FOX’s Terra Nova was a bold experiment. Beginning in the pollution-ridden future, groups of men, women, and children travel back in time to settle the past. There is adventure, action, conspiracy, and pretty good looking CGI dinosaurs. Sort of a family-friendly version of Jurassic Park, with a preachy twist, it should have provided viewing fun for years. Except, most of the episodes weren’t very well written, which led to its quick cancellation after a mere 13 episodes. Now, the entire series has been released on a four-disc DVD set.
In the premiere, “Genesis,” Dr. Elisabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn, Mistresses) is recruited as part of the “10th wave” sent back in time to the settlement, but she is only allowed to bring her two eldest children, Maddy (Naomi Scott, Life Bites) and Josh (Landon Liboiron, Degrassi: The Next Generation). This is because, in 2149, having three children is illegal, leaving out Elisabeth’s youngest, Zoe (Alana Mansour). So Elisabeth helps her husband, Jim (Jason O’Mara, Life on Mars), break out of prison, where is serving a sentence for assaulting the police officers who discovered Zoe’s existence. Together, all five Shannons make it through the rift.
Once the family has arrived at the new settlement, Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang, Avatar) allows the Shannons to stay together, since he needs Elisabeth, and doesn’t care about laws that have not been invented yet. Jim, a former cop, is assigned to the agricultural team, but soon proves himself more than capable to join Taylor’s security force. This comes in handy when Josh, upset at his father for being gone all this time, meets an attractive girl named Skye (Allison Miller, Go On), who leads him outside the compound gate. The teens are attacked by dinosaurs and robbed by members of The Sixth, rebels who have split away from the main group. Jim sets out to rescue his son.
Each episode after that is mostly stand alone, with a few broader arcs. There is mystery in why The Sixth split off, and why Taylor’s son draws pictures on rocks. The leader of The Sixth, Mira (Christine Adams, The Whole Truth) seems devoted to some cause. Skye and Josh have the beginnings of a teen romance, and dinosaurs aren’t always predictable. Trying to add a more procedural element to some episodes, Taylor and Jim solve crimes, while Elisabeth faces medical cases.
One problem with the show may be that it tries to satisfy everyone. Attempting to balance crime drama and medical mystery with sci-fi innovation and some fun dinos means that none of those things get adequate attention. Not knowing which writers to hire to really capture all of these different elements, a great story is often slogged down by bad dialogue. The special effects look fantastic, and there’s an exciting adventure present. If only the writing didn’t frequently rip off installments of classic Star Trek, there could have been something interesting here.
Bottom line, Terra Nova delivers in action and special effects, and does a pretty decent job in the acting department. It just lacks a cohesive story and smart lines for its characters.
Be warned, Terra Nova ends on a cliffhanger. Nothing is neatly tied up, and this single season does not stand on its own. Within the DVD set, someone wisely included an access code to continue the story online in an interactive program, so that fans can get some sort of closure. But, of course, that’s not the same thing as more episodes.
It would be hard to complain about the special features on this set because, despite Terra Nova‘s early cancellation, the studio seems to have been kind in allowing the development of extras. This DVD set includes deleted scenes and a gag reel. Audio commentary is provided for the two-part season finale, which is also presented as an extended episode.
Additionally, there are several featurettes. One delves into the making of the pilot, while another explores the mysteries of the show. “Cretaceous Life: The Dinosaurs of Terra Nova” gives viewers more of what they want, and that’s the creatures that inhabit the world.
The biggest flaw in this release is that it is not available on Blu-ray. Given the amount of money spent on developing the dinosaurs and building this beautiful world, why not show it off in the best quality picture available? DVD does a pretty good job, but it can’t compare to high definition. This show, more than almost any other, screams for a Blu release, though none has been announced at this time.
If you are so inclined, Terra Nova The Complete Series is available now.