Monday, December 31, 2007

Review: 27 Dresses

Starring: Katherine Heigl, James Marsden, Malin Akerman
Director: Anne Fletcher
Release Date: January 11, 2008
Running time: 107 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributors: 20th Century Fox

Romantic comedies tend to exist in their own little world, don’t they? A world where they make up their own rules without any real connection to the rest of the planet. A world where everything gets a tidy treatment and at the end of the day, everyone’s problems are solved in the span of about 100 minutes. They are the sitcoms of the movie world and they rarely make apologies for it.

Having sat through P.S. I Love You not 24 hours prior to watching this, I thought about the genre as a whole and did a little exercise. I sat down and made a quick list of all those plot devices I could think of that are overused in romantic comedies, just to see how many they would try in 27 Dresses. This list was based strictly on my best grasp of the subject matter and the fact that I had seen a similar movie less than a day before. This is not meant to be a complete list by any means - its just what I wrote down before the movie started:

- The lead character will be overworked.
- She will be interested in someone who is blissfully ignorant of that fact.
- This will run her ragged, to within an inch of her sanity.
- During this period of rickety behavior, the filmmakers will attempt to make her look frumpy by dressing her in less than attractive clothing (sweats, etc) and/or make her eat sloppily for added effect.
- Someone will fall in love or even get married in an insanely unrealistic amount of time (i.e. mere weeks).
- Everything will blow up in someone/everyone’s face.
- Someone will sing along with a song on a car radio. During this song, a relationship will grow in leaps and bounds.
- Someone’s atrociously unforgivable behavior will be forgotten thanks to a smile or gift or both.
- She will find the man she thinks is right, kiss him, and realize he is not at all right based solely on that kiss alone. They will both agree.
- Once the lead character ends up with whoever she ends up with and her transformation is complete, she will also have quit/changed jobs.
- There will be a disgustingly sweet, happy ending.

The picture begins, and we’re off.

27 Dresses painfully tells us the story of Jane (Katherine Heigl), who is the very definition of the saying, “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.” In case there was any confusion on that, we are lucky enough to have that very saying as the tagline for the movie. Jane has been in love with weddings since she was a little girl. When we first see her all grown up, she spends an evening cabbing back and forth between two simultaneous weddings so as not to let anyone down. Weddings she has helped, nay, completely planned down to a tee. We soon find out she is secretly and madly in love with her boss George (Edward Burns), a fact that he is of course, completely oblivious to (check). She is an underappreciated asset in her job (check), and spends all of her spare time being a bridesmaid for all of her friends, 27 so far to be exact (get it, 27 dresses…?).

Jane’s sister Tess (Malin Akerman) comes to visit her and in whirlwind fashion, falls in love with her boss, the so-called secret love of her life, and the two of them get engaged to be married (check). Guess who gets to plan it and be the Maid of Honor? Jane is sent into a downward spiral (check) and of course, every one of my list o’ clichés is checked off in grand fashion until the saccharine sweet ending barrels through and everybody wins (check mate). I am not really giving anything away by saying this because people who see this movie will be from one of three schools of thought. One, they have been suckered into seeing it by a female significant other and they don’t care. Two, they are a critic and are seeing it as a matter of duty, and they see the end coming from miles away. Or three, they are the significant other doing the dragging and even they know how it ends, and they don’t care. As we were walking out, the two females I saw this screening with asked me what I thought of it. I told them I thought it was boring, trite, cheesy and clichéd. Then I asked them what they thought of it. They said it was cheesy and clichéd but cute, and they liked it.

27 Dresses offers nothing new and doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. This isn’t a bad thing as I don’t think they were really trying to do anything other than make a straightforward romantic comedy. If this movie had been a chess match, I would have played the part of Garry Kasparov, and it would have been over in about ten moves. My biggest complaint isn't about the genre, it's just how boring the whole thing is. The only enjoyment I got out of it was crossing item after item off my list as they showed up. And I laughed at exactly two jokes, neither of which I even remember anymore, if that tells you anything.

