- 19 October 2011
- By John Howell
After watching the pilot to Fox’s ambitious TV time travelling dinosaur fest called Terra Nova, I am praying that when I watch the next episode the entire cast gets eaten by dinosaurs (in fact, that hope is the only reason I’ll be able to sit through another one). The entire cast’s gruesome deaths at the hands of a frenzied T-Rex or a velociraptor having a bad day can’t come soon enough. Should a prehistoric volcano erupt at the same time and spew molten lava over the human compound and all its occupants while they’re being eaten alive by the dinosaurs, all the better. I look forward to watching limbs fly and heads being squished by massive dinosaur feet as the prehistoric giants and burning lava take their revenge on the weak script, nauseating characters and offensive SF tokenism. If I’ve given you the impression that I didn’t enjoy the opening episodes, you may be onto something.
If you haven’t heard about or experienced it yet, Terra Nova is a Steven Spielberg production set in the year 2149 (YES, THAT’S RIGHT, A STEVEN SPIELBERG PRODUCTION - IF YOU EMPHASISE THAT ENOUGH EVERYONE WILL WATCH IT) - the planet Earth has become a nearly uninhabitable dystopia, with bad air and aggressive government intervention that makes Stalinist Russia look like a nice place to hang out.
Being a Spielberg production, inevitably the whole show revolves around a single, cheesy, bloody annoying family. The Shannon family live in Chicago in a vast building called Hope Plaza (it appears the name of the building may be a subtle attempt at irony). Overpopulation is an issue, with green house problems having come to a head just as Al Gore predicted. Oranges are now as scarce as sensible dialogue.
If you have more than one child in this future America, you have to hide the rest of your kids in the nearest cupboard or squash them into the fridge at a moment's notice. Like tax inspectors or religious door to door salesmen, armed police can turn up on your doorstep at a moment's notice and check for an extra pram or misplaced dummy - so you have to be on your toes. The Shannons already have two official kids, so must keep the third one hidden inside a vacuum cleaner (not really, but with this script and dialogue anything’s possible). Inevitably one of these armed raids leads to the father struggling with officials after the mother accidentally empties the vacuum cleaner without thinking (not really). The action cop father Jim gets incarcerated in a maximum security prison for the next 200 years (at least that was my impression).
Along with Jim there’s his English wife Elizabeth (an amazingly, incredibly brilliant Doctor) their (amazingly incredibly brilliant - and gifted) daughter Maddy (Naomi Scott) and potentially (amazingly, incredibly brilliant - and gifted) very young daughter Zoe (Alana Mansour). Last, and easily the most annoying, is their son Josh (Landon Liboiron). Just think of a stupid version of Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next generation and you’ll be on the right track.
Eventually they all escape into the human past to live in fresh air with dinosaurs in a lush landscape that looks a lot like Hawaii, but is actually Queensland, Australia (with a few different looking plants). Because Jim is an all round action hero, escaping the prison and jumping into the past with his family is a piece of cake. Not sure how they deal with all the time travel paradoxes that humans living in the past would cause - something about parallel time lines probably - hey, it’s science fiction, so I should stop complaining.
Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang from Avatar) runs this walled off compound in the prehistoric past where humans have settled to begin again on a fresh Earth. Taylor enjoys giving silly, melodramatic speeches to the new arrivals, but still manages to be the best character in the entire show.
Their son Josh (have I mentioned how annoying he is?) displays lots of clichéd teenage angst, the usual “I hate my father” routine (because their father went to prison and left them all alone - bloody fathers! Stop getting locked up in dystopian prisons - you fools!) and generally misbehaves as much as possible. “He’s just so rebellious. What shall we do? Gosh!” He runs off into the forest with other teenagers pretty much three minutes after they arrive, and of course they all get attacked by dinosaurs three minutes after that and have to be rescued. There’s also a mysterious, potentially dangerous splinter group of future refugees called the Sixers, a group that have their own agenda. This is the only part of the plot that held even a tiny bit of interest.
Reportedly Terra Nova cost about US$4 million an episode to make (which is nuts). As usual, they spent 4 million on the production and special effects per episode, but absolutely nothing on the scripts. Why does this always happen? Why does no one in Hollywood care about words? Why are they so stupid? Why do I have to keep asking this in almost every science fiction film or TV show review I’ve ever written? Why?! Please answer me.
I was equally disappointed with another STEVEN SPIELBERG PRODUCTION called Falling Skies, but resisted the temptation to rant. However, it suffers from similar issues. There is so much exposition in these scripts, so many explanations where characters - instead of talking normally - tell you in exacting detail what is going on and what is happening, as though you are watching another show entirely and need the whole thing explained to you again and again.
Can someone please edit the bloody dialogue! Remove the extraneous, irrelevant blather! Give the audience some respect. They’re not all sub-human idiots who have had their brains removed (some of you are of course, but that can’t be helped). And why does Spielberg always pop up with this kind of rubbish? Falling Skies, Super 8 and now Terra Nova (to name this year's cliched crap ) - everything he touches becomes cheesy, family centered mush.
For those of you who have watched more episodes, please tell me it improves out of sight or at least half the cast get eaten. Please! Some of those dinosaurs have got to be hungry surely. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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