Monday, 7 February 2011

Hollywood Babble On & On #672: Terra No Thank You

Welcome to the show folks...

I saw the preview for the upcoming Spielberg produced TV epic Terra Nova, and if you missed it, take a look for yourself:

Well, I guess I can start with an expression of how I feel about this: Feh.

I guess you can break it down to a simple formula that the folks behind it cooked up:

Jurassic Park + Avatar ÷ TV x $$$ = Mucho Success

Me, I fear that little equation's going to turn out to be way wrong and it's going to turn out to be an over-priced, over-hyped boondoggle of epic proportions.

Here's why:

1. THE FUTURE: The premise of the show is that 130+ years in the future the planet Earth is an overpopulated polluted mess, so they go back in time to start anew. I'll get back to their destination in a second, but first I'd like to express a beef with the makers of the show.

My beef is that, according to the writers, by 2149 mankind has mastered time travel, yet seems to have forgotten what would be almost 200 years of knowledge and technology in the field of pollution control.


Of course it's all blamed on the old standbys of "greed" and "war" as if anything short of the total nuclear annihilation of civilization would cause such massive technological and social regression.

That's been the standard dystopia trope, or dys-tropia since the 1960s. In fact, I was expecting to see the family snacking on Soylent Green while they packed for their trip to Dino-time. But I digress...

When this dys-tropia idea first came around it was seen as new, novel, and perceived as a timely warning against all the things Malthus spoke about a century or more earlier. Nowadays, it's just a cliche, and a boring one at that.

So where do people go to escape this cliche? They go into--

2. THE PAST: But not just any past, a part of the past with lots of nasty dinosaurs running amok in it.

Couldn't they have picked a time that was less overrun with very very large carnivores?

Couldn't they have sent someone back to prevent the civilizational collapse that rendered the year 2149 uninhabitable?

Also colonizing the past contains a whole
heap of concerns about alternate realities, changes in history, and other possibilities that I don't think the show will touch on, sticking with dino-attacks and domestic melodramas.

3. THE CHARACTERS: I looked at that trailer and I saw a parade of stereotypes, not characters. Chief among them is the gruff militaristic colony leader played by Stephen Lang, a talented actor who tends to get wasted on roles like this.

I can see his entire character arc. He at
first sells himself as a tough but fair leader on a harsh frontier. Then he'll be fairly quickly revealed to be a psycho monster looking to repeat all the mistakes made in the future, and he'll be opposed by a bunch of dino-hugging Jurassic hippies who see his true nature and agenda, because they're in tune with their environment.

Our central family will eventually get through whatever dysfunctions the writers think will make them three dimensional, and join the fight against this wannabe Mussolini, and it'll be a fresh battle each and every week.

4. THE LIMITATIONS: There are two sets of limitations holding this show down, the limitations of the medium (mainstream network TV) and the limitations of the message (the format).

Mainstream TV networks have a poor record with science fiction and fantasy television, especially in recent years. This is because the classic SF shows tended to be guided by the imagination and leadership of a single visionary, a Rod Serling, or a Gene Roddenberry, who create and run the show while hopefully protecting it from network interference.

There was a time when either success, or clever gamesmanship could protect a show, to a certain extent, from undue network interference, but those days are long over.

Today networks are runs by committees of presidents and vice presidents all eager to pipe in their two cents to justify their existence, and feel those same two cents are justified by their Ivy League background. They love to meddle, and to go for the safe and the familiar, thus ruining a genre that is founded on the risky and the original.

Then there's the limitations of the format. I distrust shows where the villain is in the opening credits. Villains can recur, that's great, but having one as a headlining co-star is a recipe for trouble. It forces the writers into a corner to make this person the center of every plot of every episode at the expense of other potential characters to give a weekly show the variety of material it needs to thrive.

I also get the feeling that if the show goes beyond a second season, they're going to start pulling Lost like stunts out of their collective ass involving things like Chariots of the Gods/Ancient Aliens stuff or evolved dinos walking and talking.

To sum it all up, I'm not really holding out much hope for this show. I might be proven wrong, but sadly that's rarely the case.


  1. First of all this show is on FOX. FOX's rep with sci-fi shows is pretty bad.

    Except for X-Files they pretty much outright ruined or canceled them.

    Space Above and Beyond was given a bad timeslot then had episodes pre-empted for award shows no one wanted to watch.

    Then they canceled the new terminator show even though I thought it was pretty good, better than the last film.

    I see it lasting 2 seasons, the 2nd one will be the season when the network execs meddle and mangle it to death.

  2. Dirty McDingus sezs:

    Lost and Heroes are the most recent in this corner of the genre muncher. Spleiberg tried this a couple of times -even a lame "mature" cartoon!- and they all bombed. His first try in tv land was that anthology show, but like all Movie Directors trying the small screen. They can't get out of the film brain mentality. james caMORON produced a lame duck show called Dark Angel that lasted two seasons. He even directed the final two episodes to prove how he SUCKED as an tv director.
    The trailer is simply pathetic for draggin' all them libertard / tree-huggin' themes out too early as well!

  3. Blast Hardcheese8/2/11 11:08 am

    Won't see it. Two huge, hoary cliches right off the bat:
    1) Crappy future which somehow still has magical technology.
    2) Dinosaurs. Seriously, we are sick to death of the dang dinosaurs.

    If Stephen Lang's character has the arc that D predicts, then we can add a third:

    3) All military (or ex-military) are kill-crazy facists.

    The time period (85 million years ago) also makes no sense. Even assuming magic time travel technology, I would think it would take more energy to go farther back in the past. Why go back millions of years? If you want an 'unspoiled', pristine wilderness, then just go back to N. America circa 15,000 years ago. This was before the settling of the Americas, and there's lots of megafauna (giant sloths, saber-toothed tigers) around to keep things interesting.

  4. There is another alien invasion series the cable produced by Speilberg, called Falling Skies that looks like a much better premise than this.

    The big military guy in that series is played by Steven's long time advisor Capt. Dale Dye he is not going to put with the the Army guy fascist crap.

    Figures Cable basic or premium has better programing that the big networks these days.

  5. When something makes a billion bucks you can almost here the stampede of imitators running to produce something similar. This has AVATAR stamped all over it.