Expanding the Lost Universe Part 1

Lost’s expanded universe includes new episode, diegetic artifact, and alternate reality extensions.  Each extension attempts to balance contributing narrative information to the overall mythology while also standing alone as an individual experience. In this section, I will evaluate each type of transmedia extension based on how well they achieve this goal. (I address Lost’s ARGs in Part 2)

Licensed Novelizations
Tie-in novels are often the easiest way to cash in on a successful franchise. Lost experimented with three novels framed as new episode extensions, and one novel as a character artifact.
Lost’s first transmedia extensions came in the form of spin-off novels. Each of the three novels published during the show’s first season focused on the history of a new character that had not appeared in the television program. The books were commercial and creative disasters, causing Damon Lindelof to say quite bluntly after reading one: “this is terrible.”[1] The fans agreed. One reader commented:

This book is one of the worst books I have ever read, the author has no idea what’s going on in LOST, and the portrayal of the characters is so off the mark that’s it laughable. I was so disappointed in this book that I actually threw it out in the rubbish bin. If you like LOST and need something to do in-between seasons or episodes bang you head against the wall – it would be a far better use of your time.[2]

Indeed, the books offered no new insights on the greater mythology of the show, focusing instead on the back-story and experiences of off-screen characters. While this premise would be acceptable in theory, without the direction of the producers, the novels did not answer or provoke any of the island’s mysteries and they often conflicted with details of the show. Thus, the tie-in novels frustrated, rather than answered the implied mystery of ‘Who are the other passengers of Flight 815?’

In contrast to the spin-off novels, the Lost producers seemed to think that they could increase the value of a transmedia extension by placing a diegetic artifact within the mise-en-scene of the show.  In the episode “Two for the Road,” Sawyer sits on the beach reading a manuscript called Bad Twin. When the other survivors confront Sawyer to give back some stolen guns, Sawyer remains interested in the manuscript, saying,  “I’m about to be the first and only guy to find out who done it. I think I’ve gotten it figured out!” Unfortunately, before Sawyer could reach the end, Jack tosses the manuscript into a fire and points a gun at a Sawyer, demanding that he return the stolen guns. To casual fans, there is nothing significant about the manuscript or its title Bad Twin. In fact, most television viewers are probably more interested in the conflict between Jack and Sawyer, a recurring theme throughout the first two seasons.  But Gary Troup[3], the credited author of Bad Twin, is actually a fictional character on board Oceanic 815 who died in the crash. [4] After “Two for the Road,” Troup’s book was released in bookstores and Amazon.com, offering fans the opportunity to figure out “who done it” themselves. The book jacket claims that Troup delivered a copy of his manuscript to a publishing company before his death:

Bad Twin is the highly anticipated new novel by acclaimed mystery writer Gary Troup. Bad Twin was delivered to Hyperion just days before Troup boarded Oceanic Flight 815, which was lost in flight from Sydney, Australia to Los Angeles in September 2004. He remains missing and is presumed dead.[5]

The positioning of Bad Twin within the Lost television show was successful in generating buzz and sales. Hard-core fans saw the manuscript as a “paratextual portal,” hoping it would unlock new levels of meanings and insights.[6]  On May 27th, 2006, Bad Twin reached #14 on The New York Times bestseller list.[7]

Yet despite the book’s successful integration into the Lost world, the story offered little explicit insights into Lost’s larger mythology.[8] According to Variety, Laurence Shames, the real author behind Bad Twin, ignored many of the Lost producers’ suggestions and wrote the novel according to his own ‘vision.’ [9] This artistic incongruence illustrates the difficulties in coordinating creative efforts across media divisions.

Though the story of Bad Twin revolves around the separated twins from the Widmore family (an institution in Lost), the book neither explicitly answers mysteries relevant to Lost’s mythology, nor does it allow fans to experience the core narrative in a different way. [10] Thus, Bad Twin was successfully integrated within Lost’s world, but it did not satisfactorily answer implied/hidden mysteries or provide new evidence for speculating about lingering/endlessly-deferred mysteries.

