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Trance Oct 1 2011, 12:26pm

Joined: Mar 23rd, 2005
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I got the opportunity to see the first episode of this new FOX sci-fi drama series Terra Nova a few days ago on someone's DVR. I'd seen banner ads scattered around a few websites but went in with no actual information about the plot or characters. Here's a summary of the pilot, with major points of contention (plot holes, inconsistencies, or just plain stupid shit) marked with numbers for discussion further down.

This is a HUGE write-up, so only tackle this post if you really care to know about this show.


It's sometime in the 22nd century. Earth's biosphere has collapsed as a result of massive overpopulation and pollution so bad you need an air purifier on your face to go outside. In a desperate effort to get a handle on the overpopulation problem, the nation in which our backstory is set (probably America) enacted a policy of population control, limiting all families to two children. Too little, too late, probably. The human race looks set to slowly choke to death in its own filth on a dying planet... until a time-space anomaly magically appears somewhere on Earth, bringing with it the promise of rebooting humanity millions of years ago, when there was no pollution and abundant natural resources [1].

Our protagonists are a family of five (gasp!), the parents knowingly breaking the law having their third kid [2] and hiding her for years from the census bureau. The dad's a former cop, the mom's a doctor, and the kids have had their personalities picked from the shallow hat of TV child stereotypes. The story begins with the police banging on the door because they've gotten word that this family has a third kid and searches the whole place until they find her. In a poorly planned effort to protect her, the dad flies into a rage and starts punching all the cops in the face. Incredibly, this tactic fails to do anything useful (except establish the save-your-kid-or-die-trying parent thing to the audience), and the father is locked away for years. He eventually breaks out of prison with the help of his wife, and at the same time he learns that she and the two older children have been selected to travel back in time to live and work in a human settlement (called Terra Nova, as it happens) being set up 80 million years ago.

The dad follows the family through the anomaly to past-Earth, smuggling in the third kid [3]. Soon afterward, the point is made that this new society doesn't care how many children you have, as long as you and your family are productive members of the workforce. Having a fresh planet's worth of resources to squander again, it'll be a long time before that policy comes back around to bite them in the ass once more. The parents meet Stephen Lang basically rehashing his role in Avatar. In this show he's the head honcho of Terra Nova, its governor and military authority, and is primarily interested in putting the two grown-ups to some useful work in the community. The mom gets to be a medicine woman again, and the dad gets stuck with agricultural duty because Lang isn't convinced the settlement needs any police officers just yet. The dad (and I keep calling him "the dad" because at this point I've completely forgotten everybody's names in the show) seemingly proves him wrong by spotting a suspicious individual and subduing him as he's attempting to shoot Lang.

This gunman turns out to be a member of a rival splinter group called the Sixers, who live well outside Terra Nova in a presumably unknown location. Not long afterward, several of his Sixer friends show up at Terra Nova in armored vehicles, having been chased by carnivorous dinosaurs (since this IS the Cretaceous period after all). They demonstrate an unexplained beef with Lang, but make a trade with the colony before they leave, exchanging a quantity of raw meteoric iron for their man and some other goodies.

As all this is happening, the teenage boy of the family meets a pretty girl who gets him to skip out on orientation to hang out with her and all her free-spirited college type friends. They do most of the stuff you'd expect naive, carefree youth to do, including the breaking-the-rules-because-it's-exciting part. They slip outside the colony's protective fence to go enjoy a day of recreation in carnivorous dinosaur territory. As dusk approaches, the gang meets back up at the car to go home, and discovers that the power cells have been stolen by Sixers and they can't get back anymore. Fortunately the Sixers themselves haven't gotten far either, and the gang holes up in one of their armored cars right before dangerous wild dinosaurs arrive to eat their faces. What follows is a long, surprisingly dull sequence of screaming and fully automatic fire [4] with a light sprinkling of forced character exploration before the teenagers are rescued by Lang's search party. Presumably everyone survives albeit with serious injuries, and the episode ends on a positive, hopeful note, with the family looking up at the moon (which they point out is much closer to Earth back then, since it's been inching further and further away from the Earth for many millions of years).


1. The time-space anomaly concept was atrociously handled by the show's writers, and is the one I'm going to go on the longest about. I'll leave the question of how it even got there aside for now, since the writers apparently decided to do the same thing. It is described as a one-way ticket; if you step through you're not stepping back. This is supported on-camera when the family arrives on past-Earth -- they appear in the middle of a forest with no anomaly to be seen. Two problems jump to mind concerning this premise, one a general problem with time travel and another a result of the details described on-screen:

One, if they really did show up in the Earth of the past, why didn't the existence of Terra Nova alter human history? Even if the whole project failed and humanity ultimately died out, why weren't the remains of at least the original colony found? Most of the colony's structures are metallic or futuristic composites; my guess is those things wouldn't break down very easily, even when embedded in the fossil record for eons.

Two, how did they even know where that time-space anomaly would send them? If it was a one-way portal, that means nobody could run back through it to tell people where it led.

