It is not just organisms which evolve, it is technology, it is media, it is the way films are created, marketed and distributed, a dissolution of traditional channels and boundaries; where once a cinema release was at least an indication of a production quality higher than to be found in a bottom shelf straight-to-video offering, that is no longer necessarily the case.
While modern streaming equivalents such as Netflix have blurred the distinctions, bypassing traditional routes and building a justified reputation for quality, unfortunately it is often a swifter process to tarnish a reputation than to build one, and The Titan, directed by Lennart Ruff from a script by Hell on Wheels’ Max Hurwitz from a story by Arash Amel does no favours for any of those involved.
It is the year 2048, and the Earth is in the grip of a generic unspecified slow apocalypse, with nuclear fallout, environmental collapse, sandstorms, flash floods and overpopulation taking their toll on the dwindling resources the planet has to offer, and it is estimated that within a generation half the world population will starve.
In order to save humanity, Professor Martin Collingwood (Batman Begins‘ Tom Wilkinson) leads the project to adapt humanity for one of the most distant and inhospitable environments in the solar system, Saturn’s largest moon Titan; volunteering like a good little patriot is Lieutenant Rick Janssen (Wrath of the Titans‘ Sam Worthington) who shouts down anyone who questions what lies behind the blustering hyperbole of Collingwood’s sales pitch.
Physical endurance tests follow as the process begins, and one by one the candidates are whittled down to those who are most capable and are best adapting to the extreme changes taking place in their bodies, but Janssen’s wife Abigail (Orange Is the New Black‘s Taylor Schilling) is concerned and begins her own investigation even as her husband undergoes mutation.
The feature directorial debut of Ruff, the situation never convinces and the performances are indifferent, even Wilkinson struggling in a standard mad scientist role, convinced of the righteousness of his cause even as the experiment spirals out of control, the project lacking foresight, oversight, accountability or any concept of a moral compass.
The disposable guinea pigs willingly signing up for the deeply experimental process without even so much as asking what it will do to their bodies much less whether there might be side-effects such as bodily transmogrification, psychotic episodes and sudden death, elsewhere their wives brunch in sunshine and express thanks for being married to heroes with the imprinted adoration of a Stepford wife.
With a sweeping soundtrack heralding victories mediated through gene therapy as though there should be a sense of personal achievement, in the sheltered enclave of plenty there is scant evidence of the imminent fin de siècle beyond a seemingly distant crisis on the televised news and exposition spouted like propaganda, the production unable to muster a greater sense of desperation than what can be generated by stock footage.
Longing looks unable to bridge the gulf between Rick and Abigail as he loses the use of language, it is preferable to the dialogue of Hurwitz’s pedestrian script in which the purpose of Professor Collingwood’s stated goal is unclear; how will this in any way save the human race when at most only a handful of transformed Homo Titanians can be transported to a distant world with no civilisation or technology?
Despite the superficial resemblance to the plot of Frederik Pohl’s vastly superior novel Man Plus, instead of questioning what it is to be human and the inherent risk and need to push boundaries to survive, The Titan abandons any attempt to match the intellect of that book as it hybridises itself into a malformed chimera of conspiracy thriller and monster movie, the experiment a failure in its flawed premise and its sloppy handling.
The Titan is currently streaming on Netflix in some regions and on limited cinema release in the UK