Review: Pilot Episode Of Spielberg-Produced Show Terra Nova, Now With More Dinosaurs

Posted by August 18, 2011 Comment

Hannah and Brendon recently attended a screening of the pilot episode of Terra Nova, a 90-minute showcase for the new show which was executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and co-written by Alan Loeb, Kelly Marcel and Craig Silverstein. We now present two reviews that demonstrate the different responses to this exciting new series. The following reviews may contain minor spoilers, but we’ll shy away from anything too revealing.

Hannah’s review:

For those who’ve not heard of it before, Terra Nova is a new sci-fi adventure series that’s set in the future … kind of. So Planet Earth has been all but destroyed by the ravages of foolish man and his obsession with driving Hummers, which means that it’s impossible to go outside without wearing a rebreather and the government has put into place strict population control laws that prevent any family from having more than two children. One family that has taken it upon themselves to flout this law are the Shannons, a clan with a police officer father named Jim (Jason O’Mara), a doctor mother named Elizabeth (Shelley Conn), an irritating why-me teenage boy named Josh (Landon Liboirin), a teenage girl called Maddy (Naomi Scott) and the illicit third child Zoe (Alana Mansour), who they have to hide in an air vent at any sign of home invasion.

Jason O'Mara as Daddy Shannon

All is well, or as well as it can be in the mucky-aired gas chamber that we foolish, foolish humans have created for ourselves, until one day the authorities get a tip about little Zoe and come bashing down the door. Jim decides that this is a delicate situation which could only be made worse by any rash actions, and therefore the best thing to do is to punch the arresting officer in the face. He’s stripped of his badge and taken to prison, but for some reason they leave Zoe behind with the rest of the family. Maybe she hid in the air vent again and the police forgot why they came in the first place.

Fast forward a few years and things on Earth have reached critical mass, but not to worry because the government has thought up a great solution. They’ve discovered a handy rift in time and space (it’s never explained how it came to be, but my guess is either Otto Octavius was trying out another one of his wacky experiments or Hurley from Lost took a trip to Taco Bell) that connects modern-day Earth to Prehistoric Earth (but in an alternate timeline, so that the writers don’t have to worry about pesky paradoxes). For years they’ve been sending groups of humans through this portal in order to establish a new eco-friendly colony amongst the dinosaurs.

Through a series of events that take up about half of the episode, Jim escapes from prison and the Shannons are all sent through to a new life in Dino-land, where they meet Chief Military Person Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang) and his unfeasibly sexy second-in-commands Guzman (Mido Hamada) and Mira (Emelia Burns). The characters attend orientation and so do we, and that’s what the rest of the episode feels like: orientation. “Here’s how the taps work, here’s where you pick up your food tokens, these are your main characters so you’d better get used to them, don’t touch that, don’t question this, etc.” There’s also a couple of CGI dinosaurs, and trust me when I say that they are very CGI. I could practically see the polygons.

Landon Liboirin as Master Shannon

For all their efforts to immerse the audience in the rich environment of the Cretaceous era (the show was shot in the lush setting of Queensland, Australia) the overall effect is pretty unconvincing. For starters, everyone in Terra Nova is ludicrously pretty, as if they’re being photoshopped with every movement they make. Supposedly the candidates for evacuation are picked on the basis of their usefulness to the new society (hence Dr Shannon’s invite) but by the looks of them it’s more likely a crazed Darwinist at the helm, trying to create a new breed of superhumans who can all pose for the cover of Vogue. Likewise, the buildings in the new settlement look like they were flat-packed and bought from Ikea, and the only indicator that the show is taking place in the past – the dinosaurs – look about as organic as anything can that’s made out of ones and zeros.

The plot of this pilot just sort of bumbled along, relatively racy in the beginning but smoothing out to a gentle countryside ramble by the end. The writers tried to pick it up with some action sequences right at the end, but even those were part of the endless exposition that’s crammed into the last 40 minutes or so. The show even boasts its very own Mr Exposition, except in this case Mr Exposition disguises himself as a sexy girl called Skye (Allison Miller) in an attempt to keep the audience engaged in the neverending spiel of How It All Works.

Let’s say some nice things now, because I feel I’m being unfair to what is in fact quite a decent show. It looks pretty, which doesn’t rate all that highly for me but does for a lot of people, and the dialogue is well-written and engaging when it’s not babbling out great long paragraphs of backstory. The acting ranges from average to good with no real weak spots (although Landon Liboirin is saddled with the job of playing the whinging, irresponsible, rebellious teenage boy with Daddy issues) and most of the characters are pretty inoffensive, if somewhat bland. The best I can say for it is that it will flesh itself out in future episodes, and that maybe the producers will even invest in some animatronics to convince us that there really are dinosaurs and not just a bunch of tennis balls on sticks.

And for the love of Pete, someone stick a bit of mud on the set. Just because the Cretaceous era didn’t have pollution, doesn’t mean it looked like Delia Smith’s kitchen.

Brendon’s review*:

*We regret to inform our readers that Brendon fell asleep around the 20 minute mark and woke up right at the end, grumbling, “That was rubbish.”

(Last Updated August 18, 2011 10:17 pm )