Monday, October 3, 2011

Nothing To Braga About

Who has two thumbs, some blog space and predicted a science fiction show created by former Star Trek writer Brannon Braga would suck? This guy did, that's who. One thing I can say about Terra Nova is that it actually exceeded my expectations. Yes, it was actually worse than I thought it would be. Somehow, Braga and his crew managed to fail on every level. It was so bad that it actually drew me out of my blogging hiatus. I was going to do a review but no, it deserves a full on Liveblog. Normally, I only do these if I haven't already seen it but the hell with that. Please enjoy my epic takedown of Terra Nova, the new Fox show that can only be ironically described as science fiction.

0:00:30 --  Yes, you're reading the time correctly. Only 30 seconds went by before I felt compelled to comment. The show opens on the Moon or, rather, on a cheesy looking CGI representation of the Moon. Narrative text starts running to explain the state of the world. This is a violation of the famous "Show, don't tell" rule of storytelling and I always consider this or a narrator to be the last refuge of incompetent screenwriters. The beauty of this, though, is that this is only one way in which I was annoyed by the opening. Another is that it's white text on a light background, something you would normally only see on old Geocities pages in 1999. The third is this:

The story is set in the year 2149 WHICH IS NOT THE "DAWN" OF THE FUCKING CENTURY, IT'S THE HALFWAY POINT. Oh, there was a fourth way I was annoyed. I'm watching this on Hulu and the streaming video froze up on me 10 seconds in which meant I had to hit the REFRESH button and watch a damn Geico commercial before it would start for me again. This is going to be fun fun fun.

0:17:38 -- Commercial break. Time to pee, grab some chips and write snarky comments. The basic, stupid premise of Terra Nova is that, in the year 2149, Earth is now an environmental hellhole with an atmosphere so polluted that you never fully see the Sun  and need to wear a filter whenever you go outside. Another reason you pretty much want to avoid the "dawn" of the 22nd century is that there is also an overpopulation problem so severe that America has adopted Chinese style limits of two children per family and has pretty much done away with civil liberties in order to enforce this law. The question for me is: how the hell do you have both a poisonous atmosphere AND a population problem? The first thing should pretty much take care of the second. To top this off, the solution to society's problems is Terra Nova, a colony set up 85 million years in the past that you get to by going through a one way fissure in the time/space continuum. So, they can't clean up pollution, something well within the realm of technological possibility, but they CAN travel through time, something that is, for all practical purposes, impossible. Anyway, let's meet the Shannon family. Dad Jim comes home to wife Elisabeth, teenage kids Josh and Maddy and adorable toddler Zoe. Suddenly, their home is visited by ruthless agents from population control. As I mentioned, you can only have two kids and Zoe makes three. Jim handles this the right way, by blindly lashing out at three armed men. He spends two years in prison for this before Elisabeth tells him she and the two older kids have been approved to settle in Terra Nova. They have to leave Zoe behind because, after all, society certainly wouldn't want you to take away the illegal kid it didn't want you to have in the first place. Elisabeth slips Jim a laser past the ever-so-smart prison guards and he breaks out of prison so he can join his family. The prison officials did think to implant a GPS device on him in case he escaped and they naturally figured the best place to put this would be just under the skin of an easy-to-reach spot on his arm so he could effortlessly cut it out and leave it behind. He manages to sneak past dozens of armed guards to meet up with his family at the time portal but the crack security there finally realizes they're supposed to keep out intruders and pull him out of line. Elisabeth assures the kids they can go ahead through the portal because, "Your father will find a way, he always does." This is the guy who decided to pointlessly start a fight with law enforcement so his plan is something along the lines of yelling "RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY" while entering the portal. The guards seem perplexed that he ignored their commands to stop so they could separate him from his family forever but it's too late. He's now in Terra Nova and they even had Zoe in a backpack so it's a happy ending except that this is not the end. Damn it.

Not at all ripped off from Blade Runner and I don't know why you would think that a new life awaits you in the off-world colonies.

0:30:12 -- Another commercial. This one is something about how malaria is bad so keep that in mind. The Shannons, along with  the rest of the new colonists, are being escorted single file from the entry point to the fenced in settlement of Terra Nova. Why aren't they being transported in armored vehicles to keep them safe from the carnosaurs (large T-Rex type carnivores) that are running around? Shut up, that's why. Jim and Elisabeth are taken to Commander Nathaniel Taylor who is played by Stephen Lang, the same guy who played the evil Colonel in Avatar, fitting since Avatar is one of the movies that this show is ripping off. Even though Jim has just broken a fresh set of laws, he seems surprised that the gruff, non nonsense Taylor won't let him join the compound's security detail (he was a cop before he went to prison though, considering his behavior and temperament, he must have been one of those "let's pepper spray the peaceful protesters" type of cops). Taylor puts him on the agricultural detail and they're escorted to their new luxury Terra Nova condo. The Shannon son, Josh, shows that pretty much the only thing he brought with him from 2149 was teenage moodiness as he lays into his father for being in prison because he selfishly tried to protect his family. They are literally in their new place for 2 minutes before losing track of Zoe who, it turns out, has gone out to play with the dinosaurs. Parenting tip: if you should ever see your child playing with wild animals, even if they're not dinosaurs the size of buildings, freak the hell out and get them to safety. Don't stare in fascination and start playing with them yourself. Yes, they were brachiosaurs (I think) and thus herbivores but they were also large, incredibly strong and rendered the protective fence useless by sticking their long necks over it.


