Home > ARGs, new shows, official webpages > Creating Its Own World: Terra Nova‘s Website

Creating Its Own World: Terra Nova‘s Website

September 9th, 2011 | Jonathan Gray

In my last post, I noted that the only truly interesting and innovative website for the new network shows this Fall belongs to Terra Nova. Why?

Well, first, let me offer a quick qualifier to the previous statement. Grimm’s website, while largely uneventful and de rigeur, includes what could become a neat little Production Blog, in which various production staff are offered a small amount of space to explain what they do in general and how that works on Grimm. It could provide yet another example of how paratexts teach production literacy, and are invested in a process of multiplying the number of supposed authorial geniuses working on any show … but they have three posts in one month, so perhaps they ran out of geniuses already? Anyways, go see it here.

Back to Terra Nova, though, while not wholly stepping (yet?) into the realm of being an alternate reality game, it does do a good job of setting up the alternate reality in which the show will be set. Almost buried away on the official webpage is a link to become part of the Eleventh Pilgrimage, and by clicking through, one is situated in the futuristic society from which our Terra Novans will depart. The show follows a “pilgrimage” of people from the future who are escaping that hostile future to try and reestablish the past and make better decisions in order to refashion the future (imagine if Wall-E won over the Terminator and the two started hatching ideas).

As the embedded widget above shows (btw, kudos to them for creating an embeddable widget, not just single videos – they’re clearly keen to design the frame, not just the core, and this blogger appreciates those who realize the importance of frames), the production team clearly have a schedule for the slow yet constant and continuing release of posters and videos. These combine to give us the sense of a world in which population is controlled through rigidly enforced laws about how many children families can have, and in which the environment as a whole seems to be collapsing. Elsewhere on the page, one can find weather reports for various American cities, only to see a mix of what we would see as uncharacteristically cold weather (36 degrees in Helena in early September?), and volatile weather. Amusingly, too, they’ve created new icons for weather, giving the idea of wholly new types of weather that changes daily.

Another link advertises the Rebreather 6000, thereby suggesting that citizens of the future now need extra help just to breathe. And one of the Top Stories on the website further suggests the dismal future, as it notes that “Experts predict that the Sun and Moon are visible in Terra Nova,” implying that they are no longer visible in the future. I’m especially amused by this process of showing without showing – we’re told a lot about the world, yet rarely shown it. Undoubtedly, the small budget of the web designers is largely responsible, but they work with it, to help create a world that the imagination must co-create, and which sounds quite horrible. I imagine that anything a TV (ie: LOW) budget CGI team could design, moreover, would be worse that what I can imagine.

Ostensibly, though, much of the website apparatus directed one to “enter the lottery” to join the Eleventh Pilgrimage to Terra Nova (I use the past tense, since they just changed it, and I find it hard to find this link now. Points off for that). And thus we’re invited to think of ourselves as voyaging to this new land alongside the other newbies. A series of quizzes promise to be released, of which only one was up when I checked the site last. There, its questions are mostly drawn from the Aptitude Test or Psychological Evaluation Test variety, not much like the quizzes discussed in my previous post. They don’t tell us much about the world of Terra Nova at all, nor even about the tone of the show (as does the Secret Circle quiz, by contrast, for instance). But they look a lot like the sorts of questions that Lost’s Dharma Initiative online quiz asked when that ARG was up and running, and hence they posit the futuristic government of Terra Nova as similarly mysterious, ominous, and controlling.

So here’s what intrigues me the most about this: it all sets up rich territory for extratexts, since presumably the series itself (at least, if the previews are to be believed) will be set largely in the past … yet knowing more about the future will help contextualize and explain what’s going on, and that might be largely the province of the extratexts. This strikes me as a wonderful way to create a product that will invite and encourage extratextual engagement, since it gives the showrunners one world to play with, and the website designers and others their own world to create and mould. Thus, I’ll be interested to see whether the division between web (with future) and TV show (with past) holds, and if so, whether this provides an innovative way forward for alternate reality and transmedia storytelling that lets the extratexts “count” without “messing” with the story in the show.

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