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Web ensnares 'Lost' souls

Fans of the ABC hit show flock to a multitude of Internet sites for clues about the plot and to discuss every aspect of the series.

By COLETTE BANCROFT
Published January 10, 2006


photo
[Times illustration: Steve Madden]


At the end of the last new episode of Lost, back in November, a surprising message popped up on the screen of a computer on which communication with the outside world is forbidden.

The "Hello?" might have been Walt, the island's missing child, or the creepy, mysterious Others.

Or maybe it was the show's online fandom.

The hit ABC series returns Wednesday with its first new episode in six weeks. Fans around the world are poised not just to watch it but to race to their computers to dissect it, deconstruct it and divine its place in the show's evolving mythology, which burgeons not just on TV but on the Internet.

Most TV shows have their own Web sites, and many spawn fan sites and forums. But Lost has been an online phenomenon, with thousands of sites devoted to it.

What feeds such cyberfrenzy? Lots of TV series boast beautiful settings and gorgeous casts with complex relationships. Lost has all those things, but it also has a story arc so full of bizarre surprises it makes The X-Files look down-to-earth.

Kicking off with a dramatic plane crash on an apparently uninhabited island, the series has imperiled its multicultural cast of characters - every one of whom has a past chock-full of dark secrets - with an unseen monster, assorted kidnappings, ghostly reappearances, at least one other group of possibly malicious island inhabitants, whispering voices in the jungle and the presence of a long-term, sinister scientific experiment that may be using them as its latest guinea pigs (and is capable of placing its logo on the tail of an attacking shark). Oh, and those damned numbers.

The show's creators have said they expect its convoluted plot to play out over five to seven seasons, but fans aren't waiting for that.

Whoever thought TV was a passive medium hasn't seen the message boards like the more than 150 related to the show at www.televisionwithoutpity.com with thousands of speculative exegeses of the tiniest details, the collections of maps of the island drawn with every kind of topographical software, the scholarly comparisons of Lost with the novels of Charles Dickens and Richard Wright, the parodies and fan fiction and trivia quizzes.

We won't pretend to explain the whole thing, any more than we can explain the black smoke or Mr. Eko's 40 days of silence or why everyone called Claire's newborn baby Turniphead for so long.

But here is the tiniest taste of the dizzying range of Lost sites.

-- Colette Bancroft can be reached at 727 893-8435 or bancroft@sptimes.com

UNOFFICIAL OFFICIAL SITES

At abc.go.com/primetime/lost, fans will find episode recaps, message boards, games and scads of cast photos.

But ABC has also created Lost Web sites that at first glance don't look so official. They play an important role in viral marketing of the show's mythology of a mysterious island that is the site of not only a plane crash but a creepy scientific experiment, and who knows what else.

The Lostaways' plane, for example, was Flight 815 of Oceanic World Air, which seems to have a Web site at oceanicworldair.com, complete with flight finder.

But the site, which changes frequently, is a basketful of Easter eggs and tantalizing clues, such as a seating chart that yielded glimpses of characters' passports, photos and other goodies.

The latest version of the page offers "frequent flyer miles" to people who post theories about the island to a message board, as well as a "careers" link that takes them to an elaborate site for the Santa Rosa Institute of Advanced Genetic Research, a fictitious biotech-pharmaceutical company.

Other unofficial official sites include those for the Hanso Foundation and the Dharma Initiative (www.thehansofoundation.org/dharma.html) entities that emerged this season when the hatch to an underground bunker was opened and a training film was discovered, full of tantalizing hints about the nature of the experiment on the island.

Channel 4, the British network that broadcasts Lost, has a spooky bunch of video-clip puzzles at www.channel4.com/entertainment/tv/microsites/L/lost/main.html

ALL ABOUT LOST

Lost has such an enormous online presence that there are sites that guide fans to all the other sites. One of the most comprehensive is lostlinks.net, run by Mark Bishop.

LostLinks catalogs everything from episode transcripts to message boards, from translations of Jin and Sun's Korean conversations and Jack's Chinese-character tattoos to the "Get Hurley Some Lovin' Petition," asking the series' creators to rustle up a honey for the show's big man.

Bishop, a New Jersey resident who works in information technology, started LostLinks just three or four episodes into the show's first season.

"I had never visited a message board before, but I decided to check out the official ABC forums after stumbling across the official Lost Web site. I was fascinated by the depth of the conversations," he wrote in an e-mail.

When he started Googling Lost sites, he found so many that he created LostLinks as a clearinghouse. Bishop also runs lostinoahu.com, with information on shooting locations for the show and cast members' hangouts in Hawaii.

At its peak, Bishop says, LostLinks was getting up to half a million hits a month. At the beginning of the second season, he announced he was shutting it down, but he got so many pleas from fans and other Web masters that he relented, although he has scaled back the time he spends on it. The two sites still get 75,000 to 100,000 hits per month.

"The Lost fan base grew very fast, and the number of Lost-related Web sites is almost astronomical," Bishop says. "I think that response has a lot to do with the large, diverse cast, which makes fans from different backgrounds feel like they are part of the show. And fans really do feel like they are part of the show, tracking down clues and formulating theories. It's almost a pseudo-reality for some. But who hasn't dreamed of being stranded on a tropical island?"

Other comprehensive Lost catalog sites: www.blackrock.nl/

lost.cubit.net/

tviv.org/wiki/Lost

lost-media.com

LOST IN ACADEMIA

Lost sites aren't just about Sawyer's abs or what Walt's ghost says when you play the audio backward.

Just ask Amy Bauer, an assistant professor of music theory at the University of California Irvine and the Web master for the Society for the Study of Lost at loststudies.com. "As an academic who likes pop culture, I became enamored of the early X-Files enough to write a paper on it, and then became involved in Buffy the Vampire Slayer studies," she writes in an e-mail. She became active on www.losttv-forum.com which was online months before the show began and which Bauer calls "the premier site on the Web" for Lost discussion.

"I was amazed at the high quality of discourse surrounding this show," she says. "There were people from all walks of life - scientists, journalists, engineers, English majors (not just fanboys and girls) asking intelligent questions about the show and probing deeper into the maze of scientific, literary and philosophical questions posed by the narrative and the character relationships."

She started her site as a vehicle for a scholarly journal about the show, which she expects to publish six times a year. "Eventually I hope to get a book or two out of this project, but for now it serves as a fun site where my Lost friends can exercise their scholarly and critical muscles."

Essays at the site apply Lacanian literary theory to Jack's relationship with his father and analyze the numbers as iconic signs according to the semiotic theories of Umberto Eco.

The site averages more than 50,000 hits a month. Bauer estimates she spends 12 hours a week maintaining it and "keeping tabs on the Lost Webmaze."

[Last modified January 9, 2006, 16:39:33]


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