'Terra Nova' Review: Go Back In Time to the Dawn of Lame Clichés
It’s always a bad sign when my Hot Wife switches to Spanish, which she did after watching about 20 minutes of the premiere of Terra Nova. She dubbed it Terra Mierda. I won’t translate it for you gringos; just understand that it does not mean “World of Quality Entertainment.”
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Now, understand that it gives me no pleasure to report that Terra Nova is off to a crappy start. None. Anyone living in California knows lots of people who work in the Industry, from crew to talent, who rely on production to feed their families. We want shows to be great, to be hits, to run for years. And none of them got up and said “I want to take an interesting idea and turn it into a hackneyed, tedious death march.” Well, maybe the writers and producers did – the vicissitudes of chance do not account for how they managed to hit every tiresome cliché and make every bad choice available every time.
The conceit of Terra Nova is that a bunch of people from 2189 are sent back in time from a polluted, fascist Earth 85 million years to restart human civilization. They face all sorts of ferocious dinosaurs, which is cool, and that have all sorts of bitchin’ guns, which is also cool. Steven Spielberg is involved with it, and once upon a time he made movies I actually liked. Fox is spending a fortune on it. It should be kinda interesting and kinda fun.
No, the premiere was a ponderous nightmare composed of the same cookie-cutter, lazy choices that have been wrecking such shows and movies for years. Like the mega-disappointing Walking Dead, which somehow made a zombie apocalypse boring, Terra Nova has somehow done the same for another cool idea – this one being carnivorous dinosaurs.
Terra Nova has done a lot of things wrong, though it did do a few things right. But the premiere’s meh ratings, despite months of hype, showed that the creators better get a grip before the show joins its main attractions in extinction. Here are some key takeaways from the endless two-hour premiere:
1. Enough of the Manufactured Family Drama: Surprise – our hero has a family, and they spend all of their time talking about their feelings toward one another. The father, played by Jason Mara, was in prison because the family had an extra kid and he only rejoins the family (after the world’s simplest maximum security prison breakout) as they step back in time. So he has issues. With his wife. And his teen son. And his teen daughter. And his other daughter. And they talk about them. All the time. Then they hug. It all makes me want to projectile vomit.
Now, screenwriters, I know they teach you at screenwriting seminars that you have to create a rooting interest for the audience. Okay, here, rooting for them to win the gunfights with the rampaging velociraptors is plenty interesting. Interminable discussions of emotions followed by cuddling, not so much.
Why …. why … does every show seem to have to focus on bizarre daddy issues? I want an exciting, interesting entertainment experience, not to sit there watching you work out your personal psychodrama. Just show me a tyrannosaurus biting a tank.
Remember 2005’s War of the Worlds? It sounded great on paper. You got aliens and Spielberg and special effects…it should have been awesome. And what did we get? We get this idiotic domestic drama with Tom Cruise arguing with a couple of urchins as they drive around the Eastern Seaboard. Sure, he beat on Tim Robbins, which was cool, but otherwise it was like Are We There Yet? with an older, duller Maverick taking the Ice Cube role.
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And I bet Cube would have spent less time bickering with the shorties and more time going upside some alien head. Yeah, now that would have been the mierda.
Look. There’s this stupid notion floating around out there in Tinseltown, promulgated by self-appointed script gurus and enforced by Hollywood suits whose only flair for creativity is within the realm of their personal debaucheries, that the focus of every story needs to be a loving family that fights then hugs. Give me a freaking break. That's the same thinking that turned Super 8 into Super Suck.
Someone needs to dare to speak truth to hackery and say, “How about the story focus on something cool, like running from dinosaurs, without taking momentum-halting stops to work through abandonment issues every time something interesting is about to go down?” Which leads us to the next point:
2. Can the Characters Not Be Idiots? Characters doing dumb things, like going for a naked swim while Hatchet Boy is running around the abandoned summer camp, has been a cliché for decades. In Terra Nova, it’s even more frustrating because it usually revolves around the same insane need to stop the story every two minutes in order for a couple characters to hash out their stupid feelings.
Someone is missing and needs to be found before darkness falls and the dinos come out to dine…what do you do? Do you grab your rifle and join other trained warriors, moving quickly to locate and rescue the lost people, or do you get into a lengthy argument with your wife who isn’t a trained warrior but wants to come along anyway because…well, I don’t know…because fighting off carnivorous reptiles isn’t hard enough without bringing along some unarmed civilian to slow you down.
