Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Camera Obscura
    by John Joseph Adams
December 2006

The Lost Room
SCI FI Channel
Directors: Craig R. Baxley & Michael Watkins
Writers: Christopher Leone, Paul Workman, Laura Harkcom
Starring: Peter Krause, Julianna Margulies, Kevin Pollak, Elle Fanning, Roger Bart, Dennis Christopher, Peter Jacobson, April Grace, Margaret Cho, Ewen Bremner, Chris Bauer
Air Date: December 11, 12, & 13 on SCI FI Channel
Rated TVPG-L-V / 6 hour miniseries / 2006
(out of four)

The key to room 10 of the Sunshine Motel is highly unusual for a couple of reasons. One, there is no room 10. Two, it seems to fit into any standard doorknob with a tumbler lock. And three, when you use the key to open the door, it takes you into a motel room—room 10 of the Sunshine Motel, which doesn't exist. The motel room is pretty strange, too; for quite a lot of reasons actually, but what you first learn about it is that when you leave the room, it takes you wherever you want go.

Detective Joe Miller (Krause) comes into possession of this key as a result of his investigation into a multiple homicide at a local pawn shop. Iggy, a teenager Miller had helped out in the past, was an employee at the pawn shop and ended up with possession of the key after a deal to sell it (for a cool two million) went bad, resulting in the aforementioned homicides.

But those who were trying to buy the key are not the only ones interested in it. Shortly after Iggy escapes, he is hunted down by hired gunmen, who chase him down and shoot him...but not before he can make it to a doorway. He slips the key into the lock as the bullets enter his back, walks through the doorway, and disappears...

Only to reappear in one of the rooms of Miller's home. Though he refused to help Miller when he was brought in for questioning, when things turned ugly, Miller was the only one he could turn to for help. Fatally wounded, Iggy only has a few moments left to live upon arriving at Miller's, and with his last breaths whispers "It opens every door," and then presses it into Miller's hand.

Miller, having seen Iggy use the key to disappear at the police station, later experiments with the key. Feeling foolish, he sticks the key into the lock of his closet and opens it...only to find it opening on an empty motel room. He soon after discovers the motel room's transportative properties. In the morning, as he is making breakfast, his daughter, Anna (Fanning), who witnessed him exiting the motel room the night before, experiments with the key herself, and discovers another unusual property of the room: if you place something in the room, or mess up the bed linens, then close the door and reopen it again, the room "resets" itself; everything goes back to the way it was before—the bed is remade, and whatever objects were thrown into the room have vanished.

This seemingly trivial point becomes much more important soon after when the man who tried to buy the key at the pawn shop, Montague (Bart), kidnaps Anna and demands that Miller give over the key for her return. In the resulting encounter, Anna, in an attempt to flee, ends up with the key and uses it to enter the motel room, only before she can enter, she loses the key to Montague. She enters the room and gets away, but is stuck inside the room when Montague uses the key to open the door again, resetting the room; so when the door opens, the motel room is as it always is, and Anna is gone.

Miller manages to reclaim the key and escape and becomes obsessed with trying to find his daughter. Starting with Montague, he begins questioning those who seem to know about the key, and soon learns that there are several other Objects, all of which originated in this mysterious motel room that the key opens doors to. One of the Objects, which is possessed by Montague, is a pen that when pressed to someone's skin cooks them from the inside out. But not all of the objects are so powerful; there's apparently a watch whose only function is that it will hardboil an egg. And there are at least two orders devoted to collecting all of these artifacts, one of which believes they are pieces of God. How or why these Objects came to exist is a mystery, as is whether or not Anna is still alive. But Miller will do whatever it takes to get his daughter back, no matter what strange and dangerous paths his investigation forces him to travel.

I'm not, in general, a big fan of miniseries. Most of the time it feels as though it's just a story that should have been pruned down to feature film length. This, however, is one of the better SF miniseries I've seen. It's not on the same level as the brilliant Battlestar Galactica miniseries, (or, to step out of genre, the highly-recommended Shogun miniseries) but it's quite enjoyable just the same. There's good acting, an inventive plot, and expert pacing, all of which serve to keep the viewer riveted throughout. And nights one and two both end on notes that should leave you eager for the next twenty-two hours to pass so you can see what happens next.

The Lost Room is by no means perfect; there are times in which the direction could have used a more accomplished hand, or the script could have used a bit more tweaking. The show boasts a terrific cast, most of whom do a fine job portraying their characters; some of the supporting cast is not quite up to par, however, and I was never really sold on the character (or the actor's portrayal) of Martin Ruber (Christopher); likewise, Bart's interpretation of Howard "The Weasel" Montague leaves much to be desired, and Iggy, though a very minor character, has a rather odious death scene. Again, though, I think this may come down to less than best direction.

Another thing worth mentioning—and I'm not sure if this is criticism or merely an observation—is that the plot of The Lost Room very much reminded me of a puzzle-oriented video game, such as Myst; or perhaps it would be better to compare it, considering the level of action and violence, to Resident Evil. In fact, I'd be very surprised to find out that a game based on the miniseries was not already in the preliminary stages of development, ready to be green-lit if the series is deemed a hit. This seems especially likely when you consider that the plot of The Lost Room doesn't seem like it would lend itself to sequels or continuation, and if it ends leaving such threads hanging, I think that it would be nothing less than a disappointment.

There are many parallels between The Lost Room and the ABC show Lost, least of which is the shared word in their titles. Much of The Lost Room's tension is derived from that mysterious element—there's all these strange things going on, and no one seems to know why. There's also a compelling human drama playing out at the same time, which is really what makes the miniseries so watchable. But also like Lost, The Lost Room suffers from that dreadful possibility of a letdown; you know, that feeling you get sometimes as you're watching a complicated show or film and you think "There's no way this is all going to add up and make any sense." Whether it'll be a letdown or not remains to be seen; reviewers were only sent nights one and two of this three night miniseries. The first two-thirds are quite enjoyable, and I highly recommend tuning in; on night three, I certainly will be.


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