Fox // 2011 // 563 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // September 28th, 2012
Few shows made their network debut with as much hype as Terra Nova. Steven Spielberg's name was attached, the bad guy from Avatar playing what looked like the same role, and dinosaurs. Thirteen episodes later, not even Netflix wanted to touch it.
In the year 2149, Earth has (of course) burned through all of its natural resources. The air is filthy, the water is dirty, and the smog is thick enough to cut with a machete. Miraculously, an exciting new scientific discovery offers a possible way out: a portal is found that leads 85 millions years into the past. Here's a chance for humanity to start over, and the Shannon family -- led by former cop and one-time felon Jim (Jason O'Mara, Life on Mars) and his wife Dr. Elisabeth (Shelley Conn, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) -- take that chance.
They join a handful of other expatriates at the Terra Nova compound; an enclave in the middle of dino-country, commanded by Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang, Avatar), a bad-ass control freak who we may or may not be able to trust. But as the episodes march on, it becomes clear the man-eating prehistoric nightmares are the least of our heroes' problems.
Abject boredom. That's the biggie.
I bought into the hype, but it took a mere two and a half episodes to realize I had better things to do with my time, most of which involved vacuuming and personal hygiene. A show like Terra Nova makes me wonder what the suits were thinking. The budget was obviously hefty and the marketing push was unparalleled. But the show is so mediocre and predictable, how did anyone -- from bean-counter to executive producer -- think this would last?
The missed opportunity here is that the concept was actually pretty cool. Portal into the past, dinosaurs running amok, some mysterious humans farting around the wilderness leaving cryptic symbols on rocks, Stephen Lang grimacing non-stop. And yet this show is swimming in mediocrity, the smattering cool ideas easily trumped by dead weight.
As Cool as the Fearsome Jaws of a T-Rex
* The Creatures -- Normally TV dinosaurs suck, unless they were built by Jim Henson's Creature Shop for their own sitcom. The CGI creations in Terra Nova aren't bad. In fact, at times they look borderline photo-realistic. As the plot moves forward, we see them slink into the background, and they're a downright solid addition.
* Stephen Lang -- Yes, he's essentially playing the "good" version of Colonel Quaritch, but Lang's Taylor is enigmatic, and his physical presence is unmatched. The character's murky back-story is cleared up about halfway through the run, and that takes some edge off his mystery, but whatever...You could grate parmesan on this guy's chin.
As Lame as the Flimsy Arms of a T-Rex
* Pretty Much All the Protagonists -- The Shannon family, from Jim (stiff) and his wife (one-note) to their kids (precocious and smarmy) are all instantly forgettable. Which is tough, since first and foremost Terra Nova is a family show. But who cares how angst-ridden the older son is when there are dinosaurs out there to kill?
* The Sixers -- These the mysterious bad guys are lurking in the woods, freaking people out. But once we get to know them, they suck. Their motivations are dumb and they don't even do evil stuff. Their leader's motivations are revealed late in the game, and they're just as underwhelming as everything else on the show. You see, she has a daughter to support.
* The Big Reveal -- Spoilers ahead, but this is what ultimately makes Terra Nova such a stegosaurus-sized waste of time. At the tail-end of the season/series, we learn The Sixers were sent by some mega-corporation from the future to boot Taylor out of Terra Nova and open a portal that would allow...get this...the corporation to strip-mine the prehistoric world and transport its resources to back the future. That's it. The same tired crap plot we've seen a thousand times before. And since we're talking about temporal portals, these revelations are so moronic they retroactively taint the smidgens of interesting moments that preceded them.
Thirteen episodes. The End. Four DVDs, a clean standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, Dolby 5.1 Surround mix, all making for a solid viewing experience. Unfortunately, the bonus features appear to have been created during production, before Fox gave the show the ol' heave-ho. Watch as the producers talk excitedly about plot points to be developed in future seasons. Hey, maybe they can discover their own time portal, travel back to the writers' room, and prevent this show from blowing. Extras include deleted scenes, one audio commentary, a gag reel, and featurettes on directing the pilot, the mysteries of the show, and the dinosaurs.
Terra Nova is one of the biggest letdowns in television history. Proceed at your own risk.
Guilty. Makes me long for the subtlety of The Lost World: Jurassic Park's gymnastics scene.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 563 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel