by: Austin Welch
Dino Riders, this ain’t!
So my beautiful lady and I woke up early on Saturday morning at Comic-Con, intent on getting in line for Ballroom 20, the second-largest room at the show (after Hall H, of course). By 9AM, we were in line, but it’s pretty depressing when you’re queued up about fifty feet from boats in the marina behind the con center. We had merely hoped to gain entrance by the noontime start of the Futurama panel, which led into panels for most of Fox’s Sunday night animated shows, aka Animation Domination.
Imagine our pleasant surprise when we made it in by eleven, and caught the beginning of the Terra Nova pilot presentation. Fox was eager to show off a good chunk of this first episode of their new sci-fi/family series, a part of their fall line-up. If you missed our post of the series trailer, the basic premise is this: by 2149, human kind has fudged up the Earth, particularly its atmosphere. We’re required to wear special breathing apparatuses when walking around. Also, the population problem has forced even the Western world to enforce China’s golden rule of a household child limit; only you’re allowed two as opposed to China’s one.
But all is not lost. Egghead scientists develop one-way time travel, gaining us access to the Earth of 85 million years ago. This affords mankind a second chance to get things right. Now, before you cry foul over the obvious paradox involved, rest assured that the first episode’s exposition regarding the time-travel tech explains that an alternate time stream is established. In other words, we travel back to something akin to the alternate 1985 from Back To The Future II, only not so dangerous. Or is it?
Project Terra Nova, set up by the first pilgrimage – i.e. first group of time-travelers - is an apparent frontier-style paradise, and it’s watched over by Commander Nathaniel Taylor, as portrayed by the always engaging Stephen Lang. Playing to his usual tough, military type (most folks will recognize him as Colonel Miles Quaritch from James Cameron’s Avatar), Lang’s layered performance leaves the audience wondering, even in this auspicious debut, whether Taylor has a hidden agenda.
But let’s back up a bit. We’re actually following the Shannon family, whose patriarch Jim (Jason O’Mara) is imprisoned for breaking the aforementioned children limit. After two years, his doctor wife Elisabeth (Shelley Conn) signs her family up for the Terra Nova project (she is selected due to her medical background), and Jim resigns himself to never seeing his family again. However, his resourceful spouse plans not only his escape, but the rescue of their youngest child Zoe (Alan Mansour), and before you can say “spoiler”, the entire five-member Shannon family travels through the time barrier with the tenth pilgrimage.
Once there, the obligatory difficulties of adjusting to not only another time period, but clean air, bright sunshine, and a small, strictly-monitored community confound the Shannons in various ways. While middle-child daughter Maddy (Naomi Scott) tries to make the best of things with a positive mental attitude, brooding older son Josh (Landon Liboiron) maintains a chip on his shoulder and casts blame at his father for abandoning them for two years. What a champ. Of course, he runs off with the first pretty girl that smiles at him, and he winds up OTG (outside the gate) with Skye (Allison Miller) and her friends. She shows him some strange markings at a nearby swimming hole…aliens? We’ll see.
Meanwhile, Jim, a former cop, tries to make do with the agricultural detail he’s given, but a chance capture of an apparent prisoner leads Taylor to reassign Jim to security detail. A vehicular encounter OTG with Sixers – a rogue group that opposes Taylor and Terra Nova, and so-named due to the movement being started by members of the sixth pilgrimage – leads to an attack by dinosaurs in an action-packed scene. As a result, some of the Sixers end up within the confines of Terra Nova’s walls, and that’s where the presentation ended. We apparently got roughly half of the two-hour premiere, and while I wasn’t exactly bowled over, my interest was piqued, and I’m looking forward to learning more about what’s going on in this world.
The short Q&A after the screening revealed that the season proper began filming this past May (the pilot was shot late last year), and each episode will cost roughly $4 million to produce. Some expressed concern at the amount of dinosaur and other special effects in the series; would it be kept to a minimum? No, say the showrunners – there will be plenty of dino action, and the effects supervisor assures us that the quality – admittedly just a few notches above a SyFy original programming film – would improve, and in fact, is already improving, as the production continues.
So we’ll have to wait til September to see where this thing goes, but hey, this show, which Fox is trying to sell as more of a family drama then a sci-fi thriller, looks fairly promising so far.