REVIEW: Terra Nova – FOX (Monday, 8:00 p.m.)

TERRA NOVA follows an ordinary family on an incredible journey back in time to prehistoric Earth as a small part of a daring experiment to save the human race. In the year 2149, the world is dying. The planet is overdeveloped and overcrowded, with the majority of plant and animal life extinct. The future of mankind is in jeopardy, and its only hope for survival is in the distant past.

When scientists unexpectedly discovered a fracture in time that made it possible to construct a portal into primeval history, the bold notion was born to resettle humanity in the past – a second chance to rebuild civilization and get it right this time.

The series centers on the Shannon family as they join the Tenth Pilgrimage of settlers to Terra Nova, the first colony established in this beautiful yet foreboding land. JIM SHANNON (Jason O’Mara), a devoted father with a checkered past, guides his family through this new world of limitless beauty, mystery and terror. Jim’s wife, ELISABETH (Shelley Conn), is a trauma surgeon and the newest addition to Terra Nova’s medical team. JOSH (Landon Liboiron) is their 17-year-old son who is torn to leave life as he knows it behind; upon arriving at the settlement, he finds himself instantly drawn to the beautiful and rule-breaking SKYE (Allison Miller). MADDY (Naomi Scott), Josh’s endearingly awkward 15-year-old sister, hopes Terra Nova will give her a chance to reinvent herself. Although Elisabeth’s medical training secured the family a spot on the pilgrimage, a secret involving their five-year-old daughter, ZOE (Alana Mansour), soon endangers their place in this utopia.

Upon the Shannons’ arrival, they are introduced to COMMANDER NATHANIEL TAYLOR (Stephen Lang), the charismatic and heroic first pioneer and leader of the settlement. Taylor warns the travelers that while Terra Nova is a place of new opportunities and fresh beginnings, all is not as idyllic as it initially appears. Along with blue skies, towering waterfalls and lush vegetation, the surrounding terrain is teeming with danger – and not just of the man-eating dinosaur variety. There is also a splinter colony of renegades led by the battle-hardened MIRA (Christine Adams), who is vehemently opposed to Taylor and his leadership.

Even more threatening than what lies outside the protective walls of the colony is the chilling possibility that something sinister is happening inside Terra Nova. The Shannons will come to suspect that not everyone on this mission has the same idea of how to best save mankind; in fact, there may be forces intent on destroying this new world before it even begins. – FOX

78 out of 100

Regular readers of the blog know that as much as we like the concept of Terra Nova, we have been very skeptical about whether or not it would be able to find an audience on a prime-time network (especially FOX) to justify the largest budget in television history, because quite frankly, prime-time audiences don’t watch serialized science fiction for the most part.  And, yes, despite what writer/exec. producer Brannon Braga claims, Terra Nova is indeed a science fiction show.

And this brings us to what we hate about the show and what we think we may be begrudgingly loving about the show:  Producers/writers Brannon fu*king Braga and René fu*king Echeverria, the old guard who wrote and produced much of Star Trek franchise from The Next Generation forward.  For the record, many Trek fans will blame the production team of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga (“B & B”) for the demise of that franchise and while we at The ‘Tastic do not share in this opinion, we certainly recognize that Braga himself brings a certain generic, vanilla, crisis-of-the-week factor to dramatic television that certainly didn’t help that franchise or most of the other things he’s worked on since. The ‘Tastic will send a Tootsie Pop to the first person who can tell us what the plot of season eight of 24 was without going to IMDb  (and, yes, we’ll know).

This is the thing about Terra Nova: it reeks of 1990’s Trek in generic plot which is why we’re throwing Echevarria into the same boat as Braga on this one because it can’t be a coincidence.  Terra Nova, is a good show and it is superficially exciting but for true connoisseurs of drama and genre television, it’s not particularly original (the entire idea is stolen from a Star Trek: The Original Series third-season episode, All Our Yesterdays to begin with) and frankly it’s been very watered-down for a general audience. One definitely gets the feeling that the original concept was a lot more hardcore than what was actually developed for television.

That being said, the difference between Terra Nova and 1990’s Trek is that they’ve actually done a pretty good job of making the show accessible to all audiences which is what may save it in the ratings.  That’s right, for as much as the generic story-telling grates us, we’re actually glad they went this route because if they had gone balls-out with pushing the Sci-Fi aspect, it wouldn’t have a chance.  Instead, though, what they are doing is really making this a character piece, focusing on primarily the Shannons as a family and the pilgrims at Terra Nova and their adventures and less so on the mysteries surrounding Terra Nova and we see where this is going.

