San Diego Comic Con fans were treated to the first half of the two-hour premiere of Terra Nova, the new Steven Spielberg-produced science fiction drama TV series scheduled to start Monday, September 26 on Fox.
[WARNING: Some Minor Spoilers Ahead]
Terra Nova opens with sweeping overview of a dystopian future that is Earth circa 2149, vividly depicted as a Blade Runner-esque society threatened with extinction from overpopulation, toxic air, and rapidly shrinking food sources, with all actions rigidly-controlled by a police state. There we find the Shannons, Cop Dad and Doc Mom, who have broken the goverment’s strictly-enforced “A Family is Four” policy by adding a third child to the two offspring they already have. They get caught for this infraction, of course, because it’s impossible to hide a wailing kid inside the wall of an apartment the size of a walk-in closet for long. Thus Dad goes to prison for 2 years, Mom pines but bravely perseveres, and the 2 teens become angsty and start blaming dad for everything. So far, so good.
Now for the twist: luckily for the Shannons (and a few thousand other folks), this Futureworld’s scientists have discovered a time portal into the past, 85 million years into the past to be exact, and start sending selected people back to the prehistoric era with the idea of potentially restarting the planet from day one and hopefully getting this civilization thing right the second time around.
Whoa, you say. I see several pesky paradoxes popping up already. If they send people back in time, even really, really, far back in time, don’t they still have to deal with the Grandfather Paradox, or the chance that whatever these folks do in the past might very well negate their very existence in the future? Granted, I suppose this would become more of a Darwinian Ape-Grandfather paradox, but still. And who’s to say they do “get things right” the second time around? I mean, if these prehistoric settlers do replay the Game of Life, and Futureworld evolves instead into a lush, verdant paradise of existence for a far less-overcrowded population, doesn’t that mean that they just wiped out several billion people from existence in time? Or, by going back, are they just fulfilling their destined role in creating history as they know it, and not changing it? And if going back was what actually began the whole process of human evolution for these folks in the first place and everything works out hunky-dory anyway, then wouldn’t they just end up back to where they started in that overcrowded, toxic environment of 2149?
Ow, stop now, head hurts.
Luckily for us, the writers have chosen to completely ignore such potential problems by making it clear that the Terra Novans were sent to an alternate past, where their actions will carry no risk of affecting the 2149 they left behind. By playing the Get Out of Time Dilation Dilemmas Free Card, the writers get on with what is really important, like the action adventure stuff.
Flash forward to where Mom bribes people to help Dad escape from prison, Dad rescues Third Kid from the Extra Kid Orphanage, and the Shannon family leaves the present behind and slides back through time via a Stargate, errr…time portal to join the first human colony on the other side of the temporal doorway. They are quickly introduced to their new lives in the lush, tropical, seemingly utopian compound of Terra Nova, where Mom will continue to work as a doc and Dad as a cop (some things never change), and meet Commander Taylor, the is-he-or-isn’t-he-evil leader/dictator of the new settlement. The teens quickly gain some standard issue rebellious teen pals and work hard at remaining difficult and puberty-ridden, while adorable Third Kid immediately goes out and makes an herbivorous dinosaur pal. Awww.
All is not well in paradise, however, as a less-than-perfect future/past is hinted at with the introduction of the separatist “Sixers”, a sect of colonists who rebelled and formed their own settlement after looting supplies and weapons from the Terra Nova compound. Whether the real enemy of this daring experiment to save the human race lies outside or inside the camp’s barricades remains to be seen.
Oh, and by the way, there be dinosaurs here. Somewhere in the last few minutes of the first hour we finally get to see a rampaging carnivore chowing down on a red shirt character, with a hint of more dino-snacking to come. During the Comic-Con panel Executive Producer Jose Molina promised that in all episodes of Terra Nova, “You WILL see dinosaurs! We’re an expensive show, you’re gonna see the money on the screen and it’s gonna look bad-ass…you’re gonna see some really cool dino action, some epic dino-on-man action.”
I’m all for dino-snacking, but the onscreen creatures in the premiere looked EXACTLY like the ones in Jurassic Park, and although those CGI designs were groundbreaking 20 years ago, they seem a bit overly-familiar today. Exec Producer René Echevarria described the challenge of depicting brand-new dinosaurs in Terra Nova as “…big footsteps to walk in. Having Mr. Spielberg involved, he very much wanted us to break new ground. He hooked us up with his paleontology expert Jack Horner who works very closely with [VFX Supervisor] Kevin [Blank] designing the creatures. You’ll see in the second hour of the pilot some dinosaurs that are more in line with some of the latest paleontological thinking about how they are evolutionarily related to birds…even in their movements and coloration. It’s pretty cool…like nothing you’ve ever seen before.” Hopefully more, better, and different creatures are in store.
It was revealed that a few episodes will focus on that dying future left behind. Our glimpse of the 2149 scenario was for me far more visually exciting and better-realized than the contrasting “pilgrimage into the prehistoric” storyline, so I hope that these two future/past worlds will interact more often as the season progresses. No further hints of what lies in store were supplied at the Comic-Con panel, but I fully expect to see the usual introductory episodes focusing heavily on the characters’ relationships, old loves left behind who may eventually transport in, what the real motivation of leader Taylor is, and lots of family bonding through shared crises. We’ll just have to wait until September to see if Terra Nova becomes the go-to destination for scifi fans on Monday nights.