Touchstone Pictures // 2009 // 89 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Eric Profancik (Retired) // January 25th, 2010
I'm one of the five people who went to the theater to see Surrogates. It's a movie that combines two of my favorite things, science fiction and Bruce Willis. And since I'd pay to watch Bruce watch paint dry, I was somewhat surprised to walk out the theater disappointed. I mean, I forgave Bruce for allowing Live Free or Die Hard to go PG-13, so I'll cut him a lot of slack. So what is it about Surrogates that left me wanting?
In the near future technology has advanced to the point where people don't leave home. Instead, they climb into their stim chairs and allow their surrogate to go out into the real world and...live. Originally designed to help disabled and disadvantaged people regain mobility and control of their lives, the technology has run rampant over the world, allowing everyone to live life without worry. With the advent of surrogates, all crime has dropped, and most people are happy. People can use their surrogates to do anything all without fear of any injury or death, for if something bad befalls their surrogate, that pain or damage doesn't affect the user. It's perfectly, absolutely safe.
But not everyone in the world is happy with surrogates. Dreads, people who want to live their own lives with their own god-given senses, have shunned the rest of society and formed surrogate-free zones. The zones are legally enforced.
There is a tense balance between the two until the unimaginable occurs: a surrogate is attacked, destroyed, and its user is killed in the process. Agents Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell, Silent Hill) investigate this crime. If word gets out that a user can die via surrogate, world chaos will ensue. Greer and Peters' investigation soon takes them from the creator of surrogates, Canter (James Cromwell, I, Robot), to the leader of the dreads, the Prophet (Ving Rhames, Mission: Impossible III). Soon they will uncover a horrible plot that, like the invention of surrogates, could reshape the course of human history.
I think my description of the movie edged its way into the land of grandiose hyperbole, but that's not really the vibe of the movie. Surrogates, which is yet another movie based on a graphic novel, has some very interesting concepts in it, and it asks some excellent questions along the way. The problem, and why I went away disappointed, is that the movie fails to capitalize on those ideas. It presents everything too quickly, wraps things up too easily, and then it ends. And that ending makes you say, "That's it?" I'm being purposefully vague because for those of you yet to see the film, I don't want to spoil how it unfolds. It is interesting to see the story take shape, and I think this movie got the bum's rush at the box office and deserves a second chance at home.
When I went to the theater and this idea unfolded, it got my brain working and predicting what would happen next. The movie doesn't try to hide what it's doing, so you are encouraged to think about these issues. You feel them bubbling up, growing in strength, and you realize how wicked things could come out. But, as mentioned, it ends too soon, never exploring the results. So as I sat down to watch this disc, I fully expected another helping of dissatisfaction. I was prepared for the build-up and the eventual letdown, but I was surprised (yet again) to not experience that. Because I knew how it would unfold, knowing it would not hit every expected beat, and that there were threads left to explore, I found the movie far more satisfying. Yes, I am encouraging you to watch Surrogates with lowered expectations, with advice to know that the ending will fall flat and not delve into the juicy quandary it unveils. Perhaps if Surrogates had done better we would be treated to some sort of sequel that would have gone where the first one failed. If you can go into this movie with the proper frame of mind, there is a good movie with good ideas that wants to bust out. It just doesn't quite make it.
What I really like about Surrogates is the surrogates themselves. The concept of surrogates has raised two interesting arguments. First, many people scoff at the technology of the surrogates and the fact the movie has the entire world using them in a matter of years. True, technology is a lot farther behind than the movie intimates. (The graphic novel does take place many years further down the line, but director Jonathan Mostow (Breakdown) wanted a contemporary look to tangle with the futuristic surrogates.) Let's take the inherent grain of salt and ignore how complicated it would be to have surrogates come into our lives so fast. I can do that, but I can't swallow the concept of controlling a surrogate so quickly, easily, efficiently, and from such great distances. I mean, honestly, if my iPhone can't get a signal inside a building in a major metropolitan city today, how are we to control these robots so well? AT&T can't even roll out 3G in the time the movie says these surrogates will roll out to the entire world. A corollary to this "coming to our lives so fast" is the idea that the world would all jump to using surrogates. How feasible is this? I say very. Just take a look at how far some gamers immerse themselves in "Everquest" and "World of Warcraft." Maybe you don't find that a good analogy, so how about the little things like texting and tweeting, where people can't go five minutes without touching technology. You give people some awesome technological fad and I believe it could mesmerize the world in no time. The second argument is that many people scoff at the look of the surrogates. They find their flawlessly smooth, somewhat plastic looking "flesh" too fake, taking the viewer out of the movie. I, on the other hand, love the look of the surrogates, especially Bruce Willis. I find the special effects technology a marvel at erasing decades of age from people, and then to take it the next step to give them that slightly, fake look works very well for me. I think the look, if not the technology, of the surrogates perfect.
Can I now say that the Blu-ray is perfect? Alas, no, but it's a well-done disc nonetheless. Video is 2.40:1, 1080p, that is rich with detail, allowing you to notice that the surrogates have no pores, amongst a million other details. Colors are lush, accurate, and often vibrant; earth tones also play a strong role and are rich and strong; and blacks are deep and thick, with excellent shading and composition. I didn't notice any significant flaws as I watched. Those holds true for the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. From the quiet moments to the action beats, this track doesn't disappoint. Dialogue is crisp and distortion free from the middle, the surrounds immerse you in the environment with all manner of buzzing and bullets, and the subwoofer has a few moments to shine and rumble. It's a quality mix but not necessarily one worthy of the highlight reel.
Bonus features are a bit on the thin side for such a new release, but they aren't bad. Starting things off is a simply excellent commentary by Jonathan Mostow. His low-key, honest, and open discussion of the movie is informative and interesting. It's a must listen. Next is "A More Perfect You: The Science of Surrogates" (14:34), and it's a discussion of where we are with today's science, why it's being developed, and how it could be used. "Breaking the Frame: A Graphic Novel Comes to Life" (6:33) discusses the origins of the story in the graphic novel and its move to the big screen. That's the end of the big stuff, and next is four deleted scenes (6:03) that add some interesting extra flavor to the movie. And rounding it out is a music video (3:49) of "I Will Not Bow" by Breaking Benjamin (at least it's in 5.1, whether or not I like the music) and trailers.
I was delighted when I started the disc up to watch the movie again for the commentary that the menu asked me if I would like to restart from where I left off. Hurray! Those blasted java-enabled menus ruined the best feature of digital technology, and it's about time for it to make a comeback!
In the orgasmic blurb on the packaging it states that Surrogates is a "jaw-dropping psychological thriller starring the ultimate action hero." It's safe to say that Bruce isn't quite the ultimate action hero that he once was, but he still can captivate the screen. What is interesting is this concept of the movie being a psychological thriller. I think that's absolute rubbish. What I was aiming to say earlier is that the movie does present a quandary and wants you to think, but since when has thinking transformed into a psychological thrill? You have to love these blurbs.
I most clearly waffled in my recommendation earlier, but it is unavoidable. Surrogates has potential, but doesn't realize it. Yet when you realize it, you can watch the movie and get enjoyment from it. If you don't take that into account then you'll go away disappointed. I am recommending this disc as a definite rental. For those who really enjoyed it, I can recommend it for purchase. The video and audio are pleasing, and while the bonus materials are slight, they are not bad and do offer additional special content. Go ahead and give this one a go. It's not as bad as they say.
Surrogates is hereby found not guilty of being addicted to plastic
Review content copyright © 2010 Eric Profancik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video
* DVD Verdict Interview with director Jonathan Mostow
* Cinema Verdict Review