More noise than signal

The Titan

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

In the not-that-distant future of Netflix’s latest sci-fi offering, the Earth is ruined. Resources are depleted, and humanity is warring for the scraps. Our last hope is to get off this rock, but we don’t have the technology to terraform other planets, so an audacious experiment to drastically alter humans instead is cooked up by Tom Wilkinson’s Dr. Collingwood. He sequesters an international bunch of military peeps, including his friend, Sam Worthington’s Lt. Rick Janssen, who have in the past survived extreme situations to a military base and explains, loosely, what’s going to happen to them.

We’ve found that a moon of Saturn, Titan that seems an ideal holiday home, apart from the extreme cold and the nitrogen/methane atmosphere and so on. So, as mentioned, it’s time for some gene therapy to mould humans to fit Titan, conveyed here by Janssen falling sick then swimming really fast and freaking out his wife, Taylor Schilling’s Dr. Abi Janssen, who’s then motivated to find out exactly what Collingwood’s up to, and why subjects are starting to die, or worse, kill others. The answers will surprise you! At least if you were expecting something sensible.

I forget where I heard this, so in the absence of attribution I’ll say it’s commonly held that you get one big ask for free in science fiction. So for instance, Star Trek and many like it say that faster than light travel is feasible, and with that easy access to an infinite universe, habitable planets, existence of aliens et al seems reasonable. The Titan‘s problem may well be that it doesn’t go far enough, early enough. I’m no expert, of course, but it seems like if we had cause to we could put people anywhere in the solar system, given the time, and the money, and the incentive. Going to Titan doesn’t seem like something that needs special pleading.

And, at least as it’s first introduced to us, the gene therapy spoken of seems within current medical knowledge’s event horizon, at least in the middle distant future. This kind of lures you into thinking that The Titan is a broadly speaking “hard” sci-fi endeavour, a rough variant of what the excellent Gattaca served up a few decades ago. At least, until, very abruptly, it is revealed to not be “hard” sci-fi at all, or “firm” sci fi, or “melted to a puddle” sci-fi, or even “sci”. By the time it’s revealed that, and, well, spoiler warning, I suppose, the scientific experiments here reduce to selecting a random animal and splicing their genes into folks to see what happens, the swing from serious to seriously stupid is too abrupt to maintain a straight face.

You have to ask, what, precisely, was the end goal in all of this? To spend a ridiculous amount of time, money, and lives to send one big blue bastardised semi-human to float about on a distant planet by themselves? How does that save the human race? How can this nonsense be replicated when resources are dwindling to nothing? What on Titan was the point of all this?

It’s a shame really, as there’s a good, not stupid film in here if the last act’s excesses were excised. There’s a token consideration to the ethics of this sort of experimentation balanced with the apparent vital need for the work that to a boring old git like me would be a perfect thing to explore in the final stretches of this, rather than the Blue Man Group Action Unspectacular that’s foisted on us here.

And it has the cast for it, too – Tom Wilkinson is a dependable hand, and so is Sam Worthington on the smaller scale stuff – let’s politely gloss over his awful turns as an action lead in dreck like Avatar and Terminator: Salvation. For that first half they’re doing quite well, too, Worthington portraying the effects of the treatment believably enough, and Wilkinson suitably assured but raising enough of an eyebrow at his motives and methods. Taylor Schilling and Nathalie Emmanuel give decent support, Schilling in particular proving empathetic.

It’s a pity it’s all in support of such errant nonsense, in the final product. It’s all very disappointing. I was quite enjoying it until I realised it was dreadful. I’ve been rope-a-doped. Another mark in the “garbage” column of Netflix’s productions.