Review: 'Primeval: The Complete Season 3' Blu-ray

I wanted to open this review by trying to find some kind of connective tissue between BBC's ongoing sci-fi series featuring humans against dinosaurs Primeval and Fox's struggling humans vs. dinosaurs show Terra Nova—some way of explaining why we have two English-language TV shows about the (fictional) eternal battle between man and thunder lizard. But beyond the most basic elements of their respective pitches—i.e. dinosaurs are on the rampage for some reason, humans have to take them down—the two series couldn't be any more different, and this might explain why Primeval has done so well while Terra Nova has not.

The basics on Primeval, first: the series features a team of scientists (and in the current season military and shady business types) dubbed The ARC, dealing with the mystery of randomly-appearing portals in time that lead back to the Cretaceous era, from which spill out all manner of angry, confused, and often hungry dinosaurs. This set was actually my first exposure to the show, so you can forgive me if, after the first three or four episodes of the here had me believing that the structure would be painfully similar from show to show: a portal appears in some random, possibly odd location (like a prison-turned tourist exhibit), the team from the ARC showing up and either trying to subdue or kill the dino and close the portal.

But as the episodes here went on (this set actually containing both the fourth and fifth seasons, packaged here as the third season to be broadcast in the U.S.), all manner of interesting mysteries, conspiracies, and counter-conspiracies began to unfold around the main action, culminating in some pretty surprising twists and reversals. Without spoiling too much, the occasional rip in space and time isn't too good for the planet, and with their increasing frequency, something dire is about to happen—and not simply an invasion of ticked off raptors. The series writers keep the structure of the episodes fairly simple and allow the action to unfold simply and cleanly without too much protracted build-up.

But back to Terra Nova for a moment and why it doesn't work while Primeval does: Fox's series, produced by James Cameron, is pretty front-loaded with several competing foundational elements: it's a time-travel series, then a survival series (okay, doing alright so far), but then it's also a family soap opera which then starts mingling in elements of civilians versus military (getting a little busy), and then there's a sub mystery about messages left by previous settlers (okay...) and, oh, also the portals to the future have a random effect allowing some kind of wild card thing to come through or happen, and it all starts to feel a little too busy for its own good.

By contrast, Primeval is very, very simple, and if not for some pretty intense violence in a couple of episodes and a thrill killer subplot, it might actually be a really solid show for younger viewers.

As for the many, many dinosaurs you'll see in the show, they're on the whole, very well visualized by the effects team, and the actual illusion that they're tromping around in modern environments holds up after a fashion, until you realize that it's very rare that a dinosaur and human will appear in the same frame or physically interact. It's a shame that likely budget constraints keep the show from using the occasional practical dino to make the interactions seem a bit more tactile, but it is what it is. Like the show, they're maybe not the best you've seen, but enough effort has been put in to make them plausible and thrilling, so you're willing to forgive some of the rough edges.

The Blu-ray set contains 13 episodes as well as a series of prequel webisodes fleshing out some of the story elements from the show proper. In terms of special features, the set ports over the ones from the U.K. release, with a making-of for the shorts, although it might have been nice to get some interviews or commentaries in for at least a couple of the pivotal episodes from the season. Picture and audio quality are pretty solid although I did find some of the audio at the extreme left and right felt a little tinny. Otherwise, for fans of the show this is as fine a presentation as you'll get.

Primeval Season 3 is available now on DVD and Blu-ray.

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