We've been hearing about the Steven Spielberg produced Terra Nova for some time. A panel during San Diego Comic-Con International 2010 was cancelled due to a lack of footage disappointing convention goers. It was supposed to premier in May but got pushed back to the fall. The excitement rebuilt, however, as the show was previewed at San Diego Comic-Con International 2011. I got to see the first episode, thanks to the wonders of Hulu+. (What follows may contain minor, if any spoilers).
The episode opens with a look at a desolate moonscape with a planted American flag we are so accustomed to seeing in pictures and other artforms. As the camera pans over the moon we are greeted with not the "blue marble" to which we are accustomed to seeing but rather a sickly looking polluted sand colored version of Earth. We are told it is the dawn of the 22nd century and the world is on the verge of environmental collapse. This sets up the premise that mankind's "only hope for survival lies 85 million years in the past."
Zooming down to the heavily polluted future Chicago in 2149, we see Jim Shannon, played by Jason O'Mara (most recently seen in the ABC-TV US version of the BBC's Life on Mars), walking through a crowded city wearing a breathing device. O'Mara so resembles Louis Ferreira, who played Colonel Everett Young in the recently departed Stargate Universe, that I thought it was Ferreira in the part when I saw the trailers and sneak previews. Shannon arrives at his home with a wave, entering and is greeted by his family. His wife Elizabeth (Shelley Conn) is a successful doctor and the Shannon's have two teenage kids and a toddler. We find out soon that the toddler is "illegal" under strict population controls and when she is found by the authorities, Jim gets in a tussle with the investigating officers and Jim, a Chicago cop himself, ends up in jail. The ticket out of this bleak existence for the Shannon family is Terra Nova, latin for New Earth which was we are told discovered by scientists who ripped a hole through space and time leading to Earth, 85 million years in the past. Some lucky families win a trip through a lottery others are recruited because of their skills and skilled Doctor Elizabeth gets the nod.
Visiting Jim in jail, she tells him that the authorities will not let her take the now 5 year old Zoe but must go only with her teenagers, Josh and Maddy. Before leaving, Elizabeth gives Jim a rebreather, to breath the unfiltered prison air, as well as the means to escape. After a perilous escape and a run through a portal, which will remind many of other portals from sci-fi gone by, Star Trek and more recently the Stargates; Jim is brandishing a gun as he crosses and is identified as a stoway as is little Zoe who was in a backpack. The family is reunited.
The new colonists part of the "tenth pilgramage" or tenth group of people to come to Terra Nova are greeted by Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang, Avatar), the grizzled leader of the colony. After a talk with Taylor, Jim is given agricultural duty rather than a badge he wants and the family is assigned quarters, albeit insufficient in size for a family of five. The Shannons begin to acclimate but resentment has been brewing.
Young Josh (Landon Liboiron) explodes at Jim because of his incarceration and the struggle the family went through during it. Rebellious Josh eventually gets himself in trouble by going "OTG," outside the gates with newly made friends including possible love interest in Skye (Allison Miller). Contrast Josh with bookish Maddy who schools Josh on the particulars of this sort of time travel, telling him that they are creating a new timestream that doesn't affect the future, a way that the show deals with the time paradox issue (Maddy even mentions the "butterfly effect" in her talk with Josh). Jim, by now entrusted as part of his security forces by Taylor because he helped thwart an assassin from the "Sixers," a group of colonists from the sixth pilgramage who separated from the main colony and are at odds with the rest of the group, with Elizabeth joins in the search for the wayward teens. A side story of some strange glyphs either drawn by or continued by Taylor's long lost son serve to add some mystery and mythology to the goings on in the area outside the gates.
Filled with ferocious dinosaurs and lots of action, Terra Nova shows promise. I look forward to the characters being more fleshed out and the frontier family drama angle underpinning the sci-fi mythology. The Sixers and their opposition to Taylor add antagonists who one does not know if are truly the good or evil people in this new earth. If Terra Nova can capture an audience and get some momentum it should be an interesting ride.