Ever since Lost went off the air, television stations have been trying to find a new “weird, nerdy show” to attract social bottom feeders like yours truly. FOX has already had some moderate success with Fringe, but they do need an ace-in-the-hole in case it doesn’t do too well and gets canceled in its fourth season (spoiler alert: it might). So, FOX went ahead and greenlit Terra Nova, produced by the almighty Steven Spielberg. But can Terra Nova fill in the hole left by JJ Abrams’ magnum opus?
The show initially takes place in the year 2149, on an earth ravaged by war, over-population, and pollution so bad that gas masks are required to breath outside your home. In a world where it is illegal to have more than tw0 children, police officer Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara) is thrown in prison when a police raid discovers that he and his wife, Elizabeth (Shelley Conn) have a young daughter in addition to their two teenage children (Landon Liboiron and Naomi Scott). Cut to two years later, with Jim still in prison. His wife comes to visit him and tells him that she’s been selected for the Terra Nova project.
The project stems from research involving a Large Hadron Collider-esque device that opens up a time rip to 85 million years in the past. Logically, they decide that they should send some humans back there and show those dinosaurs who’s boss. The migration that the Shannons are set to be part of is actually the tenth group of people to go through the time rip. Using some future laser technology, some careful planning, and some good old fashioned bribery, Jim is broken out of prison and gets through the time rip with his family (including their illegal daughter, Zoey).
Early on, you can tell that the production values of this show are ridiculously high. The CGI backgrounds look great, and the sets look believable and large, even if they probably aren’t. The writing is also quite solid, although the delivery by the actors themselves could be better. Some more background on these characters would be appreciated as well, with very little personification to them in the early part of the show; it was tough to remember their names at times, which is not a good sign.
The colony is run by Nathaniel Taylor, played by Stephen Lang, of Avatar fame, although his role couldn’t be more different than that of Colonel Miles Quaritch. Instead of being the hard, grizzled veteran with a cold, dead heart, he plays the hard, grizzled veteran with a heart of gold! In all seriousness, though, Lang’s performance was great; his character was well written, and he can nail the sci-fi soldier like it’s nobody’s business. What’s weird, though, is that there were a lot of times when it was obvious he was dubbing his lines over the scene, as opposed to doing them live in the scene. I understand that this is common practice, but it just seemed excessive.
When the Shannons get to the colony, Taylor is rightfully suspicious of Jim. He gives him a job in menial labor, as a sort of slap on the wrist for escaping prison. With that, their new life in Terra Nova begins. It is also at this point (about a half hour into this two hour premiere) that we get our first glimpse at the dinosaurs. Remember the point I made about the high production values about two paragraphs ago? These are most evident in the dinosaurs. The things look amazing, being made entirely out of CGI, as opposed to Jurassic Park, which had a combination of CGI and live action models.
The rest of the episode occurs on day 2 of the Shannon’s existence in the colony. Naturally, Josh, Jim’s son, lets his hormones get the better of him, and he skips orientation in order to hang out with Skye (Allison Miller), a girl he literally just met. She introduces him to her friends, and they go outside the gate for a wild ride of moonshine and cliff diving. Here is where the on-site shooting in Queensland looks it’s best. The jungle is dense, and it adds a huge scope to the whole show.
Meanwhile, Jim saves Taylor’s life from a renegade colonist, part of a group of rebels known as “Sixers” (because they all came in on the sixth migration). Taylor is so grateful that he looks past the whole “escaped from prison” thing and makes him an official officer of the law. Soon, more Sixers arrive, looking to trade for the Sixer that Terra Nova captured earlier. The Sixer’s leader is Mira (Christine Adams), a sassy lady who missed out on the whole “sassy” bit. Mira as a character is uninspired, so it’s upsetting that she’s a major character who will appear over and over again. Some better writing for her, or maybe even a new actress, could help with this.
Meanwhile (again), Josh and his friends have become stranded in the jungle after a group of Sixers stole their vehicle’s battery. Night is fast approaching, and a velociraptor-ish dino as the Slasher is known to hunt at night. The group wholes up in a car, and manages to get an emergency radio signal out to Terra Nova, right in the middle of a Slasher attack. Without wanting to spoil the finer details of the rescue, Josh and his new buddies are rescued, and all is hopeful for future episodes.
I would like to take this time to lay out three plot holes that I knew that the show would have to deal with, and how it dealt with it. And let me tell you: they deal with it hard.
1. Why don’t they use the time rip to travel back to a more recent time and convince their civilizational predecessors to not be so greedy and terrible and human?
Answer: The time rip randomly picked the time, so the humans have no control over it.
2. What about the butterfly effect?
Answer: Turns out that Terra Nova exists in a different time-stream (re: universe) than the Earth-proper.
3. They say it’s a one-way trip to Terra Nova; why don’t they just send back supplies with the groups of people?
Answer: None, so far. If they don’t resolve this, actually, I might break out in hives at their stupidity.
8.5 out of 10
Good: Good writing, a very interesting premise, and high production values, with some awesome CGI effects
Bad: Some of the acting is very stiff, and that one plot hole will irk me until they resolve it sometime in season three (probably).
Ugly: The obviousness of some of Stephen Lang’s dubbing, and the character of Mira, in general.