03 July 2007

Kingdom Hospital and The Lost Room

I hate giving qualified recommendations.... "A great movie, you gotta see it, but the first ten minutes suck!" And yet that's what I'm about to do. Why? Because the finer aspects of the miniseries "Kingdom Hospital "and "The Lost Room" are absolutely worth putting up with the weaker.

Kingdom Hospital began life as "The Kingdom," a 1995 miniseries for Danish television. Most of it was written and directed by Lars von Trier, a well known figure in European film and TV. I have not seen the original - by all accounts it was a very fun, odd, surreal piece of work. But one person who did see it was Stephen King. He was so taken with this series that he re-wrote it and produced a new version for American TV in 2004.

In a nutshell: Kingdom Hospital (guess which state it's in) is a mid-sized suburban facility that happens to be built on the site of a 19th century factory, where many child laborers died in a fire. Nasty. You could say this hospital has issues. It offers enough oddball characters and peculiar goings on to make David Lynch grin ear to ear to ear. At times, this series offers the best cinematic material Stephen King has ever written. At other times, it is achingly weak, and you'll be reaching for the remote to scan ahead. But that's okay. Just enjoy the good bits. They are worth it. If you only watch the scenes with the anteater, you will have fun. Yeah, the anteater. See him, know him, love him.

One more point, especially for the visual artists among us.... Kingdom Hospital has perhaps the best opening title sequence of any TV series - mini or othewise - I've ever seen. Very much inspired by the surrealist photography of Jerry Uelsmann (see his work at http://www.uelsmann.net/ ) it is absolutely gorgeous. I watched it all the way through for each episode. Just delightful. Most movies should look that good.

(By the way, the original Danish series is also available from Netflix.)

A very different animal is "The Lost Room," produced by the Sci Fi Channel in 2006. This miniseries has one of the most interesting premises I've encountered in a long time....

There are these objects... They look quite ordinary: a comb, a bus ticket, a watch, a ball-point pen, a clock radio, a scissors, a pair of eyeglasses. About 100 objects in all. But they all have strange magical powers. The comb stops time for about ten seconds. The eyeglasses inhibit combustion. The bus ticket transports anyone who touches it to the outskirts of Gallup, New Mexico. The watch cooks eggs. Some of these powers are useful, some silly, some dangerous. But most important of all is the motel key. It makes any door a door into the lost room.

The lost room? No one knows exactly what it is, only that it disappeared out of our reality in 1961. But all these objects originated in that room. They belonged to somebody. No one knows who. In the first episode, a man who knows about the objects shares one theory with our protagonist (Six Feet Under's Peter Krause). He says, "Some people believe God died in that room, and the objects are all pieces of his corpse." Damn....

The story gets going like this: Peter Krause, a police detective, finds himself in possession of the key. He figures out what it does, though he doesn't begin to understand it. Then his 8-year old daughter gets hold of the key. She lets herself into the lost room, and closes the door behind her. When Krause reopens it, she's gone. So begins his quest.

He runs afoul of others who want the key, indeed, who want all the objects, for various reasons. Some want to destroy them. Others want to collect them all, believing this will let them communicate with God. This latter group is the scariest, by far.

We tend to rate movies with a sense of their overall quality: uniformly great, lame, whatever. It's much harder to approach a work that is so uneven, as these two series are. Some scenes leave you wanting to immediately jump back and watch them again (I know, because I did, more than once). Others leave you scratching your head, thinking, "How could that scene be the product of the same writer and director?" A good question. I don't know the answer, but I do know these series are just the thing for a weeknight, when you aren't in the mood for anything more "serious." Give them a look.