5 Years Ago, Netflix Made a Movie for People Who Thought Avatar Was Too Exciting
Sam Worthington boldly doesn’t go anywhere.
Sam Worthington has starred in three movies about humans occupying alien bodies to colonize faraway moons. Two of those movies, Avatar and Avatar: The Way of Water, are among the most successful in history. Both made over a billion dollars and scored multiple Oscar nominations. They challenged the superhero hegemony and will live on for a long, long time.
And then there’s the third movie, which came out between those two. That’s Lenart Ruff’s The Titan, and you’d be forgiven if you’ve never heard of it. It received little attention, despite starring Worthington and Orange is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling. It’s even difficult to Google, getting lost amid results for Clash of The Titans (another Worthington movie). There was almost no marketing or press coverage. The Avatar movies seem omnipresent, but The Titan feels like a movie made to be forgotten.
The first Avatar is about marines traveling from Earth to the mysterious moon of Pandora, where they inhabit alien bodies to adapt to the unique atmosphere. But what if the marines never left Earth, and instead spent the whole movie just getting ready for their mission? A question no one asked is more or less what happens in The Titan, which squanders a potentially interesting plot for a whole bunch of nothing.
Nukes, global warming, overpopulation... you name it, Earth is going through it. Professor Martin Collingwood (Tom Wilkinson) thinks the situation is grim enough to recommend colonizing Saturn’s moon Titan, and NATO agrees. While Titan has a thin atmosphere, it’s mostly nitrogen. That, plus the bitter cold, makes it essentially unlivable.
Terraforming Titan is deemed ridiculous, so Collingwood suggests altering the DNA of 14 soldiers from around the world so they can adapt to its conditions. It’s dangerous, and some of them won’t survive, but to quote Lord Farquaad, that’s a risk he’s willing to take. Lt. Rick Janssen (Worthington) and his wife Abigail (Schilling) are on board because they want to provide a future for their son, Lucas (Noah Jupe). The objections of Dr. Iker Hernández (Diego Boneta) are seen as those of an overly cautious nerd.
The evolutions begin, with Janssen and his comrades becoming impervious to cold and able to hold their breath underwater for astonishing amounts of time. As predicted, some react badly to the changes, dying horribly or going insane with rage. Janssen suffers as well, vomiting blood into a toilet. Abigail, a scientist herself, begins to suspect something odd is happening and takes a swab of Rick’s toilet blood.
But, of course, something is happening. Isn’t that the whole idea? As Rick is temporarily blinded by laser surgery meant to enhance his vision, Abigail suspects Rick is changing into something inhuman. The movie treats this with horror, and military police get involved to put some of the subjects down. But what did our heroes — and our writers — think “getting DNA altered to go to Titan” meant in the first place?
The Titan could have been many movies. It could have resembled a superpowered The Martian, exploring Janssen’s journey to an unforgiving planet. It could have been Cronenberginan body horror, getting into the nitty gritty of giving a man cat eyes as he sheds his old skin. But, save for the admittedly pretty cool reveal of Janssen’s new Titan-ready body near the end of the movie, it does none of these things. It can’t decide what it wants to be, which makes it feel like nothing at all.