Terra Nova Series Premiere Review: "Genesis"
It's not often that a show like "Terra Nova" comes around. Maybe it's the $20 million budget that Fox spent on the pilot. Maybe it's the ambitious nature of the concept, or the fact that sci fi / fantasy is a little rare on networks that aren't named after the genre. Whatever the reason, we've venture that it wouldn't be too unfair to say that Terra Nova is, well, one of a kind.
Set 130 years in the future, and then 85 million years in the past, Terra Nova is the tale of a dystopian society that has all but milked the earth dry of its resources, and is threatened by extinction due to worldwide poor air quality as well as overpopulation. You can't go out of your home with a mask. You'll never see a cloud, or the sun or moon. And you're not allowed having any more than two children. Luckily for the human race, a "fracture" in the space-time continuum has been discovered, a fracture that allows humans to travel back to the late cretaceous period in order to set up a new society, or colony, and work towards saving the human race, starting from anew.
Specifically, the show deals with a family who has been splintered after the father, Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara, Life on Mars) is sentenced to jail for hiding his family's third child. During that period, his wife, Elisabeth (Shelley Conn), a scientist and doctor, is chosen to travel back in time to the colony -- decided by a lottery. But they won't let her take her third child, so Jim has to break out of prison and smuggle her with them.
They barely escape, and needless to say, stick out like a sore thumb once they get to the colony. Once there, they encounter Commander Taylor (Stephen Lang, Avatar), the leader of the settlement, who is skeptical of Jim's past, but allows them to stay, accepting them into a new life, which is, after all, what this colony is supposed to represent.
From there, the family begins to experience this new, unknown land, which, as advertised, includes plenty of dinosaurs. The couple's oldest child, Josh, is rebellious and resistant to his father's return, thinking that he "abandoned" them by going to prison, he he does what any 17-year-old would do -- he runs off with a girl. As you can imagine, things don't exactly go too smoothly, as they encounter a rogue group of settlers called the "Sixers", weird writing under a waterfall and, of course, killer dinosaurs, before newly appointed security guard Jim saves them.
To put it simply, the series premiere of Terra Nova was awesome. New, different, original, chalked full of family drama and plenty of action, the show had it all. I saw a lot of people nitpicking about details on twitter and other social media outlets during the two-hour airing last night, but it was just that -- nitpicking. The sum of all the parts made for a hell of a television event.
In a day and age where most networks are happy putting another procedural cop show on the air -- even if we were pleasantly surprised with Person of Interest last week -- it's refreshing to have something you don't see very often on TV. Not only sci fi, but a big budget show with a huge scope and compelling characters.
Sure, it might not be the best CG you'll ever seen, but this isn't a big-budget Hollywood movie. By TV standards, the visuals are amazing, and done on a $4 million budget (on average, per episode), which is only a fraction of the cost those big-budget movies do it with. The dinosaurs may not look "realistic", but then again, what would a realistic dinosaur actually look like? The show has done more than expected with what it was given.
But visuals aren't the only reason to tune in. As mentioned, the characters are compelling and well acted, thanks to an ensemble cast led by Jason O'Mara, who you certainly recognize, if not from "Life on Mars", then from his numerous TV and film spots. Anchoring the whole thing is Stephen Lang, the most badass 60-year-old of all time and Avatar vet. The rest of the cast is generally unknown, but it's actually refreshing to see the producers go with lesser names instead of bit time Hollywood actors who might distract from what's really good here.
If you don't trust the concept or actors, trust the people behind the show. Steven Spielberg is producing the show, and we don't need to tell you what he's done to earn your trust. Alongside him are Star Trek vet Brannon Braga, who has more than enough clout in the sci-fi department, 24 producer Jon Cassar, Peter Chernin, and others.
Together, they all provide a show with an endless amount of possibilities. In the past, the show can explore the nature of the Sixers, a rebel group said to have an "agenda" brought with them from the future, the origin of human kind, interaction with the dinosaurs and other native wildlife, literally an entire planet of possibilities. There is also the 2149 future that could present plenty of interesting possibilities and interactions, not to mention actual discussions about science, society, and human nature that we haven't seen the likes of since Star Trek.
We could argue through the night about the questionable details of time travel or the quality of the CG. The fiction is speculative at best, but if you don't like it, call it fantasy. Even if they did get the time travel exactly how you wanted it, there would still be a paradox. I'll admit that one thing that bothered me is that even if their own butterfly effect is non-existent thanks to the parallel universe excuse, they would still likely be ruining someone else's future in that alternate dimension. But I praise them for getting that stuff out the way quickly instead of convoluting it and making it more complication than it needs to be. This isn't a show about time travel, but a show about what you do when you get there.
Same goes for the special effects. While Terra Nova may bring up parallels with Avatar in content, we all should have known it wouldn't have matched James Cameron's post-production work. If you suspend your disbelief -- which I shouldn't have to tell you to do coming out of a show about time travelling and dinosaurs -- then it shouldn't be difficult to accept the CG monsters and views for what they are. As the directing of the show from Alex Graves showed, Terra Nova is much more about human interaction and relationships than it is about dinosaurs -- no matter what the marketing guys at Fox may have told us.
As I said, this is a TV show, and by those standards the effects are amazing. but you really have to look beyond all that to realize that this is a highly ambitious new show that could easily turn out to be a classic with a little tweaking. For now, we're thoroughly entertained.
Terra Nova's series premiere, "Genesis" parts 1 and 2, receives an 8 out of 10 from BWP.