A Nerd’s-Eye View of Terra Nova

It has been an exciting year on television thus far. Steven Spielberg himself has been busy with three television series this year, producing the pilot episode of The River, as well as Executive Producing the musical-dramedy Smash. Steven has also been returning to dinosaurs. Working with Mr. Spielberg is Brannon Braga, whom we all know from every Star Trek television series since The Next Generation. Together they have brought us the series Terra Nova.

It is the story of a family in the year 2149 that lives in a world that is on the brink of being uninhabitable. A space-time rift is found by scientists that can send people into an alternate space-time 85 million years in the past. Jim Shannon, a Chicago police narcotics officer, and his family join the tenth pilgrimage to travel through the rift, for a chance at a better, healthier life. Unknown to all the people in the Terra Nova camp, led by ex-military commander Nathanial Taylor, there is a conspiracy in the year 2149 to exploit the alternate earth for its resources. During the 6th pilgrimage the agency responsible sent operatives undercover back in time in order to undermine and control the Terra Nova colony, to allow the eventual exploitation of all the resources. Discovering the plot against their colony, Commander Taylor expelled all of the conspirators from the colony. However, the colony is still often attacked, and there are still covert operatives in their midst. Commander Taylor hires Jim Shannon as his official sheriff to help ebb the troubles from within.

Terra Nova hit the screen on September 26th. The public outcry on the series was astounding and leaving people wanting more. With Steven Spielberg in the chief Executive Producer seat, he opted for a budget that was almost motion picture in size. He also decided not to film in the same Hawaii location that he had used for his Jurassic Park franchise, but instead opted to move the production south of the equator to Australia.

With this in mind, Fox network made an unusual choice: they decided to not only order the two-hour pilot episode, but also 13 episodes immediately after green-lighting the project. This was due to the extremely high cost of tearing down the sets. An estimated $4 million was spent on each episode, which by comparison to the average cost for a television drama at $3.7 million may not seem like a lot more. However it takes six to eight days to film each episode, which is in the norm, but the post-production team needs an additional six weeks to finalize each. This is more than two times the average on any other television series. All the editing and high cost of the enormous sets raises the total cost of production to the $10 to $20 million mark, bringing the season total between the $62 and $72 million mark.

Filmed in 2010 in southeast Queensland, Brisbane, and the Gold Coast, the series was constantly plagued by torrential downpours that forced some of the scenes to be re-shot in 2011. Nevertheless, the scenes and filmography are breathtaking. The location shots are real, and as stated in some of the website clips, the terrain is real; when you hear animals they are actually there, and when it rains, well, it is really raining.

The critical and public reception to the series was amazing, at first. Critics hailed it as “the most exciting new series,” “literally the biggest thing on T.V. this fall” and “Leaves ye olde cheap-set series in the dust.” However the acclaim was short lived as the series entered its midpoint. The same critics who were hailing the series at the beginning were now writing things that damaged its reputation. Comparing it to nothing more than Stargate: SGU, and also stating “The script is as corny and cheesy as a family-sized portion of cheesy corn nachos.” One New York Magazine critic even went so far as to vow that he would never watch the show again as: “sure, the premise had promise, but even masochists like us can only take so much.”

Amazingly this did not hinder the ratings the series received as an average 7.5 million viewers tuned in each week to watch the exploits of the Shannon family. By the end of the season even the critics had changed their mid-season stance back to loving the show.

The show was lacking in many of the dialog areas, sure, however the overall script and the plot were as deep as any J.J. Abrams series. I personally enjoyed watching the Shannon family struggle to integrate themselves in a completely foreign location, something that they, in 2149, had only heard of through books or in old films.

There are side stories for each of the family members, wife, son and both daughters not to mention Jim Shannon himself. Somehow every one of the stories seem to intertwine throughout the course of the season, making each member important to the overall story line of the show, no matter how trivial it seemed when it happened.

The quality of the dinosaurs in the series are above any others ever shown on television. They also do not take a center stage in the story either. The relationship between the humans and the dinosaurs is an important part of the series, yet rather than remake the Jurassic Park story of “man surviving against dinosaurs,” they show the colony after a safe haven has been established. Once outside the compound gates though, man needs to watch their backs at all times.

How historically accurate the Cretaceous period is being represented, or misrepresented, is explained away through the fact that it is an alternate timeline in earth’s history. Regardless I am quite sure there are paleontologists out there screaming at their television sets because something was not right. The alternate timeline also tries to explain away any possible repercussions from any paradox that could happen in the timeline of the 2149 world.

***Spoiler Alert***

Overall I think the story is great. Sure, there were some slow areas in the show, yet the overall feel of the series was constant. There was deep thought put into the overall plot of the series, which during its run left the viewer with many questions and at season end many of them had been answered. There was enough fuel for future seasons to continue the franchise, as there is still the question of who wanted to pillage the Terra Nova world for its resources, where did the remainder of the 6th colony disappear to at the end of the season when they walked away after taking control of the colony, and how did the figurehead of a 17th or 18th century ship end up on the planet? (***Editor’s Note: Are we talking about Terra Nova or Lost? Wink.)

Fox has, as of yet, not made their decision about a renewal of the series. Fox’s President, Kevin Reilly, did state that the show was profitable for the network. With its mixed ratings, and the fact that it has not been renewed by the network as of the date of writing this article, it is uncertain if it will be picked up again. This would be a travesty against what has the promise to be a wonderful show with lots of potential.

I would love to hear what you fellow nerds have to say. Please leave your comments below and let’s start discussing whether Terra Nova should be renewed or dropped by Fox.

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