The producers are claiming that Terra Nova is “nothing like Lost.”  We call shenanigans on this claim and not because it’s set in a mysterious jungle, no, because it’s a fish-out-of-water character story of people from different backgrounds trying to adapt and survive in their new environment with adversarial factions and beneath it all is a mystery that is slowly coming to light.  The thing is, for all the high budget used on this show, it’s Lost-lite that’s more family friendly (also, like Lost, this show has a chance to be three seasons into it before anyone realizes that they are indeed watching a Sci-Fi show).

The show is a lot of fun even though we know exactly what we’re watching because we’ve kind of seen it all before.  They’ve done an excellent job with character development and casting and the characters if not unique are certainly likable and relatable.  The stories so far aren’t bad (the pilot was great, the second episode for us was so-so, but still fun) but they are just vanilla enough to keep the CSI and Law & Order viewer entertained with the weekly story that wraps itself up in 60 minutes.  Speaking of which, that kind of threw us off a bit, as well, because as noted, we got the impression from the publicity surrounding the show and the pilot itself that Terra Nova was going to be a serialized epic. Epic, perhaps, but serialized? Not so much, which (even though we’d prefer a serial) is a good thing for the series if it wants to have any chance at long-term survival – again – especially on FOX.

As far as the mysteries are concerned, unlike Lost, they gave away two or three answers to mysteries at the end of the pilot alone which tells us that they are trying to avoid the problems that serialized shows have and that is that if you miss an episode, you wind up… well… lost and don’t come back to the series. Yet another a very smart move.  So, in as much as we are a little annoyed by the very simplistic aspects of the plotlines, we appreciate that the producers seem quite cognizant of what they have to do to keep a Sci-Fi show from alienating a general audience.

The production values?  Well, really… is it necessary to say that all of the sets, props and visual effects are absolutely amazing when we are talking about the most expensive show in television history? Yeah, we didn’t think so, however, we will say that a lot of science for this show seems to be a little screwy, but then again, we are geeks and it’s doubtful that the average viewer is going to let that interfere with their enjoyment of the show.

So, we definitely recommend Terra Nova.  It’s a very good show, albeit, as repeatedly noted, a little vanilla, but it’s good television for the whole family.  More than that, though, we think that the show has been produced smartly enough to stave off cancellation for some time which is something that is very not only hit-and-miss for Sci-Fi in general, but something of a minor miracle for Sci-Fi on FOX.

Happy 45th Birthday, Star Trek! (Big Announcement!)

First, the big news! Star Trek turns 45 today and to honor its legacy, The ‘Tastic will be dedicating an entire section of the blog to individual Star Trek episode reviews, ‘Tastic-style, beginning in November!  Stay tuned! 

On September 8, 1966, television history was made when Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic vision of a future without war, poverty, or racism, where mankind worked together to solve its problems and better itself, appeared on our television sets and changed the course of television and science fiction history forever.  Spawning five live-action series, one critically acclaimed animated series, 11 feature films, thousands of novels, comic books, video games and billions of doallrs in merchandising and a dedicated fandom like no other over the course of almost half of a century, as Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) put it in the Roger Nygard documentary Trekkies, Star Trek truly is our 20th century mythology and now is still going strong into the 21st century.

Part 1 of the Documentary Film, Trekkies.

The franchise has had its ups and downs with audiences and even from before the first episode, The Man Trap, was aired, it faced opposition from television executives whom although enjoyed the original pilot, The Cage, starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Christopher Pike, thought it was “too cerebral” for a general audience.  At this point Star Trek made its first bit of television history being the only show to ever have a second pilot ordered for it. Hunter refused to film a second pilot and the role was subsequently re-written and re-cast with William Shatner playing the role of the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain James Kirk.  Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu Studios, produced the second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before, and the rest is television history.

Part 1 of the first aired episode The Man Trap

As an aside, Jeffrey Hunter sadly passed away in 1969 from a cerebral hemorrhage after suffering two strokes a the age of 42. Imagine how the most recognized television franchise of all time would look today had Hunter not turned down the role in the second pilot.

Star Trek lasted on the air for three seasons and only so because of a massive fan campaign spearheaded by the legendary Bjo Trimble.  NBC wanted to cancel it after two but they were inundated with letters and studio protests and they greenlit the show for one more season.  Unfortunately, the slot they chose for it was 10:00 p.m. on Friday night which all but assured there would not be a fourth season.

Star Trek found new life again in syndication and if you ask most fans that grew up or went to college during the early to mid-1970’s they’ll most likely tell you that this is how they were exposed to it.  What’s unique about the franchise is just how many of the actors and production staff that have been on the subsequent series and in the films over the years that were actually fans going back this far.  Star Trek’s success in syndication planted the original seeds for bringing the franchise back in one form or another and eventually led to the critically acclaimed and award-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series in 1973 which featured all of the original cast members with the exclusion of Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).