To rate this movie poorly because I am not the biggest fan of the genre is only half fair – half, because when it's made right, I will like just about anything. As a paying member of the movie-going population, I didn’t like the movie because it was as bland and tasteless as regular Kool-Aid without the sugar. As a critic, I didn’t like it because I could have written this review for any of the many similar movies that I have seen, changed the title and still been right on point. If P.S. I Love You was the ‘choose your own adventure’ of romantic comedies, this one was the ‘paint by numbers’ version. If anyone had tried to spruce it up by raging against the assigned color coordination, going against type would only have made it worse. So I guess it was a lose / lose from the jump.

And there’s the rub.

* 1/2 out of ****

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Review: P.S. I Love You

Starring: Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Release Date: December 21, 2007
Running time: 126 min
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Distributors: Warner Bros.

“Chick Flicks”.

It’s kind of a derogatory term if you think about it. I don’t know too many women who like to be referred to as ‘chicks’, and to go so far as to pigeon-hole a whole category of movies with a blanket statement seems equally shallow. Nevertheless, the term is an accepted one and is synonymous with sappy drivel that men the world over find themselves being repeatedly dragged to see in the hopes of building up enough points to talk their better half into seeing the latest Die Hard movie.

Let me step back a moment. Like any genre of movies, I can easily find a few of this type that I can not only sit through, but would go so far as to say that I like. The Princess Bride, When Harry Met Sally, Say Anything. These movies all tell a great story, but do so by playing it straight. I suppose the same can be said about movies of ANY genre but these types of movies have that much more hingeing on their ability to keep it real. P.S. I Love You is the newest addition to that little sorority of films. As with any organized social club, there is an unquenchable need for immediate acceptance. P.S. I Love You attempts to overcome this by bringing a new dish to the table. It's just a pity that the ingredients are stale and undercooked.

It begins by showing us a couple: an ‘as Irish as Lucky Charms’ Gerry Kennedy (Gerard Butler) and his ditzy American wife, Holly (Hilary Swank). They are on their way home from some sort of event and they are fighting. Or better yet, she is mad and he is trying to figure out why and what he can do to make it stop. The fight itself drags on at a snail’s pace and never really accomplishes anything, much like it would in real life. They bicker back and forth. She nit-picks at flaws of his that have nothing to do with their current fight. He does his best to defend himself and reminds her that she is crazy. (Not Farrah Fawcett-on-Letterman crazy, but cutesy, frazzled, Meg Ryan-type crazy). Or in other words, much like it would happen in real life. Now that the groundwork has been laid, the film switches gears.

Cue the tears.

Gerry dies. Brain tumor. The rest of the characters are introduced all at once in a convenient little funeral scene because that’s what happens in chick flicks. We meet Holly’s tightly wound mother Elizabeth (Kathy Bates), her best friends Sharon (Gina Gershon) and Denise (Lisa Kudrow), and Daniel (Harry Connick Jr.) a seemingly random bartender. You don’t have to wonder for very long how random that guy is to the story. Holly falls into depression until her family comes to her rescue on her 30th birthday. A cake is delivered with a taped message from Gerry.

Tears in three…two...

In the message he informs Holly that she is to expect a letter in the mail the next day followed by a slew of others, each containing a task for her to complete to try and ease her grief and transition her into her new life without him.

…one... and… GO.

But to start with, she is to forget about that, put on her Sunday best and go get hammered. It was more eloquently put, but that’s what happened. The rest of the movie follows Holly as she receives these random letters with random tasks showing her the light as she – what else? – picks up the pieces, finds herself, and the strength to move on and live life.

I realize a lot of movies rely on the audience’s suspension of disbelief but I never got on board with the whole premise. Not necessarily the idea of a dead husband controlling his wife’s life from the grave, but the preparation he had to have gone through to get there. He’s dying of a brain tumor and has the strength to pull together a plan of such epic proportions? This from the guy who started the movie fighting with his wife because he said the wrong thing at dinner? This from the guy who spent the first 15 minutes of the movie telling his wife she needed to stop planning out her life so much and just roll with it? And NOW he wants her to grieve and give up the next year of her life chasing these letters? I don’t know – I just didn’t buy it. Rather than taking a cue from the great stories of the genre, it tried a little too hard to get a little too cute.

