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'Terra Nova': Beautiful From Afar, Not-So-Pretty Up Close

Date October 03, 2011
No matter how much bad press the pilot of 'Terra Nova' received, I had to watch. When someone spends $20 million on a pilot, you watch it. But in all the negativity around the show -- the exorbitant price tag, the repeated delaying of the premiere date -- everyone seems to agree that the visual fabric of this show is...
No matter how much bad press the pilot of 'Terra Nova' received, I had to watch. When someone spends $20 million on a pilot, you watch it. But in all the negativity around the show -- the exorbitant price tag, the repeated delaying of the premiere date -- everyone seems to agree that the visual fabric of this show is top-quality. The 'Blade Runner'-esque state of ruined future Earth, the super-sized 'Stargate' portal and the CGI dinosaurs are indeed convincing, as they should be at that price.

'Terra Nova': Beautiful From Afar, Not-So-Pretty Up Close
I actually warmed to the show on second viewing, but I was overwhelmed by the number of details included that seemed to contradict each other, or just confuse the issues. Besides the bone structure and eating habits of the local dinos, I wonder how much the writers really know about the monster they've created. Here are some things about 'Terra Nova' that just aren't sitting right.

The Infirmary
Dr. Elizabeth Shannon seems to have access to the best technology the 24th century has to offer -- like transparent iPads and hospital beds equipped with force fields -- yet she says she's practicing medieval medicine, and has to pull a giant leech from a patient's back. She takes the time to explain the leech; it "must remove excess oxygen from the blood," she says. Apparently newcomers to the past can't handle the relative purity of the air or food. They get oxygen-sick and have to drink milkshakes for the first few days. A lot of detail on the surface seems to paint a complete picture, but to a more scrutinizing eye, is contradictory.

The Local Infrastructure
Why is there a fruit and vegetable market in the middle of Terra Nova? How can a free market system possibly be the best way to distribute food to such a small population in such extreme circumstances? Why do the main and outer buildings of the settlement appear to be built from bamboo, yet there's no bamboo growing in the forest around them? I know it's a picky point, but the set designers clearly went to a lot of trouble to give us an impression of a sustainably-made compound -- so why did they build from a substance not found locally? And for that matter, why are they painting the places? They don't have more important things to do besides decorate?

The Costumes
It felt to me that the design crew for the show had been given a healthy budget and a broad outline of the show, but not enough specifics. For example, the costume department obviously enjoyed dressing characters across a chasm of 85 million years, but they didn't think it out. The Terra Nova security detail are wearing hi-tech uniforms that would be more at home in a WWE performance, while the citizens of Terra Nova appear to shop exclusively at Anthropologie. These same citizens left Future Earth wearing army surplus and rags not 24 hours ago. Sustainabilty comes up here too: What's the point of showing the audience the smug little wind turbines on the edge of the living area if the clothes worn by the prisoners are clearly made in the over-populated hellish future?

The Back-Story
One one hand, the government of Future Earth punishes illegal reproduction with up to 6 years in a maximum security prison. And the prison conditions are akin to a sewer. It's hard to imagine that the same government would be running the Terra Nova project so loosely, recruiting rather than drafting its pioneers. In fact, it's hard to imagine any governing body running an important project in such a laissez-faire manner.

Speaking of the government aspect of this show, I was pretty excited about this. In fact, it reminded me a little bit of 'Battlestar Galactica' when it became clear that the sixth group of 'Terra Nova' pilgrims were sent back as agent provocateurs and sowers of dissension. Finding out more about their mission, reasons and beliefs and who sent them seemed like a great season-long mystery. But alas, that was too simple -- the last scene complicated it by throwing in ominous cliff drawings, a crazy prodigal son, and a conspiracy to control the future.

Let's just get right to the heart of it: what is the point of the Terra Nova project anyway? Will they eventually move enough of the population to the past to relieve the pressure on Future Earth? If so, why aren't they building up the past faster? By my count, they've sent less than 1000 souls back -- hardly enough to make a dent.

Despite all this, I am interested enough in the story to want to see more, but I'm really wary of getting pulled into another hopelessly complicated drama that asks more questions than it answers. (Speaking of questions, here's one more: what is the deal with that silly little fence around the place? It clearly won't keep determined dinosaurs out -- and it doesn't seem to keep annoying teenagers in.)

What do you think of 'Terra Nova' thus far?

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