Before All is /Lost/ . . .

Series ••••½ Picture ••••½ Sound ••••½ Extras ••••½

With Season 4 finally premiering this week in the plummest of plum primetime spots (9 p.m. in ABC's Thursday-night lineup, where it will run for eight uninterrupted weeks) what better time than the present to delve into the reasons why we anointed Lost: Season 3 - The Unexplored Experience as one of our Top 10 DVDs of 2007.

As I noted in my capsule assessment, Lost remains the benchmark for writing, acting, and directing for a network TV drama. And you really owe it to yourself to make sure you're HDMI'd to the max so you can fully appreciate the vibrant colors and engulfing, immersive soundtracks that are S.O.P. for this series.

The "none-more-green" jungle scenery is essentially omnipresent, as are the lavish blue skies and blue-green waters. But it's not always the lush island panorama that impresses. Many other elements fill out the show's visual palette: the dingy, weathered green halls of the Hydra Station in Episode 6, the jarring slats of light that criss-cross the faces of Alpert (Nestor Carbonell) and Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) in the boardroom in Episode 7, the flecks of white and gray in the sideburns and unkempt beard sported by Jack (Matthew Fox) in Episodes 22 and 23.

The soundtrack is perpetually brimming with life, as the full-channel buzz of nature permeates every jungle scene, sometimes joined or replaced by the ominous rumblings of the island's supernatural components. And if you listen carefully, you'll even hear the cry of birds (the absence of which in previous seasons was no mere oversight, as Episode 12 makes clear). Anytime the survivors hit the beach to fish, dive into the water to swim (or rescue), or pilot makeshift canoes, the ocean laps, foams, crests, and crashes all around you. And whenever that creepy, otherworldly whispering materializes in all channels to haunt a main character, you can't help but feel a bit unnerved yourself.

As this seven-disc package makes clear, the Lost approach to extras is one that should be used as a boxed-set blueprint. (Hear that, you other guys who just recycle already broadcast promo material?) Disc 7 is the proof. Lost Book Club delves into the deep (and sometimes not so deep) literary references that dot the show and lend it, as one commentator puts it, a "Dickensian quality." Lost: On Location continues the show's DVD tradition of going truly deep into the making of a number of episodes. But the best extra this time around has to be Lost in a Day, which follows how seven (count 'em) episodes are worked on in the course of one 24-hour period. The split screen that shows what's happening on location in Hawaii simultaneously with what's happening in California drives home how much work really goes into making a show at this level. Other featurettes - on creating the cast toy figures, making the videogame, and demonstrating the proper way to throw a knife, as shown by Terry O'Quinn (Locke) - fulfill the geek factor quite nicely.

Lost commentaries are usually insightful, and the four here are no exception. (Okay, only four? That's the one actual knock I can give to this extras mix.) On Episode 1, "A Tale of Two Cities," co-executive producer Damon Lindelof and new cast member Mitchell serve-and-volley quite well, even getting a little silly at times. (Lindelof: "It wouldn't be Lost without chains and sweat - and Band-Aids.") But we learn a good bit about how a strong character and a top-drawer actress immediately make an impact on an established show. For Episode 6, "I Do," co-executive producer Carlton Cuse, Evangeline Lilly (Kate), and Josh Holloway (Sawyer) dive into the star-crossed Kate/Sawyer dynamic, with Cuse driving the train. Listen for when Lilly's Canadian accent pokes through and for Cuse's revelation about why Sawyer really wears glasses occasionally.

On Episode 15, "Exposé," writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz have good rapport in explaining how they salvaged the storyline of two much-disliked new characters and turned it into something that ultimately served the greater good of the show. And for Episode 20, "The Man Behind the Curtain," Cuse, Lindelof, and Michael Emerson (Ben) dissect this pivotal installment, which steers the season toward its shocking finale (including one of the best season-ending twists ever). Cuse and Lindelof, who also co-host a regular Lost podcast, are commentary pros, and they pose all the right questions (at just the right times) for Emerson to explain his thought process and acting choices.

What are you waiting for? You should have no problem powering through your own personal Season 3 marathon in time to prep properly for the first of eight Season 4 episodes this Thursday (Jan. 31). So get Lost already, wouldja? [TV-14] English, Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish and French, Dolby Surround; letterboxed (1.78:1) and anamorphic widescreen; seven dual-layer discs.

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