The second sci-fi television series to arrive this year under the banner of Steven Spielberg, while simultaneously plundering his back-catalogue, Terra Nova positions itself as the prettier, flashier, showier sibling to the low budget, over earnest politicking of Falling Skies. It’s not hard to see why, with Fox having reportedly ponied up $13 million on the pilot (in development for more than two years) and stand ready to drop as much as $60 million on the season.
While Falling Skies looked to Spielberg’s gritty, Tom Cruise fronted War of the Worlds for inspiration, Terra Nova is essentially Jurassic Park by way of Avatar with a liberal sprinkling of Lost thrown in for good measure. In an impressively immersive extended opening sequence (that borrows heavily from Blade Runner) we come to learn that Earth of the not-too-distant future is a scorched, desolate husk, where children have never seen the Moon and families gape in awe at the sight of a fresh piece of fruit.
Strangled by overpopulation society lives under a strict two-child policy (which seems entirely reasonable given the circumstances presented). Tossed into prison for having a third child, former cop Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara) breaks out of prison to join his wife and family, handpicked for her skill as a doctor to be sent through a time portal 85 million years into the past to Terra Nova, a prehistoric colony run by the prickly but noble Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang, playing a slightly less maniacal character than in Avatar) where humanity will try and begin again.
By the half hour mark the Terra Nova has already accumulated a healthy pile of plotholes you could ride a herd of T-Rex through, not the least of them being the timeline issue, which is handily dismissed as being “different” (hey, what’s a little Quantum Mechanics botching between friends), but it quickly becomes clear that the science part of science-fiction is pretty low on the totem pole. In fact, between that, the nerdy eldest daughter, and the presentation of scientists and tech types in general, this show demonstrates a disdain for intelligence that is at times almost comical.
For sure, this is the Wild West with dinosaurs. A place heavy on frontier mythology, where tenderfoots are referred to as “fresh,” the headstrong frequently carry the day, and it is far better to do something reckless quickly than it is to waste time thinking about what might be most practical. As a pilot it’s more than satisfying, offsetting some soapy family dynamics and the occasional moment of cringe-worthy dialogue with liberal dinosaur action.
The pilot also sets the stage for a larger mystery by borrowing most of the best bits of Lost and repackaging them, positioning the main outpost in opposition to a rogue group of outsiders (know as “Sixers”) who have split off from the rest of humanity, and some mysterious, secret equations left by Commander Taylor’s missing son that apparently “hold the key to everything.” And yes, just like Lost, everyone has daddy issues.