Thoughts on the Terra Nova Pilot

Posted September 3rd, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Terra Nova – the highly anticipated Fox series produced by Steven Spielberg – is set to debut on September 21st after having its premiere delayed from May in order to buy more time to work on visual effects. With those necessary effects making for a hefty budget for a television series, an intriguing concept and setting, and names like Spielberg behind it hopes are high. While the pilot showed a great deal of potential it did nothing to avoid annoyances and contrivances that would be difficult to ignore going forward.

The story begins in 2149 as the human race is in trouble – overcrowding resulting in population controls and the deteriorating air quality being the two central issues focused on. Scientists however have discovered a way to send people back in time and in doing so are beginning to build a brand new civilization in the past.

Most everyone is aware of the “butterfly effect” which would propose that any small change in the past would create a ripple that could drastically change the future. Early on it’s learned that the idea may not be so much as to change the past to correct mistakes and improve the future time the colonists came from – but instead to simply start anew as a species. That seems to be the smarter route to take.

Still the logic behind the time travel will have holes punched through it quite easily. They even sent a probe to the past when the first discovered the portal – and when they did not find that probe in their time determined it was actually going to an alternate timeline. One has to wonder then how they knew they were sending people anywhere safe to begin with and somehow there is a level of communication ongoing between the “past” and the “future” that hasn’t been explained.

The first quarter hour takes place in 2149 and came across as being largely unnecessary – the drastic measures needed to send people back in time could have been established without forcing in some drama. The lead character and father Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara of Life on Mars) is imprisoned and has, as one character states, to break out of one maximum security facility and into another just to join his family. This task is accomplished with relative ease.

Once making it to the “past” the sense of discovery starts to take over and as it stands is still the most intriguing aspect of the series. That and the dinosaurs! It turns out that the colony isn’t perfect and there are dangers that lie not just outside the gates but also within. A group known as the “Sixers” (name given to those people who came through in the sixth expedition) has broken off and presents additional conflict.

While Jim and colony leader commander Nathaniel Taylor (played by Stephen Lang) have strong screen presence the remainder of the characters are either uninteresting or flat out irritating. Jim’s oldest son Josh will give fans someone to root to bite the dust in the same way that fate was sought for Tyler from V. The family strife in particular is just disappointing to find here.

The special effects are decent as it pertains to the dinosaurs but almost bad enough to be distracting otherwise, especially the ones that utilized obvious green-screen. In scope though it has to be recognized that Terra Nova is going beyond what would normally be presented as a TV series so some leeway is given – and the landscape is beautiful and very different from anything else on TV right now. The editing did seem odd and jarring at times with characters jumping location drastically or action sequences that seemed like they were missing connecting pieces from one cut to the next.

The Terra Nova pilot is unfortunately hampered by family conflict, throwaway characters, and plenty of holes in logic. Still there is something so fascinating about the setting and what seems to be someĀ Lost-style mystery thrown in that I’m still very much looking forward to seeing where they take it.