Thursday, 1 November 2012

Space's PRIMEVAL: THE NEW WORLD review


written by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens / directed by Martin Wood

Not too long into the original UK run of Primeval I started to wonder if the concept would be better handled on American network television. The idea of space-time "anomalies" spewing prehistoric/futuristic monsters into the present day, with a team of scientists dealing with the incursions, just felt more attuned to an American sensibility. Primeval has had its moments over a chaotic five series run (where it lost key actors, was briefly axed, and is now stuck in creative limbo), but I've always thought the Americans could do it much better. And maybe they can; but for now the Canadians have made a spin-off, entitled Primeval: New World, and it's bloody awful.

It's hard to understand how anyone could make a pilot this ham-fisted, given how simply remaking the UK's first episode wouldn't matter to most of the channel's native audience. That said, it does make sense for New World to be the Stargate Atlantis of this British franchise, and conceptually there's no issue with the idea of time-portals opening up in Vancouver for a foreign cast of hunks, geeks and beauties to find and close every week. What isn't acceptable is that everything about this hour, apart from some nifty CGI to create a pteranodon and utahraptor, was dreadfully uninspiring.

My attention drifted early and often as the plodding story introduced New World's ensemble of wooden actors—led by billionaire software programmer Evan Cross (Niall Matter), whose laboratory becomes this show's version of the government-run ARC. Why isn't a palaeontologist involved in this version? Gods knows. The closest they get is including "predatory behaviour expert" Dylan Weir (Sara Canning), while the only half-decent performance comes from Geoff Gustafson as a version of X Files' Fox Mulder: Lieutenant Ken Leeds, the man in charge of "Project Magnet", a defunct branch of the military created to investigate the unexplained. Strangely, Leeds dresses like Torchwood's Captain Jack Harkness in the promotional material.

There was a potentially excellent opening sequence with two daredevil base-jumpers getting attacked by a pteranodon while leaping off a tall building at night, but you don't get to see any aerial attack. The team later discovered the existence of an actual living dinosaur, but nobody seemed particularly excited or scared by this fact. The UK show's Connor (Andrew Lee-Potts) made a Star Trek-style torch-passing appearance, but couldn't say anything of any use because of the Official Secrets Act—although the actor injected a sense of cheeky fun wholly absent everywhere else. A climactic scene involving the team trying to rescue a little boy from a disinterested pteranodon (the stupid thing refuses to fly on screen) ranks as one of the most boring action sequences ever made, too. Oh, and for some reason director Martin Wood insists that the exterior of the Cross Photonics building can't be filmed without pointless time-lapse photography... because, well, I guess it looks amazingly cool if you've been living under a rock for the past 30 years.

The husband and wife team behind this Canuck adaptation, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, have written extensively for various Star Trek projects (even becoming the unlikely showrunners of Star Trek: Enterprise's final season), but there's little evidence they learned anything about crafting instantly likeable characters hereh. Primeval is generally at its best when it's finding imaginative ways to have monsters threaten the modern world, before the team come up with a way to sedate, kill or expel them—but this episode didn't even get that part of the show right. It was curiously boring whenever the creatures were on-screen, and naturally more so when they weren't (which was 90% of the time--for budget reasons?) A denouement hinted at something more creative, with a flashback to Cross's wife being eaten by a T-Rex in his lab, where Cross is now keeping someone in cold storage who wears the same armband insignia as Connor, but it just wasn't enough to lure me back.

If there's one thing I'm grateful to New World for, it's making me appreciate just how lively and pleasurably silly the ITV show could be. There was a feeling Primeval knew it was utter tosh with the good fortune of having the Walking with Dinosaurs team on the payroll, but this spin-off is somehow even stupider with no noticeable improvements in production standards. I'd hoped a fresh pair of eyes on Primeval, from adroit producers aiming to fix all the concept's problems, would be something to really get behind... but, rather annoyingly, they've made a bigger hash of it.

29 October 2012 / Space
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