The Titan

2018-10-19 09:29
Sam Worthington in the movie The Titan.


After years of war and man-made climate change, the Earth is on the brink of becoming entirely inhospitable for human life so a group of scientists, working both with the United Nations and a part of the US military, launch a program to allow humanity to withstand the hostile climate and general inhospitality of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn and our greatest hope for survival. Assembling a crack team of military men and women, the scientists behind the program start experimenting on them to transform their human physiology into a new kind of human that can survive on an entirely different home world. It’s not long, however, before it becomes increasingly clear that there is more going on here than the subjects of the experiment or their families could have guessed.


Unlike something like Michael Bay’s fifty-seventh Transformers abomination, I take no pleasure in slamming a well-intentioned, heartfelt indie movie by a first-time feature-film director (along with a first time feature-film screenwriter) - especially not when that movie in question is an original, science-fiction project that tries to go head to head against blockbusters with budgets that may well be literally hundreds of times larger. Unfortunately, there’s just no getting past it: The Titan is a very bad movie that lulls its audience to sleep even as it wastes its promising premise.

And that premise really is very solid. As climate change is increasingly seen as an insurmountable obstacle in our real world and the debate rages between those who think we still have time to save our planet and those who think our last, best hope is terraforming a planet like Mars or, indeed, the moon of Titan (as well as those who outright deny climate change, of course), there is definitely something quite timely about the story that the Titan is trying to tell. The concept of effectively causing humans to make several evolutionary steps over weeks rather than hundreds of millennia in order to become the sort of organism that can survive the insanely harsh conditions of Titan is also the sort of smart idea that great short sci-fi stories are made of.  

So far so good but unfortunately the film never makes its premise anything more than a nice idea on paper. In particular, it feels like writer, Max Hurwitz (here working off a story by Arash Amel) and director, Lennart Ruff were so proud of their premise that they forgot to actually craft a story around it or even develop it in such a way as to make even the barest amount of sense.

While Orange is the New Black star, Taylor Schilling, does her best to give the film at least some emotional heft, the Titan is a remarkably cold, uninvolving piece of work almost from the get go. The film is nominally from the point of view of the wife of one of the test subject but while you get Schilling doing her very best as the former, she is stuck with an utterly blank Sam Worthington as her husband and a script that fails to understand that the extraordinary events happening to these people should elicit a stronger emotional response than just a shrug of the shoulders.

This emotional deadness is a huge problem in the first, oh, hour of the 90-minute film when it focuses on our central couple and their brothers and sisters in arms but no one, from Worthington to Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel to the usually great Tom Wilkinson come within a nautical mile of bringing any of these characters to life. There’s scant plot here – it’s literally just watching these characters transform from Terrans into Titans while their families and handlers look on – which would be perfectly fine if it had things like characterisation, emotional resonance or even thematic complexity to rely on but it never feels like anything more than an hour of, well, nothing. I mean, it’s fairly relaxing as a bit of ambient noise with perfectly OK, visuals but as a piece of storytelling, it’s entirely inert. 

At around the 60-minute mark the film suddenly develops something that could conceivably be called a plot and it shifts gears from 2001-style cerebral science fiction into what is basically body-horror. Finally, something to actually sink your teeth into, right? Not so fast there, pardner. Frankly, five minutes into the film’s incredibly stupid final act, you’ll find yourself wishing that you were back in the boring first hour with its almost meditative atmosphere of supreme nothingness.

It’s not just that the final act is every bit as dour as the rest of the film or that it never amounts to anything more than a remix of very familiar elements from far superior films but it takes its promising premise in such illogical, insultingly daft directions that you can’t help but lose even the tiniest amount of patience you might have had with the film.

Again, I take absolutely no pleasure in dissing a film that I truly wanted to be something like this year’s Ex Machina or Dark City – and honestly I mostly feel disappointed for the film’s creators rather than in any way angry – but a bad film is a bad film, no matter how honourable the intentions behind it. Here’s hoping that Hurwitz and Ruff go onto make a bunch of genuinely worthwhile films but, in the meantime, feel free to not waste your precious money on this fatally misjudged misfire. 

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