Primeval New World episode 1 review: The New World
Philip takes a detailed look at the new Primeval spin-off to see how it compares to the original. Here's his review of episode one...
This review contains spoilers.
1.1 The New World
I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a huge Primeval fan. I’ve seen every episode of all five of the UK based series and thoroughly enjoy the story of rips in times and the creatures and characters that come through them. And though the original version of the series is currently in development/cancellation hell, we do at least have the Canadian spin-off Primeval New World to fall back on, telling the story of a new group of men and women investigating the anomalies and dealing with the dinosaurs and other prehistoric – and one would assume eventually futuristic – creatures that come through them.
Primeval New World focuses on Evan Cross, played by Niall Matter, who is the leader of the group, and works in the lab of Cross Photonics. Through a flashback near the tail end of episode one, we learn he’s been following the anomalies since an encounter with a hungry Albertosaurus six years ago, which places this open anomaly at about the same time as the start of the UK series, but chronologically, of course, after Helen Cutter’s meeting with a prehistoric creature in the car park of her local supermarket. After one episode, Cross’ character was surprisingly well established but it is confusing how he seems to be under Angelika Finich, the CFO of the company played with Lester-like relish by Miranda Frigon, when his name is on the door.
The team is rounded up in the episode to include Sara Canning as the predator expert and the equivalent of Abby Maitland; Danny Rahim, the token British character with the expected cut-glass British accent that you only hear in North American productions, an expert in firearms who fills the Becker role even if he’s decidedly un-military; Crystal Lowe, a rather background-feeling character who ticks the Connor box; and probably the most interesting character is Lt. Ken Leeds, a governmental figure who investigates the paranormal and its ilk and is the most varied character away from the British version.
The first episode opens with a panoramic of a big city – I assume Vancouver – and a pair of base jumpers who are being watched by a hungry creature, neatly signposted by a reflected shot in its eye. It’s a pumping, visual way to open the episode, told through regular shots and pieces through their helmet cameras. Though the CGI of the ravenous pterodactyl is impressive, it’s no more or less well-rendered than what we saw in series five of UK Primeval. As its beak hits the lens we get the opening credits. Now, in the UK version, this would have been a neat blend cut into the anomaly images connected to Dominik Scherrer's atmospheric score, but here all we get is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it glorified title card. Considering how hard the episode works to appear cinematic – we’ll come to the camera shots shortly – the opening credits are a major disappointment and don’t set you up for what you’d hope to be a particularly exciting episode.
Then comes the expected piecing together of the team and discovery of the base jumper’s body, with a CSI-style analysis of the attack. Now, the elements of the new show that have been most touted as key features are an increase in the adult-side of the show away from the more family-orientation of the original Primeval and an increased budget. We do see the body in detail and its wounds but I wouldn’t say it looked particularly gory or off-putting for a family audience and there are no more violent attacks in this or on-screen gore, or indeed CGI, that was amazing more than was in the UK version. If they’re going for an adult audience with this being Torchwood to Primeval’s Doctor Who, then I think they’ve missed a trick.
The next scene that typifies one element that I don’t like about the way the show is filmed. For every slick cut, where a transition is made by a character moving across the screen, we get a shallow sequence such as Danny’s entry to work on a bike with a battle with Ethan’s car, a shot that goes on for far too long and feels forced. At least the two characters get a better job in the script with some good banter between them and CFO Angelika. Then follow some establishing shots that seem obsessed with speeding up whole sequences or elements that seem out of place. As someone who is more familiar with the style of UK dramas over transatlantic ones, the style of filming and the short, commercial-break friendly sections, seem initially difficult to get used to.
Before long we start to see Cross’ business and associates through the eyes of Danny as he becomes part of the team, a workaround that allows us to meet everyone, having been security in the building as well - a nicely done introduction to the theory of anomalies that strikes the balance neatly between viewers who’ve seen the UK series or those completely new to the concept. UK viewers also get a treat in regular cast member Andrew Lee-Potts turning up as Connor Temple, who breaks into the compound and discovers one of the Arc’s anomaly detectors hidden behind a picture frame, in a neat connection with the original series and its props. His explanation for getting out of the building is classic Connor awkwardness and adds some humour to a considerably witty script, though it would have been nice to have seen a few other cast members back in London to establish how he ended up in Canada to investigate them.
