PURE GOLDER Where Are The Dinosaurs In Terra Nova?

The time travel show’s pilot has been cut yet again. But, to sfx.co.uk’s editor Dave Golder’s annoyance, not to add any more dinosaurs

Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know we keep banging on about this, but don’t the creators behind the Spielberg-produced time-travel-and-dinosaurs series realise what’s going to make people tune into the series? Dinosaurs, basically. From the trailers you get the impression the writers are almost embarrassed by the creatures that should be the stars of the show. The three-minute trailer has barely three seconds of dinosaurs.

Maybe the final show will be full of thunder lizards and they’re just keeping them as a surprise. If so, bad move. The general lack of excitement about the show is very worrying for a series that, allegedly, boasts one of the most expensive pilots ever made.

And that pilot has just been recut yet again following test screenings. The pilot has had no end of problems, including the crew returning from the initial location shoot without enough footage to fill the running time, demanding rewrites and reshoots. There are a lot of “re”s where Terra Nova is concerned.

The latest recut, sadly, doesn’t involve putting in more dinosaurs. Nope, we’re going to get more “family drama”.

You know that pretty soon some producer will be quoted as saying, “This is not a sci-fi show; it’s a show about relationships,” and lose another 100,000 or so viewers for the pilot.

Exec producer Rene Echevarria is skating very close to that when he describes the new cut to TVLine : “It wasn’t so much [the result of] screenings and focus groups but our desire to engage you in the Shannon family story. We didn’t think of it as expositional, but a more emotional approach to draw you into that world.”

Anybody’s eyes glazing over?

TVLine adds, “The new scenes essentially frontload back story on the Shannon family, in some instances filling in blanks that (in the opinion of myself and several others who write about TV) were better left to reveal themselves as ‘A-ha!’ moments.”

So, in other words, they’re trying to avoid a Lost approach of protracted mysteries, which may be a sensible thing considering audiences seem to have tired of Lost-style serialisation. On the other hand, does the promise of lots of extra back-story exposition clogging up the pilot make anyone more interested in tuning in? Thought not.

Don't get me wrong. I have no problem with good characters with in-depth backgrounds and engaging relationships. I love a well-developed human story to back up the flashy visuals. In fact, they’re all a necessity to make a show truly great.

But what’s the point of making a sci-fi show if you seem ashamed of your sci-fi elements? If you want to make a soap, make a soap. If you’re making a sci-fi show, presumably there’s a reason why you wanted to make it sci-fi. I’m weary of sci-fi producers and stars who try to convince us that their show is primarily a human drama. It’s nothing new; it doesn’t wash. It just sounds like a hideous cliché these days and these is more likely to put off a large part of your potential audience.

I recall years back interviewing William Hurt for the Lost In Space movie when he spent 20 minutes trying to convince me that the film wasn’t about spaceships and lasers, it was about a father-son relationship. As if that’s going to make you go, “Blimey, I thought it was going to be a ropey remake of a TV show, but now I know it’s an in-depth analysis of a relationship between a father and son, I’m going to book my ticket NOW!”

The BBC’s Outcasts earlier this year was another example. The prepublicity was woefully misjudged. By concentrating on the rather pompous angle “This is not sci-fi, it’s proper drama that just happens to be set on an alien planet” and issuing trailers with as few “sci-fi” visuals as possible, it had already ensured a launch episode that would be ignored by a large part of its potential audience. Then the glacially slow pilot – which also seemed desperate to emphasis human drama over actually setting out or explaining its SF elements – virtually killed off any audience the show had left.

Interestingly, the more sci-fi Outcasts became, the better reviews it received (and not just from SFX ). If the final episode had been the pilot, you never know – it might not have been cancelled.

When Terra Nova finally airs it may be fantastic. It may be the perfect blend of characters, human drama, sci-fi and action. All the tinkering may have been worth it. It might be wall-to-wall dinosaurs,

But if it really wants a fighting chance and some decent viewing figures on its premiere night, I’d have a complete overhaul of the marketing tactics: more dinosaurs, more action, fewer shots of the cast looking angsty and a complete ban on any of the cast and crew saying in interviews, “It’s not a show about dinosaurs.”

Yes it is. Deal with it.

Use the dinosaurs to draw us in. Then give us the good drama. But not at the expense of the sci-fi.