'Lost': Untangling the mystery of viral video sensation 'What's in the Box?'

Do filmmakers really need hundreds of millions of dollars and the resources of a major movie studio to make a super-cool science fiction movie? The answer is…well, yes. But maybe not for long, judging from the quality of "What’s in the Box?," a viral video currently lighting up the web that many admirers suspect may have a connection to the TV series Lost. (It doesn’t — but more on that in a second.) The nine-minute short — created by a computer-savvy Dutch dude name Tim Smit for "150 Euros and a pizza" (at least according to this interview) — combines the video-camera perspective of Cloverfield with a conceit reminiscent of any number of videogames (example: Half Life) involving mad scientists tearing holes in the fabric of reality. The title refers to a mysterious cube that’s used to shoot an energy beam into a whirling anomaly in the sky. (I love writing sentences like that.) Smit hopes to turn the short into a feature and has already received inquiries from Hollywood, including Twentieth Century Fox. Is he worth their interest? Judge for yourself:

So why do Lost fans suspect there could be connection? For starters, Smit’s test film makes use of Michael Giacchino’s Lost score. Moreover, there are two affiliated websites that make clever use of the show’s mythology. One of the sites — which includes credit info and a mysterious copyright date of 2018 — asks you to enter a code to access more content. Bad guesses get you a standard response (“uh uh uh, you didn’t say the magic word”), but if you input Lost‘s famous numbers — 4 8 15 16 23 42 — you get a different message. Then, there’s another website named after the science lab from the video, The Babel Group, which includes a link to The Hanso Foundation, the mysterious philanthropic entity from Lost mythology that finances The Dharma Initiative. (Thanks to Doc Jensen reader “W Wyatt” for tipping me to all this.) (Also, I’ve just a found a guy as obsessed with all of this as I am, who’s cracked all the codes at both sites. Check out his work if you, too, become fixated.)

As of this writing, I can’t confirm if either of these sites arereally connected to Smit’s short or if they are expressions of acreative fan culture that’s cleverly expanding the video’sreality-blurring mythos. I dig the latter possibility. But the factthat “What’s in the Box?” has either intentionally or inadvertentlycrossed into Lost‘s orbit is a bit more complicated, as I seeit. On one hand, I think it’s fun. On the other hand, if there is noofficial connection, then what we have here is an aspiringentertainment franchise leveraging Lost arcana — not to mention the voracious curiosity of Lostfan culture — in order to generate interest (and therefore equity) foritself. I could see how some might find such marketing moxie prettyclever — and how some might find it ethically suspect. Today, I find itpretty clever.

And so does Lost executive producer Damon Lindelof. No,folks, there isn’t an official connection between the twoentertainments. But Lindelof says he’s pretty impressed by the visionand execution of “What’s in the Box?,” although he recognizes that itexists within the provocative gray zone of today’s media world.  “Ithink it’s really cool we live in a day and age where ‘intellectualproperty’ is rendered pretty much moot,” Lindelof tells EW. “The factthat anyone with talent and a video camera — or maybe just the videocamera — can tell a chapter of any story, whether it be their own or acontinuation of someone else’s, is pretty cool to me. But what’s evencooler is when the fan-generated content becomes indistinguishable fromthe content generated by the creators themselves. The quality of "What’s in the Box?" is secondary only to its mystery. And the factthat a first-person run through an urban center set to the occasionalpiece of Giacchino music and a few Hanso logos thrown into thecorollary site makes people even ask whether or not this is officiallyattached to the Lost mythology is pretty damn spectacular.”

Please check back on Friday for a new Doc Jensen column. In the meantime, you can find all sorts of fun Lost stuff at EW.com’s Totally Lost hub.

Comments (31 total) Add your comment
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  • Amelia

    This just hurts my head. Lost is already confusing, and then people make videos that make us even more confused (and likely unnecessarily confused!). But its cool, I just try to not think too much and just enjoy. (Un)fortunatly for you, Jeff, its your job to think!

  • Jen

    Wicked video – that guy is talented. I’m really interested to see how they’ll flesh this concept out into a full feature film.

  • Colleen

    This guy’s film is pretty cool! He honestly did that for 150 euro? I can see why Hollywood would come calling. Perhaps they are hoping he can make the entire film for less than a few hundred thousand bucks. LOL

  • JB

    The music might have been from Lost but the whole video was Half Life 2. If you played the game you know it, if you haven’t then you should.

    • Mike from Shreveport

      Yep. No doubt about it. The tower, the effects around the tower, the HUD which suggests the HEV suit, the VERY familiar interior of the bus, the hazmat suits, the weapons, It’s definitely the world of Half-Life 2.

  • Prof Walter

    It is definitely not Lost-esque, probably more in the Fringe range.
    But I did like the video, perhaps other TV shows can stretch that 150 euros into something similar. I surely doubt a helicopter cost less or even the explosives unless it was done in CG.

  • RA

    As mentioned by Jeff, this video definitely has a Half-Life vibe going on. Mixed in with the first person perspective, it makes the whole thing pretty intense. Nice work.

  • rockgolf

    Tim Smit? The guy’s name is a palindrome?
    I call fake.

  • Det. David Mills

    What’s in the box?! WHAT’S IN THE BOX!?!?!?!?

  • The Future Begins

    2018 is the same year the new Terminator film is set in and previous videos talk about sending videos back in time. The box could be how they do it.

  • Erik

    Hasn’t anyone ever played Half-Life? That’s where the audio is from. This guy is clearly making a fanfic dedicated to Half Life, or it’s a viral teaser for a Half Life movie (maybe).

  • BC

    It was cool, but very obviously Half Life. Cmon guys.

  • beachpup

    I thought that was one of those flying things from Terminator.

  • Jon

    So I guess you are taking the week off, like the show is this week?

  • dcgon

    What a coincedence. I was just watching JJ Abrams yesterday on ted.com talking about what inspired him. And in it he was talking about “What’s in the Box?”. I suggest you guys go and see it.

  • mike

    I just hope the answer to “what’s in the box” doesn’t involve Justin Timberlake!

    • Mike from Shreveport

      Or Shia Lebeouf!

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