Lisa Kudrow and Harry Connick Jr. steal their scenes. Not because they are particularly good in them (well, Connick is), but their characters add some much needed life to the story. This is little more than a ‘choose your own adventure’ version of a romantic comedy. There are usually only a couple ways any given plot point will end up, and it doesn’t stray from the path – at all. Swank is a good actress, or at least she has been in the past. She even has two Oscars to prove it. She just can’t seem to find the off-switch on her dramatic chops here. In the end all it means is that after this foray into romantic comedy, her funniest role remains The Next Karate Kid. Too bad that one wasn’t on purpose either.

And there’s the rub.

** out of ****

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Review: No Country for Old Men

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem
Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Release Date: November 21, 2007
Running time: 122 min
MPAA Rating: R
Distributors: Miramax Films, Paramount Vintage

“It’s a mess, ain’t it, sheriff?” – Wendall

“If it ain’t, it’ll do ‘til the mess gets here.” – Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, No Country for Old Men

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

A welder, a hired gun, and an almost retired sheriff walk into a West Texas town. Each of the men is running. What they are running from, and toward, quietly becomes the foundation for the tapestry that is brilliantly woven in what is quite possibly the best movie this year.

No Country for Old Men, the latest film from Joel and Ethan Coen, is adapted from the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. The movie tells a fairly simple story. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) opens the movie in voiceover, explaining why he is soon to retire. His time in this job is now past as the region, and the world, has become violent beyond his understanding. Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), the welder, happens on a collection of corpses and a dying Mexican in the apparent aftermath of a drug deal gone sour. He finds a case with $2 million in cash and takes it home. Meanwhile, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), the hired gun, has just escaped from police custody and steals a car after killing the driver. Chigurh’s introduction accomplishes two things. One, it introduces us to the unique weapon he uses throughout the movie, and two, it establishes him as an instantly classic movie villain. In any given situation, he does what he feels he has to do, even though without having prior knowledge of that situation - he operates with almost random calculation. His methods may be cold and brutal but to him they are justified. Moss finds the cash and soon realizes he is being chased for it; Chigurh is the man hired to get the money back, and Sheriff Bell is the man trying to make sense of the whole bloody affair.

In less capable hands, this movie could have easily fallen victim to the gruesomely tired cliché of “someone chasing someone for money after a drug deal gone bad.” In fact, when non-movie watching friends ask me about my favorite movie of the year and I tell them about No Country, they inevitably ask, “What is it about?” My answer is usually met with complacency. To simply explain the plot of this movie doesn’t do it justice. To properly appreciate it, you actually have to experience the story unfolding before your eyes.

What is the difference between a good movie and a great movie? What makes a great movie a classic? In short, it has to engage the audience. Yes, story, performances, direction to be sure, but what really makes a movie like No Country for Old Men work so well is the way it flows. The pacing of this film is pitch-perfect. There doesn’t seem to be one wasted minute here and every scene serves a purpose in the greater good of the story. I am happy every time I see a movie that isn't edited in the quick cut, MTV style. Sometimes that is fine, but to make a remarkable and lasting impression, I want the story to unfold on its own – almost in real time. That is the only way to truly build tension. No Country not only accomplishes that to an almost perfect degree, but it does so with such ease that you don’t even realize it until after the movie is over.

