Why I prefer dinosaur poop to Terra Nova

Summary:I expected so much more from Steven Spielberg in a Science Fiction TV series.

To be a devoted fan of Science Fiction on television, you have to expect that you're going to have to wade through a lot of crap before you get to the good stuff.

In the case of FOX's Terra Nova, it's metric flipping tons of it, pooped straight out of an Apatosaurus cloaca.

(EDIT: Yes, I am blissfully aware that large sauropods such as Apatosaurus, Brachiosaurus and Diplodocus died out towards the end of the Jurassic Period. However, apparently the show's producers aren't. There were Titanosaurs, though.)

I've discussed my dissatisfaction with Science Fiction on TV before. The previous show which incurred my wrath on this column was Caprica, the dud of a prequel to the most excellent Battlestar Galactica re-imagining.

Caprica was a bad show because it took all of the worst minutiae that was in Galactica and made it the focus of the entire series.

The main characters weren't compelling enough to keep my ADD-addled attention span and too many things made no sense at all which battled with the willing suspension of disbelief that is necessary in order to actually enjoy any Sci-Fi show.

As I said before, provided the characters and the story is engaging enough, you can forgive a show for scientific shortcomings or technology that defies explanation. This is why Battlestar Galactica succeeded and Caprica tanked after one season.

This is why Star Trek and Doctor Who are such loved TV shows.

However, like Caprica, I'm having a lot of the same problems with Terra Nova and I find myself screaming at the TV set with a resounding "What the hell?" multiple times per episode.

What really makes me mad about the whole thing is that we're not dealing with hacks. Steven Spielberg is the executive producer of the show.

The eye candy of Terra Nova is incredible. The dinosaurs and the sets are amazing, and it really does have a huge sense of realism, at least visually.

The amount of money that is being spent to produce this show is obviously obscene. It's estimated that it took approximately $10M-$20M to produce the pilot and an estimated $4M per episode. Wowza.

But then the show does whacked out stupid stuff that makes you wonder if Spielberg or FOX even bothered to hire science or military consultants at all.

What, Steven so completely blew his budget on CGI, set design and actors that he couldn't hire someone like Michio Kaku or Neil DeGrasse Tyson or someone at the National Science Foundation to proofread the friggin' scripts? Seriously? Not even their interns?

Let's begin with the opening sequence and the show's logo. The show is supposed to take place towards the end of the Cretaceous period, which is 85 million years in the past. We're treated with an eye-candy view of the planet earth, complete with the mega-continent of Pangaea.

It looks cool, but there's just one itty bitty problem with that.

85 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous, Pangaea didn't exist. Pangaea existed 250 million years ago and broke up over the course of 165 million years, up until the time the show is supposed to take place. Oops.

If that was the only technical nit in the show, I'd just say "eh". But unfortunately it doesn't end there.

One of the things that drives me absolutely nuts is the Terra Nova colony's lack of situational awareness.

The colony is run by a commander in the Earth's military forces, but apparently he and his soldiers have no way to figure out where the "Sixers" are, who are the rogue undesirables that went off into the jungle and are a thorn in the colony's side.

In recent episodes, we've learned that the Sixers live in the tree canopies, and are nomadic, moving from place to place to avoid detection.

The Sixers, by the way, apparently feel like they need to go totally Survivor: Cretaceous meets Mad Max Beyond Jurassic Park in their attire, complete with war paint, animal skins and badass tattoos.

But I digress.

So, let me get this straight. The Terra Nova colonists come from 138 years in the future and have incredible technology they've brought with them (single chip supercomputers, holographic projectors, sonic and energy weapons, portable nuclear fusion devices, advanced fabrication and construction systems, et cetera) but they can't triangulate a radio signal?

Or better yet, they don't have miniature UAVs or mid-22nd century equivalents to Predator drones? You mean that Amazon.com isn't selling remote control micro-copters or mini-zeppelins with advanced thermographic imaging sensors and sophisticated optics for $50 in the year 2149?

Hell, if I was the military commander on Terra Nova, I would have surveillance UAVs patrolling the skies around the damn colony 24x7.

Monday night's program was a real winner. A huge meteor streaks out of the sky, explodes in mid-air, causes a "Sonic wave" that shatters everything for miles around and creates an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) which fries anything powered with a computer chip in it.

Yeah, sure. Never mind the fact that such a meteorite explosion would be the equivalent of a nuclear weapon going off and if the colony was anywhere near it, the show would have ended right then and there.

Anyone recall the 1908 explosion in Tunguska, Siberia? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? No?

Okay, so I did some research on this one and I found out that ferrite core metorites can cause electromagnetic pulses. However, ferrite core meteorites are extremely rare, representing only 10 percent of all of the meteors that enter our atmosphere.

Still, one that is big enough to cause a huge EMP would almost certainly be detectable some time before it hits the earth, especially one that would be a near direct hit for the colony.

I would expect that 138 years in the future, we'd have some way of observing objects in space, just as we do now, using spectroscopy to determine the composition of near earth objects (NEOs).

With that data, the colony would know which ones had the potential to create an electromagnetic burst, even with portable observation equipment brought back into the distant past.

Hell, by then, I'd expect that you could compact the equivalent imaging and sensor capability (and then some) of the Keck Observatory into the size of an SUV or my backyard grill. 100,000 megapixels? No problem. I mean, they've demonstrated they have friggin' supercomputing SoCs on that episode that would make Steve Jobs' head spin.

So I would think that the Terra Nova colony would have adequate time to prepare against such a meteoroid, and if the colony was so dependent on their technology to function, they would have electromagnetically shielded vaults (like the "Eye" supercomputer room that contains the sum of all human knowledge shown in that episode) filled with backup chips for every mission-critical piece of equipment including extra chip fabricators.

Like, the colony is the entire future of humanity, right?

I can't believe they only had one chip fabricator, and the chip that ran it was fried. What freaking idiot IT director at the Terra Nova colony came up with that disaster recovery plan? Fire his ass.

They can give every family on Terra Nova a condominium but they can't stock up on spare parts? What the hell?

Let me go on.

They have the technology to synthesize 50 gallons of reptilian pheromones in five minutes, but they don't have the ability to protect the airspace over the colony from tens of thousands of angry bird-sized dactyls using millimeter waves or even utilize their existing sonic weapons technology to shatter the eardrums or scramble the brains of everything coming in from the air?

If you have a colony in the late Cretaceous, wouldn't pterodactyl attacks be something they would want to plan for? Hell, I live in suburban New Jersey and I plan for friggin' pterodactyl attacks. Seriously.

And why the heck is the fencing of this colony made out of wood beams? Cause it's green tech and we don't want to pollute the environment?

Wouldn't reinforced concrete make more sense? These people have seemingly unlimited energy, can synthesize just about anything, but they can't make carbon fiber? Hell, with technology this far in the future, I'd expect them to be able to make barriers or netting out of carbon nanotubes.

But then you wouldn't necessarily be able to see the cool dinosaurs through the barrier, I know.

And, seriously, why the hell are these people leaving the compound at night? You don't flipping go into the damn pitch black jungle where there are all sorts of dangerous animals about, especially without any night vision.

Yeah, like why don't they have night vision? Every single damn person should be issued night vision goggles. YOU LIVE IN THE FREAKING JUNGLE.

And why do people go missing all the time? Wouldn't you chip every single adult with the future equivalent of an RFID tag or homing implant to keep track of them and keep them from falling into harm's way?

I know. Just sit back and enjoy the pretty dinos and cool sets, Jason. Sci-Fi TV sucks.

Does Terra Nova piss you off too? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet is a technologist with over two decades of experience with integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer... Full Bio

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