Really?
 
1:02:00-- I've skipped the last few commercials so, to sum up, Snickers are yummy, rainforests are good and you should be driving a Kia. All caught up? Cool. If you follow me on Twitter or read my Tumblr page, you know that I've said before that the heart of Terra Nova's problems is a staggering lack of imagination. People were paid millions to create something that the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction wouldn't have paid a nickel a word for. It's supposed to be 2149 yet technology has barely advanced. There are no robots or advanced machinery to assist with the back breaking labor required to maintain what is basically a frontier colony. The computer technology of 2149 is pretty much what it is today except that the tablet computers are now see-through and, well, that's it for iPad advancement in the next 140 years. I guess Apple should have tried harder to hold on to Steve Jobs. The vehicles are basically Jeeps and they still don't fly which means we have to still hear those damn "Why no flying cars?" jokes between now and 2149. There are weapons that exist today you could mount onto a Jeep that could take down a carnosaur in one shot but, for some reason, they stopped making those in the future so that they're pretty much defenseless when carnosaurs attack their vehicles. Oh, one of them did trip once, so that's something, I guess. Clothing and hairstyles are the same. I can understand not wanting to go too far with those as anything too radical becomes a distraction but they are EXACTLY the same. Science fiction is a challenge because creating a future world that is believable and entertaining to modern audiences and the makers of Terra Nova are not up to the challenge. It doesn't help that they have apparently picked the stupidest people to populate this colony. Son Josh takes a break from being belligerent to his dad to follow a group of his fellow teenagers on a trip outside the gate to see the moonshine still they have set up. Even though the rest of the group has been there for quite some time, they see no reason to bring along any weapons in case they met, say, a 20 foot carnivore. A pretty girl named Skye manages to convince Josh to cliff dive with her, mainly by stripping down to her bikini and saying, "Follow me." This is the most believable thing in the whole show. Meanwhile, a thief trying to steal power is captured while another man tries to assassinate Taylor. Jim foils that and gains enough of Taylor's trust to be appointed to a job in security. We discover that these people are called Sixers, a breakaway group who seem to have their own agenda. Some other Sixers, including Mira, their leader, simply drive right into Terra Nova without getting shot even though one of their comrades tried to kill the Commander. I wonder if al Qaeda ever tried just driving into Guantanamo to retrieve their people. It may be worth a shot.

Terra Nova, filmed entirely inside some guy's Macintosh.

1:26:00 --On their way out of Terra Nova, the Sixers find the vehicle the kids used to drive to their still and stop to strip its power cells but they get attacked by an unseen foe and one of them dies. In a turn of events no one could possibly have foreseen, we find out that traipsing around unarmed in a prehistoric jungle loaded with dangerous and powerful animals is a really bad idea as the kids get attacked by slashers (basically, velociraptors with barbed tails). They take refuge in one of the vehicles which turns out to be woefully inadequate as shelter from dinosaurs, something I think I mentioned earlier but hey, what the hell do I know, right? Things look bleak until Jim, Taylor and a team of soldiers show up and scare off the slashers. Josh decides that his dad saving him was grounds for taking a break from being a dick and they head back to Terra Nova for a big, squishy reunion with Mom. Meanwhile, having learned nothing from the fact that one of their comrades was just killed by slashers, Mira and another Sixer go back to stare at some geographic drawings the kids found earlier. Mira says they were drawn by Taylor's son who went missing years earlier and that they represent the true purpose of Terra Nova, that, "He who controls the past, controls the future," which makes no sense since it was established early on in one of the show's few nods to scientific thought that this is a timeline separate from the one they came from. This means they can't do anything that would change their own past and can't change the time from which they came in any way. Was I the only one listening to that? Oh well, the hell with it. At least there was no human/lizard hybrid sex like some other shows I could mention so I'll consider that progress.

On the bright side, he'll be the first human in history to die because he was a reckless dumbass who didn't think to stay out of a dinosaur filled jungle.

3 comments:

Dan Coyle said...

Apparently when someone broached the question of changing the past at the TV press corps events, Braga rolled his eyes and said, "C'mon, this is like being at a Star Trek convention!" Bear in mind this wasn't a bunch of geeks who were asking this, it was television critics who had just screened his show.

Michael Clear said...

Yes, I remember hearing about that. It's probably why there was a scene where it's explained they're in an alternate timeline so they don't have to worry about changing their own pasts or creating paradoxes although one of them was talking like they could change their own future anyway. I'd like to think this will eventually lead to something fiendishly clever but these people think "fiendishly clever" is making see-through iPads.

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