The movie is far more than a game of cat and mouse. Chigurh and Moss carry the film by showing us how they each handle desperation. As Chigurh gets closer to him, Moss begins to take on the characteristics of his pursuer. He loses sight of what started him down this path to begin with and ends up in a situation that is obviously over his head. If only he were aware that he is not cut out for this lifestyle. Chigurh, on the other hand, was born to this life. There is a great line by James Gandolfini in True Romance where he explains to Patricia Arquette what it feels like to kill a person. The first few times, he says, had a real impact on him but ... “Now… shit. Now I do it just to watch their fuckin' expression change.” You get the feeling that Chigurh belongs to the same school of thought, only he's a few classes ahead of Gandolfini’s character. There is no other scene in the movie where this is more evident than when he goes into the gas station and talks to the store owner. You feel the tension of that entire scene and know that had the coin toss ended differently, he would have carried out whatever came to him in that moment without a second’s hesitation. Throughout the encounter, he just toys with him until he becomes bored with the conversation. That smugness should not be mistaken for instability; it's the random calculations of a cold-blooded killer. And Bardem plays him perfectly.

This movie isn’t about who did what to whom and how; it's about why. Sheriff Bell, Moss, and Chigurh do everything in the movie in the name of justice. Maybe greed initiated each of their respective journeys, but justice is what takes to the finish. What makes that concept interesting is that while each man is motivated by the same thing, each of them has a vastly different idea of what that means.

There is a lot of ambiguity in the last 20 minutes of the movie. Why doesn't more happen in the hotel when Sheriff Bell goes by himself at the end? What really happens to Moss’s wife when Chigurh finally shows up? But that's fine; the story works better when everything isn’t spelled out and packaged for us. Viewer interpretation and continued debate are just more reasons why this movie has been, and will continue to be, talked about for months to come. The ending of the movie is perfect – a great companion and bookend to the whole story – even if it took me a few days to think so.

The Rub:
Sometimes a movie comes along that simply blows you away. After I first saw it, I couldn’t shake it for a long time. It stays with you not because you are trying to figure it all out (although that may be part of it), but like any piece of great work, you appreciate the story and how it is told. Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, and yes, even Josh Brolin all deserve Oscar nods for this film. That will go nicely with the Best Director and Best Picture nominations they are almost guaranteed to get. This is not only the best film of the year, but the best film the Coen Brothers have ever made, and they made Fargo. So that’s got to count for something, right?

And there’s the rub.

**** out of ****

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

DVD Review: Halloween - Unrated Director's Cut

Halloween (2007)
2-Disc Unrated Special Edition
Directed by Rob Zombie
Starring Tyler Mane, Malcolm McDowell, Sheri Moon Zombie
Genius Products/The Weinstein Company
Available Dec. 18, 2007

“Go for it. Make it your movie.”

According to director Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects) during a special feature titled “Re-Imagining Halloween,” that is what John Carpenter said when he respectfully contacted him to tell him he was directing a remake of his 1978 classic. Zombie goes on to say that when he decided to remake — sorry re-imagine — Halloween he wanted avoid making a shot-by-shot remake since that movie already exists (agreed). So without any creative input from Carpenter, that is precisely what he did.

This movie is something of an anomaly. It is a remake of an arguable classic, the granddaddy of all slasher movies, the movie to which every A, B, C, and Z-grade horror movie owes its existence. It is also a Rob Zombie movie. What a testament to his directorial abilities that after only two films, the expectation for that label is already this high. There were enough built-in reasons that this movie’s theatrical release had no business being as successful as it was. More surprising, the success wasn’t a result of Zombie fans flooding theaters and inflating the box office, it was actually a really good movie.

In his attempt to make this movie his own, Zombie did more than just update actors and wardrobe, he rocked the original right to its core and restructured the whole story from the ground up. The first half of this movie is the new material and most glaring change to the story. We start in a world previously unearthed in the Halloween universe. Much goes into explaining young Myers’ backstory before the original batch of Halloween night killings.

