Terra Nova: hit or miss TV?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th October 2011.

Steven Spielberg’s latest science fiction creation for television, Terra Nova, premiered this past Sunday night. A big budget affair, there are high hopes for this series from its studio Fox and production company, Spielberg’s Amblin Television.

Terra Nova begins on Earth in 2149. The polluted atmosphere is barely breathable and the law dictates that couples may only have two children due to overpopulation. Scientists have discovered a rift in the space-time continuum allowing vital personnel such as doctors, scientists and lawyers (I’m joking about the last one) plus lucky lottery winners to jump back 85 million years to Earth’s Cretaceous period. Fortunately, this Earth is also in an alternate time stream so the events of the past cannot affect the future.

In the new settlement of Terra Nova, doctor Elizabeth Shannon and her two children are secretly joined by her former cop and now prison escapee husband Jim and their illegal third child. Can they survive in a world populated by hungry dinosaurs living in a fenced village (or is it a hamlet, I can never remember) under military rule? Only future episodes and ratings will tell.

So far, things are looking up for this fledgling series. Ratings in the US are acceptable (just) and reviews have been generally positive with an aggregated score of 65% on Metacritic. Thirteen episodes have been ordered so at least we’ll get a decent story arc and season one box set to buy.

Executive producer Steven Spielberg has a mixed track record when it comes to television. He has overseen critical and popular hits such as The Pacific and The United States of Tara as well as flops such as Seaquest DSV and Amazing Stories. He is also not afraid of covering familiar ground and recycling old ideas. Alien abduction series Taken was a retread of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This year’s Falling Skies feels a lot like War of the Worlds. Band of Brothers was a close relation to Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment also produced Earth 2, a short-lived sci-fi series with an extremely similar premise to Terra Nova.

Reportedly Spielberg vetoed Terra Nova’s proposed filming location of Hawaii in favour of Queensland. Jurassic Park’s lush forest locations were mostly shot in Hawaii and Spielberg wanted to differentiate them from Terra Nova’s lush forest locations.

I’d like to suggest that it’s not the trees that would make viewers think that Terra Nova is Jurassic Park-lite. That would be the fenced compound, armoured vehicles and the, wait for it, dinosaurs.

It certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing for the show so far. The pilot episode premiere was pushed back from May to September due to delays in completing the visual CGI effects. One of thirteen executive producers, David Fury, departed due to creative differences, and torrential rain delayed filming and damaged sets in Queensland.

I enjoyed the two hour pilot episode. The no-name cast was appropriately believable, the set and locations decent and the dinosaurs menacing. My only gripe was that perhaps too much was packed into the storyline. The rebellious teenage son got himself in and then out of trouble. Dad was shunned and then accepted into the security team. We met the breakaway settlement (the bad guys) and they attacked. Dinosaurs ate stuff, including people. How could so much happen in one day? It’s a good thing the storyline has established that the time travelling is one way only, otherwise I’d be on the first trip back to the polluted future.

With a production budget of $4 million per episode, Terra Nova is one of the most expensive TV series ever. Decent sci-fi is hard to find so let’s hope it survives past one season. A good indication will be if it manages to hold onto its Sunday 8:30pm timeslot. The ominous sign of a shift to 11:30pm on Wednesday right after the Proactiv ads will be an indication that Terra Nova is an endangered species.

Terra Nova airs Sunday nights (for now) at 8:30pm on Ten.

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Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 05:18  Leave a Comment  
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