I’ve been hunting around Netflix for some fun Sci-Fi and Fantasy shows and movies. A lot of the original content they have been putting out lately actually falls under these headings, which is nice. I guess they are still a bit high off the success of Stranger Things.
One of the movies that I watched recently was a Netflix original called “The Titan”.. I would almost call this movie a Biopunk, which is why I was so eager to see it. Well, it didn’t fully have the “punk aspect”, but it still fits.
The plot follows a family’s struggle as the husband, played by Sam Worthington (you know, the Avatar guy, ironically) enters a program meant to create a new species of humans to make one of Saturn’s moons habitable for mankind. As with a lot of futuristic Sci-Fi these days, the earth is overpopulated and dying. If you have read Malfunction, you will know why that premise excited me. The idea of genetically altering a human being to fit a new environment intrigues me.
It’s clear, however, that this move is one of Netflix's “content grab” movies, and you will not find good reviews for it. Don’t get me wrong, a few of those have worked out. One I can think of is ARQ, which I enjoyed a lot more than most Hollywood Sci-Fi because it managed to carry on a very contained story while giving the viewer almost NO information. But, I’ll have to save that for a different review.
Unlike ARQ, The Titan was an epic fail. You could tell that Netflix didn’t have a lot invested in it, so they probably don’t much care. But it is sad to see such a good premise messed up so completely.
I don’t really want to talk about plot. If you watch it (which I discourage, if you value your time) you will see the problems with that soon enough. Mostly because the plot doesn’t make any sense.
What I want to point out is tone. While watching this movie, I could almost ignore the plot because I was busy trying to figure out what I was actually watching. The tone started very much like a horror or thriller. There was very little music. Long close-ups on actors. Very strong hints that the point of view was untrustworthy. Heavy foreshadowing. All these things suggested to me that there would be a strong twist (which happened) where the husband lost his humanity and attacked the family.
The colors, acting, camera focus, and music all told my brain that this was familiar territory: and that I was, in fact, watching a horror.
When the twist came, as expected, and the blood started flying, just as I knew it would, I was ready for the good stuff to actually happen. The real scary part where the husband who had previously loved his family would start stalking and killing them.
What was I met with instead? Romance. No. I’m not kidding you. The end of the movie was nothing short of Sci-Fi romance. There was some running and shooting, sure, but in the end, the love of his family kept the male protagonist from turning into a killer.
Like I said, there are multiple plot issues with this. Too many to count. Nothing really made sense. But the biggest problem for me was that the movie betrayed my expectations. They told me to get ready for one kind of emotion, and instead gave me another.
As a writer, knowing my audience's expectations is extremely important. In the first few chapters of Malfunction, I did everything I could to set up my readers with the best understanding of the world. I showed them a clear dystopian setting and used language that would prepare them for the darkness in the rest of the book. I gave them blood, even if there wasn’t death right away, so that they would know what level of gore I was willing to go to. I gave them solid science and history so they would know how much they needed to sacrifice the logical side of their brain to follow along. All of it, from the words I chose and the characters I introduced, told them what to expect. So when the twist ending came, readers were excited, not angry. If this book was light and fluffy, the semi-cliffhanger ending would NOT have gone over well.
Expectations are important, and playing with them in fiction can be done well, if it’s done intentionally. But if you don’t understand what you are promising, you can end up getting a lot of angry consumers.
The same is true in real life. I remember one of the best pieces of advice I got going into marriage was this: don’t bring any expectations. The same is true today. If I’ve had a rough day at work and get it in my head, as I drive home, that maybe my husband did the dishes for me. Maybe he saw the mess I’d left the night before and he’d decided to bless me. If I walk in the door and the dishes are unwashed, suddenly I’m angry. I turned that into an expectation that my husband didn’t even know he had to live up to, and I punish him for failing it.
When my mom was going through the worst of the testing for her cancer, I would often have an expectation for how the tests would come out. Even being as cynical and pessimistic as I am, those expectations would often be that we would get the best possible news. So when things got worse, I became angry at God, at the doctors, at my family, and even at the people who were genuinely trying to be there for me.
This is not to say that expectations are always bad. Or that we should always try to expect the worst or not to expect things at all. But life is not a book or a movie. While an author or writer should know how to manage expectations in their audience and meet them, real life doesn’t follow those rules.
So my thoughts are these. Perhaps managing our own expectations in life is a good skill to have. But perhaps the better things is to have the humility to accept and understand that God doesn’t owe us the things we expect. Life isn’t going to bow to our whims. But when we are faced with those moments, we can pull ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and refuse to stop fighting. Because unlike movies and books, the story doesn’t end there.