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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Ultimate Geek Fu

Okay, show of hands. Who here will admit to having spent two hours Monday evening watching Terra Nova?

I'm tempted to leave it at that and just throw the topic open for discussion now, but no. The whole point of THE FRIDAY CHALLENGE is to help you to become a better writer, and so once a week we indulge in these massive pile-on free-form gang critiques. So how did Terra Nova fail? Let us count the ways.

1. The story begins in the overpopulated, over-polluted, resource-starved mid-22nd Century, where the air is so bad that even mid-day looks like darkest night and people have to wear breathing masks when they go outdoors. Haven't we seen this before? And seen it again? And seen it again and again, since 1970? Granted, they've improved the CGI for the exterior establishing shots of the dystopian cityscape, but really, this sort of vision of the future only makes sense to someone who was living in Los Angeles around 1970 and hasn't gotten out much since. You really should get out of the valley, once in a while. It's not 1970 out here anymore.

2. In this overpopulated, over-polluted, overwhelmingly white future—that's right, there are a handful of token blacks and Asians, and the lead actress is of either Latino or Asian Indian ancestry, albeit with a BBC accent—

Okay, that's one of my bugbears: demographics. It bothered the Hell out of me about Star Trek, too, that it completely ignored demographic trends. If you're going to set your story in the future, make it the future, and not just late 20th Century Urban/Suburban White Middle-Class America with cooler gadgets. Remember, the key to imagining a credible future lies in the answer to this ancient riddle: Knock knock.

3. We begin by meeting an average American family. He's a hard-nosed streetwise cop; she's a doctor, a saint, and a genius; top of her class at Harvard Medical; fashion-model beautiful; works at a free clinic for the poor and on her weekends moonlights as a nuclear physicist, a race car driver, and the lead guitarist in a world-famous rock 'n' roll band—no, wait, that was Buckaroo Banzai—

Anyway, it's one of those sorts of marriages that only makes sense to Hollywood scriptwriters. She's top-of-her-class Harvard Med, he's a tough street cop, and they're perfectly happy living together in a housing-project hovel that makes a double-wide seem spacious. With their children, Emo Boy (in the year 2149 they'll still be wearing blue jeans and plaid flannel shirts?), Valley Girl ("Like, whatever."), and Little Miss Totally Cute & Sweet—no, wait, that makes three

Ahah! Transparent tension-producing plot device! Their illegal third child! Because in this world, overpopulation is so bad that it's now a serious felony to produce a third child! (How ever did they manage to get the Hmong, Somali, Mexican, and Mormon voters to go along with that? How ever did Ms Harvard Med ever manage to keep her third pregnancy a secret?) Which brings a squad of the usual standard-issue helmeted and body-armored jackbooted thugs through their front door, searching for the contraband child, which leads to a fight scene—for being a streetwise cop, Dad sure seems to lead with his chin and his knuckles a lot—which leads to Dad being thrown in prison...

Hmm. Apparently in this world, the penalty for having more than two children is to throw Dad in prison. Because, unlike in our world, the women here cannot have children while their husbands are locked up in prison, or away on long sea voyages, or anything like that.

4. Flash forward a couple of years. Dad is rotting in prison; Ms Harvard Med comes to visit him and tell him that she, Emo Boy, and Valley Girl have been accepted for Terra Nova—but only the three of them. Then she slips Dad a gizmo that enables him to break out of this maximum security prison (if it's so easy, why did she wait so long to do it?), collect Little Miss Totally Cute (what, she wasn't immediately seized by Child Protective Services right after the initial raid and adopted out to a nice lesbian couple in another state years ago?), and meet them on the train platform—

I'm sorry. There were steam effects. Understandable mistake.

Meet them on the Time Tunnel platform, so they can all escape into the past—but of course, Dad can't actually get through the portal without getting into another chase scene and a fist fight...

(At which point The Kid said, "You know, if overpopulation is such a problem and they're so terribly short of resources, why are they bothering to send people back through time at all? Why not just have them walk through that visual effect and then drop down the chute into the Soylent Green factory?")

5. And all of this happens before they ever get around to going through the Time Tunnel to Jurassic Park IV, which it turns out was built on the Mysterious Island from Lost...

Oh, I'm sorry. Cretaceous Park. Big difference.

In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have watched Terra Nova while sitting in the same room with Karen and The Kid. Pretty soon Karen was channeling for Wilma Flintstone ("Those little cars they're scooting around in really would work so much better if they had holes in the floor, so that when they got stuck you could put your feet out and push") while The Kid was having a wonderful time chopping the physics and causality to pieces.

I could go on and on, but I've gone on too long already, so I'll just leave it with The Kid's favorite moment from the script. When the Hot & Troublesome Babe is explaining "slashers" to Emo Boy, she ends with: "They mostly hunt at night."


How about you? What's your favorite target of opportunity in Terra Nova? Let the arguments begin!
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