Oh the Things We Have Seen: First Impressions of Terra Nova

Terra Nova Fox preview

Just after fall schedules are determined at networks' upfront presentations in late May, major networks send the pilots of their new programs to the media. These previews are not for in-depth review, because many pilots are retooled, recast, and reshot before they officially debut, and the final product might be much different. But that doesn't mean we can't share some basic ideas of what to expect!

The Show: Terra Nova on Fox, which will air Mondays at 8pm. starting on September 26. The series has also been picked up by Sky 1 for broadcast in the UK. (Note: We've only seen the first half of the two-hour premiere.)

The Cast: Jason O'Mara, Stephen Lang, Shelley Conn, Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott, Allison Miller.

Fox's official logline: "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 doubt, 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."

Early Intel: As soon as Terra Nova was announced, it became the most "OMG, I have to see this" show of the new season. Steven Spielberg is producing, there are dinosaurs, time-travel, and a gillion dollars in special effects... Terra Nova is a monster project. The series has already encountered a few delays, reportedly because it needed more time in post-production for all the computer-generated effects. The average budget for each episode is allegedly a whopping $4 million, with the pilot estimated at $10 million on the low end. In other words, if this thing bombs, half of Fox is getting pink-slipped.

First Thoughts: I watched this thing on a computer screen in standard definition, and even then it was clear that Terra Nova is more ambitious than anything else that's ever aired on television. And you know what? It looks pretty damned good.

What the series has going for it: Dinosaurs. DINOSAURS! But even thought the dinos will take all the headlines, I was more interested in the set (the show is filmed on-location in Australia). The crew has created an amazing, lush pre-global warming world that looks abso-frickin'-lutely gorgeous. Think Avatar meets the final destination of Up. Also a feast for the eyes is the world everyone's trying to escape from, a Blade Runner-esque dystopia. Let's hope the finished product delivers on all this potential. As far as story goes, there was a huge subplot that caught me off guard and could be one of the main attractions of the show. Plus, Stephen Lang is ideal for the lead role.

Room for Improvement: If you're not too preoccupied by the pretty surroundings, you may notice some "what the?" and "why would someone ever do that?" moments. You know, standard blockbuster kind of stuff. But then a dinosaur comes along and makes you forget such qualms. Also, the first hour really, really, really felt like a pilot trying to cover as many bases as it could, offering a broad look at the series instead of focusing on one single storyline.

The Coolest Part of the Early Version: This preview I saw was released to media a bit later than the rest of Fox's pilots, so it's probably fairly close to a final product. But there were some obvious audio post-production glitches and a few CGI shots that looked about a decade old. I'm confident they'll be cleaned up by the premiere though.

Last Word: Terra Nova has a legitimate shot at being absolutely enormous if it can keep its production values up. And with its tropical backdrop, it'll be an hour-long vacation each week. Bring sunscreen and Allosaurus repellent.

Here's Fox's official trailer for the series:

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Follow TV.com writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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