Last night, while I was scribbling away at grading, I put on a brand new skiffy movie from Netflix as background noise…something that wouldn’t be too distracting, because it didn’t look very good. I was wrong. It was terrible.
The movie was The Titan. Don’t bother watching it, unless you enjoy stupid premises. Below be spoilers.
The movie starts with terrible news. Nuclear fallout is fueling sandstorms? Los Angeles is declared uninhabital. A bit of exposition explains that populations have grown out of control, resources are depleted, and it’s predicted that half the world’s population will starve to death in 10 years.
What to do, what to do. Apparently, the writers follow the Elon Musk school of thought, so the answer is…move to another planet. One we haven’t wrecked. Well, obviously, right?
But what planet? They’ve decided that the only alternative is the distant moon, Titan. It’s got an atmosphere, you see, one that’s even a little more dense than Earth’s.
One catch: that atmosphere is over 98% nitrogen, and the remainder is mostly methane. The movie sidesteps that by simply insisting that it’s also 4% oxygen, against all evidence, which still doesn’t help — that’s a poisonous atmosphere.
OK, two catches: the mean temperature is -179°C. The movie avoids this by…ignoring it. It’s just cold. You know, maybe like living in Minnesota? That’s all you need to know.
But these are small obstacles, given that the Earth is about to become uninhabitable (nothing in the movie reveals any environmental problems of a magnitude to make this planet less habitable than Titan.)
The plan is to colonize it by bioengineering humans to live under those conditions, which is a rather interesting idea. However, we later learn the cost of making these Titanoids is 300 million dollars each. What happened to the depleted Earth resources? Along those same lines, the movie takes place at a training facility which is all beautiful blue skies, shimmering lakes, lush forests, like a little slice of paradise. It doesn’t look like a planet in crisis.
Furthermore, the human engineering is risky. Much of the movie is about first dozen heroic volunteers going into the program, getting shot up with chemicals, and dying in bloody seizures or going into homicidal rages. Most of them die. This is OK with the mad scientist running the project — he says they only need “one or two” subjects to send to Titan.
What? How does this do anything to save humanity?
Also, you might be asking what they’re doing to make humans able to live on Titan. They are “injecting them with enzymes to change their DNA”. They are giving them “Bat DNA” which “resulted in membranes”, according to a helpful scribble in a notebook. They spend a lot of time sitting at the bottom of swimming pools, surviving for a long time without breathing. Their skin is peeling a lot. There are a few illustrations of Homo titaniensis, which shows them looking like ordinary people, only bluer and more muscular. They get sick a lot, vomiting up blood and goo, and as mentioned above, many go into seizures, or get all scabrous looking, and die horribly.
None of this is quite sufficient to live on Titan, a world with a nitrogen atmosphere where it rains liquid methane. But, as the mad scientist says, “a few minor enhancements will enable humans to live there.” You might say there a few minor problems with changing one’s biochemistry to somehow metabolize N2, but have no fear, the writers seem to have thought long and hard about this, and they have an answer, repeated a couple of times in the show.
“Nitrogen which can be used to generate breathable oxygen”…
The biologists were already pissed off at the level of ignorance on display, but now the physicists and chemists can join in the fun.
What about the cold? Also taken care of, with a scene where the hero, Rick, sticks his hand in a bucket of ice water, and is just fine. He doesn’t feel the cold.
Remember, -179°C is a little different from 0°C.
They also fill the swimming pools with 20% liquid methane. I don’t know how that works. Water and methane have rather different boiling points.
Now forget most of the “science”. The bulk of the movie is a monster movie. Most of the subjects die horribly, while two survive, a man, Rick, and a woman, Tally. They can’t talk to humans anymore because they’ve changed to communicate on a higher frequency than we can hear. They’ve also lost all their hair, their skin has turned beige, their faces have developed latex appliances, and they’ve grown retractable tentacle/spikey things in their hands that they use to kill people, which, naturally, they start doing.
Eventually, after some pointless thrashing around, Tally is gunned down by soldiers and killed, and Rick is wounded and surrenders. They launch him off to Titan.
“Rick changes everything. He gives us hope.” Final shot is Rick plodding around naked on a rocky landscape. He’s got membranes, so he takes off and flies. The End. Humanity is saved somehow, I guess?
Tom Wilkinson plays the mad scientist behind it all. He’s totally wasted. In this movie, his emoting is limited to sternly pursing his lips.
Rick is played by Sam Worthington, who isn’t wasted at all. He’s very good at being bland and boring, and as a real bonus, he isn’t able to speak in about the last quarter of the movie, so he doesn’t even have to drone any lines.
Netflix is clearly making way too much money, if they can throw it away on worthless trash like this.
But on the bright side, I did get a bunch of papers graded, and my students are looking all right.