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Thought Catalog: Terra Nova Isn’t Like Jurassic Park, It’s Like Lost

September 28th, 2011 by Brandon Gorrell

Because I’m not an entertainment writer, I can’t say that I know all that much about how much hype has led up to FOX’s new sci-fi adventure “family” series Terra Nova, but from what I have heard, most of the blogosphere and/or ‘entertainment journalism’ industry has been all “the dinosaurs are probably more real than the characters” and “it’s just going to be like Jurassic Park.”

Being a non-entertainment writer, I couldn’t tell you which characters have set the bar for ‘realness’ in other sci-fi adventure series, but such reviews make you wonder what the hell other TV show has had characters that are even close to “real” (exceptions: Arrested Development, The Office, Community, etc.). I mean, and maybe this depends on your concept of humanity, the whole freaking premise of plot-driven entertainment/ fantasy TV itself leaves little-to-no space for the “realness” of characters to be anything but secondary to the twists and turns and backtracks of the story line. Viewer don’t care if character is a thinly veiled archetypal plot device. Viewer don’t give a shit. Viewer just wants more mysterious plot twists, romantic tension, and shocking reveals.

Which is for sure what Terra Nova has already promised, just one two-hour episode in. The executive producer is Steven Spielberg, and so, predictably, the show features Avatar-esque visual effects — which are pretty much stunning and definitely deliver on Terra Nova‘s implicit promise to deliver a steady stream of euphoria-themed epic landscape porn — and, as in one of the films that put Spielberg on the map for the 25 to 34 year-old demographic, Jurassic Park, screaming kids running away from scary dinosaurs. Such appears to be one of the main plot elements that will run through the show’s first 13-episode season — kids (and adults) running away from dinosaurs.

Of course, unlike Jurassic Park, Terra Nova won’t rely on dinosaur chase-scene porn as one of it’s central plot elements, despite the fact that — I’m sure — there won’t be less than an episode gone by without a character coming [thisclose] to getting disemboweled by a “slasher” (“90%” of dinosaurs in Terra Nova are actually not based on anything found in the fossil record, but were created to be “realistic” and, ahem, not-from-Jurassic Park). No — the central plot drivers of Terra Nova are the basic questions it’s probably going to toy around with: “Is humanity ultimately doomed to war, violence, and ecological destruction? Are we capable of learning from our mistakes? If given a second chance at redemption, what would humanity do with it?” as well as the idea of a ‘master creator’ or ‘master plan.’ Peripheral drivers are going to be, I predict, convoluted, confusing conflicts between “The Sixers” and the ‘citizens’ of Terra Nova, a budding romance between Josh and Skye, various cliche father-son conflicts between Josh and Jim, gradual reveals of Jim’s obviously mysterious and complicated past, familial relationship development between the entire Shannon family, baffling sci-fi-ish meta-logic twists regarding time-travel, and etc.

The very first thing that came to mind when I saw the initial advertisements for Terra Nova was excitement because “there’s finally going to be another LOST!!!” And so it actually appears that I was (I propose this tentatively) correct. Because after all the conflict with technologically-mysterious “Others” (I mean, “The Sixers,” sorry), character development, time-travel meta-logic and shocking reveals of Jim’s past, what the audience is REALLY going to want to know is: “What’s up with those drawings at the waterfall?”

In other words, just like the basic, most frustrating plot device in LOST, it was revealed in the first episode of Terra Nova that its world exists as the result of the cryptic design of some mysterious master creator (or sci-fi law of the universe), and that the question of who and what this design and this creator are all about will be the central catalyst for plot development and audience intrigue. Jurrassic Park was just a playing-God experiment gone wrong that happened to include dinosaurs because Spielberg just thinks they’re cool, I guess. Terra Nova‘s a TV show that’s designed to get us addicted via incomprehensible plot twists and our obsessive need to feel that despite the fact that God is a delusion, there’s still some meaningful answer to be found somehow, somewhere.

Last comment: Sep 28th 2011 1 Comment
  • Dave Mackey says:

    I have to disagree with your suggestion that viewers don’t care about *real* characters. I can’t speak for everyone – but I know for me this makes the difference between an *okay* and a *good* show. A show can be interesting, but if the characters are not also compelling (and struggling with the nature of humanity), it fails to have long-term interest. Granted, a show cannot be all relationships (at least not for this guy…), it needs a good bit of head-twisting plots and action…but the absence of either element leaves any show falling far short.
    I do think there have been a good number of shows that capture realism and humanness in their elements…the one that comes most immediately to mind is Jericho (though I’d consider only the first season *canonical*, the second season is blahh, a sad result of trying to market to a wider audience…which also failed).
    It might be correct to say that broadcast television generally lacks some realism is in its characters, but this is less true of cable shows…which generally can afford to offer more nuanced character depictions due to a reduced need to attract *everyone* to the show.
    But even here the times are changing. I think viewers are demanding more realism in their characters…especially if one compares shows from the fifties or sixties to those now – the character depth has increased by a significant multiplication.
    I would agree that the series appears to be more similar to Lost than to Jurassic Park. I hope however that this series will avoid the loopiness which Lost embraced. Do the authors have an established story arc? I don’t mean all the details, but I hope someone has determined where the story is going and some of the general markers along the way. One of the big problems with series currently is the temptation to make them infinite – always extending the story and traversing with no clear end in sight. One can easily traverse multiple seasons with a predetermined story arc…
    Finally, I wasn’t entirely empressed by the CGI in the first episode. Well, let me rephrase. The CGI was more than adequate, but it was sometimes evident that the actors where standing on a blue screen – as their coloring compared to the surrounding coloring sharply contrasted…this is a big no-no and I’m not sure why it is occurring so many years after Jurassic Park set such clear precedent for integratiain on of CGI and live-action and after Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow showed how well blue screen and live actors could be integrated…hopefully they’ll fix this issue for future episodes.