We see Michael (Daeg Faerch) as a child living a less than rosy childhood, to say the least. We see him and how he interacts with his mother Deborah, (Sheri Moon Zombie, flexing some unforeseen range), her drunken sorry excuse for a boyfriend, Ronnie (William Forsythe), and his iconic sister Judith (Hanna Hall). The movie opens with Michael getting ready for school by doing what you would expect a young psychopath to be doing — killing his pet hamster. We see him at school being bullied. We see him getting hauled into the principal’s office for fighting. And then we see the first glimpse of the destruction to come as he leaves school, waits in the bushes for the very kid that threatened him, and then beats him to death in cold blood. That scene in particular sets the scene for the evil that is being unleashed on the world. Even the way Zombie chose to shoot the scene — many shots from behind the bushes and in the grass almost as if a passerby was observing and rightfully hiding from this monster of a child — gives us a sense of what is in store.

From this point, there is no turning back. Michael waits for his mother to go to work Halloween night then unleashes his evil on his family and the world around him. Seeing a young Michael Myers methodically plot and execute his killings is quite unsettling. It’s hard to say Faerch’s portrayal of Myers is brilliant because of what he’s doing by way of his performance, but it is effective and downright haunting. Zombie walked a fine line in going back and explaining why everything happened. But after watching the picture in its entirety, you realize it’s less to do with gaining sympathy than it is simply telling the story from a different angle.

After a series of quieter moments watching Myers and Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) work through a myriad of interviews, Michael slowly slips into the confines of his own mind. He ceases communication with anyone and after 15 years of not speaking, Loomis finally moves on. Shortly thereafter Michael breaks free and returns to Haddonfield where the movie shifts into more of a remake mode and tells the story from the original 1978 film. The second half of the film holds truer to the original story and while the shift is minor, it works well in conjunction with the movie as a whole.

The DVD release offers two versions to choose from: a Two-Disc Special Edition and an Unrated Director’s Cut (Two-Disc Special Edition). Having seen the theatrical release, I was curious what else Zombie would have included in a world without boundaries. The short answer? Not much. At first, I was a little put off by this as part of the fun of watching a Rob Zombie movie is seeing what he wasn’t allowed to release in theatres. From what I could tell, the biggest storytelling difference was the scene leading to Michael’s escape from the asylum. In the theatrical release, it was after Loomis announced he would no longer be treating him and as he was being transported to another facility. In the director’s cut, the scene is changed as the orderlies take a female patient into Myers’ room, brutally rape her and Myers’ escapes only after one of the men touch one of his many masks and he beats them all to death. I can’t decide which version I like best. The one from both originals that goes a long way in explaining why Myers escaped after losing another parental figure in Loomis and his home of the last 15 years, or this newest version that offers little explanation other than a random act that could have been avoided with minor changes. Both have a different immediate impact but at the end of the day, the result would have been the same. It is an interesting side note to a conversation whose meaning doesn’t have much impact on the overall story.

The second disc of Special Features (identical in both versions) offers a variety of goodies that are remarkably, not that entertaining:

Alternate Ending – a grossly inferior ending to the theatrical (and unrated edition) release. Partially because it was simply inferior and partly to do with the fact that I absolutely loved the ending to this movie the way it was released. To elaborate further would ruin the experience for those who haven’t seen it, but let’s just say I thoroughly enjoyed the resolution that the movie came to.

Deleted Scenes (w/ optional commentary) – the deleted scenes left little to the imagination of those wondering why the scenes were deleted. Merely additions or lengthened scenes from the released version of the movie.

Bloopers – Otherwise known as Malcolm McDowell’s cursing and fart joke reel. One word: lame.

The Many Masks of Michael Myers – a watchable interesting piece that discusses the masks young Michael wears and the process that went into creating the new version the iconic Halloween mask.

Re-Imagining Halloween – a three-part featurette that discusses bringing the movie to the screen, casting the actors, and effects and wardrobe. Full of interviews with Zombie and the rest of the cast and crew. The best special feature on the disc.

Meet the Cast – screen tests from most of the actors. Daeg Faerch is even creepy in his screen test.

Laurie Strode Screen Test – why she has her own section from the rest of the cast is beyond me.

Theatrical Trailer – that we all saw a hundred times before the movie came out.

