09/27/2011 01:09 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'Terra Nova' Review: Dinosaurs, Dystopia, And Family Love

"Terra Nova" is a glossy, generally entertaining action-adventure/mystery that will appeal to fans who enjoy dinosaur fight scenes, touching family moments, and suggestions of deep mystery.

The Steven Spielberg-produced show follows Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara), an ex-cop in jail, whose family consists of surgeon wife Liz (Shelley Conn) and their three kids, Josh (Landon Liboiron), Maddie (Naomi Scott) and Zoe (Alana Mansour). While imprisoned, his wife gets an offer to go to Terra Nova, an untouched earth reached through a time portal.

Even with the two-hour length, much of the pilot is spent explaining the parameters of this world. In 2149, the earth is a pollution-blasted husk of a planet where people must wear gas masks at all times to protect themselves from the air. Scientists have discovered a new timestream (thus ensuring that fiddling around in the past won't destroy the future -- the quantum mechanics here is a little iffy) to take humans 85 million years into the past, where air has oxygen in it and dinosaurs roam the earth.

In the dystopian future earth -- which looks like an even more broken down version of "Blade Runner"'s universe -- families are limited to two children, a rule the Shannons break for some unexplained reason. Jim -- in jail -- and Zoe -- not allowed -- must stowaway into the past.

The past is a lush paradise with solar panels, wind turbines, exotic fruits and little cottages that let in the sunlight (a novelty for our futuristic friends). It's a spectacular backdrop (filmed in Australia) of snaking vines, immense trees, and strange animals. Commander Nathaniel Taylor (Stephen Lang, seemingly reprising a variation on his "Avatar" character) is the leader of this little camp, and according to him, the first man ever to have arrived in Terra Nova.

"We are at the dawn of a new civilization," he tells the assembled crowd.

The Shannons spend some time wandering the village and exclaiming over produce, but the parts of the pilot not used to set up the show are primarily filled with pure action. "Terra Nova" plays a little like a condensed version of every classic science-fiction action flick you've ever seen. One of the more thrilling scenes shows us a group of teens trapped in a car, surrounded by slashers (velociraptor-like dinos) as they frantically gun through window slots.

Though the dialogue can be clodding, and a little self-righteous (there are repeated references to how humans have ruined the earth), the experience of watching these colonizers pal around with brontosaurs is still great fun.

"Terra Nova" is also tinged with shades of "Lost," and not just because of the jungle. We meet the Sixers, renegade humans who control the quarry and live outside of the village's boundaries. Unlike the others, the Sixers seem to believe in some mysterious conspiracy involving unintelligible scribbles on rocks and speculation about what Terra Nova was really founded for.

The Shannons, are likeable enough, if not yet fully fleshed out. In a funny quirk of character, Maddie is a monumental nerd who occasional spouts out scientific facts about the size of the moon and the bone structure of dinosaurs -- seriously guys, this is a new world.