‘Terra Nova’ Series Premiere Review & Discussion

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terra nova premiere review Terra Nova Series Premiere Review & Discussion

Fox’s bank-busting showpiece Terra Nova finally lands tonight, with the eyes of sci-fi and action fans the world over resting upon it. Will it be the Avatar-meets-Lost extravaganza the network is hoping for, or will it simply die off come the next seasonal extinction event?

I won’t bore you with a lengthy explanation of Terra Nova‘s time-travelling origin story – for that, check out our impressions of the footage presented at this year’s Comic-Con. It’ll give you an in-depth look at the first hour of the premiere without spoiling the second half.

To make a long review short: if you’ve been looking forward to this show since the Super Bowl teaser trailer, you won’t need any encouragement to sit down and watch the two-hour premiere. Close your laptop, turn off your iDevice, start the microwave and enjoy a popcorn-worthy night of television. Terra Nova is far from perfect, but it’s a joy to watch and just about anyone should find something to like.

At its heart, Terra Nova wants to be equal parts Avatar, Jurassic Park and Lost. The unspoiled sci-fi setting gives the characters (if not the audience) the exploratory wonder of Pandora, while the monsters share a lot of creative DNA with Stephen Spielberg’s prehistoric opus. But these things do not a serial story make, and that’s where the Lost-style mystery comes in.

terra nova premiere shannon family Terra Nova Series Premiere Review & Discussion

There are several questions and conflicts established in the pilot, with the best among them being the rebellious Sixers. These anti-establishment pilgrims have their own agenda, and while not exactly evil, their past and present intentions could certainly be considered insidious. Since you can’t have all dinos all the time, look for this group to provide a lot of the human conflict throughout the first season.

The mysterious apparitions that point towards previous settlers of the supposedly uninhabited timeline can be taken one of two ways. It’s either a promising beginning towards a multi-season mystery… or a groan-inducing start to a multi-season mystery. While intrigue is always welcome, I fear that science fiction fans jaded after disappointing ends to Lost and Battlestar Galactica may be tired of the suspense-payoff game. You be the judge.

The more subtle aspects of the pilot are hit-or-miss. The squabbling between protagonist Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara, Life on Mars) and his teenage son Josh (Landon Liboiron) falls flat, as do pretty much all of the adolescent performances. But the interactions between Jim, wife Elisabeth (Shelley Conn, How Do You Know) and their illegal daughter Zoe are genuinely touching, and given the events in certain parts of the world, surprisingly timely.

As a matter of fact, the Dystopian future world that the Shannon family is escaping seems at least as interesting as their past paradise. While the world of 2149 is collapsing, the civil authority still has control in some terrifying ways. The crumbling, Blade Runner-inspired sets and cityscapes are breathtaking. I hope there’s more communication between Terra Nova‘s separate worlds in the coming episodes.

terra nova premiere t rex carnasaur Terra Nova Series Premiere Review & Discussion

As far as speculative fiction goes, the show plays with some established big ideas without adding anything new. The bifurcated time travel idea is well-trodden, but not unwelcome (the show deals with A Sound of Thunder-type paradox quickly). The intrigue will come organically from the characters and the setting – while Doctor Who is throwing around fresh ideas every week, a more tame telling is probably appropriate for a broadcast audience.

Headliner Stephen Lang lights up the screen whenever he appears, and his character is complex enough to hold the viewer’s interest in its own right. Unlike the gruff marine from Avatar, Commander Taylor is hard, but strategically sympathetic. Likewise, the rebel leader Mara (Christine Adams, Tron: Legacy) is fun to watch. The interaction between these two is a highlight of the pilot, and should continue to be so.

The show shines on almost every single technical aspect. To say that Terra Nova is ambitious is an understatement of mammoth proportions. Never before has a network show attempted to create a serialized effects-heavy summer blockbuster on a television budget, even one as massive as this one. Every aspect of the production design oozes quality, from the huge on-location sets to the computer-generated dinosaurs that are the real stars. Make no mistake: Terra Nova would not be possible ten (or possibly even five) years ago. The movie magic on display, especially that of the tooth and claw variety, is far and away the best that’s ever been seen on television.

