There are countless movies about venturing out into the galaxy after the Earth has become inhospitable. Usually, they include a sad montage showing the effects of a climate crisis, famine, poverty — essentially your garden variety apocalypse. However, these movies begin after the journey to another world has already started.
This 2018 Netflix original starts at the same place every space travel program does — the messy, imprecise world of experimentation. The results aren’t ideal, but they make for a great sci-fi movie.
The Titan is a 2018 sci-fi thriller directed by Lennart Ruff. It follows Rick Janssen, a fighter pilot, who volunteers to be part of a super-secret experiment in altering the human form to allow the race to survive outside of Earth. The destination, ultimately, is Jupiter’s moon Titan, which has an atmosphere made up of mostly just methane.
Rick understands the risks and is set on getting through the trials, but doesn’t really consider the feelings of his medical researcher wife, Abigail. As the trial participants begin to experience horrific side effects, Abigail lashes out and tries to prevent the government from taking away her husband, but the results are too far gone to be sacrificed.
The Titan is a secluded story, with nearly all of the action taking place in an idyllic research lab. The Janssen family has a routine, their son goes to school nearby, and they throw dinner parties for their friends. It’s in seeing this human side to not only Rick but all his fellow test subjects that sets this movie apart from other military thrillers. These people aren’t just soldiers. We rarely see them in uniform. They’re people trying to secure a future for the human race, despite the risks.
In these risks, there’s a clear allegory to other issues faced by military members. Combat changes the brain just as much as genetic engineering changes the characters in the film. When another subject lashes out and has horrific violent streaks, it’s similar to outbursts seen in those suffering from PTSD. In both situations, the fault doesn’t lie entirely with the person, but with the trauma they’ve gone through in service to their country.
As the test group dwindles, Rick’s transformation progresses. At first, the results are impressive. He can breathe in an atmosphere of mostly methane, withstand extreme cold, and even stay underwater for more than 40 minutes. But the side effects are haunting. Rick develops ghostly white skin and loses all his hair, while two of his fingers fused. It’s not the most convincing prosthetic job, but frankly, that’s what makes it all the more creepy.
The Titan doesn’t have the best Rotten Tomatoes ranking, but it’s a victim of comparison. It’s not Annihilation, and it’s not Avatar. It’s a small sampling from that handful of years when Netflix was buying distribution rights to all sorts of B movies that otherwise would end up straight-to-DVD. Judging from that perspective, The Titan is a great example of a standalone, thought-provoking science fiction thriller.
The Titan is now streaming on Netflix.