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'Terra Nova' premiere: Disaster in the making

Subtlety isn’t a strength of the new FOX show “Terra Nova.” With all the mystery and none of the finesse of “Lost,” and all the dinosaurs and none of the excitement of “Jurassic Park,” the show has all the makings of a glorious, wonderful disaster.

The premise is simple – and ominous – enough. In the year 2149, the planet Earth has become a nearly uninhabitable dystopia of rancid air and Orwellian undertones, so the government has begun sending people back in time – 85 million years back in time, to be precise, to start a new life in fortressed cabanas in the midst of a dinosaur-inhabited jungle. Really, what could go wrong.

Our heroes are the Shannon family: Jim, his wife Elisabeth, and their three children. They step through the time portal – more of a strobe light than Stargate event horizon – with dozens of other pilgrims to the past, and are greeted by Nathanial Taylor – Stephen Lang, who just looks like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He, of course, is prepared with a welcoming speech: War, greed, ignorance – all the things that meant the ruin of mankind can be prevented, now that humanity has a fresh start. Which of course means war, greed and ignorance are about to run prehistorically rampant.

Now, to allay any Ray Bradbury, “Sound of Thunder”-like concerns, the pilgrims were sent back through a “different time stream,” so no one has to worry about mucking up the future – at least their future. Not that there’s much to muck up anymore.

Terra Nova isn’t exactly a paradise, either, though. New arrivals often go into shock because their lungs aren’t used to air so pollutant-free, and have to drink what looks like blue soap to build up tolerance to enzymes in “real” food. There’s bugs, too – bugs so numerous and so large that no amount of DEET would ensure I would last more than three days, max. I’d get leeched out in no time.

Oh, and the dinosaurs. Scientific names fall by the wayside – the most deadly and prevalent of the dinosaurs is the aptly named “Slasher” (because “Freddy” was probably too obvious). Sadly, no one got maimed or eaten until about an hour and fifteen minutes into the premiere event, and that’s just an hour and fifteen minutes too long.

The problems are more than environmental. Jim asks Taylor if there are any bad guys in Terra Nova, and I’m going to go with “yes” – and this isn’t even taking into account a rogue group of criminals living off the grid, known as the Sixers, who steal from the colony’s weapons and power supply. My “yes” comes from the simple fact that Stephen Lang just has that look. Besides, remember how everyone thought the Others from “Lost” were the bad guys? Remember how that turned out?

There is good news, however. In the past (future?), moonshine still exists.

It takes all of a half hour for the eldest Shannon child, Josh, to prance off with a blonde named Skye (Dude, you left your girlfriend behind in the future! Past? Give yourself some time to heal!) and her friends into the jungle, to drink and swim. Edit: from here on, Skye and her friends will be referred to as Abercrombie and the models.

While “Abercrombie and the Models” is an excellent band name, and “That Time A Dinosaur Mauled My Friend’s Leg” is a phenomenal album title, it makes for some ridiculous television.

It’s made all the more ridiculous by what I’m going to call “The Math Cave” – a waterfall grotto whose walls are etched with upper-level geometry.

Yup. Math. In an alternate time stream. 85 million years in the past. Probably before math was invented, yes?

I had a fleeting vision of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in a mortarboard and glasses, perhaps writing “4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42” over and over – but the math is the work of an Other – Sixer, I mean Sixer – we haven’t met yet. Oh, and that Sixer is Taylor’s son. That’s just kind of tossed out there at the end, but again, subtlety isn’t “Terra Nova”’s strength. Blatant foreshadowing, however, is.

Even the metaphors have the weight of a raptor tail to the legs. The simplest, most innocuous phrases mentioning time because overwrought and ironic – “What’s the use arguing about the past?” “I don’t know who in the future I can trust,” etc. etc.

Which leaves us with one more time metaphor: If you control the past, you control the future.

I just wish I had control of the special effects: I want to see at least eight more deaths-by-dinosaur this season.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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