Comic-Con 2011: TERRA NOVA Panel Recap and Pilot Review

     July 24, 2011


Face it. Having dinosaurs on television is an exciting proposition. With FOX bringing Terra Nova to network TV this September, many are curious to see if a show can live up to the ideas it puts forth. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park) and flying on the backs of stars Jason O’Mara (Life on Mars) and Stephen Lang (Avatar), the show has a high-concept and high-budget premise that may be a tough pill to swallow for mainstream audiences. Yesterday morning, Ballroom 20 played host to the first half of the two-hour pilot and a brief but lively Q&A with star Stephen Lang, executive producers Rene Echevarria (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Brannon Braga (24), co-executive producer Jose Molina (Castle), and more. For a brief review of the pilot and highlights from the panel, hit the jump.

The year is 2149 and our planet is dying. Everyone outside must wear masks with filters so they don’t get sick. Enter Officer Jim Shannon (O’Mara), who has somehow managed to smuggle a huge orange for his family: wife Elizabeth (Shelley Conn), eldest son Josh (Landon Liboiron), younger daughter Maddy (Naomi Scott), and the baby of the group, Zoe (Alana Mansour). Suddenly a knock is heard and things take a dive for the worse. In this future Earth, population control is in full effect and that last child? Yep, one too many. Jim plays hero, but ends up locked away for two years. That’s when Elizabeth is given an opportunity to leave this wasteland behind and go into a separate time stream of the past in a project known as “Terra Nova.”

terra-nova-poster-1As one would imagine, the entire family manages to arrive and the fun truly begins. Once the Shannon clan lands on this prehistoric planet, some 85 million years into the past, we start to realize those two years have brought about some rifts. As for Terra Nova itself, it is a village setup almost like the Pilgrims, with everyone pulling their weight and assigned specific tasks. Of course, there is a strong military presence led by Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Lang) because of the carnivorous dinosaurs and other wildlife there. One question that remains unanswered is how the plant and animal life may differ from our own because they are in a different time stream, if at all. What was answered was that life on Terra Nova is going to be dangerous at times.

Beyond the threat of large carnivores, there is a splinter group of an earlier pilgrimage to Terra Nova known as the “Sixers.” Their reasons for splintering off remain unknown, but they are a threat and even show clear action to follow that through within the first hour. Because an antagonist that doesn’t talk or have any clear motive beyond eating isn’t quite as easy to play up each week, the inclusion of human antagonists is a clear sign that they understood that. However, don’t discount the inclusion of human problem as a sign that the dinos won’t be involved. They definitely are and there is a great sequence early on that showcases both the technology used against them and their ferocity.

Each of the Shannon clan finds their own tasks and work towards them with varying degrees of success. Nearly everyone seems to want a fresh start here, and for most of the Shannon family, that’s a definite plus. Josh is feeling rebellious and wants to explore this fascinating place, while Maddy seems to hope a fresh start can get her through her more awkward moments. Even Jim is looking to start anew and clear his bad name. Other mysteries are revealed throughout the planet, and the episode ended on a cliffhanger that should flesh out the “Sixers.”

All of this is an interesting start to a show like this, and the multiple mysteries and point of views should help keep the show out of deep ruts. Where they go from here is a definite question. Overall, the inclusion of O’Mara and Lang are going to win people over because they bring charisma and charm to their characters and that can go a long way in getting people hooked. While there are some cheesy moments in which there was a collective “awww” from the crowd, they seem to be playing up the danger and I’m willing to stick around to see what comes of the show when it lands September 26th. As for the questions, they seemed to revolve around what would come about as the series progressed.

Stephen Lang actually came all the way from the shooting location in Australia last night to be there for the panel, and he was a necessary but valuable addition. Jumping into the questions, the first one focused on how many crew were involved in FOX’s hit 24 and how different this show is. Brannon Braga said that Terra Nova is very different and mentioned that he was the only writer that had been part of 24. As for the concern of whether the human antagonists would be added to keep the budget down, they shot it down. They mentioned that they had created a pipeline specifically for the dinosaurs and admitted it would be difficult to do, but certainly possible. Molina added, going to see the money on the screen. It’s going to look bad ass.”

Terra-Nova-image-pilotSpeaking of the challenges, Lang mentioned that having a weekly dramatic arc with mystery and resolution was the goal. Molina looked at Lang and said, “How can you not trust this face?” On second chances, Brannon mentions that this is a show that gives everyone a new lease on life and allows them to release the baggage they have built up. Lang was also asked about the differences between working with CG dinosaurs and working with the creatures in Avatar. He responded that he didn’t see much difference, and that confidence in your creative team helps make things a lot easier.

As for looking back into the future, they will start to peak into it as things get worse in the past. They will not only have moments where the past affects the future, but also showcase mainly the Shannon clan at first. As the series progresses, there will be more pilgrimages that join them. As for whether or not more people will be eaten by dinosaurs,they absolutely confirmed that there would be lots of man and dino interaction. Lang even joked that based on the reaction to the dino eating in the pilot, studio may mandate one dino eating per week.

Asked where they shot the show, they mentioned it was shot in Australia and also reiterated the Shannon’s wouldn’t be the last pilgrimage to occur. The next questioner asked about the similar feel to Jurassic Park and whether it was intentional. They seemed to suggest it was a mixture. They worked with Spielberg’s dinosaur expert but he also wanted them to put to screen the most current and up to date notions of what dinosaurs looked like and how they moved. Oh, and the second hour of the pilot will play up the similarities they have with birds.

That pretty much wrapped up the panel, with a quick note that fans could tweet questions to @InsideTerraNova and @jason_omara for more interaction. As for the TV series, the two-hour pilot will air on September 26 on FOX.