The new FOX series “Terra Nova” is an adventure 65 million years in the making — scratch that, 18 years in the making, with over a year of actual production, continuously delayed to perfect its very expensive pilot. Since the release of “Jurassic Park” in 1993, no medium has been able to successfully capture the majesty of the digitally rendered dinosaur (see “Jurassic” sequels, “Dinotopia” and that lame Disney CGI movie). Now comes “Terra Nova,” a show with incredible, Brontosaurus-sized ambition and promise, to rekindle the dinosaur love and provide audiences with a soaring adventure series that network TV has been sorely missing.
Mondays at 8 p.m.
The series begins in the year 2149, as Earth has become uninhabitable due to rampant pollution, where a mere orange is a prized possession (as Al Gore would say, “Told you so”). After some narrative fluffs to fill out the two-hour pilot, Jim Shannon (Jason O’Mara, “Life on Mars”), his wife Elisabeth (Shelley Conn, “Casualty”) and their kids are sent through a portal to join the human race’s second shot, a society called Terra Nova — in the Cretaceous period.
Dinosaurs are the draw of “Terra Nova,” and no disrespect to O’Mara, but they are the clear stars of the show. Although their appearances are limited, the stunning Brachiosauruses, frenzied Carnotauruses and gnarling velociraptor-esque “slashers” are all spectacular — if only there was an Emmy category for Best Supporting Dinosaur in a Drama Series. The unspeakably terrifying carnivorous dinosaurs are in top human-devouring form, creating some remarkably exciting action sequences that match the scale and delights of Spielberg’s finest.
The only actor that manages to meet the grandiosity of the creatures is Stephen Lang (“Avatar”) as Commander Nathaniel Taylor, the leader of the new society. Lang channels the intimidation and fervor of his wicked character in the James Cameron blockbuster, substituting the villainy for sagacity and a warm presence.
Though the concept of “Terra Nova” is clearly cribbed from “Jurassic Park,” there are a lot of nods to “Lost” that will brighten many an Island-deprived soul’s day. Beyond the threat of the dinosaurs is a splinter society known as the “Sixers” (The Others?) that are carefully plotting an insurrection in Terra Nova. Then there are the carefully laid-out mysteries — enigmatic symbols on hidden rocks and the disappearance of Taylor’s son years ago — that will surely pan out as the series progresses (though the level of satisfaction is unsure). Even the setting is reminiscent of Hawaiian jungles, with lush landscapes calling back to the splendor of the Island’s gorgeous greenery. Throw in a tremendous twist involving time travel, and this is clearly the high-concept science-fiction drama everyone has been pining for to fill the gaping “Lost” void.
“Terra Nova” balances out the rollicking action with the conventions of a family drama — a necessary evil, but still a mild drag on the show’s quality. The show tries to shake up the formula — the family is strained after Jim went to prison for having a third child in a population-controlled future — but ends up with the same results (see Jim’s rebellious, super-emo son).
The non-action elements need to be tweaked, but “Terra Nova” has already laid the seeds for the Next Great Network Drama Series. Of course, there’s every chance it’ll grow into an obnoxious, garden-destroying weed. But so far, it’s absolutely worth the risk to watch and find out.