The much ballyhooed, big-budget Steven Spielberg sci-fi family drama on Fox, “Terra Nova,” begins in the year 2149, a period when all life on planet Earth is choking to death on air pollution and over population. But faster than you can say H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, off-screen scientists have discovered a Stephen Hawkian rift in space-time that allows VIPs and useful handymen and professional sorts to travel 85 million years back in the past and thus offering these pilgrims from the future a second chance to reboot Earth and save humanity from global-warming skeptics and EPA deregulation.
But 85,000,000 years is an awfully long time to screw up things, especially considering that humans only split off from the chimp family tree 5,000,000 years ago. Can you imagine what 80 million years of evolution would do to the human genome? Would we all look like the offspring of Lady Gaga and a bio-engineered cyborg? Also, why go back in time all those years and be vulnerable to life extinction phenomenons such as meteors the size of Manhattan smashing into the planet? Why not set the wayback dial to just before the age of the Industrial Revolution?
At the center of this high-concept series that shamelessly melds Avatar, Lost, and Jurassic Park, is the racially blended Shannon family (father Jim is an ex-cop who was doing hard time, his wife Elisabeth who is some kind of super doctor, and their three children, Josh, an annoyingly rebellious teen who hates his dad, Maddy who is brainy and insecure, and button-cute, small-fry Zoe.) The Shannons are pretty much like almost all dysfunctional TV families– conflict and tension are present but never insuperable.
Terra Nova was filmed primarily in Queensland, Australia– and the natural setting with its backdrop of mountains and rain forest does look gorgeous — but the series is severely undermined by atrociously lame dialogue and a total absence of awe by the characters plopped into a prehistorical past. What do the Shannons care most about right after quantum-shooting through time? It is who’s sleeping in which Ikea-furnished bedroom. CGI special-effects dinosaurs and an armed renegade group called the Sixers provide most of the initial action. But there’s an iron-clad cardinal rule attached to any Spielberg show or film: kids will get injured, but never killed. So when a pack of carnivorous reptiles (nicknamed slashers), which are the size of a school bus, attack a group of kids who sneaked outside the compound’s gate, no one is eaten like a tasty hor’doeuvre or sliced in half by their razor-sharp teeth or claws. This is one slasher pic that fails to rise to the squeamish occasion, although one of the adult Sixers does get munched like a shrimp on a barbie.
With its cringe-inducing dialogue, two-dimensional characters, and obvious plot developments, the only way to effectively get through a Terra Nova episode without gagging might be with one of those respirator masks from 2149.
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