In much the same way that friends of mine were telling me I should start watching the show The League (and to those of you, I thank you), some of those same people were telling me I should give the Fox show Terra Nova a try. With Steven Spielberg serving as one of the show's Executive Producers, it can't be a completely bad idea, can it? The show does possess an interesting premise to say the least.
The show is set in 2149 in a world where fresh air is hard to come by and family creation is monitored by the government. Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara, One For The Money) is a detective who is married and has three children, one outside the maximum according to the government. His wife Elizabeth (Shelley Conn, How Do You Know) is a doctor and has informed Jim (in jail for population control violations) that she and the kids have been selected to participate in Terra Nova, which is a new colony. Terra Nova is somewhat different in that one travels back in time to 85 million B.C. to enjoy what it's like to breathe fresh air, rather than cut it with a knife and fork in the polluted 22nd century. While Elizabeth's background was already prized, Jim's comes to the attention of Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang, Avatar), Commander of the colony, and the first to arrive to it. Taylor uses Jim to help maintain security of the colony against rebel forces called "The Sixers." The Sixers' main goals are to mine the resources of the planet at the time, specifically the various dinosaur types, for the purpose of corporate gain.
The first few episodes to set the exposition for the story and get some backstory behind the characters is intriguing, in a Swiss Family Robinson meets Lost kind of way, but with dinosaurs! Jim does a remarkable job of not missing a stride with his family, considering he was in jail for two years and the kids don't immediately blubber when they see Dad free and out in the wild. There is some initial friction between Jim and his oldest son Josh, though it tends to resolve itself. He acclimates to the colony just as miraculously for an escaped prisoner as well, come to think of it. He is part of the framework for most of the episodes and serves as a window into the colony for the outsider.
Oddly enough, is part of the problem with the show. O'Mara is somewhat limited in range with the character in a show full of limitations. The show largely confines itself to the colony, which would seemingly go against the nature of exploration that human nature would tend to have. Sure, sturdy weaponry and gates prevent the dinosaurs from invading the compound, but once you keep all the characters inside the gates, things get a little bland to be honest. There are various supporting characters, some of them antagonists, who get thrown into the mix from time to time, but they are hardly a threat. If they were, they'd be in charge of the colony. The other issue is that of the conflict with the Sixers. With limited personnel and weaponry, they tend to have a little more muscle than disbelief can carry. Like if Shawn Bradley was their center and low post presence, for instance. But their battle, while limited in scope, is also limited to small pockets in and possibly near the colony. Come on people! Dinos or not, you've got legs, cars, even guns! Give them a spin.
Perhaps in retrospect, I should have taken the Terra Nova title more literally than I should have. Maybe by involving the dinosaurs in scenes as threats, the natural progression of keeping non-Sixers in or near the compound was a logical one, but that leaves the story to try and move things along, which it does little more than coast on. While it seems like something that would appeal to some of my geek DNA strands, my internal mechanism that judges entertainment was a lot more effected when I watched the show, which for the show's sake was a bad thing.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Fox shows Terra Nova off in all of its 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen glory, with the results being quite nice. The show balances the practically shot footage with the computer-generated explosions and dinosaurs quite nicely. Set against the Australian locations the greens look nice and natural and possess no noticeable saturation issues. Flesh tones also look natural and the source material is clean as can be, with little image noise, crushing or edge enhancement to speak of. Looks about as good as I was expecting.
Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for all episodes, which is good because the show makes ample use of all six channels. Channel panning and directional effects are evident and abundant, and subwoofer activity is frequent during the episodes, rounding out the low end nicely. Dialogue is consistent in the center channel and requires little adjustment, and the listening experience seems to reflect a fairly high production value during it. It was much better listening material than I expected.
To the credit of those at Fox, the decision to keep extras even on a half season of a cancelled show was a nice surprise. Disc One has eight deleted scenes (9:51) which did not do all that much for me, but "Director's Diaries" (34:30) was the better piece, showing off the work put into the pilot. It shows the pre-production involved, including the set and costume designs put into the show, along with the prop dressing and creature robotics. The actors are slowly introduced into it and talk about their opinions on the shoot and the locations. The impacts of the weather on the production are given some attention, and some inherent on-set mucking about is also highlighted. All in all it is a nice inclusion.
There are no extras on Disc Two, and Disc Three has two deleted scenes (1:10) which are forgettable. Disc Four includes a commentary on the finale with Lang and executive producers Brannon Braga and Rene Echevarria which is an interesting if uneventful track. "Mysteries Explored" (8:59) talks about some potential clues in the show and the larger themes in it, along with some character backstories. It is sprinkled with a spoiler here and there but is interesting. "Cretacious Life" (10:10) shows the dinosaurs of the show and their part in it, and the cast talk about the creatures. A gag reel (3:09) wraps things up in a nice tidy bow. For online users, you can access a website where you can create your own ending for the show, but you can make your own joke there.
Terra Nova is interesting conceptually, but from an execution standpoint confines itself and relies on performances and character choices that are unconvincing more often than not. Technically it is quality both from a sound and picture perspective, and on the extra material side of the house has a good deal of material for a cancelled show. If you are curious to see what the fuss was about or are a fan of science fiction or action in your television content, it is worth a spin.