Terra Nova TV Review – FOX

The woman who won’t stay in her car when told, or searches out the creepy noise in her attic armed only with a wet towel is perhaps the most mocked genre norm in the entertainment world. We’ve all laughed at the stupidity of people in horror movies, rolled our eyes when they trip while running, and yelled at the screen as some damsel straight from Pilates class abandons the relative safety of whatever hidey-hole the protagonists have managed as she flies into hysterics.

The thing is, no one, barring those who really despise the entire genre, is actually complaining about any of this. It’s the game we’re playing, and whatever the horror set-up, eventually someone is probably going to have to do something stupid. The film in which the gorgeous co-ed hears a strange noise, knowing someone is after her, and runs out of the house while calling the police is a short, boring movie with little scare factor. Likewise, while we’re on the subject, the movie where her car starts. Many of us may mock it to some degree even as we watch, “Oh look, she’s going to get in and her car isn’t going to start… Yep, there it is,” but what’s the alternative?

Ok, some films manage the general idea better than others, but few are the horror films which can come together effectively while at the same time being able to claim that everyone in it made the smartest possible decision at every juncture.

I take the time to lay all this out, because it makes it much easier for me to convey the exact meaning I’m after when I say that the Sci-Fi/Drama television genre is not the horror genre.

In fact, there is some chance that you now know all you really need to about Terra Nova, the mega-budget, time travel effort coming your way on September 26th at 8/7c.

See below for the complete rundown of the show, but basically the show kicks off in 2149, and the world is on the brink of complete environmental collapse. An accidental discovery has opened a doorway to the past, 85 million years in the past to be exact, and people have been sent back to, more or less, start over. Our main focal point is the Shannon family, and a good deal of the two-hour series premiere is spent in 2149, following them on their road to becoming part of the 10th expedition to be sent back to the dinosaur-riddled jungle that is man’s last hope for continued survival.

Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara) is the father in our main family. A former cop in the future, he got into a spot of trouble just prior to departing for the wild, and his place in the new society is unsure. Elisabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn) is the mother, and it is because of her skills as a doctor that the family was chosen to go on the expedition. Their three kids lead us on most of our tangents, with 17-year-old Josh (Landon Liboiron) working out his frustrations against his dad, and 15-year-old Maddy (Naomi Scott) spitting out explanatory efforts as the awkward know-it-all. Little Zoe, five, rounds out the children, and… well, doesn’t get into much trouble actually.

Naturally, we are soon introduced to Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang), and we learn that the new society has more trouble than just the rampaging dinosaurs. There’s a splinter colony of renegades that left the main group. Led by Mira (Christine Adams), the group’s motives are unclear, and more uncertainty is not what a relatively small group of humans in dinoland really needs. Worse, the Shannons learn that everything is perhaps not so straight-forward and above-board as it seems, and there may well be more secrets and agendas than anyone could have believed.

There’s a certain undeniable adventure to the production, and mixing several avenues of human drama with the odd dinosaur battle makes for thrilling stuff, but at the end of the day this is a Sci-Fi vehicle, and one that, of necessity, throws out a certain amount of allusion to intelligence. That’s the genre we’re in now, whatever the attempts at making things work in the most mainstream market (read: palatable to the greatest possible number), and the show’s downfall will come from its attempt to mix too many incompatible elements.

Despite the giant production, huge marketing push, and saying “Steven Spielberg” twice at every opportunity, this is somewhere in the realm of science-fiction, and there is little latitude among those willing to partake of the genre for horror cross-references and laughably gooey drama. The suspension of disbelief is a different animal here, and one that isn’t fond of things that don’t make sense, or people who are mind-numbingly stupid.

On the science front, the general rule is that you either explain nothing, or you better have a damn plausible explanation. Either you just have transporters, and say nothing about how they work at all, or you come up with something that can at least stand up to some logical scrutiny. But, if you start having explanations that are goofy, it’s game over. I know, but that’s how sci-fi fans work… and generally people who will take a shot with a new show once in a while.

On the stupid people front, you simply can’t go there. We all know that you have to come up with some way to get people to the relative positions you want so that you can show us strange drawings, weird creatures, or renegade colonists, but we need something more. The obvious spin is that the wanna-be rebel teens, new guy in tow, go outside the gate, because we’re used to playing along with teens doing stupid things, but this (and the generalities that follow) is too far. It’s a small thing actually. One fairly stupid act, and one that moves things along, is a forgivable grievance, especially in a pilot. In this case, this is just one symptom. The real disease is that the show is clearly oblivious to the situation. In our two-hour premiere, this sort of thing happens over and over.

Is it too much for the average viewer to see a teen, who is mad at his father and lashing out, do something really stupid? Not at all. Is it potentially a bit too much for the same viewer to watch a teen, supposedly of moderate intelligence, wander outside the security gate with a few other teens he just met, when said teen has just arrived in a completely new world… where there are dinosaurs? I guess we’ll see.

