundred Objects, and they are imbued with special powers. The comb, for example, can slow down time. The bus ticket can transport a person to any location. They key is itself one of those Objects, with the special property of opening the door to the Lost Room.

Different people and different groups seeking out these Objects. Some individuals want them for power or personal gain. The groups tend to be more sinister: one group, for example, thinks that the Objects are part of God. Another group has the more noble goal of hiding the objects because of the danger they pose.

It's this wide array of quirky characters whose lives revolve around the Objects that makes The Lost Room compelling viewing. These collectors are alternatively greedy, delusional, and at worst, fanatical. They're all a little insane. But they're actually drawn sympathetically so that, with the exception of a few, you can never really call them bad guys.

Compared to his supporting cast, the lead character, Joe Miller, plays it as a straight man. Joe is a detective who has lost his young daughter in the Room, and it becomes his mission to get her back. To make matters worse, he's also been framed for murder. This is what draws Joe into the world of the Room and the Objects.

And Joe is literally plays it straight. To get his daughter back, Joe has to cut deals with all the strange people in the shady underground of collectors. However, Joe is unwilling to compromise his strong moral principles. He willingly gives up a position of advantage because he gave his word. In fact, he's far too trusting when he shouldn't be; but this stance frequently leads to surprising and gratifying results.

Such an upright character is a refreshing change from the antiheroes that inhabit the world of TV.

Rounding out the appeal of The Lost Room are tight plotting, snappy dialogue, thrilling pacing, and quiet but creepy cinematography. The cinematography, in particular, stands out. For example, the scene where the hero descends into a vault brought back my fear of the dark; it actually had me in goosebumps.

For now, The Lost Room exists as a three-part miniseries from the Sci-Fi Channel. However, it's aspirations to become a full-fledged TV series are clearly evident. What differentiates The Lost Room from similar endeavors is that it actually comes to a satisfying ending. Oh, to be sure, there are still some loose plot threads, but when the end comes, you're quite willing to let them go.

All the same, I can hardly wait for The Lost Room to become a series.