Nevertheless, Steven Jones argues that Bad Twin had a much different pleasure than simply searching for narrative clues.[11] Jones notes that blurring the textual and the outside worlds through “threshold crossing” results in new kinds of entertainment:

[The pleasure] comes from seeing the media crossings of fictional creations take place in real time and physical space—watching Sawyer read a manuscript on the show (on the island as it were) and at that moment, watching TV with a laptop in front of you, being able to find the material, hardcover book and traces of its author in the real world, at Amazon.com—but also the next day in a brick-and-mortar retail store; and then seeing that semi-real novel’s fictions referred to in newspaper ads as if they were real.[12]

Jones’ comments suggest, perhaps Bad Twin’s greatest accomplishment was expanding Lost’s universe into everyday life, allowing fans to take pleasure in crossing the threshold between worlds. In 4.3.3, I discuss the Lost Experience, which takes this threshold crossing to another level, enabling participants the opportunity not just to inhabit another world, but also to interact with it.

Lost also incorporated two highly anticipated ‘new episode’ extensions made for the screen. Lost: Missing Pieces consisted of 13 two-to-five minute “mobisodes” (mini-episodes made for mobile devices) occurring somewhere in the timeline of the first three seasons. Then, in 2008, Ubisoft released Lost: Via Domus, a video game incorporating many of the characters and locations from the first three seasons of Lost. Both extensions contributed narrative information in very different ways.

First, some of the Missing Pieces mobisodes were well-received. The mobisode “So it Begins” takes place before the very first scene of Lost, showing Christian Shepherd, Jack’s father who was presumably dead, telling Vincent to wake up Jack immediately after the plane crash because he has “work to do.” This suggests a host of questions: Is Christian dead? Was he responsible for bringing Jack to the island? Why does he have Vincent? The mobisode sparked massive speculation about Christian’s role in the overall Lost mythology. Another mobisode assured viewers that the producers had not forgotten about lingering mysteries. For example, in “Room 23” Juliet confronts Ben about Walt being “special.” We learn that Walt was in the brainwashing room named Room 23 and that his ‘gift’ had caused problems amongst the Others (i.e. killing birds).

Yet as a whole, the significance of the vignettes from Missing Pieces was unclear. The mobisodes avoided explicitly answering any mysteries introduced in the show and some scenes seemed completely irrelevant. In “The Adventures of Hurley and Frogurt,” viewers learn that Neil “Frogurt,” a minor character in the show, had an interest in Libby and threatened to take her away if Hurley didn’t “close the deal.” This rather trivial scene avoided vital narrative information, frustrating many fans. As the Lost blogger Jon Lachonis observes:

Mobisodes were a highly anticipated chunk of hiatus relief for island heads. Well, fooled you. The Mobisodes so far have most fans kvetching about the irrelevancy and down right LOST-lessness of the tidbits that are meant to traverse gaps in the story.[13]

Because they did not form a coherent story all their own, the fan community essentially understood the mobisodes as deleted scenes rather than transmedia extensions.[14] This made many fans feel like the producers were just tossing out useless scenes left on the cutting room floor. In contrast, consider the original idea for the Lost mobisodes series in which Hurley finds a Dharma camcorder, documents life on the beach, and discovers a new Dharma orientation film previously recorded.[15] This idea seems like a much more satisfying transmedia extension than Missing Pieces, which essentially filled in gaps that didn’t need filling. To truly get Lost fans buzzing, the show’s producers needed an experience, not a random group of trivial scenes.

