Help Me Save Netflix's The Titan

Updated: Aug 19, 2019

In an early scene of the 2018 Science Fiction movie, The Titan, the volunteers for a dangerous experiment in bioengineering are taken into that most familiar of real-life settings, the lecture hall. They are being lectured (along with the movie’s audience) on how the world has been destroyed and why it will be completely uninhabitable in 15 years. The only difference between what this fictional scientist, Dr. Martin Collingwood (Tom Wilkinson, The Grand Budapest Hotel), is espousing and what pundits, politicians and scientists tell us in our world is that in the world of The Titan, the apocalypse is real.

The year is 2048. After the opening credits, we are shown News footage of nuclear bombs being dropped on We are not in our own world. We are told a stock list of reasons as to why our time on this earth has come to an end. The list includes overpopulation, dwindling resources which lead to resource wars, and climate change. In other words, what many environmentalists are warning will happen in our future is actually happening in the story’s present.

Science Fiction is dominated by this apocalyptic ideology. In movies such as Terminator and The Matrix, humans create machines that go to war with us and in the process we destroy ourselves and the environment. In Twelve Monkeys we destroy the delicate balance between humans and the environment by creating and unleashing a super-virus. Blade Runner takes place on earth but shows the last days of a dying world, with advertisements about going “off world.” Planet of the Apes assumes we destroyed the world far into the future, and will be taken over by superior animals. Wall-E is the last robot on earth, designated with the job of cleaning up after our devastated planet. Many of the epic movies that rake in hundreds of millions of dollars assume this premise, too. In the Avengers series the primary villain Thanos wants to eliminate half the universe’s population, so that there will be enough resources for the remaining half. This premise goes unchallenged in the movie.

Select almost any major science fiction movie or book at random and there will not only be characters explicitly expressing this ideology, but a common imagery, stock characters and plot structure that adds up to what I call The Destroyed Paradise Premise. That is the idea that from our own mismanagement of the earth will come the devastation of the pristine and perfect paradise which has been handed to us. This premise serves as the scaffolding holding together these films. In The Titan, for instance, there would be no reason to leave earth had we not destroyed it.

Our beliefs about the environment are directly transmitted to a mass audience via popular science fiction. Read today’s newspaper, listen to popular podcasts, and watch the news, and you will notice this premise has taken over the minds of almost everyone. I believe it is uncontroversial that most people think our world is a pristine paradise and that we are destroying it.

The Biblical roots of science fiction is uncontroversial. The imagery, plot structure and characters are directly influenced by Garden of Eden story in The Bible, which itself serves as the basis for literary works Dante’s Divine Comedy as well as Milton’s Paradise Lost; two influential works on modern science fiction.

In The Titan, Dr. Collingwood’s plan is to bio-engineer humans to be capable of living in the harsh environment of Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. This moon most resembles earth, but at a stage of development immediately before the advent of life. Humans evolved to live on earth, not Titan, so as the doctor tells the volunteers, “You will become enhanced men, supermen. You. But better.” Where is the line of humanity? How much can we change of our bodies before our souls are changed? This has been a popular theme in science fiction. As we are being confronted with new tech today, we are forced to consider this question more seriously.

How you answer this question is not inconsequential to yourself nor the world. Pop culture figures Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos embody an implicit answer. Elon Musk wants to save humanity from itself; Bezos wants to unleash humanity's potential. Musk’s businesses are designed to prevent our own destruction and to help us flee from our own stupidity. He fears A.I. He believes, as is the premise of most sci fi movies, that "there will be some eventual extinction event.” His belief is that humans are the biggest threat. Bezos’ philosophy is completely contrary to this: "The solar system can easily support a trillion humans, And if we had a trillion humans, we would have a thousand Einsteins and a thousand Mozarts and unlimited, for all practical purposes, resources and solar power [would be] unlimited for all practical purposes. That's the world that I want my great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren to live in." Who you choose to support today, will determine what future we will have tomorrow.

There have been countless essays, books, podcasts and lectures exploring what makes us human. But The Titan is not a philosophical essay, it is a work of art. It conveys its ideas in a fundamentally different way, that is, by selecting the elements by which to project its themes. In order for each of us to contemplate these ideas properly, we must understand the artistry in which it is conveyed.

As I argue below, The Titan is a good work of art. Yet, it was utterly lambasted by both critics and audiences. This in itself is not indicative of anything important. What is of importance is why it was attacked. On Rotten Tomatoes it received a 19% from critics (and an even worse 15% from the audience.) Here are a few headlines from critics. From Film RacketThe Titan takes a timely and tantalizing premise about finding a new home after Earth becomes uninhabitable and squanders it completely.” From The Flick Philosopher: “The science is ludicrous, the story is almost entirely free of drama, and the finale descends into the hoariest, most ridiculous clichés of the genre. But the future smart-house porn is lovely.” Now, why is the science ludicrous? Is it the ludicrous idea that an interplanetary humanity