WHEN | WHERE Monday night at 8 on Fox/5


WHAT IT'S ABOUT By the year 2149, we've screwed up the environment so badly that people need a time machine to escape. Scientists have discovered a "fracture" in time that opens a door to the far-distant past, which a few -- including the Shannon family -- begin to colonize. Back they go 85 million years, when dinosaurs were still bopping around, and even the moon was closer to Earth.

The Shannons have joined the pilgrimage because the colony needs doctors, and Elisabeth (Shelley Conn) is an esteemed one. But the colony just wants her and her two teens, Josh (Landon Liboiron) and Maddy (Naomi Scott). Husband, Jim (Jason O'Mara), who's a cop, and baby Zoe (Alana Mansour) sneak in, to the surprise and chagrin of colony commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang).

MY SAY Filmed in Queensland, Australia, "Terra Nova" is a warm bath of greens and azures, and, instead of dinosaurs, I almost expected to see a Na'vi pop out of the jungle. Comparisons with "Avatar" are unavoidable, especially with Lang -- a star of the James Cameron hit -- cast in a leading role. Ditto comparisons with "Jurassic Park," all three of 'em.

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Therein lies a challenge for "Terra Nova": As extraordinary as this technical achievement may be for TV, it's old hat for the big screen. Yup, the dinosaurs are beauties -- ranging from gentle giants to lightning-fast raptors with bad attitudes and big appetites -- but we've also seen them before.

Aware of that, producers have billed this as a relatable family drama. It's not quite The Waltons 85,000,000 B.C., but not that far off either. That's another challenge. Family dramas are mostly passé, while network-TV sci-fi remains under siege -- and what passes for sci-fi here is unsatisfying. If you have a time machine, why go to a time when there were things that could have you for lunch?

BOTTOM LINE The opener is marred by a conventional plot. The producers -- who include Steven Spielberg -- show almost complete indifference to science (or sci-fi). That said, TV's most ambitious new series has some promise.