Friends, fanboys, and countrymen, lend me your laptop screens. For I may not have come to bury “Terra Nova”, but I sure as hell haven’t come to praise it. You remember “Terra Nova”, the much hyped FOX series that vanished off the networks slate last May, only to reappear in late September because of “special effects problems/reshoots”. That doesn’t cause potential viewers to be bursting with enthusiasm, except for the few crazed heretics who’ve already placed the ‘successor to ‘Lost’” tiara firmly on the show’s head. So after it’s belated premiere last evening, is it all worth the hype and effort?
The year is 2149, and Earth has become so inhospitable that it’s clear nobody sane would want to live there. The whole place has the look of Arrakis, if the Harkonnens really let the place go, so understandably the human race has devised an escape plan. Using a one way wormhole, a band of chosen refugees will travel 85 million years into the past to make a fresh start on an unspoiled planet. Not to worry, this is an alternate reality Earth, so the famed Butterfly Effect won’t come into play here. Nobody has to worry about killing a bug and returning to a future where the cast of “Jersey Shore” is running the government. Not that the place is completely peaceful and idyllic.
As featured prominently in the promos, there are dinosaurs. Granted, some are peaceful and a child can feed them sans harm, but most seem to act like Christian Bale when he’s reached his hour of belligerence. There’s also a rogue group of colonists known as the Sixers, and a conspiracy regarding some mysterious symbols made outside the camp–possibly by the son of the group’s commanding officer. There’s also strife in the central characters, the Shannon clan. While the teenage son predictably rebels, the father tries to reassert his role as the head of the family and find his place in Terra Nova. Seems he was a former narcotics cop, who escaped from prison after two years for violating a population law, and snuck into the wormhole to avoid losing his family forever. Now he must once again become head of household, in the strangest place a household could be.
Probably the biggest complaint about the premiere is that it’s overly long; it’s two hours but feels longer than a whore’s dream. Not enough time is spent on the wonder of the locale, and even worse, the much publicized dinosaurs take a back seat to the inane and predictable Shannon family drama. The concept of the Sixers and the mysterious symbols are also pretty intriguing, but they’re pushed to the background, apparently to be resolved in future episodes. (Hasn’t anyone learned the lesson of “Flash Forward”, if you don’t start delivering on the cool conspiracy stuff, there won’t be many future episodes?) Worse yet is the lethargic direction of Alex Graves, who did much better work on “Fringe” and “The West Wing”. Graves lets things plod along and transpire at their own will, which makes for some dull viewing.
The bright spot is Stephen Lang, who plays a more benevolent version of his “Avatar” counterpart–although the glint in his eyes give you the impression he’s encountered more than his share of missing persons. Jason O’Mara is believable as the former cop/ex-con, who reappears in his family’s life, trying to hold them together in a strange environment. But the real star is the gorgeous special effects, tied nicely together by Nelson Cragg’s camerawork. “Terra Nova” may descend into the realm of nod on more than one occasion, but it looks good doing it.
Despite the rocky start, “Terra Nova” has a lot of potential, hopefully that potential will be realized to transform the show into the hit it could be. Otherwise, it’ll join a myriad of others who were pretenders to the throne of “Lost”, and now reside in a forgotten graveyard of cancelled shows. It’d be a shame to have a possible eagle remain a turkey.
Alex Graves (director)
CAST: Jason O’Mara … Jim Shannon
Naomi Scott … Maddy
Shelley Conn … Elizabeth Shannon
Stephen Lang … Nathaniel Taylor
Landon Liboiron … Josh Shannon
Christine Adams … Mira
Allison Miller … Skye