STARRING: Jason O'Mara, Christine Adams, Byron J. Brochmann, Joel Amos Byrnes, Ceallach, Jason Chong, Arthur Chang, Shelley Con

2011, 90 Minutes, Directed by:
Alex Graves

Fuzzy CG dinosaurs and dumb-ass teenagers? Why, it must be Terra Nova, the new sci-fi show on FOX then . . .

With science fiction shows dropping dead left, right and center and becoming as extinct as the dinosaur itself, hopes are high for Terra Nova, the new SF show executive produced by Steven Spielberg.

Spielberg seems to be the savior of genre television itself nowadays. His other show, Falling Skies, is also sci-fi’s Last Great Hope™. Terra Nova in fact has a lot in common with Falling Skies and also shares some of that show’s weaknesses, but more on that later.

Terra Nova kicks off promisingly. It is the year 2149 and the Earth is exactly the ecological shithole Al Gore said it would be if we continued driving SUVs. If only we had listened! Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara) is sent off to prison for having more than two children with his wife. (This makes the future Earth government more liberal than the current Chinese one which only allows one child per family, but never mind.) So far, so very Zero Population Growth.

There is however a solution to Earth’s overpopulation problems, namely a hole in time that allows one to travel 85 million years back in time to the age of the dinosaurs. It is however a one-way ticket: you can’t travel back to your own time again. When one thinks about it sending hordes of people back to our distant past isn’t exactly the ideal solution for our overpopulation problems and is more likely to exacerbate the problem than anything else. But never mind. According to the show doing so creates a new “time stream” instead of changing our own past . . .

So Jim manages to escape prison with the help of his wife Elizabeth (Shelley Conn) and their whole family somehow manages to all make their way through the stargate, er sorry, time hole or whatever to Pandora, er sorry, Terra Nova, a colony of humans in the Crustaceous era.

"Feels a lot like a family friendly version of Avatar . . ."

The idea behind Terra Nova isn’t particularly new to sci-fi. A story named Flesh, which was published back in British comic book 2000AD, had cowboys traveling back in time to hunt dinosaurs for their meat and solve the Earth’s food problem in the process – the real reason why the dinosaurs became extinct! It in turn was inspired by a 1969 oddity of a movie named The Valley of Gwangi, which had cowboys lassoing a stop-motion dinosaur animated by special effects legend Ray Harryhausen.

One would like to believe that the Terra Nova script writers had actually seen or read any of the two, but it is most likely that their influences went no further than 2009’s blockbuster hit film Avatar and probably the Jurassic Park movies. To hammer the Avatar comparisons home Terra Nova even features a bearded Stephen Lang as the military hard ass in charge of the human colony in a role that is almost an exact duplicate of his turn as the villainous Colonel Quaritch in the James Cameron movie!

In fact Terra Nova feels a lot like a family friendly version of Avatar, and it extends to more than Lang’s presence: much of the jungle setting and military hardware and uniforms seems cribbed from Avatar or even Cameron’s own 1986 Aliens to be honest.

Like Falling Skies, Terra Nova also focuses on a family unit but the whole “family values” spiel is somehow more grating here. Same goes for the PC sermonizing about humanity screwing up the environment. However we’re willing to give Terra Nova a shot. Falling Skies also kicked off unpromisingly but grew to be compellingly watchable in its own B-grade way. Terra Nova drops enough plot threads in this pilot episode to make one want to check in on future episodes.

Despite its various idiocies, such as characters who miss attacking dinosaurs at point-blank range and annoying teenagers whom you know will get bumped off in a serial killer flick but have a sinking suspicion here that they will feature extensively in future episodes, Terra Nova is action-packed enough to never really bore one outright.

Less Spielbergian family values and more teenagers ending up as velociraptor fodder and we might have ourselves a hit here. Otherwise one’ll be wishing for that meteorite to wipe out the lot of them . . .


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