Oh, and when you do find an injured person in the middle of nowhere, do you: A) Secure the wounded person, load her in a vehicle, and move out before the monsters come back or B) spend some time out in the open in the dark, lizard-filled forest discussing your feelings. Well, if the answer was “A”, it would be Terra Awesome.
3. The Concept Is More Interesting Than Any Character: Sorry folks, but I know that your gurus tell you character is everything, but this isn’t freaking Ingmar Bergman. I’m not tuning in to delve deep into the psyche of… geez, I watched two hours of that show and already forgot the main character’s name. Whatev. I don’t care about the characters. The concept is cool; if I want a character study, I’ll seek out a story that doesn’t involve time travel to the Jurassic Age. You feel me?
Now, the concept is not just dinosaurs. The idea of starting a civilization over could be really interesting if they started exploring issues like how society was organized, whether they would try communal living or a market, dictatorship versus democracy. The focus on feelings overwhelmed most of it, but there were interesting hints at how this new society was forming. Contributions seem to be made according from the ability of the colonist, while resources appear to be distributed according to his needs. We call that communism; Hollywood people called that “Awesome…for you peasants.”
I wonder if the producers will have the guts to confront the failure of non-market economics in a way that the super-lame – and overtly fascist/socialist Star Trek: The Next Generation (Yeah, I went there Trekboys) – never did. Probably not – Terra Nova’s executive producer Brannon Braga is a Star Trek alum. So we’ll probably hear lots about a wonderful new world without greed or capitalism or stuff. It’ll be a paradise, just like the pilgrims (whose name the series appropriates for the colonists) experienced in New England prior to introducing free enterprise. Communism worked really well there, just like it has everywhere it’s been attempted. At least, that’s what Chet the Unicorn told me.
4. There Are Hints of a Mythology Which Must Be Ruthlessly Suppressed: Ever since Chris Carter’s The X-Files started the trend by weaving its detailed, incoherent, stupid back story into its episodes, every sci-fi/fantasy show on TV now has to have some elaborate and pointless mythology. Mythology episodes are always death – you can tell a terrible X-File episode because it starts off with some portentous Scully monologue and inevitably ends up raising more questions and bile than it answers.
Please don’t think we need that here. You have man-eating dinos. You don’t need an all-encompassing conspiracy by powerful forces that come together in a terrifying effort to occupy the imaginations of lonely 35-year old virgins with nothing better to do than think about TV shows.
5. There Are Some Good Things: There are some things that deserve praise. First, Stephen Lang as the dictator of the place is pretty awesome. And his character is not what you expect – though he is on the cusp not only of a mythology plot line but one that involves his lost son. Don’t. Go. There.
The dinosaurs are pretty cool, as are the rest of the special effects. They're not perfect, but who cares? The set design and props are really good. It would be nice, though, if those neat-o guns seemed to have any effect on the dinosaurs. The characters get all Scarface on the lizards, firing off long bursts of rounds that have about as much effect as a multi-billion Obama stimulus package.
And the politics do not (yet) make me sick. I was busy complaining to my Hot Wife, so I missed what somebody told me was the shot showing that 2189 money had Obama’s face on the bills – that’s amusing. I just wonder who gets his mug on the higher denomination, him or Jimmy Carter?
It's so far not as eco-stupid as I expected. The producers mention that “we” somehow ruined the planet, but they don’t mention or attribute it to the global warming scam, which was nice since I grilled some really tasty cheeseburgers right before and it would have been a shame to puke them up.
Also, the fascist government that arrests people who have too many kids cannot be considered right wing – in fact, famed Chinese family planning fan and liberal fave Thomas Friedman would have approved. So, at least for now, there was no liberal sucker punch.
Perhaps Terra Nova will improve. I hope so. No one wants to see a show fail. It certainly could be interesting. For the viewers, it’s a cool concept and might be a fun diversion. For the many folks on and off camera, it’s their livelihood. This is not just a beat down for the sake of beating down an easy target. This is a plea… to give us a fresh, exciting program that doesn’t spout the same hopeless clichés that have wrecked so many other movies and shows. So, guys, get it together and cut the mierda.