Terra Nova: Close, but no cigar

Tonight, the most expensive series of all time debuted on TV: Spielberg’s “Terra Nova“. The 2-hour pilot had time travel, action, mystery, and lots of dinosaurs. You can’t go wrong with that recipe. Or can you?

The series starts in year 2145, where pollution is so bad that when a natural time rift appears that leads to 85 million years in the past, many humans take it and they build Terra Nova, a high-tech settlement. The story follows ex-cop Jim Shannon and his family, and how they adjust on that new place. The show has good dinos, bad dinos, a faction of humans fighting the main settlement, some… mysterious mystery about something we yet don’t know anything about, some family & teenage drama, car action, and lots of guns.

The CGI were good, but not feature-film-good. Dinos didn’t look that realistic. Let’s say that they were as good as a Hollywood film of 2005 would have featured. At least for some shots I feel that “Stargate:Universe” had better CGI than “Terra Nova”. The scene with Shannon and Taylor up in the hill was so painfully visibly green screen for example. Color grading was pretty good though, following the “teal” Hollywood look model.

Camera work was ok too, but editing was painful. The way Taylor was introduced for example was very pedestrian, it removed all the mystery and importance of that character. I mean, you introduce the #2 of the series and you start by having the camera that far away from the actor while he starts talking? Why not start with a close up shot where his face looks like an enigma? Why spell everything out? Why portray him as some guy in the back who says some stuff?

And why not start the series directly with the prison scene, and then unveil the story little by little, instead of spelling out to us how it all went down? And the scene with the orange, was laughable and badly written too. There was so much potential there to have the kids STEAL the orange and show what kind of character such living conditions would create, rather than having a nice happy family smiling and comment like “oh, I haven’t seen one of these for so many years”. So freaking pedestrian. So patronizing!

And that’s the Achilles heel of the show: it’s a FOX family drama in its heart. A very expensive FOX family drama. But a FOX family drama nonetheless. The show allows itself no grittiness, no edginess, no LOST-like heart pumping. Its secondary characters have no personality at all, the whole adjustment period was hurried up, while the family relations are something we’ve seen before over and over again. Just like ABC’s “No ordinary family” show last year, this American supposedly-dysfunctional perfect-family stereotype makes me wanna throw up. Why not have the kid be a drug user? Why not have the wife cheat on her husband while he was in prison? With a woman.

Compared to cable dramas (e.g. the excellent “Breaking Bad”, “Game of Thrones”), this is an old style show. Sure, it’s pretty serialized (otherwise it would have been completely worthless), and it’s impressive to look at. But it doesn’t go the extra mile to prove itself as a work of modern art. If the show was debuting in the late ’80s (before the TV spring of “Twin Peaks”), even if it used puppets instead of CGI, it would have been a huge hit. But in year 2011, if a show is not edgy on all levels, it’s not exactly worthy material.

Having said that, we have to compare “Terra Nova” with its fellow TV series on syndicated TV. Syndicated TV plays with different FCC rules that cable TV does, and so some things end up being different than how the writers might originally wanted them to be. So compared to the rest of the shows currently on syndicated TV, and I suspect compared to all the new ones too this TV season, “Terra Nova” is probably the best of them. It’s still fun, watchable and impressive. And it’s the only new sci-fi series in this TV season that it’s not completely drama/cop show with only a bit of touch of sci-fi. So, respect to Spielberg for bringing the series to TV. I just wish it was on cable (even if myself I’m not a subscriber anymore).

1 Comment »

memsom wrote on September 27th, 2011 at 9:22 AM PST:

Sounds a lot like the BBC Series “Outcasts“, but cleaned up and made fluffy and pleasant. Outcasts was gritty, quite a lot more like BSG or Lost. It had a lot of good elements and here’s hoping they make a second series. Def the best Sci-fi series I saw on TV this year.

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