Lost, five mind-bending seasons in and one left to go, is one of the most complex storytelling achievements television has yet seen. So immersive is it in scope, and so layered in symbolism, that books on its creation almost seem like a requirement. It's the kind of thing that sends millions of people scrambling to Internet message boards in search of hints, clues, and theories every week. You've got to wonder how something like this is put together.
Lost: Messages from the Island is a step in the right direction, but it's not the kind of penetrating behind-the-scenes peek one would hope for. It compiles the best of Lost: The Official Magazine, featuring interviews with various cast members, writers, producers, and production designers. I've never read Lost: The Official Magazine, but I guess it's about what you'd expect from such a publication: fun, interesting articles that rarely peer beyond the surface.
That said, this is still a rewarding read for Lost fans like myself. It's intriguing to know that the actors are often as in the dark as the viewers, the producers rarely letting on about their characters' backstories or true motivations. The fact that they're still able to give compelling, nuanced performances is a testament to the skills of the entire cast. The actors themselves are also just as alienated as their characters, having to pack up their belongings and move to Hawaii, where they have to find new homes, not to mention new schools for their kids or new jobs for their spouses.
The most compelling pieces are those that shine a light on co-creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. They're the ones who've got all of Lost's secrets tucked away inside their heads, and hearing their thoughts on the show's central themes and mysteries is a treat. For example, Cuse says of the hatch that so mystified viewers in the series' early years, "I think the hatch is sort of a literal metaphor – for going inward and going inside." When you consider that Locke (Terry O'Quinn) was crippled both physically and spiritually by the hatch's doomsday clock scenario, retreating inside himself and cutting off his fellow survivors, you can see why it had to happen in an underground hatch and nowhere else.
Sprinkled throughout the book are more technical pieces, like how the otherworldly sounds of the smoke monster were assembled, or of how the shipwrecked freighter by the Black Rock was sculpted and designed. Most interesting is a storyboard-to-finished-product comparison for a scene from the episode "Man of Science, Man of Faith" in which Locke holds onto Kate (Evangeline Lilly) by a rope as she descends into the hatch. It shows just how much editing and improvisation play a role in affecting the final outcome. It's a simple but important look at the day-to-day tinkering that occurs on any film or television project.
The most disappointing thing about Messages from the Island, though, is that it only contains articles on the show's first two seasons. Considering how many evolutions, in both form and content, that Lost has gone through since, it's a shame that there's nothing from the later years. Reading Matthew Fox's interpretation of Jack's season one struggles and conflicts is certainly enlightening, but since the nature of the show means that the audience's entire perception of Jack has changed radically from then to now, not having later articles for comparison seems like a missed opportunity.
Luckily, in his afterword, editor Paul Terry hints at future "Best Of" collections, so perhaps one day we'll be able to have a full shelf of Messages from the Island volumes to nicely round out the entire Lost experience. Until then, I'll be on the look-out for something that dares to dig just a little deeper.