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Welcome, 'Terra Nova'

Travel back in time for the special two-hour

Travel back in time for the special two-hour launch event of "Terra Nova," the new adventure drama that follows an ordinary family on an extraordinary journey to prehistoric Earth, airing Monday, Sept. 26, 2011, from 8 to 10 p.m. on Fox. Photo Credit: Fox Broadcasting Co.

Finally, after what seems like a wait of a couple of years -- oh, it was a couple of years? --Terra Nova" is here, and my instant assessment is: It's good. There are a few reservations, and I'll get to those, but this should get a big tune-in tonight. I'm guessing in the 12-14 million range, which would make Fox happy, no doubt.

What's best about "Terra Nova?" Obviously what is on-screen. It screams "ambition," and has zagged while the rest of the TV landscape has been zigging. Most TV dramas, intensely cognizant of cost, rely on ensemble cast dramas filmed in Toronto, Vancouver or a back lot in you-know-where. But under the production auspices of Steven Spielberg, it has taken a big screen idea and crammed it into the confines of the small screen, even though the costs are essentially the same. Due to said costs, Fox ordered 13 episodes, at what's believed a total cost of around $20 million -- not exorbitant, and obviously much of this has been poured into location -- Queensland - and special effects.

Quickly, just to address those special effects: "Terra Nova" employed "motion capture" -- a not especially new technology but an effective one here; it involves the use of human actors portraying dinosaurs with SFX added at a later point.

Reservations? I had a few of those, too. But before I get to those, it's best to remember, Fox initially wanted to launch this as a stand-alone special back in the spring, much as it had done with "Glee," collecting good notices, viewers, and anticipation for the fall launch. Instead, tonight's two-hour preem was delayed for many months so the SFX issues could be resolved. And apparently they have been. 

OK, reservations: Foremost, plot, which feels like a rehash of so many other "lost world" epics -- this time with rebellious teens and fraught mom and dad. And naturally, there are  bad people who have also colonized this distant time, and  also, naturally -- you will left to guess who the "bad" ones really are. 

Here was my larger problem -- the show, at least initially, studiously avoided any sort of deeper explanation of why this time and why these people? In a very brief snatch of dialogue, it dispenses the whole silly "butterfly effect" argument which apparently bothered some critics during the winter press tour. (The time machine opened a door to a different time "track," thereby avoiding any possible impact on the future by actions performed in the past.) 

But why 85 million years ago? Why not (say) 55 million? Or 103 million? Or 1965 -- when you could at least be assured of buying a good burger at a reasonable price?

Why? Maybe this'll be laid out in the next few episodes, and I am confident -- hopeful -- it will. But I also believe it needed to be addressed immediately, to enhance (at the very least) the plausibility of this journey. 

OK -- that's my spiel. Definitely check this out tonight. It's an unusual venture for television, at the very least, and with actors like Stephen Lang populating the screen, a worthy one.

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