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Terra Nova: A Love Letter to Television Sci-Fi

I was mega excited when I found out about this show. I have been a dinosaur nut for as long as I remember. I read Jurassic Park about five times waiting for the movie to come out. I have always known that if I were given a time machine, I would crank it to eighty five million years ago, aim for fossil-rich Montana and never look back. Strangely enough, that is the plot of Fox’s new adventure series, Terra Nova. It is produced by Stephen Spielberg and every episode ends with the familiar Amblin logo with ET riding heroically through the night. The potential for this show was phenomenal, Fox advertises it as “television’s greatest adventure,” but can it live up to that? In fact, how can any show live up to any of these components? At only six episodes in, the show has been doing its best to try.
The background plot is what initially hooked me on the show. Pilgrims from a terrible future look to the past to provide a new hope for civilization. In 2149, Earth is on the verge of dying. The air is not breathable, and the government is, of course, fascist as sin. Scientist found a rip in the time continuum that is parallel to our own, but much younger. The parallel Earth seems to be in its Cretaceous period. Because it is a parallel world and not the past, anything done in the past would not affect the future of their original world. You still there? Good. Scientist start working on a plan to allows small groups to go through at specific times and set up the colony of Terra Nova. (Earth Star for you Greek geeks) As the colony is built and settled, more people come through to inhabit the prehistoric world. Since the colony is only about seven years old at the time of the show, all of these people must have some point or purpose to be there. These include doctors, scientists, security, engineers, etc. Commander Nathaniel Taylor, a tough as balls yet fair military leader, runs the place. Terra nova is a colorful paradise with large walls surrounding it. It is a mixture of Swiss Family Robinson and every set you ever saw in Star Trek. It is patrolled by squads of all-terrain armored jeeps containing soldiers who look right out of Starship Troopers or Aliens. The colony defends itself from ferocious dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes and the mysterious Sixers, a group of people who came through on the sixth pilgrimage just to abandon the colony and live outside Terra Nova. Their motives are not clear, but they constantly attack Terra Nova and generally act hateful to the commune of scientific frontiersmen.

The show revolves around the Shannon family, recent arrivals to Terra Nova. Jim, the father, had been imprisoned in 2149 for hiding the fact that they had a third child, which is a major crime in this bleak future. His wife, Elizabeth, is a famous scientist who finds a way to break Jim out of prison and sneaks him through the portal to Terra Nova with the rest of the family. Once there, he is absolved of his crimes and put to work as a law enforcer for the colony. Their three children (two teens and a ten year old) meet friends and start to settle in, not without causing mischief at every turn.

I love this show. It reminds me of almost every hour long sci-fi show I’ve ever seen. At some points, I see the family’s adventures run parallel to that of the Robinsons from Lost in Space. Shows like Planet of the Giants or the original Battlestar Galactica also come to mind. This is a world where the writers get to make the rules, and although there are many characters, only the few main characters get the focus. This was the formula that almost every Star Trek followed and it works. The acting isn’t the best, but when is it ever when it comes to the type of show I’m outlining. Terra Nova makes subtle references to these shows all the time, by quoting them and popular sci-fi movies. When the oldest boy gets caught outside the colony walls, a girl explains that, “They [dinosaurs] mostly come out at night,” where the boy answers with, “mostly?” That’s a classic line from Aliens. In another episode, Elizabeth complains that her husband is giving her a task that she is not suited for by saying, “Jim, I’m a doctor, not a genealogist.” That being, of course, a famous running line from Star Trek. The statue of the probe that they originally sent back in time is the training probe from Star Wars: A New Hope. This adds the extra class that I needed to really love this show. The plots are varied enough to keep it interesting. One episode explores what happens when a meteorite creates an EMP and knocks out all power while a teenage boy suffers without the modern medical equipment of the future. Other episodes involve the youngest Shannon child not wanting to give up a baby ankylosaurus that her mother had saved. In the background of each episode is the intrigue of the Sixers plotting against Terra Nova as well as the agendas from the future government that is still planning on eventually relocating all of humanity. I’m always excited to see what happens next.

Finally I get to my favorite part, the dinosaurs. As I said, I have followed dinos my whole life. I’m a self-proclaimed dino expert. I was chomping at the bit to tear this show apart by showing inconstancies that others wouldn’t notice. Not many people realize that most of the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park are way off scale. Velociraptor are not even a third as big as the ones in the movie. And the spitters, Dilophosaurus, were actually ten feet tall. There is no evidence of them having a neck frill or spitting acidic tar. Terra Nova has not given me any cause to complain. I keep expecting to see grass just so I can say, “Nope. They didn’t have grass back then,” but they have been on top of it. Dinosaurs represent accurate sizes and even have feathers some times as well as other kinds of plumage. They aren’t the most realistic looking computer generated beasts I’ve seen, but they are effective enough. Their variety and usage in the show have already made me choose them as my favorite group of dinosaurs from anything. The best part about them is that they are not over done in the show. Some episodes they attack, where in others they don’t play a big part at all.

It is my sincerest hope that this show will continue and create a fan base. There are still plenty of plots to uncover as well as settings and prehistoric monsters. Terra Nova is a must check out for any dinophile as well as any fan of sci-fi television.