Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pilot Review: Terra Nova

Terra Nova (Mondays at 8:00 on Fox)

I really wanted to love Terra Nova. I've been anxiously awaiting its premiere for over a year now, when it was first announced for midseason (which would've been about 9 months ago). Then it was delayed till May with a special preview similar to Glee. Then it was pushed back yet again to its current timeslot, to allow for additional post-production and reshoots. There were also rumors of the production budget for the two-hour pilot alone soaring past $20 million. So you'd think that with all the extra time and money, Terra Nova would be something amazing, a television event. But it wasn't.

The plot is a mere afterthought in this sci-fi adventure series about a family who travels from 2154 back to the time of dinosaurs in hopes of helping to save the human race of the future. There's no mention of how exactly people will be saved in the future by inhabiting a dangerous world and likely changing the course of the future, but then again Terra Nova does all it can to make you stop asking questions. This show is about nothing but the visual stimulus. Policeman Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara) is sent to prison at the pilot's start because his family has three children when the legal limit (due to limited resources) is two. Cut to two years later and his doctor wife Elizabeth (Shelley Conn) helps him escape prison to join his family in Terra Nova, a settlement 85 million years in the past, where they can start fresh. They end up smuggling the illegal third child with them, get in trouble, and have to work off the resentment hurdled at them by Terra Nova's commander Taylor (Stephen Lang, the only decent actor in the entire pilot). There's dinosaurs, giant bugs, rebellious teenager, prehistoric moonshine, and weapons that apparently have not advanced at all because they can't even injure a dinosaur when it attacks.

It's clear from the get-go that Terra Nova isn't meant to be intellectually challenging. Though it may share some similarities with Lost (a breakaway group of humans, tropical setting, mysteries in the jungle), it has none of the sophistication or wisdom of that show. It doesn't even have the intelligence of Jurassic Park; it's more like a high-tech but less enjoyable version of Land of the Lost. And for how much money the special effects cost, they're not that impressive. The CGI dinosaurs look totally out-of-place with their backgrounds (a dead giveaway for computer effects), and they're not convincingly rendered. The action sequences are obnoxiously loud and brash, between screeching creatures, screaming actors, gunfire and radio static. It just looks cheap, even more so than most SyFy channel original movies. The guards at Terra Nova wear football pads as "armor," for crying out loud. The fence around the encampment is made of Lincoln Logs, and it's not even electrified (so how exactly is it keeping out any creatures taller than fifteen feet?).

My biggest complaint with Terra Nova, however, is how lazy it is. The writing is horrendous and poorly paced. The first fifteen minutes provide no tension and a lousy setup for a family we're supposed to care about. Why do I care about the survival of a family who intentionally broke the law on multiple occasions so that they could selfishly be joined together? Before even one commercial break, Jim has assaulted a group of police officers, broken a law on the number of children allowed in a family (which shounds ridiculous until you see everyone struggling for the oxygen the overpopulation has depleted in this future), broken out of prison, assaulted another police officer, shoved his youngest child inside a backpack, and illegally claimed a place in a better world he never earned. Add a whiny teenage son with daddy issues and a rebel streak, and I just don't understand how we're supposed to like this family. The dinosaurs are cool and all, but story and characters are the reasons people tune into shows. And so far there's just nothing likeable about these characters and hardly any discernable plot. Everything about it is a major disappointment.

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