Guest blogger Kira Charron, 21, is a fourth year student in Media, Information and Technoculture at the University of Western Ontario. (Check out her photo rich "Long Distance Letters" travel blog here.) She's all over the sci-fi scene and files this take on the new City/Fox dino-drama Terra Nova:
Terra Nova: Bringing Out the Best in Small Screen Sci-Fi
by KIRA CHARRON
I’ll be honest with you: I had already made up my mind about Steven Spielberg’s small-screen epic before even sitting through the two-hour pilot. With headlines such as “Terra-ble Nova” and “No. 1 Crock of the New TV Season,” I was bracing myself for the worst—and trying to come up with a snarky headline of my own.
But then, something strange happened. Somewhere in between the time warp, the overdrawn family drama, the teenage angst, and, of course, the too-good-for-TV, CGI dinosaurs, I found myself, well, enjoying it.
Let me put it this way: there is a time and a place for witty, thought-provoking dialogue, historically accurate set-constructions, and subtle yet moving performances. But that time is not Monday nights at eight, and the place is most certainly not Fox.
The story begins in the year 2149. Earth is nearing its last breath: the sky is perpetually dark, the air is unfit to breathe, and overpopulation has forced the government to implement a two-children-per-family policy. In short, it makes Blade Runner’s L.A. look like a walk in the park.
A convenient fracture in time, however, has allowed the government to start sending “pilgrimages” back in time, 85 million years, to be precise, to save the human race.
The Shannon family, comprised of Jim, a policeman, Elizabeth, a highly distinguished trauma surgeon, and their three (gasp!) children, are recruited to join the 10th pilgrimage and discover the wonderful New World that awaits them—a world filled with mysterious cave markings, man-eating dinosaurs, and apparently, some very sexed-up teenagers.
However, there’s a lot more going on here than a techno-heavy rehash of the age-old American Settler’s Tale (James Cameron’s Avatar has already done a pretty good job of that.) In fact, it’s a mash-up of genres ranging from the teen slasher flick to the medical drama. Action, romance, renegade forces and a troubled yet loving nuclear family—not a single trope is left behind in this epic showdown.
But at its heart, Terra Nova is a work of science fiction, and this is where I believe it has the potential to truly come into its own. As a genre that relies on well-known conventions such as time travel, fierce monsters, and apocalyptic futures, sci-fi hasn’t always had it easy on the small screen, especially when it comes to attracting younger audiences of the Non-Trekkie variety.
With its diverse cast, multiple storylines, and state-of-the-art graphics, Terra Nova has the ability to bring science fiction back to the mainstream. So while the individual elements may not be particularly innovative, seeing them come together in a pretty, primetime package—with Spielberg’s signature bow on top—is promising, if not downright exciting
There are still pitfalls the show will have to avoid. The pilot alone set up some pretty ambitious storylines for future episodes, including Commander Taylor’s missing son, the mysterious cave drawings, and most intriguing of all, the Sixers, a group of renegade pilgrims who’ve been sent from the future with a different goal in mind than saving mankind.
How the writers will handle these connected stories without venturing into Lost-esque territory will be interesting to see. They’ve already cleverly avoided the complication of time-travel and the butterfly effect, which, in my opinion, is where Lost sadly jumped the shark. Indeed in Terra Nova, the characters have not so much travelled back in time as into a “different time-stream,” meaning that none of their actions will affect their future-selves. A sneaky way of getting around it, but it works.
My major concern with Terra Nova relates back to the genre of science fiction. The show has raised some visually interesting and possibly controversial ideas concerning the not-so-distant future, but whether or not it can take these ideas to the next level remains to be seen.
Science fiction has always been about self-reflection and social commentary. Even though plotlines usually take place in the future and in a galaxy far, far away, there is often a striking resemblance to the social and political context of the present-day.
Terra Nova seems to be on the verge of making those comments, and could very well have the potential to do so in a thought-provoking way, but not if the writers feel the need to play it safe for primetime audiences.
As much as I loved the corny one-liners (“He’ll find a way, he always does.”) and dinosaur fights, I can’t help but feel that Spielberg and his team have tapped into something worthwhile. They’ll just need to dig deeper to find out what exactly it is.
But even if all you’re looking for is high-impact drama and action, served with an extra large side of cheese, Terra Nova will definitely provide. And with a reported budget of $20 million for the pilot episode alone, I certainly hope that it continues to do so, for Fox’s sake, that is.
Terra Nova, starring Jason O’Mara and Stephen Lang, airs on Fox and CITY-TV, Monday nights at 8:00 EST.