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So last night was the two hour pilot for Steven Spielberg’s new television series Terra Nova. It seemed like the perfect show for his sensibilities. It’s a family drama, it’s sci-fi, oh and there’s dinosaurs! The two hour premiere clicks along at a fairly breakneck pace introducing us to the future and the past and the people who live in those times. The series focuses on one family that has broken the overpopulation rules in the future but managed to escape to the past, to a settlement meant to restart the world before it’s totally destroyed in the future. The father is a cop, or ex-cop, the mother is a doctor, and they have three kids, one to many apparently. I thought of population laws that are already in place in China and predicted that this would be an issue before it was revealed in the pilot. In Terra Nova the cop quickly becomes a part of settlement security and the mother gets a job in the hospital dealing with some pretty giant tics.

Initially this series may feel like Land of the Lost crossed with Jurassic Park and to some degree it is that but there’s an additional layer of mystery about the true nature of the settlement that makes the story much more complex. This mystery appears to be something that’s going to be revealed a little at a time each week. This is a series that literally requires some serialized element so thankfully that element comes into play fairly quickly in the pilot. We have a doctor and a police officer so there are sure to be some single episode “one shot” types of procedural stories but discovering the truth about Terra Nova through the eyes of these characters looks to be an entertaining ride.

As exciting as this pilot is overall it’s still not perfect (few pilots ever are, well except LOST). There’s a passage of time that happens in the first hour that comes off clunky in execution and is only saved by a bit of throwaway dialogue. That happens because the creators of the show are so desperate to get these characters out of the future and into Terra Nova. There are also a few instances of wooden character development with some teenage characters that are common with television shows but surprising coming from Spielberg who is generally good at developing young characters. The issues are far from show stoppers though.

Overall Terra Nova was a fantastic ride in its first two hours. The special fx looked great, the suspense was perfectly rendered, the mystery of the past was established and is fascinating, and many of the secondary characters are as interesting or more so than the main cast. The show actually feels too good for network television in a way. Terra Nova feels like a great AMC experiment with a bigger budget or a special Syfy Channel miniseries similar to Taken, another Spielberg event. That’s a compliment by the way because AMC is doing some great things with genre television. As of this writing the viewership for the pilot hasn’t been released but let’s hope a lot of people watched because this series demands our attention.