As much as it pains some people to say it, Rob Zombie made a hell of a film. His directing style compliments his vision, which is very obviously from the mind of someone who cut their creative teeth on vintage movies from all decades of horror’s past. This visual style was even evident in his music career with White Zombie, and later as a solo artist, so why it has come as such a shock to people that he has the ability to make a great horror movie is beyond me. Halloween is a respectfully skillful interpretation of classic material with some really cool twists on a few of the landmark scenes from the original. I said in my original theatrical review that it is as audacious in its concept as it is arrogant in its confidence and I admire the chances he took, and his presumption to think he could pull it off.

As much as the original Halloween was about Laurie Strode, this version is all Michael Myers. This is a purist’s horror movie that is not interested in elaborate kill scenes, but rather relies intently on its focus of a character who happens to commit fiercely violent acts. And they are as bloody as they are intense. Some people have, and will continue to complain that the movie applies too many liberties and strays too far from the original source material. To quote Zombie again, “For good or for bad, it’s a totally different experience.” As much as I couldn’t agree more, I am most thrilled it wasn’t the latter.

And there’s the rub.

Halloween – The Unrated Director’s Cut: *** ½ out of ****

DVD Special Features: ** out of ****

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

DVD Review: Lost: Season Three

Lost: The Complete Third Season
Starring Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway, Dominic Monaghan
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Available Dec. 11, 2007

Rarely does a show come along that lends itself so openly to viewer participation. Listening to story complaints and even going so far as to allow viewer complaints to be a driving force behind structuring the schedule of the episodes, the creators of Lost, while keeping the show on its projected path, are very dialed in on what the viewers want. When the season originally aired, it was shown in two blocks of episodes. As a way of silencing complaints of all the reruns that littered previous seasons, Season Three opened with a six-episode run. Then after a 3-month hiatus, it returned with 16 new episodes in a row. This was a valid complaint as no other show relies so heavily on continuity as does the Lost universe.

The beauty of a show like this is that when executed properly, the ambiguity actually adds to the richness of the overall mythology. But balancing between the introduction of new story elements and answers to previous ones has been the Achilles’ heel of the show since the pilot aired.

When we left the island in the excellent season two finale, Jack (Matthew Fox), Sawyer (Josh Holloway), and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) had been captured by the Others. Hurley (Jorge Garcia) had been released and sent back to camp with the message that they were never to return. And Michael (Harold Perrineau) and Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) were given a boat by the Others with the coordinates to finally get off the island and return home. It was an explosive episode (pun, intended) that left viewers clamoring for more.

But season three didn’t start with the same intensity. We see that Jack is being held captive in the Hydra (another Dharma Initiative station) while being interrogated by a new Other, Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell). Kate and Sawyer were kept in nearby cages and it is revealed that “Henry Gale,” whose real name is Ben (Michael Emerson), is in fact the leader of the Others. As the season gets under way, there are few answers from previous episodes and new questions mount quickly. The initial batch of episodes felt like a tease. While they weren’t great, they were hardly terrible either. My biggest complaint echoed that of every other person that watched and loved the show, simply not enough answers. At the very least, the ratio between answering existing questions and introducing new ones didn’t balance out.

Once the show returned from hiatus after the initial batch of episodes, a funny thing happened — it got good again. I mean, scary good. What once seemed like a convoluted mess that the writers were making up as they went along turned out to be probably the best season to date. Oddly enough, I attribute it to the fact that the show DID stumble out of the blocks. Without the uproar over the mediocrity of the start of the season, they wouldn’t have been able to turn it around. Better yet, they wouldn’t have been made to do so. In the face of waning viewership the writers were forced to start resolving some of the core mysteries of Lost. Who are the Others and why are they on the island? Why was Locke in a wheelchair? What was that cable on the beach? Who is Christian Shepard’s daughter? What do the Others want with the children? Why can’t anyone find the island? What is the Dharma Initiative? Once pushed out of their comfort zone, they answered some of these questions and found a rhythm and a balance that enabled them to get the show back on track. Granted, this is Lost so a number of perennial questions still remain. What is the smoke monster? What is the significance of the numbers? How does the island have healing powers and why does it only work on some people? How did Christian Shepard die and where is his body? What are the voices in the woods? What happened when the hatch imploded? What’s with the skeletons in the cave? Who is Jacob and what is the significance of his list? And what in God’s name is with the four-toed statue? Among many, MANY others.

