It’s 2149, and Earth is a mess. It’s overcrowded, heavily polluted, and families are limited to two children each. Fortunately, scientists have discovered a crack in space time that allows humans to escape into the Age of Dinosaurs 85 million years ago. The Shannon family joins fellow escapees in walking through a stargate portal and landing kerplunk into the tropical rainforest. Jim, his wife Elisabeth and their three children are led by armed guards into the Terra Nova camp proper. The extra child landed Jim briefly in prison, from which he escaped.

It turns out the Shannons cross in the tenth pilgrimage, and already there is trouble in paradise, or if you, will Fresh Start City, where humanity can start over and finally get it right. Finally! It seems that a bunch of Sixers (from the sixth pilgrimage) have become rebel outsiders posing a challenge to the authority of Commander Taylor, head honcho of the colony.

We recognize the fence from Jurassic Park—a lot of good they did in that movie. Inside, the camp teems with armed guards. The Shannons move into their spacious, breezy house. Medical doctor Elizabeth gets started with her twinkling Star Trek tricorder, while tough guy Jim Shannon quickly proves his worth by foiling an assassination plot against Commander Taylor, and so joins Taylor’s security squad. Much is made of fresh fruit in Terra Nova. Dinosaurs make an early appearance in the form of herbivores with very long necks that reach over the fence to munch on a branch offered by the Shannon’s youngest, Zoe, lifting her gently a meter or so off her feet. It isn’t long before teenage son Jose is led off beyond the protective fence by pretty girl Skye where they go a-wandering and plunge into a waterfall pool.

What is this 20th Century Fox Television show all about? And why are they still calling it 20th Century Fox Television?

The story’s vision is shaped thus far principally by executive producers Stephen Spielberg and Brannan Braga of Star Trek fame. The 23rd Century tricorder looks out of place in this 21st Century setting with blood and gore, especially from dinosaurs attacking people. Star Trek, you will recall, was a curiously bloodless environment. As per Jurassic Park rules, the dinosaurs are superior to humans and are immune to man’s advanced weapons. The best sustained automatic weapons fire can do is momentarily scare the predators off. Are they shooting rubber bullets or what? Mr. Spielberg is apparently so committed to dinosaurs over man, that he cannot stand to see one of his digital creations get splattered by human weaponry.

This raises questions as to how far the audience must go to suspend belief sufficiently to get through this 13-part series. The Fox series website has a page still in progress called “audience strategy” which “develops and implements transformative strategies to catalyze a cultural shift in the industry, embracing a multi-pronged approach of working from the inside-out to drive behavioral change and outside-in to advocate for diverse perspectives, and to engage all audiences in our multi-cultural world.”

Do people get paid for writing sentences like that?

So far, we see how race is a factor in this story. The leader of the Sixer opposition is a fierce black woman squaring off against Commander Taylor. Jim Shannon and his son are white, while the three women in the family are all caramel color—a curious division of race. The cast is quite diverse, though to what effect is yet uncertain. So the show has lots of diversity but as yet no cultural clashes, no culture at all.

But diversity, multiculturalism et al, is not a new message. It goes back, at least, to the original Star Trek and the 1960s. The overcrowded and polluted earth of mid-century is the world we can see taking shape today—and diversity and sensitivity training will not save us from that world. Nor will the children alive today who will live into 2149 have any Terra Nova to escape to. Looked at as a heavyweight vision of the future, I think Terra Nova is already ova. The vision of a fresh start is already too corrupted by the tenth pilgrimage to think it will ever produce a transformed human society. This is not Uncle Tom’s Cabin or The Times They Are A-Changin’.

Terra Nova works much better as a lightweight sci fi thriller with good production values such as you would expect from Steven Spielberg. But please, the dinosaurs must take a hit now and then. Our ancestors took down the wooly mammoth and saber tooth tiger with sticks and stones and guile. The Indians hunted the buffalo for its many gifts to them. If I don’t see some reference to that history fairly soon, I will change channels.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

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