Monday, September 26, 2011

Review - Terra Nova

Hours before the premiere of FOX's Terra Nova, which I was looking forward to, I found myself asking one basic, logical question:  the premise of the show is to save the human race from a self-destructive future by starting over in the past.  So why would you go to a time period - the Jurassic era, the age of the dinosaurs - you KNOW was wiped out by an extinction level event (most likely a meteor)?  Just saying...

Anyway, I can see the appeal of picking this show up, especially by FOX, a network that has a track record going with similar sci-fi genre shows (Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Fringe).Not to mention the fact that Steven Spielberg is behind this new venture, and we know he can do dinosaurs right.

The premise - not unlike that of Firefly, Earth 2 and the Lost in Space film - is set up clearly in the opening of the pilot:  "At the dawn of the 22nd century (2149 to be exact), the world is on the verge of environmental collapse.  Mankind's only hope for survival lies 65 million years in the past."  (But again, see my initial question...)

The series makes no bones about telling us where we're clearly headed: a world with no sunlight, breathing masks needed outside at all times, population control (having more than two children is illegal), eventual end of life as we know it.  But unlike this show, we don't have a magical portal offering possible salvation.  At least, not yet ...

Terra Nova focuses on the Shannon family:  father Jim (Jason O'Mara, Life on Mars, Men in Trees), a Chicago narcotics detective who went to jail for two years after striking a population control officer who discovered the family's secret third child, Zoe; mother Elizabeth (Shelley Conn, Marchlands, Mistresses), an exceptional doctor who was hand chosen for the "10th Pilgrimage; son Josh (Landon Liboiron, Degrassi: The Next Generation), loyal to his family but not without anger issues, particularly for his absentee father; and elder daughter Maddy (Naomi Scott, Life Bites), smart like her mother but still a teenage girl finding her place.  Jim escapes from prison and reunites last minute with his family at the portal (very Stargate-like), making a mad dash for the new world as the authorities close in.

Upon arrival at the Terra Nova settlement, which looks a lot like Jurassic Park with tall, iron gates surrounding the compound (though not electrified here - defense comes in the form of sonic guns which drive away the animal inhabitants), we are introduced to leader Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang, bad guy soldier in Avatar),  a seven-year Novan who pep talks the new arrivals with a speech about how greed, war and ignorance destroyed their home and how they've been entrusted with a second chance, "the chance to get it right."  Listening to him, watching him in the scenes to follow ... it may be because of the nature of his past roles (many bad guys), but Lang's Taylor is someone you just feel may be not quite on the up-and-up.  

Taylor and Jim butt heads from the get-go, but later team up to deal with various threats to Terra Nova, which in addition to the dinosaurs include a rogue sect of settlers, known as "Sixers" (named for the 6th Pilgrimage they came through on) - think "The Others" on Lost - who broke off shortly after arrival and frequently pilfer Terra Nova and cause violent conflict.  The Sixers are led by Mira (Christine Adams, The Whole Truth), a tough lady who has control of the local quarry filled with meteoric iron, the currency of the land, and who clearly looks out for her own.  My instinct tells me she may ultimately be more trustworthy than Taylor. We'll have to see.

The real action begins when Josh goes "OTG" (outside the gates) with new friend Skye (Allison Miller, Kings) as they run into the creature dangers lurking in the jungle.  The show looks decent for having to rely on a television budget.  It's clear when the actors are standing before a green screen, and the dinosaurs don't have the realism and tangibility they had in Jurassic Park, but if you can accept that and let yourself be submerged in the world of Terra Nova, you're in for an engaging ride.  The physically real compound sets look great and a solid effort is made merging in the CGI - including a very JP scene of a little girl feeding a "veggisaur" (brontasaurus) - and the live action.  I say, concentrate on the characters, the story and the action and you'll enjoy the show.

The last minutes of the pilot set up - as a good pilot should - some dark, ominous plot points and mysteries to unfold to lure you back for more. My curiosity is peaked.

Bottom line: "Terra" should be more viewing of this series in your future.

Catch Terra Nova Mondays at 8 p.m. on FOX.

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