A scene inside a disabled Jeep is the high point of the episode. Panic-stricken kids facing Slashers (Raptors with more style) create an intense feeling of real danger for the characters. This is rare in a network pilot, and the short moments give the remaining screen time an edge.

terra nova raptor slasher dinosaur Terra Nova Series Premiere Review & Discussion

This isn’t to say that there aren’t compromises. To make the prehistoric setting a reality on a TV budget, the dinos and a lot of establishing shots are almost 100% computer-generated. There are none of the brilliant practical effect hand-offs that made Jurassic Park an instant classic – frequent moviegoers may find their jaded suspension of disbelief on autopilot. Compounding that, the scenes in the Terra Nova settlement are all beautifully realized, but sterile. They bring to mind a more earthy version of the Starfleet Academy campus from the later Trek series: too clean and natural to be real, especially considering the more wild segments on the jungle and grasslands.

That’s not the only thing Terra Nova has in common with Star Trek. The entire setting seems just a little bit too clean, a little too orderly (once they leave the future, that is). This extends to the dialogue and action – serviceable and at times exciting, but still a little stiff. I sense the hand of Trek veteran producer Brannon Braga. This may loosen up in future episodes as the cast and crew become more confident. On the upside, Terra Nova should be just fine for most children in the 10-12 range, a welcome decision for parents hoping to enjoy an evening with the family.

Aspects like music and costumes are… well, they’re there. The soundtrack is appropriately epic without being anything you’d hum the next day. The costumes and gear are typical near-future commando and natural warrior fare, though the futuristic vehicles and weapons make interesting viewing. However, the stalking monsters and beautiful setting outshine these more pedestrian parts of production. Some of the little details will nag paleontology buffs (“That’s not what an oviraptor looks like! Those pteranodons weren’t there for another ten million years! Wouldn’t a domesticated brachiosaurus need miles of grazing land?!”) but the overall effect will thrill the young and imaginative.

terra nova premiere cast Terra Nova Series Premiere Review & Discussion

On the whole, my complaints are nitpicks on an impressive accomplishment. Viewers looking for action will be satisfied and then some. While the dinosaur appearances are a relatively small part of the 120-minute premiere, their presence is felt throughout, and help to smooth over Terra Nova‘s dramatic wrinkles. There’s competent acting and storytelling to fill in the gaps, and enough mystery to keep people coming back for more.

The long wait was worth it. Terra Nova is the scripted television event of the fall, and with good reason. You owe it to yourself to check the premiere out.


Terra Nova airs Monday nights at 8PM on Fox.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @MichaelCrider

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  1. The whole show should have been set around Stephen Lang

    Cower before the mighty Stephen Lang you Metro pussies

    • The man apparently survived 180ish days ALONE back there in the past. I want a series about that!

  2. CGI looks so bad… SO BAD!

    • When you say CGI, you’re referring to the dinosaurs. There’s much more CGI in Terra Nova than just the dinosaurs. But, yes, the dinosaurs aren’t amazing… but they aren’t all that terrible either.

  3. Watching it at the moment so far its pretty good CGI could be a lot better but what do you expect its for tv.

  4. It’s a TV show, so yeah. The CGI’s not gonaa be the greatest. Who cares?

    And for all the people who were worried about it, it’s nothing like Avatar.

  5. Have they explained why they picked the prehistoric era to travel to?

    • Yes. They said they detected a “fissure” in time and this period was the end (or beginning). It’s a new time so the butterfly effect doesn’t apply.

      • While they did explain it away with a quick “fissure=separate time line” they also kept referring to the past/future as if it were still connected. and the mystery with the equations being Commander Taylor’s attempt to control the future from the past didn’t quite make sense in the context they established earlier. This might be nit-picking from a broad philosophical POV but it did throw me off.

    • They didn’t make any choices, a random distortion in space appeared and they built their technology for using it and reasons for doing so around the anomaly. As usual humans feel somehow responsible for, or in control of, something that occurs naturally when the truth is we will never have control; science is only observable study and use mankind is just another dumb animal struggling to survive.