Star Trek The Animated Series Opening Theme Music:

With the success of the brand in syndication, the continued popularity among the fans who would regularly attend conventions by the thousands year after year, a very popular and well-received animated series, Paramount, in 1975, decided to bring back the Star Trek franchise in the form of a major motion picture.  They then switched gears and decided that they not only wanted bring the franchise back on the small screen and update it, but they wanted it to be the flagship for their new fourth network to air in 1978.  When the plans for the network folded, all filming and production on Star Trek: Phase II ended but a funny thing happened that kept the franchise alive; a little film you may have heard of called Star Wars.

Am I crazy or is that Steven Spielberg in the backgorund?

Following the incredible success of George Lucas’ epic masterpiece, Paramount, like every other studio in Hollywood at the time, wanted to capitalize on the popularity of the science fiction space epic, and realized they could accomplish this with the Star Trek franchise, so the proposed pilot episode of Star Trek: Phase II, In Thy Image was recommissioned for feature film treatment and in December of 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in theaters.  My dad actually took me to see TMP when I was four years-old and I still remember it. Ironically, he’s not a Trek fan and I only became one 18 years later.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture, despite receiving lukewarm critical reception (I still refer to it as Star Trek: The Motionless Picture due to it’s incredibly long and drawn out special effects scenes. It’s great for going to sleep at night to, I’ll tell you that much.) and going extremely over-budget from $15 million to $46 million, was an unqualified success bringing in $139 million at the box office (roughly $412 million in 2011 dollars… put that in your pipe and smoke it, J.J. Abrams!) with fans going back to see the film multiple times.

The original cast of Star Trek would go on to do five more feature films and of course a new Star Trek series set 100 years after the original series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, would debut in 1987, last for seven seasons, become the highest rated syndicated television program in history, have four more major motion pictures made with that cast and spin-off three more television series and in 2009, Roddenberry’s original vision was re-imagined with J.J. Abrams’ blockbuster film Star Trek, the eleventh Star Trek film featuring a whole new cast of young actors reprising the legendary roles of the original cast from the original, iconic series.

So, what is so special about Star Trek that it has not only endured but still continues to find success, generation after generation, despite being written off for dead on more than one occasion?  Why is Star Trek so universally loved by such a diverse audience of people, many of whom wouldn’t consider themselves science fiction fans, per se? The easy answer that everyone throws out is always that it gives us “hope” which I believe is clichéd tripe.  The concept of “hope” is certainly an element in Trek, as it is in most Science Fiction stories but Star Trek has been so much more than that for so long.  Star Trek is about adventure, it’s about looking forward into the unknown and it’s about examining ourselves today and trying to figure where we’re going in the future. But most importantly, Star Trek is about the stories of the characters and how we, as the audience, relate to them.  These are timeless concepts in epic storytelling that know no generational bounds.

Ready to Boldly Go… With The Good Guys.

As I noted, my dad took me to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture when I was four years old and as for myself, I’ve been watching Star Trek with my own kids since the day they were born.  My five year-old daughter is very interested in Seven of Nine and the whole concept of the Borg on Star Trek: Voyager. She also loves any episodes involving Naomi Wildman because, even at five, it’s about relating to the characters and she also has always loved Star Trek: The Animated Series to the point where she wouldn’t fall asleep without it between the ages of two and three. My two year-old son who overheard me explaining the characters on Voyager in the most simplest terms of “good guys” and “bad guys” to my daughter, now points to everything related to Star Trek and says, “Good guy!”

Now, I know at the end of the day, that my kids’ interest in Star Trek at this very young age has very little to do with understanding what’s going on in the show and far more to do with just wanting to take in interest in what Daddy likes, but this is something that we’re always going to have.  It’s like baseball.  It doesn’t matter what happens, at the end of the day we’ll always have our little escape and something to talk about.  That is something that you cannot put a price on and as my friend Santos Ellin, Jr. said regarding my son’s interest in Trek, “Never let him lose that magic Shawn, it keeps you young and it’ll do the same for him. Never let his imagination falter,” and that folks is what it’s all about;  the magic of Star Trek, and it’s that magic that has inspired so many people over the years. Roddenberry passed away in 1991, but there’s no doubt that his legacy will live on for generations to come.

Think it’s just the nerds that like and have been inspired by Star Trek?  Well, yeah… I guess we are a big part of the fandom but here’s an abbreviated list of famous people (mostly non-nerds) who are known to be confirmed Trekkies.

