Director: Lennart Ruff
Writer: Max Hurwitz, Arash Amel
Producer: Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Arash Amel, Ben Pugh, Fred Berger, Leon Clarance
Stars: Sam Worthington, Taylor Schilling, Agyness Deyn, Nathalie Emmanuel, Noah Jupe, Corey Johnson, Aleksandar Jovanovic, Diego Boneta, Tom Wilkinson
An experiment to genetically evolve mankind presents unexpected consequences for a military test subject and his family.
Because of its lakes of liquid methane, fiercely cold temperatures, and toxic nitrogen air, no human being could ever survive on Saturn’s moon Titan. But 2048 Earth is racing right alongside it on the list of uninhabitable locations. Nuclear war has left the planet overpopulated, with resources depleted and the environment in decay. If a solution doesn’t present itself, mankind faces inevitable extinction.
Terraforming Titan appears impossible. Scientists reason that since the atmosphere can’t adapt to us, we should adapt to it.
With his wife Abigail and their young son Lucas in tow, Lt. Rick Janssen volunteers as a test subject in an experiment to genetically evolve humans for withstanding conditions on Titan. The Janssens join a community on a NATO base housing other military families with soldiers in the Titan Program, and the experiment is soon underway.
As physical training and medical treatments continue, complications eventually arise. Although Rick develops astonishing amphibious abilities, other program participants exhibit abnormal aggression in addition to other odd physical alterations. Before going to Titan, everyone must first understand exactly what they are becoming. Because unexpected side effects may have course corrected evolution in frightening ways nature never intended.
It’s fitting that Sam Worthington, perhaps the most vanilla male lead to ever front a movie, headlines “The Titan,” which basically boils down to being a flavorless film. It is perfectly fine for science-fiction to favor speculative introspection over alien action or to not feature the energetic excitement of intergalactic conflict. But “The Titan’s” quietly meditative drama, essentially built on an extended training montage, doesn’t possess nearly enough intrigue to sustain a full-length feature.
Doctors read vitals. Test subjects run. Doctors administer injections. Test subjects swim. When plot progression calls for a scene change, lab exercises take a brief break for everyone to participate in a backyard barbecue, not once, but twice. I’d be anxious to escape life on Earth too, only because it’s so boring.
An inherent issue in slowly building a predictable premise is that viewers cannot divorce themselves from being passive participants in a sci-fi setup. We know we are watching a movie. Thus, we know that genetic alteration is never going to end well and will most certainly have deadly consequences. Watching and waiting, up to an hour no less, for characters to catch that same drift simply isn’t all that entertaining.
“The Titan’s” blueprint for being beige involves heavy-handed exposition courtesy of a screenplay written according to a rulebook. People are always greeted by their names the first time they are introduced so viewers understand each person’s purpose (although the roster is loaded with inconsequential characters the film neither needs nor uses). Abigail leans on a doorframe, tilting her head with a smile as she observes her husband and son bonding. Later, she and Rick share their own moment by laughingly dancing together at a party. It’s all just so basic, and basic always equals bland.
“The Titan” gets a kick from Tom Wilkinson playing the professor overseeing the program, who is of course up to something sneaky. Wilkinson knows he is locked into a rote role, but adds what gravitas he can with minimally required effort. His bigger problem, and the story’s too, is that painting the professor as the big bad guy leaves a lot to be desired as antagonists go.
The professor’s plan is portrayed as mankind’s last hope. If he doesn’t succeed in reengineering humanity, billions of people die. So what reason does he have to hide anything about the experiment when there is no other alternative anyway? The core conflict constituting the movie’s last act makes little sense as a point of contention, meagerly motivated as a band-aid for a script that can’t concoct a better revelation.
“The Titan” winds down its exercise in mediocrity as a mostly milquetoast movie, not particularly poor, but certainly not memorable either. Cinematography stays sharp. Pacing moves swiftly even though scenes don’t go anywhere original. By-the-book acting gets by on being fine. It’s a competent, C+ effort all around. All of which makes “The Titan” fine enough for a one and done viewing that ends with an unsatisfied sigh. Maybe a yawn.
Review Score: 50