James Helsby

Terra Nova… Terra Bad in the making?

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Sure, I am setting out to piss someone off but having put up with two episodes of Fox’s new time-traveling-but-not-really-back-in-time-more-sideways-so-we-don’t-have-to-explain-the-time-space-continuum show, Terra Nova, I can firmly confirm that my palm is EXACTLY the same size as my face.

Terra Nova, new to Fox’s week-night line up, follows a family of 5 who are sent back in time to a Jurassic era, in order to escape from the self destruction of the Earth’s environment. The family, of whom only 1 (the Mother,  Elisabeth Shannon) is actually needed, are sent through a ‘Time Fracture” into the past, where a colony of Terra-naughts are building a new life for themselves amongst the dinosaurs.. Err terrasaurs. But while you may think that this 85-million years in the past would mean that life is difficult, apparently sending supplies and entire houses through the crack is no big deal. The village of Terra Nova is thriving. Focusing on the research of the age, in hopes that something can be done in order to save the future. The premise is pretty strong. But…. it finds itself getting so dumbed down that by the second episode, we are already dealing with ‘monster of the week’ and the third episode introduces the death plot of ‘virus outbreak.’

What Works:

The basic premise is pretty good. Honestly, it’s the reason I set out to watch it in the first place. It’s sort of like Jurassic Park, but more imaginative. The blending of space-time continuum stuff along the way was just an added benefit. The lost-in-space was another good blending for the show. Aside from the premise, the characters work pretty well too. There are several interesting ones to boot. (straight from Wiki…)

    • Jason O’Mara as Jim Shannon, a police officer and devoted father with a complicated past.
    • Shelley Conn as Elisabeth Shannon, a trauma surgeon who is selected for Terra Nova. She is married to Jim.
    • Landon Liboiron as Josh Shannon, the 17-year-old son of Jim and Elisabeth. He is reluctant to leave his girlfriend behind.
    • Naomi Scott as Maddy Shannon, the first daughter of Jim and Elisabeth. An awkward 15-year-old, she hopes to reinvent herself on Terra Nova.
    • Alana Mansour as Zoe Shannon, the five-year-old daughter of Jim and Elisabeth Shannon.
    • Stephen Lang as Commander Nathaniel Taylor, a pioneer and leader of the settlement. The first person to arrive, Taylor survived the first four months (118 days) on his own and then began building a community as new settlers came through; he has been the leader of the settlement for seven years. In early development, he was named Frank Taylor.
    • Allison Miller as Skye, a veteran resident of Terra Nova who guides Josh. Her parents are said to have died and she teaches Josh the value of family.
    • Mido Hamada as Guzman, the head of a security team who also serves as a trusted adviser to Nathaniel Taylor.
    • Christine Adams as Mira, the leader of the “Sixers”.
    • Rod Hallett as Dr. Malcolm Wallace, Jim’s rival.

A few of those names are probably pretty new to you. But one should stick out like a sore thumb… Stephen Lang. You may remember him as Colonel Quaritch in Avatar. Well, let’s just say that he probably was type-cast for the roll of Commander Taylor; because he is the same character in both. And that leads us into the bad.

What Doesn’t Work:

The plot.

I get the foundation. I get the subject and the motivations. But the way that the story is being presented is so bloody simple. While watching the first premiere episode, my wife and I were calling out major themes for the story, and even future episodes, without any mistake. The 6ers. The ‘lost son.’ The informants. The alternate history of the earth. All of it was just as plane as day. I think the formula that Terra Nova is working with is strikingly similar to most other SciFi shows of the past few decades.

Monster of the week. Virus out break. Shortage in supplies. Internal strife. Missing crew member. Introspective on a character. Big mid-season break cliff hanger where someone unexpected shows up. Important death of someone we cared very little about. Repeat.

It happened with Stargate Universe. Star Trek. X-Files. You name it. And I usually call it as spinning down the drain. The plot becomes formulaic. Repetitive.

Also, while I am not sure that it is as much a negative, as a pass, is the use of the alternate time line (the past they are in, is not the past we know. It’s a different possible past. Or at least that’s what we are told.) But this is used to get away with everything that they do. Dinosaurs are different, and called things like “carnasaur” and “howlers.” And we don’t have to worry about the Sound of Thunder effect. However, I imagine this will be either changed mid season or enhanced in some way. Either with a possible effect on Earth’s future, or we come to find out that we are actually in Earth’s distant future, and not its past.

The second episode also left me pretty jaded. Having already seen ‘The Birds,’ this episode seemed really lazy for a #2 run.

The acting.

Stephen Lang. What can I say. He was a definitive character in Avatar, and to see him playing the same sort of misunderstood bad-ass in this series, is well… ironic I guess. No. That’s the wrong word. Repetitive, to repeat myself. Tough but lovable, yet strong and determined. At least so far he seems like he is the good guy that he is presented as. However, he has ulterior motives just like everyone else, and I bet that the loss of his son to the jungles of history has the potential to change his character traits.

The second episode, we see people interacting with dive-bombing birds made out of pixels and fairy dust. The over-acting, and lack of realism in the characters interactions with the make-believe flying creatures was laughable at best. You see, birds, or even dinosaurs, need to be light in weight in order to fly. And yet these creatures are made to seem like they are lined with lead. When Josh Shannon is fighting with all his strength to close a door against a flying dinosaur that is just barely the size of a pigeon, well… it just doesn’t work for me.

The future episodes.

I already mentioned the monster of the week aspect, but it bares true when I saw the preview for the next episode. A virus that makes people forget about other people; well I smacked my face. If they are going to be like this, I just don’t know if I can put up with it.

The similarities with other shows.

Being produced by Stephen Spielberg, it isn’t surprising to draw the comparisons with Jurassic Park. I didn’t anticipate that they would actually use set elements from the movie, in Terra Nova. The stockades are straight from Jurassic Park. I wasn’t expecting some of the shows though. Lost in Space was pretty self defining. Quantum Leap is there too. A little mystery with Lost, and some Survivor aspects with the rivalry with the ‘6ers’. Maybe I have just seen too many shows for things to be new to me…

Am I going to keep watching? Yes. Because some SciFi is better than no SciFi. Am I going to enjoy it? I don’t know just yet. The first 2 episodes get a better-than-pass rating of 6/10. Will that continue? Who knows. Should you be watching it? Sure, if your Monday nights are free. But if you are a football fan, then I would stick to the games. You aren’t really missing much if you have already seen Jurassic Park, Lost in Space, and Quantum Leap.



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