The writers attempted to satisfy question number one with a bit of exposition in the middle of the episode, about how a probe was sent through the anomaly which they would be able to locate in the fossil record, but they didn't because the anomaly's destination is a different time-stream entirely. Okay, cool, a bit hamfisted but it satisfies question one decently. However, they've also blown question two open even wider. The anomaly is not see-through; that is to say, you can't make out any details about where it leads by looking at it (like from Portal). This means that, near as I can figure out, there's nothing on the other side capable of conveying information from point B back to point A. But bizarrely, dialogue suggests that Terra Nova is capable of radio contact with the facility bringing settlers through the anomaly, so perhaps there is something not yet shown that provides for that ability. Until I see it, though, this is a gaping plot hole.

Okay, done with that. Moving on...

2. Why are the good guys in this show people who ignore social responsibility when they don't like it? The teenage boy I can excuse because teenagers are dumb and impulsive and need a good dinosaur-chewing before they learn some sense, but what's with the parents? They knew overpopulation was a crippling, possibly fatal global problem facing humanity. They knew that everyone in their society was bound by the "family of four" law and that it was up to them to preserve mankind to the best of their ability. If they're gonna have a third kid knowing how illegal and how harmful that decision is, they'd better have a damn good reason for it. You know what the father's justification was when asked by Lang? "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Jesus. He is so lucky that anomaly showed up, because it's people like him that doomed the human race to begin with. I know it's a hard thing to tell parents (especially Mr. Facepunchy Knockyoudown here), but the responsible stance on children is this: if your environment cannot support another kid, DON'T HAVE THE FREAKING KID. Do we really need to get to the level of environmental failure depicted in this show to realize this?

It's also weird that the mother could go through nine months of pregnancy having this third kid and not be noticed by anyone in her big important job as a doctor.

3. The consequences of breaking the "family of four" law are never really addressed. The cops burst into this family's apartment, basically tearing the place apart looking for this kid, and when they do find her... what's the punishment, exactly? A fine? Seems like a ridiculously overplayed police response if that's the case. And if Terra Nova is not subject to the "family of four" law, why did they need to hide the kid in a bag to smuggle her into past-Earth? If I was in charge of human civilization stressed by overpopulation, I'd be glad to see the backs of that whole gaggle of lawbreaking baby-makers.

4. All of the projectile weapons carried by colony members (and there are a LOT of projectile weapons) seem laughably ineffective against the dinosaurs. They brought all these small arms through that work for killing human-sized targets, but nothing for taking on what seems to be the main danger to the colony? We've put a 40mm grenade launcher onto an assault rifle here in the present day. Are they not able to manage even that? Awfully big thing to miss in planning if you ask me.


The premise had some potential, but I think it suffered from really bad execution at the writing stage. There wasn't a single character in the whole episode I identified with, or even liked. The major mystery points of the series are relentlessly hammered into the viewer, so that nobody with a brain stem can possibly have missed the setup when they get explored later. That kind of storytelling removes all the fun from trying to figure the show out.

The entire backdrop of the show seems to be nothing more than that, a backdrop. The concerns of future-Earth are largely ignored upon arrival in past-Earth, and even the dinosaurs just appear as convenient plot elements instead of a real thing that the colony is living with. The depiction of the human race starting over from scratch is rendered mundane because of the ease with which people and supplies can flow into this colony. There's no survival aspect to it. Generally the whole Terra Nova project feels more like an extended summer camp stay than real resettlement in a strange land.

The CGI is good and it's clear this show has one hell of a budget, but I've always been of the opinion that CGI is used most often in the role of distraction, causing people to focus less attention on the human interaction. When you see a series advertised largely for its "impressive visuals", you'd better be wary, because focusing on graphics first and foremost is the surest sign of a lack of substance behind it, something we should be familiar with in video games. If the foundation of the show was good, the dinosaurs could be guys in latex Godzilla suits for all I care. I enjoyed Blake's 7, for christ's sake. I don't care about visuals.

Verdict: Not worth following. I'd only watch it again if there was nothing else on in that timeslot.
Zukan Oct 1 2011, 6:46pm

Joined: Feb 24th, 2005
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Hey Trance, get rid of that dumbovision and go watch some quality entertainment instead.

Here, I'll give you a helping hand:
Scar Oct 2 2011, 12:09am

Joined: Feb 5th, 2005
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Premise looked vaguely interesting, but not enough to get me to sit through the full pilot. Glad to know I didn't miss much.

Person of Interest was probably the best new show I watched. The pilot wasn't bad, and the second episode was pretty cool. Nice to see Michael Emerson in a different role from Ben on Lost.

Reaper195 Oct 2 2011, 12:22am

Joined: Jul 25th, 2007
Location: New Zealand
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POI is out? Sweet! Only things I've seen Emerson in was Lost and the first Saw movie. The premise didn't sound all that amazing, but I planned on watching it just to see him in something....different.

As for Terra Nova, I might watch the pilot just for the hell of it when I have some spare time with nothing else to do.


"Help! That sinister looking kid is coming to kill me! Help! HELP!"

Hail to the king, baby!
Always Blow On The Pie

Time waits for no one. So you better get busy living, or get busy dying.
Scar Oct 2 2011, 10:05am

Joined: Feb 5th, 2005
Location: In your mind! :o
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Initially he seems kinda like Ben, but by the end of the pilot and definitely in the second episode he's much different.

Also, I'm unofficially calling it "Ben and Jesus"

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