  6. Weak. You know why Lost was such a great show. Important characters died. The girl who freaked out and ran into the jungle should be dead. And also if a civilization can go back in time but cant invent a gun that can kill a dinasour, forreal? Weak . Its like you got a bunch of moms to write the show. The bad guy whos use to being in the wild and shoot a gun gets killed in half a second by one of those things, but a histarical 16 yr old girl being loud running through the jungle filled w predators survives w cuts. Laughable. Its like a gay jurassic park.

    • You obviously are missing the point. This “new” civilization is trying to work WITH this world instead of dominating it with pure force (if possible).

      During the kid rescue they used tranq. guns and the sonic cannons during the carnosaur scene laid down suppression fire to deter the dinosaurs instead of directly hitting them.

      And while I agree the young girl managing to survive an apparent slasher attack was a bit eyebrow raising, it isn’t completely impossible for that type of thing to happen.

      Also tossing around the “g” word is in very poor taste. If you don’t like the show then DON’T watch it. Simple.

      • spare us your pc drivel, that was the most honest assesment of the show yet and dont be so sensitive the ” G ” word has nothing to do with being gay in that post

      • “During the kid rescue they used tranq. guns and the sonic cannons during the carnosaur scene laid down suppression fire to deter the dinosaurs instead of directly hitting them.”

        While you think this was cool, I think it was retarded. “We’re all in mortal danger, including kids (regardless if they’re stupid) – but lets not kill the poor dinosaurs.”



        • Which will be dying off anyway from some global catastrophe. Wait a minute; what about that catastrophe? Won’t the offspring of the settlers also be toast?

          • Remember, it’s a different timeline. So it’s not a given that the dino’s will be killed off.

            • I don’t know; that’s a pretty big chance they’re taking. And like someone else said, they don’t seem to communicate with the other timeline so how do the people of the other timeline know the people survived?

              • They are 85 million years in the past, the catastrophe that killed the dinosaurs was 65 million years in the past. That’s 20 million years (imagine for awhile how long that amount of time is). That being said in this timeline the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs may be on a completely different orbit and may not even hit them, or perhaps, to argue against me, it or a different one could hit the next day.

        • I think you guys are missing a “huge” point. What do you do with a 30 ton dead animal that dies right in front of your wooden fort with very larg predators all around that will smell the blood and come looking? You cannot kill the dino’s near your base unless you want more dinos there. So the sonic guns make a lot of sense.

          • mikwoz,

            That’s a great point for the scene in front of the fort. But I was talking about the scene out in the middle of the jungle/forest, where the weapons they were using while multilple deadly creatures were bearing down on them. :)


            • @ Vic:

              I think we are going to find out it’s not an alternate timeline. So they are trying not to kill anything. But of course thats just speculation on my part.

              Also it could be they “A-Team Syndrome”. Where bullets fly ever week but nothing dies, so they can keep it kid friendly.

  7. Yeah, I dunno. It’s like… meh. Things I’ve seen before. I tried to get excited about it, but it is like Jurassic Park mets Lost, and that probably was the sell point. I don’t know. Like you said, the sets are too cleanish looking. It’s hard to buy this show. Maybe. I don’t. I’m certainly not watching Dancing with the Stars or the Sing-off, that’s for sure. Maybe I’ll stick with it for a few weeks and see where it goes. It’s just not “fresh” enough. It is a rehash of ideas.

    And… I’m getting a little tired of the “future is polluted and overcrowded” stupid scenario. Bad enough Avatar tries to spank with enviro-messages, and now we get this, too. Good thing that’s in the pilot and out of the way.

    • While the world is polluted and over-crowded is a perfectly plausible scenario, I could see something along the lines of they know a large asteroid is on a collision course with earth and a luckily a rift opened up to save them type thing may be more interesting.

      I wonder though, if that rift to the other timeline was made by the future people of the other timeline on purpose, in order to ensure that they (the settlers that we are seeing in this timeline) get to where they need to be. But with time travel and extra dimensions things are too complicated and they’ll likely mess it up.

  8. One thing I have to ask: How are they breathing 85 million years ago? And quite honestly why go back to the dinosaur times? Couldn’t they eff up time doing that? I’ll still watch the rerun probably.

    • They’re in an alternate timeline.

      I guess they have no problem with screwing up some OTHER universe’s timeline.