With a nearby park under investigation for the creatures and the anomaly that Cross can seemingly not pin down, we continue to get the pulling together of the team, which does seem a little forced together at times, before dino number two appears in the form of a Utahraptor and the appearance of an anomaly, which despite talk doesn’t differ dramatically from the UK version. We even get a shot of the cretaceous world hidden behind the anomaly and an impressive but of raptor CGI.
Naturally as the episode progresses we get a death that is close to home in a neat tense sequence but the payoff is perhaps a little too quick though the character is established just enough for us to care about him. In a sequence reminiscent of the Jurassic Park kitchen scene, another dead corpse arrives, though the death but neither are particularly adult, gory or indeed shown through anything other than sound effects.
Connor makes his second appearance and fills out his role of explaining what the anomalies are but this appearance might be a little confusing to Primeval newbies, but he certainly ramps up the mystery, and it’s nice to see the ARC logo back on screen. However, his conversation with Cross does throw up some potential script problems. If this series is set after series five of UK Primeval where New Dawn has created anomalies all over the world and creatures were let loose everywhere, surely this should be acknowledged?
It’s as the episode reaches its conclusion we get some of its more promising elements. Lt. Ken Leeds as the sole worker of a governmental project called ‘Operation Magnet’, housed in a rickety old archive, is possibly the most exciting – and certainly weird – character and holds promise for the series, also establishing Angelika as a potential contender for Lester in the sarcastic and witty-one liner department. It might slightly border into comedy too much in this section but the script is great in this part so it’s easy to forgive and the sequence involving keys and code words is fun.
The end of the episode is perhaps a little derivative of what we’ve seen before with a creature vs creature fight-off but one that doesn’t have the drama of the one that concluded series one of UK Primeval, though they have had the tricky job of establishing many characters and the concept of the show alongside a likeable monster-of-the-week story. But although that’s perhaps disappointing, the actual ending does set up what could be the most exciting element of the series. In Cross’ fridge area where the tranquilised creatures are stored until they can be returned to their time, showing he’s taken Connor’s advice on board, we find a mysterious character. In flashback, Cross and his partner are attacked by an Albertosaurus but he’s saved by an agent with the ARC logo on his jacket and his anomaly detector smashed by the dinosaur; an agent who is now frozen cryogenically in the department. Which British character is it? Danny? Matt? It must be someone who was around six years ago or who travelled back in time, but equally someone from when the ARC logo was established. From shots it looks like Matt or Connor, but only time will tell. As a fan of the British series this was a great development to drop in at the end and I hope the revelation pays off.
So where do I stand on Primeval New World? The first episode manages to successfully balance an introduction of a lot of characters and some you have to care about quickly before they’re bumped off. It straddles introducing the concept to new and returning fans quite well and has a good plot line to go amongst this. I wouldn’t say it was particularly more adult than the British version with most deaths, again, happening off screen, and several corpses not being particularly gruesome for children. Plotting and film-wise, even though it looks more cinematic, it feels less riveting than the source material with a lack of excitement and tension but hopefully this will improve as the series progresses. The scene with Drake, Cross’ mentor, in the raptor area was well done and many of the characters settle in well and there are enough plot strands to sustain my interest.
Is it is as fun and well put-together as the UK original? No, it didn’t quite feel like a whole episode. Was it worth watching for forty minutes? Absolutely. The titbits of plot given to us, especially the UK ARC’s involvement in events past and present, were well built in and the dialogue was sharp and at times witty. It might sit awkwardly with some of the plot strands established in the UK Primeval but it's also happy to acknowledge them in the script. Cross seems a likeable lead and Angelika a well-scripted boss. Some of the peripheral characters will take some time to establish but this is only episode one. It’s just a shame it’s lacking that certain something that makes this a strong stand alone episode rather than one piece of a larger puzzle.
But there’s plenty to enjoy and I’m glad Primeval has got a new lease of life, even if it is one that’s perhaps a little shallower than the original. But there was much to enjoy and I look forward to episode two to see how they build on the show now the characters and concept has been established.
Read Philip's pick of the top ten Primeval episodes, here.
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