Jurassic Park Redux: A Review of Terra Nova
- Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Fox's prehistoric epic, Terra Nova, lumbered onto the screen with the obligatory two-hour "event." The good news is the computer generated dinosaurs look real. The bad news is the human interaction seems a bit less than that.
The story opens in the smoky, congested Chicago of the year 2149. You can't see the sun. You can't breathe the air. You're forbidden by law to have more than two children. Guess which of these cages Jim Shannon and his wife Elisabeth have rattled.
The good news is scientists have discovered a "time fracture" which will allow select groups to travel 85 million years into the past, giving humanity a fresh start in a community called Terra Nova. The bad news is, though Elisabeth and two of the three children have been chosen to make the trip, Jim is stuck in prison for overdoing the daddy bit.
In the first breakneck half-hour of the pilot, the third child is discovered, Jim goes to jail for two years, breaks out of jail, breaks into another facility to steal his illicit daughter (hiding the five-year-old in a backpack), successfully falsifies a "pilgrimage" pass, joins his family at the point where time is fractured, busts through the cops, outruns them and time itself. Whew! Makes me tired just writing about it!
I found the world of the mid-twenty-second century more interesting than the Jurassic Park redux that claimed the balance of the pilot. At least, it left me with more questions: Why did the world go toxic? What sort of government is in power? What is the place of religion in 2149? How did time get "fractured" anyway?
And how did camping manufacturers make a backpack that would not only hold a five-year-old but look and carry like an ordinary backpack? My admiration for such invention knows no bounds!
Of course, noticing these improbabilities is like shooting fish in a barrel. Obviously, they were in a hurry to get to the Good Stuff. We'll get to the dinosaurs in a minute. First, let's look at the human beings in this thing.
The Shannons' two older kids, Josh and Maddy, are fairly typical of TV "family show" teens. The former is obstinate, the latter studious. Our backpack baby, Zoe, is the cute, innocent, threat-fodder she's required to be. Though Josh mourns the loss of the Girl He Left Behind, he quickly forms a relationship with an adventurous female named Skye.
Barking orders at all and sundry is the mysterious Commander Taylor. The first to make the jump across time, he leads this growing community of pilgrims. Opposing him is an equally mysterious woman named Mira, leader of the "Sixers" (referring to those who came on the Sixth Pilgrimage). There's an unexplained enmity between the two groups.
After establishing time, place, and major characters, the pilot gives us what we really want to see—the dinos. They do not disappoint. The first encounter between the Shannons and the ancient reptiles is charming. As little Zoe holds a branch aloft, a Brachiosaur leans over the tall pen to eat it, lifting the child off the ground. (Apparently these long-neckers have been domesticated, but to what purpose? You can't milk ‘em. And riding them sure wouldn't be easy!)
The next encounter between man and monster is anything but sedate, a rock-em, sock-em chase between a "Carnotaur" and a human land rover--a good place for Commander Taylor to display his macho mojo. Flawlessly executed, the interaction between humans and dinosaurs is seamless in the pilot, interestingly titled "Genesis."
The same holds true in the second episode, "Instinct." This one centers on the threat of flying pterosaurs. The migratory creatures are upset because the founders of Terra Nova unwittingly destroyed their mating ground.
Once again, the f/x are good, maybe a little too good. As the swooping beasts attacked, I was wondering whether any of them were real, albeit disguised, trained birds or if they were all invisible—just cues from a director ("Run! Duck! Flail your arms!"), the creature-images to be added to the film later.
This is a red flag, isn't it? When a viewer cares more about how a scene was done than the fate of the characters, isn't that a signal that he hasn't been drawn into the story?
"Instinct" is noteworthy because it seemed to be exploring a theme—the urge to mate that all creatures have. Juxtaposed with a bunch of peevish, frustrated pterosaurs deprived of their mating ground are a peeved, frustrated Jim and Elisabeth who can't find "us" time. Yet, when I wasn't noticing f/x, I was noticing television-isms; the quickly jealous husband, the annoyed wife, the fast family fix at the end.
I must add, however, that my wife liked this episode. She liked the solution to the pterosaur problem, in which a biologist (whom Jim was jealous of) figures out a way to create a new migratory pattern. She liked the interaction between Jim and Elisabeth and their children.
It just goes to show you that, critics come and go, but entertainment remains ensconced in the eyes of the viewer. For that reason—and those crowd-pleasing dinosaurs, of course—Terra Nova may not become extinct as quickly as I thought.
Before I go, though, let me tell you my own idea for a prehistoric series. TN posits an "alternate time stream" in which human beings can operate in the distant past without stepping on a butterfly and throwing the future all out of whack. I'd use that alternate time stream to send people back to a world that isn't nearly as old as the "real" one—maybe only 6,000 years or so.
What's more, I'd have the guys from our time find guys already there, actually living with dinosaurs. They don't seem to have come from another planet or from our time. In fact, the evidence strongly indicates that, here, men and dinos have always co-existed!
I'd call the series Genesis Redux. Long as I didn't mention God or creation, it might actually sell.
*Gary D. Robinson is a preacher, writer, and actor who lives in Xenia, Ohio. He blogs at http://www.garydrobinson.com/.
**Watch Terra Nova Mondays on Fox
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