  9. I’m 20 minutes in and it’s lost me. Unless it gets a lot better once Lang shows up, I’m done.


    • Oh, it definitely gets better once Lang shows up, Vic. Trust me.
      He seems to be channeling John Wayne or Robert Mitchum—the classic macho guy in charge… with a bit of an edge. Anyway, I’m loving this show so far!

      • Yeah… well now I’m one hour in and it’s cliche-city.


  10. I enjoyed the hell out of it. A bit of it was cliche, but hey, it’s FREAKIN’ DINOSAURS on TV!! Solid premiere episode, IMO, and it should improve as the series goes on.

    • Yeah, it was a little cliche, but what more can you do with dinosaurs? I still liked it, and will be watching it next week.

  11. I honestly thought that the stuff in the future was a lot more interesting then the rest of the episode, the Terra Nova centric parts.

    Overall I thought it was a meh pilot, I have yet to see any pilots this fall that have amazed me.

  12. So far so good, Lang just was introduced, still got another hour and a half to go though.

  13. OK, finished the episode. The ONLY thing that might keep me watching a few more episodes at this point is Lang.

    And no doubt Lang and crew will turn out to have a nefarious purpose and the theiving, murdering Sixes will turn out to be noble.


    • I could have told you that and I barely paid attention to the thirty minutes I sat in front of my tv. He’s way too awesome to not turn out to be bad later.

      I had very little curiosity in this show and it lost me at the angsty teenage son. I feel like the older I get, the more that behavior being portrayed on television becomes a turn-off.

      • “I feel like the older I get, the more that behavior being portrayed on television becomes a turn-off.”

        Wow. Couldn’t have said it better myself. 8)


  14. “I’m not going if dad isn’t going!” (makes a huge deal about it)
    10 minutes later
    “Why should I listen to you? you were gone for 2 years!!!”
    i don’t like the son at all but everything else seems okay. Lang was the best of course. hopefully it’ll get better

  15. With you Vic

    Ridden with annoying cliches and needs more Lang

    Chief among them:

    Angsty, annoying, Bieber haircut, mouthing off to dad(but with a good heart teen)-check

    Misundertood Eco-terrorist hippee United Colors of Benneton types

    Bland but pretty cast (except for the mighty Lang) – check

  16. I thought it was pretty good, CGI was great for a TV show. It had a few problems with characters, and plot but not enough to turn me away. I give it an 7.5 out of 10.

  17. I’m an hour in. Meh. Lang is awesome. All the kids are awful actors. I’ll hang around a few weeks..

  18. Are the geometric equations etched on the rocks by the waterfall a way to get back to 2149?

    • The calculations, is that why his son vanished two years earlier? He did not want to stay in the past? Also the consensus they are not in our earth`s past, but another`s, is that also a lie? I also get the vibe they are not really 85 million years in the past, maybe the asteroid impact did not wipe out the dinosaurs,they discovered the actual reason and they are only a small distance in the past. It seems the only reason for the Sixers to have this “agenda”

  19. I found the season finale of Alphas way better than the season premiere of Terra Nova.

    • How is Alphas by the way? I never heard very much about that show.

      • It started out slow but has its moments that are real bright moments. The first season left off with a lot of potential for the show that makes it transcend beyond the cliche crap. For a low budget show on Sci Fi, it has more going for it than most sci fi shows right now.

        • Yea Ive only seen a few episodes, one or two kept me watching out of curiosity, but i got annoyed with some of the charecters.. My wife yells at me to stop complaining and get out of the room cause she absolutley loves monday nights on sy-fy, with Eureka, Warehouse 13, and then Alphas.

  20. I had no expectations for this show. I saw the trailer and thought it looked ‘interesting’. Found some of it to be predicable and sappy, but also I didnt find myself reaching for the remote either. Will I continue to watch?? Yes.

  21. Not a bad show, but I must admit I believe the plot was lifted from the BBC’s “Outcasts.” Instead of stranded in time, the group of settlers are on a distant planet. The Earth they left was falling apart. There are a group of people outside the town’s perimeter that are in conflict with the settlers. The head of the settlers is a tough guy who was hiding a secret about the other group. Instead of mysterious equations, the “Outcasts” find fossils that appear to be from ancient human beings. So for the most part, instead of a somewhat barren world we have the same thing with dinosaurs. Oh, in the BBC series we also have a parent/child conflict. The mother leaving the daughter on Earth until she can arrange to get her to the new planet, and the daughter resenting it. Hope this show differentiates itself more in the coming season. I do like the adult leads, though.