  • Angelina Jolie
  • Tom Hanks
  • Seth MacFarlane (had a cameo on Star Trek: Enterprise)
  • Whoopi Goldberg (played Guinan on Star Trek: The Next Generation, lobbied for the role.)
  • Eddie Murphy
  • Rosario Dawson
  • The late former President Ronald Reagan
  • President Barack Obama
  • Buzz Aldrin (and just about any astronaut)
  • Mel Brooks
  • General Colin Powell
  • Robin Williams
  • Ben Stiller
  • Dr. Stephen Hawking (had a cameo on TNG)
  • Former Vice President Al Gore
  • Christian Slater (his mother, Mary Jo Slater was the casting director for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and cast him in a cameo role and he has his personal replica of Kirk’s Captian’s chair in the ofcie set of his show, Breaking In.)
  • Mira Sorvino
  • Megan Fox
  • Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper
  • Dr. Marvin Minsky
  • George Lucas
  • Kelsey Grammer (had a cameo on TNG)
  • King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein of Jordan (had a cameo on VOY)
  • Jason Alexander (had a featured guest starring role on the episode of VOY, Thinktank)
  • Bryan Singer (had a cameo in Star Trek: Nemesis)
  • Mila Kunis
  • Mick Fleetwood (had a cameo on TNG)
  • Quentin Tarantino
  • South Park’s Matt Parker and Trey Stone
  • Karl Urban (played McCoy in Abrams’ Star Trek, pursued the role when he heard about the film being made.)
  • Freema Agyeman of Dr. Who and Torchwood fame
  • John Barrowman of Dr. Who and Torchwood fame
  • Candace Bergen
  • Daniel Craig
  • Kevin Sorbo
  • Robert Carlyle
  • David A. Goodman (Family Guy executive producer. Wrote the Star Trek themed episode of Futurama, four episodes of ENT)
  • Tom Morello of (had a cameo on VOY)
  • Brad Paisley
  • The late Frank Sinatra (claimed he never missed an episode of TNG)
  • Jimmy Buffet
  • Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger
  • The late Isaac Asimov
  • Dr. Daniel J. Levitin
  • Chris Jericho
  • Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (had a cameo on VOY)
  • The late Dr. Randy Pausch
  • The late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Tom Bergeron (had two cameos on ENT)
  • Sir Richard Branson (named his spaceships the VSS Enterprise and the VSS Voyager)
  • Natalie Portman
  • Tommy Lee Jones
This post is dedicated to the memories of Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, James Doohan, DeForest Kelly and the biggest Trek Fan I ever had the pleasure to meet, Captain Eddie Chiullan.

Captain Eddie Where He Belongs... In the Captain's Chair. God Speed, Eddie.

REPORT: Still No Script for Star Trek Sequel, May Be Pushed Back to December 2012 Release or Later?

Deadline is reporting that the highly anticipated sequel to 2009’s mega-hit film Star Trek is still at the 70 page outline stage with no completed script and Deadline thinks that may have to be pushed back from its original June 2012 release date to Christmas 2012 instead.

We are not at all surprised by this development (if true).  Seriously, Have you seen the amount of projects Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci, Burk and Lindelof have been associated with over the last two years while still trying to get Trek 12 going?

J.J. Abrams:

  • Fringe
  • The People Speak
  • Undercovers
  • Anatomy of Hope
  • Morning Glory
  • Super 8
  • Alcatraz 
  • Person of Interest
  • Cloverfield Sequel
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Bryan Burk:

  • Fringe
  • Undercovers
  • Anatomy of Hope
  • Morning Glory
  • Super 8
  • Alcatraz
  • Person of Interest
  • Cloverfield Sequel
  • Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Alex Kurtzman:

Roberto Orci:

Damon Lindelof:

  • Once Upon a Time
  • Ollie Klubershturf vs Nazis
  • Cowboys and Aliens
  • Prometheus

So, these guys have had a lot on their plate, to say the least and Orci, Kurtzman and Abrams (and everywhere Abrams goes, Burk goes as well) are pretty much three of the hottest tickets in Hollywood right now so expect that they’ll have even more on the plate.  Orci admits to that they have a 70 page outline and that they are waiting for Abrams to commit to and have time to sign off on the outline so they can proceed with turning it into a script which they claim will take no time at all once they get the go ahead.

This coincides with Abrams’ recent comments at the premiere of Super 8, indicate that he is eager to get working on the project.  From Cinema Blend:

Paramount has set June 29, 2012 as the sequel’s release date but when asked if he thought they’d be able to make that date Abrams wouldn’t commit. Instead he says, “I care much more that it be good than it be ready. I’m, obviously doing everything I can to make sure that schedules don’t get screwed up. But I don’t think anyone wants a movie on time that’s not worth your time.” He actually seems enthusiastic about getting back to work on the Enterprise, “We want to make sure it’s done right. The guys I’ve been working with are obviously brilliant so I’m really excited to get back into it. So this is something I’ve been working on pretty closely, so in part they’re like, fine we’ll meet you to discuss.”

So that’s where we’re at right now. In the meantime enjoy this incredibly hilarious, yet spot-on review of Star Trek (2009) by Red Letter Media.