Deadline Comic-Con TV correspondent Gary Hodges files:

Saturday’s TV panels for established albeit beloved shows like Futurama, The Simpsons, Family Guy didn’t draw the 4-hour lines of prior days. But the panel for the new Terra Nova (FOX) was a full house. The entire first half of Terra Nova’s 2-hour premiere rolled almost immediately. Much has been made of the show’s colossal budget, and it does show on screen – mostly. The first episode opens with an approach to future Earth from space, wholly unlike the appearance we’re used to seeing: it’s a planet-wide desert, no water seen anywhere, and as the camera cuts through the clouds we see a futuristic cityscape surrounded by wastelands, shrouded in hazy, yellow air. Humans wear rebreathers, and the film’s featured  family expressed astonishment at a rare gift from their father: an orange.

Apparently, in the future there is a strictly-enforced limit on the number of children a couple can have, and a surprise visit from the thuggish police force reveals Mom and Dad are hiding their third child: a young girl. Dad – a police officer himself – attacks the officers and is arrested and sent to prison.

Two years later, Mom visits him in prison and reveals she has been recruited for Terra Nova, but as a felon he cannot go with the family. She passes him a re-breather, though, in which she’s hidden the future-equivalent of a file: a handheld laser. Dad begins to plot his escape.

Various twists and turns take the family to the transport site: a long walkway that ends with a shimmering wall, and people walk through on foot to appear in a primordial jungle, some collapsing, “hyperoxic” (too much oxygen). A short walk takes them to their new home, a barricaded
settlement run by Captain Nathanial Taylor (Stephen Lang, Avatar), 85 million years in the past.

Terra Nova quickly circumvents all the potential problems (and intriguing possibilities) of time-travel fiction by making it clear this is an alternate past, and none of the actions create any risk of affecting the future. It’s also not long before it presents the little cracks in the settlement’s utopian veneer: teenagers sneak over the gate and explore the outside, hungry dinosaurs loom, and a settlement of defectors – “Sixers” – have set themselves up somewhere outside the walls, and seem to constantly harass the camp with thievery and assassination attempts. It also plants seeds of things to come, saying the Sixers have a larger agenda and hinting at further mysteries, such as strange petroglyphs outside the gates that look something like equations, but are from far before the earliest settlers.

As for Terra Nova’s expensive CG dinosaurs: somewhat disappointing. They move well and have interesting designs, but aren’t convincing as real creatures inhabiting the environment, especially when next to human actors. Indeed they look similar – in terms of effect quality – to dinosaurs in the original Jurassic Park, which were stunning at the time but are now clearly 20-year old CG. The panel almost seemed apologetic, explaining doing dinosaurs for TV is difficult but “they will continue to get better.” One audience member astutely asked if the Sixers existed to take some of the pressure off the dinosaurs, but producer Jose Molina insisted “It’s a dinosaur show. It’s an expensive show, and you’re going to see it on screen,” also promising lots of future “epic dino-on-man action.” (Lang joked that based on the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to a man being eaten in the pilot, he expects the studio to demand at least one eating a week.) They also said the dinosaurs will reflect “the latest in paleontological thinking,” having very birdlike characteristics.

It’s not clear from the first hour if Terra Nova has the human element needed to care about who the dinosaurs are eating, but the panel insisted there would be. Executive producer Rene Echevarria explained: “We’d like to think this is a show Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek) would’ve liked,” as it will be about human issues, and the baggage they carry with them in a fantastical environment. A little of that is there in the premiere, with a creature native to so many Spielberg-inspired stories: a teenaged boy who’s unhappy with his father. We’ll have to see what else it has to offer.