  22. So far so good, Lang just was introduced, still got another hour and a half to go though.

  23. When I was watching “Terra Nova,” something felt off. The set was too clean and the characters were weak and annoying. The family has a problem with the father being a cop. The son has “daddy issues” so he goes off base with a “hot” girl. They wasted time, ammo, meds and lost a vehicle for alcohol. I would’ve reprimanded the idiots.
    It felt like the characters didn’t understand how dangerous the dinosaurs were. It ended too happy. It should’ve ended with slashers jumping over the fence (which did not look like it was protected at all) and killing some people.
    Why is there not an underground base for civilians. They’ll get in the way of the soldiers if anything happens.

  24. This won’t do. I prefered the bleak city landscape, very Blade Runnerish as is default these days. As soon as I saw the CGI landscape and Dino’s I was hugely unimpressed. It was like “Walking With Dinosours” with added actors and plot.
    It’s early days yet, so the conspiracy arc better be good or i’m passing. Can we just lose the wife and 3 kids in a Dino attack and bring in some talent? That might help.
    A huge waste of time,money and talent (Lang).

  25. I was highly entertained by the show and will continue to watch it. Not saying it didn’t have it’s problems (the whole, “teenagers defying authority and going OTC to make moonshine”, really had me rolling my eyes) but most shows need some time to find their feet so I will give it a chance.

    Visuals were definitely A grade CGI, so I really don’t know how people could be complaining about that. I personally impressed with how well they blended it into the show.

    My biggest problem with the show however is their apparent cavalier moral attitude to polluting someone ELSE’S timeline. Seems pretty cutthroat to not care about invoking the “butterfly effect” on this world and it’s future.

    The other thing I keep thinking about is…….how exactly do they know how things are going on Terra Nova? Unless I missed something, there is no two way communication so they could very well just be sending people into a death trap, feeding the local fauna. Sure that wouldn’t make for a good TV show but it is a real possibility they don’t seem to be worried about.

  26. Just a few comments.

    1 The concept I didn’t mind and the graphics were fine.

    2 Either the directing sucked or the acting did but either way it felt rushed.

    3 There was no character devoplement at all. I’m left with absolutely no feeling for these people.

    With the lack of scifi shows available I am left with no other choice but to watch it. Hopefully the characters will get a polish. They touched on alot of plot “strings” which could be very interesting but they should have made the stoy for the pilot alot more narrow. Other success full shows have been successful by not introducing too much.

  27. OK OK , I get it alot of the people out there are expecting Jurassic Park and Avatar quality movie making coming to the small screen , but for a TV show I haven’t been this interested in a show since LOST !! If it wasnt for Lang the show might sux , but hey the father is pretty good and not bad eye candy, then next week the wife’s ex comes to town (CONFLICT) I liked the kids were surronded by dinos , and a few of them should have been lunchmeat !! Would have been more of a real scene to lose some of them ! I will keep watching to see how this goes , I was thinking I was watching Land of the Lost , we need some SLEE-STACKS and CHA-CA want water characters ! LOL !!

  28. The concept is great but they forgot about one thing.
    The dinos were taken out by a comet or ice age or
    some other cataclysmic event…Oops series finale

    • The dinosaurs suddenly went extinct 65 million years ago. These people time traveled back 85 million years. That’s a twenty million year difference (if their flux capacitor is working correctly).

      Plenty of time to build up civilization (and possibly prevent the cataclysm) in twenty million years.

      • Or maybe it wasn’t a comet/meteorite itself that caused the dinosaurs extinction but the humans ;)

  29. I found this pilot very confusing. How come in the future no one can hit a giant lizard with a fully-automatic machine gun? There seems to be no effect on target. What a joke. I had to shut it off after the 10th full clip unload into a dinosaur with no apparent effect. What are we supposed to believe their skin is made of Kevlar? Silly.