Directed by: Lennart Ruff
Written by Max Hurwitz (screenplay), Arash Amel (story)
Starring: Sam Worthington, Taylor Schilling, Tom Wilkinson, Agyness Deyn, Nathalie Emmanuel
Nine years after Avatar introduced him to the world, Sam Worthington dons an armor of blue-tinted prosthetics and, once again, turns into an enhanced lifeform. No, the first of those James Cameron’s sequels hasn’t arrived early (it’s still two years away) but The Titan should quench that particular thirst if you are currently experiencing it.
Set thirty years in the future with the Earth on the brink of certain and complete annihilation, the story details how NATO-sanctioned scientists in conjunction with NASA come up with the wildly risky proposition of administering the DNA of certain specific animals to an elite selection of military personnel. The goal is to mutate them and make them superhuman, capable of tolerating the extremely uninhabitable weather and oxygen-lacking conditions of the only moon with a thick atmosphere in our solar system. You see, they want to morph these volunteers into Titans (as in the deities of Greek mythology) and send them off to colonize Titan (Saturn’s largest moon). Things go south, obviously.
It is almost impossible not to think back of Vincenzo Natali’s hidden gem Splice (so hidden that chances are you haven’t even heard of it) while watching this movie and the comparison doesn’t do the creation of first-time feature director Lennart Ruff any favors. What The Titan eventually comes off resembling the most (putting aside a few other subgenres that it indecisively flirts with throughout its accessible 90+ minute running time) is body horror, but there isn’t enough emphasis on an aesthetic of the grotesque to seal the deal.
The effects are mostly practical since the body morphing at first (and for the vast majority of the movie) remains low-key with its depictions of skin peeling off and bloody noses or eye sockets. When the plot finally kicks into high gear and the last two subjects become bald, earless and slightly slick they go (at least I think) for solid, old-fashioned latex work that could have felt equally at home on Babylon 5 or Star Trek: The Next Generation.
However, as I said, it doesn’t fully commit to a Cronenbergian take on this potentially interesting sci-fi concept. A stretch at the beginning makes you think this will be a hopeful tale of humankind’s refusal to vanish. Somewhere in the middle, we are led to believe it is going to take a turn towards a shady government conspiracy. The climax, just like Splice or Sunshine, however, threatens to become a slasher film. In the end it is none of these. The blend of all of its influences, whether conscious or not, delivers a familiar cocktail that still offers a somewhat distinct tinge, zigzagging drunkenly down the middle between old and new tropes, serviceable and mediocre.
Despite being first billed, Sam Worthington plays second fiddle to Taylor Schilling who portrays his wife and carries the brunt of the movie with the perspective eventually shifting to tell events from her POV. She does a good enough job while Worthington and Tom Wilkinson, playing the unhinged scientist, do their thing. The performances were never really going to be the main issue, though. You might think they should, particularly when dealing with an elegiac theme of loss (of body, identity, family, planet) but they aren’t, not as written. The main issue is that nothing really stands out and that is the biggest failure of The Titan. — Eloy Ricardo Balderas Salazar