To start this season the creators tried to raise the bar too high, too fast. When you go back and watch it again, it becomes clear that they took heed to viewer concerns and made adjustments on the fly where needed. The show caught up to itself in the second half of the season and for as much as can be made about the show’s ambiguity, when viewing it as a whole you get a sense of scope and realize just how much ground was covered. There were a few shallow episodes (episode #309, “Stranger in a Strange Land” and episode #310, “Tricia Tanaka is Dead”) and lest we not forget the awful intrusion of Nikki and Paulo midway through the season. But even amidst their trespasses, their penultimate episode #314, “Exposé” was pretty clever and ended no doubt with an audible jubilation from all of their despisers.

The strengths of the season were episode #308, “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” where the idea of space-and-time-travel is first discussed and we are made aware of Desmond’s “flashes”; episode #319, “The Brig,” where Locke finally deals with his “daddy issues,” and of course the brilliant season finale episode #322, “Through the Looking Glass;” when we are introduced to the game-changer for the first time: the flashforward. Up to this point, all of the character-centric episodes have been told through a combination of current island stories and flashbacks into those particular characters past. But in the finale, we see a haggard and miserable Jack in a post-island meeting with Kate and are side swiped with the idea that getting off the island isn’t the end-game result. The storytelling possibilities are limitless and in one 3-minute scene to end the season, life was breathed anew.

After watching this season I wondered if the success of Lost as it is today would have existed 10-15 years ago. In a pre-Internet culture before the “need to know NOW” mentality was instilled in all of us and the ability for geeks everywhere (I use the term amorously) to scour the Internet for clues, would the success of a show like this have even been possible? Without having readily accessible information or being able to re-watch the episodes on DVD for any little hint that could help shed more light on what is going on, (yes, that includes me, who re-watched the scene with Locke and Ben in Jacob’s cabin repeatedly in slow motion and with pause button in hand), would it have been as well received as it is now, or is that very premise what makes the show so different, and so special?

Lost: The Complete Third Season - The Unexplored Experience is a 7-disc set that features all 23 episodes (the finale is split into two separate parts) on 6 discs and a disc of bonus features. The bonus features include a handful of never-before-seen flashbacks and the “Lost on Location” feature, a behind-the-scenes look at 10 different episodes. There are audio commentaries on four episodes (”A Tale Of Two Cities,” “I Do,” “Exposé,” and “The Man Behind the Curtain”) by executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and various actors in each episode. There’s also a Lost video game demo and promo, and of course the standard, but boring deleted scenes and bloopers. The best special features are “The Lost Book Club” that discusses the show’s literary references and the “Lost in One Day” feature that gives a fascinating look at 24 hours in the life of the series, from the writing, direction, wardrobe, and editing of no less than 5 episodes at a time in varying levels of production.

Conceptually, the show started with a fairly simple premise: tell the story of a group of plane crash survivors who end up on a mysterious tropical island. As the story has unfolded we realize the show isn’t really about that at all. Sure, they are still trapped on the island and other forces, be it people or otherwise, are trying to keep them there, but what really makes the show work is the richness of the characters. All of the characters on the island are forced to confront the failures of their past and revisit issues or events that make up the core of who they all are emotionally. They are all metaphorically lost in addition to physically being as such. In simple terms, the show is about redemption. And in a season where the characters were made to confront demons of their past and decide how that is going to shape their future, it is not surprising the writers and creators of the show did the same to equal effect.

The creators have repeatedly said that the story of Lost is a mosaic and that the total story will only begin to take shape over the course of the three remaining 16-episode seasons. Without seeing all the pieces of the puzzle we are left with little more than rampant theorized speculation. For anyone who watches this show as religiously as I do, it begs the question: Would we have it any other way?

And there’s the rub.