The problem is that the grand construction falls apart, and one stupid thing just leads to a web of thoughts the viewer can hardly help having. If we try to let the teens jaunting off when everyone knows there are a million ways to get killed out there alone, it’s hard not to come back to the fact that our military installation (with the future abilities of 2149 no less) is run so well that teens can jaunt off without anyone knowing. Then the spiral begins.

Don’t take me to mean that stupidity in general is the kiss of death though. LOST, for example (and as obvious viewer target), was about as stupid as a show could be, even a kind of stupid by definition actually, but the characters weren’t stupid, didn’t make us roll our eyes, and acted from well-drawn motivational arcs.

On the positive side, the show lays out some hope that it will play up the fun and focus on some interesting conspiracy aspects. Jason O’Mara is great, and Stephen Lang is in a comfortable role that allows him to deliver his unique brand of charm. There’s a good story here, but the telling doesn’t work very well. As I said, it’s trying to be too many things, and then it becomes a tricky affair to decide who the audience is supposed to be, and you wind up alienating all of them. Too far drama, and already downright silly at points, the sci-fi regulars aren’t likely to stick around. Too filled with conspiracy, guns, and dinosaurs for most of the drama crowd.

Things may well turn around, and I’m one for letting a show get its feet under it before making judgments (when possible), but people have to make it to the next episode for that, and I wonder who will be coming back for more. It’s too much and not enough of everything, and the characters, rather than roping me in against my better judgment, are responsible for the major flaws.

 

 

 

 

From executive producers Steven Spielberg, Peter Chernin, Brannon Braga, René Echevarria and Aaron Kaplan comes an epic family adventure 85 million years in the making.

TERRA NOVA follows an ordinary family on an incredible journey back in time to prehistoric Earth as a small part of a daring experiment to save the human race. In the year 2149, the world is dying. The planet is overdeveloped and overcrowded, with the majority of plant and animal life extinct. The future of mankind is in doubt, and its only hope for survival is in the distant past.

When scientists at the FERMI Particle Accelerator unexpectedly discovered a fracture in time that made it possible to construct a portal into primeval history, the bold notion was born to resettle humanity in the past – a second chance to rebuild civilization and get it right this time.

The series centers on the Shannon family as they join the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, the first colony established in this beautiful yet forbidding land. JIM SHANNON (Jason O’Mara), a devoted father with a checkered past, guides his family through this new world of limitless beauty, mystery and terror. Jim’s wife, ELISABETH SHANNON (Shelley Conn), is a trauma surgeon and the newest addition to TERRA NOVA’s medical team. JOSH SHANNON (Landon Liboiron) is their 17-year-old son who is angry to leave life as he knows it behind; upon arriving at the settlement, he finds himself instantly drawn to the beautiful and rule-breaking SKYE (Allison Miller). MADDY SHANNON (Naomi Scott), Josh’s endearingly awkward 15-year-old sister, hopes TERRA NOVA will give her a new chance to reinvent herself. Although Elisabeth’s medical training secured the family a spot on the pilgrimage, a secret involving their five-year-old daughter, ZOE (Alana Mansour), soon endangers their place in this utopia.

Upon the Shannon’s arrival, they are introduced to COMMANDER NATHANIEL TAYLOR (Stephen Lang), the charismatic and heroic first pioneer and leader of the settlement. Taylor, along with his right-hand man, GUZMAN (Mido Hamada), warn the travelers that while Terra Nova is a place of new opportunities and fresh beginnings, all is not as idyllic as it initially appears. Along with blue skies, towering waterfalls and lush vegetation, the surrounding terrain is teeming with danger – and not just of the man-eating dinosaur variety. There is also a splinter colony of renegades led by the battle-hardened MIRA (Christine Adams), who is vehemently opposed to Taylor and his leadership.

Even more threatening than what lies outside the protective walls of the colony is the chilling possibility that something sinister is happening inside Terra Nova. The Shannons will come to suspect that not everyone on this mission has the same idea of how to best save mankind; in fact, there may be forces intent on destroying this new world before it even begins.

TERRA NOVA is produced by 20th Century Fox Television, Chernin Entertainment, DreamWorks Television and Kapital Entertainment. Steven Spielberg, Peter Chernin, Brannon Braga, René Echevarria, Jon Cassar, Aaron Kaplan, Katherine Pope, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Craig Silverstein and Kelly Marcel serve as executive producers. Alex Graves serves as executive producer and directed the series preview.

 

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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and co-host of the Are You Screening? podcast with co-host Shane Leonard. He has been writing film reviews for over 20 years, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He has been member of the Critics Choice Awards for well over a decade.

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