Directed by Jonathan Mostow
Starring Bruce Willis
There was a time, not too long ago, when Hollywood offering a token of science fiction with good production values and name stars was unusual. It was a dark time. As a result, I still get excited when I see a movie preview from the genre, despite the greater number of offerings.
I saw the previews for this film and was really amped to see it. Real life delayed me, until this past weekend, but now I’ve seen it, and thought I’d go ahead and give my two cents about it.
In a future world quite similar to ours, technology has allowed the vast majority of people to purchase robotic surrogates, physically perfect avatars, to interact in the real world. No more need to fear the dangers of the outside world, people plug themselves in and live through these machines in perfect safety. Even if the surrogate is damaged, the operator is perfectly safe.
That all changes, though, when a college student is somehow murdered via their link with a surrogate. FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) investigates the death, running into roadblocks from the company that creates the surrogates, the military, and those that rebel against the use of surrogates.
The movie is based on a limited comic book series from Top Shelf Productions.
I’ll admit, I haven’t read the comic book. I thought about seeking it out before seeing the movie, but I tend to believe that is a bad idea. Seldom to films live up to the source material, and I wanted to give this film every chance.
At the start of the film, I was completely struck by the look of the characters. I would bet that underwear companies had to delay their ad campaigns while every perfect underwear model in the world worked on this film. That isn’t a knock against the film – it establishes very early on the feel of the movie, and artificial perfection, a “fakeness” that allows the premise that people living through perfect machines is plausible.
In fact, this is reinforced when we meet up with the plastic version of Bruce Willis’ character. I don’t know what all they did to Bruce Willis to give us the plastic/perfect look that blends in with the underwear model cast so well, but it is impressive.
And, when his character is forced to go without his surrogate, the grizzled, wrinkled, and bald look of the actual human behind the puppet is also great for establishing the contrast of the film.
Unfortunately, one aspect of this compare/contrast demonstration didn’t really work. In the movie, there are those that are resistant to using the surrogates. Resistant is probably too subtle a term. “Violently opposed” is more accurate. They have been separated from the general populace in various camps. To emphasize the difference between these “real” people and the surrogates, most of the real folks are too real – sloppy looking, craggy, unkempt. It made me wonder, as I was watching, why none of the “real” people looked basically average. You can’t tell me that only the least attractive members of society reject surrogates. There have to be a couple of average folks mixed in, or it seems too black and white, which actually took me out of the movie.
The movie does have several good action sequences, and I have no complaints about the effects within the film. And, with a running time of under 90 minutes, the movie certainly doesn’t drag!
On the other hand, the film is pretty heavy handed in its moral. Not only does the main plot seem to revolve around the detachment of humanity, the sub plot of the relationship between Greer and his wife does as well. I think the makers of the film were trying to use the sub plot as a more personal reflection of the widespread issue of the main plot, but what results is the feeling of being hammered over the head in a “well, if you didn’t get the idea from that, how about this” sorta way.
(Ooh, by the way, wanna see what that surrogate having its face pulled off looks like? Okay!)
And, had the film stuck with the single social commentary of the detachment of humanity, I think they could have had a better product. Unfortunately, that non-dragging 90 minutes doesn’t really allow for the exploration of that theme, the violation of personal civil liberties, the question of justification in terrorism, and any of the other statements that the film failed to sufficiently elaborate on.
The movie failed to really offer anything new, though. We’ve seen this same sort of story done before, both better and worse.
The real problem with the film, though, is predictability. Every action seems to be telegraphed throughout the movie. Plus, I was able to figure out most of the film in the first five minutes, which is something I hate. OG tells me that this is partially my fault, because I never go into any book or film without overanalyzing as I go along. Maybe he’s right, but I still hate knowing how things are going to be put together at the beginning.
Overall, the movie was okay. Nothing spectacular, but it wasn’t unwatchable. I wouldn’t recommend running out to the theater to catch it before it moves to DVD. It isn’t worth that.
I’m going to give Surrogates two Running Steves.
I don’t know that they could have really done enough to make the film great, but there was definitely room for improvement.