The videogame Lost: Via Domus featured Elliot Maslow, a photojournalist from Flight 815, who conveniently loses his memory after the crash. Elliot explores the island and even interacts with familiar characters from the show. The Lost producers did not consider the videogame to be canon except for aspects of the environmental and spatial design.[16] Though it featured spectacular graphics, many players thought the game tried to be too much like a Lost episode with a gimmicky flashback structure and a short narrative length (for a game):[17]

The story was okay, but the game play was really bad. I did not feel like I was in the TV show at all. It felt more like a 24-esque game that just happened to exist in the Lost universe. If there is a next game, it needs to be more about exploring on your own, discovering things, almost like an Oblivion.[18]

Via Domus received an average reception from most critics; it didn’t work as a gratifying game or as a means to shed light on Lost’s secrets. Fans felt Via Domus forced them from point A to B, without any freedom to survey new territories. The game’s value, from those who liked it, was from exploring pre-existing island locations and increasing their ability to conceptualize the island’s spatial design. Thus, Via Domus did not specifically answer mysteries from the show, rather it functioned as a tool for Lost fans to speculate about mysteries, offering them the chance to re-examine the blast door map and hatches.

Lost: Missing Pieces and Lost: Via Domus both struggled to offer a stand-alone experience with a valuable narrative pay-off, as both extensions seemed to focus on preserving the core mysteries of the show. In their effort to make these narrative extensions non-essential, Lost sacrificed their narrative value. Yet one must wonder if the response to these narrative extensions would have been different if they were validated by the show in some way. What if Elliot was referenced in the show? What if the significance of “The Watch”[19] was explained? Perhaps Missing Pieces and Via Domus would have more perceived value if they were acknowledged by the show in some way.

[1] TV 2.0: Reconceptualizing Television as an Engagement Medium
[2] Post by R. Bryant. Amazon.com. 17 June 2006. <http://www.amazon.com/Lost-Signs-Life-Book-3/product-reviews/0786890924>
[3] Gary Troup is an anagram for “purgatory,” possibly a reference to the popular fan theory that the survivors were trapped there.
[4] The producers claim he was the unfortunate man who was sucked into the engine during the opening sequence of “The Pilot Part 1.”
[5] Troup, Gary. Bad Twin. New York: Hyperion, 2006.
[6] Jones, Steven E. The Meaning of Video Games: Gaming and Textual Strategies, 41.
[7] Lee, Felicia R. “’Bad Twin,‘ a Novel Inspired by ‘Lost,’ Makes the Best-Seller Lists.” The New York Times. 27 May 2006. <http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/27/books/27lost.html>
[8] Askwith, Ivan. TV 2.0: Reconceptualizing Television as an Engagement Medium.
[9] Zeitchik, Steven. “Inside Move: It’s a Shames.” Variety. 18 June 2006. <http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117945504.html?categoryId=14&cs=1>
[10] It should be noted however, that the significance of Bad Twin could be validated in season 6 of Lost.
[11] Jones, Steven E. The Meaning of Video Games: Gaming and Textual Strategies.
[12] Ibid., 27.
[13] Lachonis, Jon. “Lost Mobisodes Unraveled.” Ugo.com. <http://www.ugo.com/ugo/html/article/?id=18038>
[14] The mobisode “The Envelope” was, in fact, a deleted scene from season 3, only ‘canonized’ as part of the mobisodes.
[15] Lachonis, Jon. “Lost Mobisodes Unraveled.” Ugo.com.
[16] Jensen, Jeff. “Mind Blowing Scoop from Producers.” Entertainment Weekly. 20 February 2008. <http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20179125_5,00.html>
[17] Metacritic.com 26 February 2008. <http://www.metacritic.com/games/platforms/ps3/lost>
[18] Post by EkoIRC. Lostpedia. 22 July 2008. <http://forum.lostpedia.com/did-you-like-game-t17119.html>
[19] In the mobisode, “The Watch” Christian hands Jack a gold watch that belonged to Christian’s father. Jack handed this watch to Hurley in season 1 to time a pregnant women’s contractions, but the watch has not appeared since.

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