A failed experiment

German director Lennart Ruff's feature debut, The Titan, needs more gore or smarts to boost its cautionary tale of harnessing technology

Actor Sam Worthington plays a man damaged by war and picked for an experiment that will make him into a superhuman.
Actor Sam Worthington plays a man damaged by war and picked for an experiment that will make him into a superhuman.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION



97 minutes/Now showing/

The story: In the future, Earth is racked by climate change and overpopulation. An international team, led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration, seeks to colonise Titan, Saturn's largest moon. In a secret laboratory, humans such as pilot Rick (Sam Worthington) are given drugs that will trigger body mutations, giving them the ability to live in that alien world.

Dull, predictable and riddled with bad science, this European-American co-production aims at the body horror of The Fly (1986), but cannot quite muster the energy to achieve either the smarts or gore required of such a project.

At first glance, the picture looks like an attempt to cash in on Worthington's Avatar (2009) fame. As in the earlier film, he plays a man damaged by war and selected for an experiment that will make him into a superhuman, with unintended consequences.

That is where the resemblance ends. In contrast to the techno-optimism of Avatar, this picture is against the notion that good technology always defeats bad technology.

Representing the "if we can do it, we should" faction is Professor Collingwood, played by respected British actor Tom Wilkinson, doing what he does best - personifying the browbeating bureaucrat with a heart of stone.

His portrayal is probably the best thing in a production devoid of emotional momentum.

German director Lennart Ruff, making his feature debut, cannot quite embrace what is required of him in this homage to David Cronenberg classics such as The Fly or eXistenZ (1999).

There is the Cronenberg-ish brooding quality and a half-hearted stab at prosthetics-aided ick-factor scares (think peeling skin and veins showing under flesh).

But Ruff refuses to go there, into the gross-out, squishy, pulpy, B-movie zone that would give this venture a semblance of a purpose.

Instead, the story spends much time unlocking the mystery of the science laboratory by following the sleuthing of Rick's wife, Abi (Taylor Schilling). The detective work consists of walking about a clandestine facility with oddly lax security, reading conveniently placed folders with warnings like "Top Secret!! Do Not Read!!"on the cover.

And that secret, shown in a moment that is intended as a major reveal, will come as no surprise to anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to the story - a feat most audience members will find hard to do after the first act.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2018, with the headline 'A failed experiment'. Print Edition | Subscribe