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The Lost Room

on Tue, 02/25/2014 - 00:00

While a pawn shop in Braddock Hills, Pennsylvania, might seem like a strange place for a work of science fiction to begin, just such a locale serves as the initial starting point for the 2006 SciFi Channel miniseries The Lost Room. During the opening scene, a secret meeting occurs in the backroom of the establishment that includes a payoff of two million dollars in exchange for an insignificant looking motel key. Before the transaction can be completed, however, another group enters the store and declares that the key actually belongs to them. By the time the Pittsburgh Police Department arrives the next morning, two of the culprits have been burnt to a crisp and their bodies embedded into both the wall and ceiling of the pawn shop.

The motel key is the central focus of The Lost Room, an instrument capable of unlocking any door in the world. The room that one enters upon using it, however, is always the same—Room Ten of the Sunshine Motel located near Gallup, New Mexico. Once inside the room, a person can then imagine any other door and when the key is reinserted, that is the door that magically opens. But as Pittsburgh Police Detective Joe Miller (Peter Krauss) later discovers, the key is not the only item with mystical powers as an entire array of “objects” that were once in the room are now bestowed with supernatural abilities as well. While no one understands why this is the case, numerous people are aware of their existence and intent on collecting them, albeit for conflicting reasons and their own personal agendas.

“You ever feel like there’s something wrong with the universe?” Wally Jabrowski (Peter Jacobson), who possesses a bus ticket that can zap anyone to the outskirts of Gallup, asks Joe Miller while sitting in a Pittsburgh diner. “Well, you’re right. Things like this shouldn’t happen but in the motel room, they did. Nobody really knows what happened. But everybody’s got a theory. Some people think that God died and that all these objects? They’re pieces of his corpse. Some people say that’s crap. They think that some part of the universe broke down and it’s just physics gone haywire, and other people think that God is alive and this is some kind of test. And they’re all out trying to collect all the objects like pilgrims looking for relics in the Middle Ages.”

Joe Miller does not have a theory of his own, nor does he care about the motives of these so-called “collectors.” The lone survivor of the pawn shop massacre escaped with the key and gave it to Miller just before he was likewise murdered. Miller’s eight-year-old daughter Anna (Elle Fanning), meanwhile, discovered the item in her father’s possessions and inadvertently entered the room. The door shut with both her father and the key on the other side, and when Miller reopened it, Anna was gone. Joe Miller is thus on a personal mission to find the right combination of objects that will bring his missing daughter back from the unknown reaches of the Lost Room.

Although the mysterious Lost Room is located in Gallup, New Mexico, Pittsburgh plays an important role within the narrative of the SciFi Channel miniseries nonetheless. Not only does Joe Miller and his daughter Anna hail from the Steel City, but object collector Karl Kreutzfeld (Kevin Pollack) likewise resides in the region. Kreutzfeld was once a member of the Legion, a “cabal” intent on ridding the Earth of the objects, but is now determined to use the items in order to find a cure for his ailing son. While Kreutzfeld serves as both nemesis and ally to Joe Miller during The Lost Room, another Legion member—Jennifer Bloom (Julianna Margulies)—eventually joins Miller in his quest to rescue Anna. Wally Jabrowski is another ally, and while a drifter by trade, Jabrowski first meets Joe Miller at a Pittsburgh hospital. Pittsburgh medical examiner Martin Ruber (Dennis Christopher), meanwhile, becomes obsessed with the objects and enlists in the radical Order of Reunification, which believes that the objects are a gateway to God.

Thus although the Sunshine Motel may be in the Southwest and Room Ten grants access to anywhere in the world, Pittsburgh is still the central locale of The Lost Room. The three creators of the series—Laura Harkcom, Christopher Leone and Paul Workman—are graduates of Carnegie Mellon University, while Harkcom additionally attended Seneca Valley High School in nearby Harmony, Pennsylvania. Since each have ties to the Steel City, Pittsburgh was the logical setting for the show, and while The Lost Room was not filmed in the region, production company Lionsgate kept the locale intact nonetheless. “They really liked the idea of it not being Los Angeles or New York,” Laura Harkcom explained to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in December 2006. “It’s a town that more audience members could identify with.”

In addition to Braddock Hills serving as the location for the pawn shop in the opening scene of the miniseries, Martin Ruber has his first encounter with the Order of Reunification at the corner of Smithfield Street and Liberty Avenue. Joe Miller, meanwhile, is later able to evade his fellow Pittsburgh Police Department compatriots when a squad car is called away by a “Code Two at Schenley Park.” According to Laura Harkcom, there were additional Steel City references in the original scripts that unfortunately did not make the final cut. “There were a lot more that didn’t clear legal,” she told the Post-Gazette. “We wanted to use Giant Eagle, we wanted to use Ritter’s Diner. I tried to get as many things into the dialogue as I possibly could.”

The Lost Room is a science fiction thriller that contains a humanizing plot revolving around how far a father will go in order to rescue his daughter that nicely compliments the supernatural puzzle that serves as the core of the six hour-long episodes. Not all of the questions are answered by the climax—including the nature of the “event” that created the Lost Room and its objects in the first place—but the miniseries still attains a satisfactory conclusion despite the dangling of these loose ends. And while The Lost Room may not have been filmed in Pittsburgh, the story crafted by the three Carnegie Mellon University graduates has a Steel City flavor to it nonetheless.

Suffice it to say that while the key of The Lost Room may unlock any door in the world, the heart of the miniseries resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Anthony Letizia

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