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Surrogates (2009)

Touchstone Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/26/2010

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/23/2010

What is with all of the science-fiction movies lately? Is there a sci-fi revival happening about which I wasn't told? (I'm sure that the success of Avatar will only bring about more sci-fi movies.) The interesting thing is the variety of recent movie that can fit under the sci-fi banner. Moon was very cerebral, while Pandorum leaned more towards the horror end of the spectrum. Now, we get Surrogates, a futuristic movie which combines several genres.

Surrogates is set in the not-too distant future. While looking for a way to assist the physically challenged, Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell) invented the technology which lead to the creation of surrogates. These are robots which (usually) look just like their human owners. As the technology advanced, people began sending their surrogates out into the world, while they stayed home in the safety of their control chairs. Thus, people were safe from danger, crime, and disease while they were still able to go about their daily business. There are a group of people called "Dreads" who reject the idea of surrogates and live in machine-free zones. One night, the surrogate of a prominent man and his date are destroyed by an assailant. The twist here is that the destruction of the surrogates kills their human controllers. FBI Agents Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) and Peters (Radha Mitchell) are sent to investigate (both of them using surrogates). During their investigation, they learn that a weapon exists which can destroy surrogates and their hosts. Tom's surrogate is damaged and for the first time in years, he must venture outside in his own body. As he gets closer to the truth, Tom uncovers a conspiracy which makes him question surrogates.

On paper, Surrogates has a good pedigree. I like Bruce Willis and as far as I'm concerned, he has a good track record. Director Jonathan Mostow had previously made Terminator 3 and U-571, but it was his first major film, Breakdown, which impressed me. I was very impressed with the movie's premise. I like the idea of people becoming dependent on their surrogates and in addition, developing social phobia. As was discussed in the review of Moon, true science-fiction examines the human condition, and Surrogates takes a (sort of) hard look at how people and machines interact. Think about how people currently rely on technology to communicate -- e-mail, texting, social networking -- none of which involved direct human contact. The idea of surrogates may seem like a far-fetched one, but it's one with resonates with plausibility. The movie shows how people become addicted to living through their surrogates. (There's also a very brief, but telling scene which shows that even when using surrogates, people will find a way to get high.)

However, despite all of these positive qualities, the movie simply never gels. I found it interesting and at no point did I want to turn it off, but I was simply never wowed by it. For starters, the movie goes into too many directions at once, and never feels like a cohesive story. We have an action film, a buddy-cop movie, a science-fiction film, and a political movie. Surrogates has the feel of a host mingling at a party -- it stops in to check on each of these traits, but is never able to give them its undivided attention. If it could have stuck to just one or two of these ideas, the movie could have been much more enjoyable. Of all of these ideas, the political pieces really gets swept under the rug. We are told in the pre-credit sequence about the radicals who hate surrogates, and we see one of their camps, but little more. Is the movie trying to send a political message, or are these characters there simply to be a scapegoat in the story?

There are also numerous plotholes and vague items here. We are told that a vast majority of the population use surrogates, but the movie doesn't take a moment to explain how the poor can afford them or what kind of laws were created that would allow a robot to stand in for a human. Why don't the people atrophy if they spend all of their time in their chairs while the surrogates do everything for them? About 30 minutes into the movie, we learn that some surrogates have special abilities. This comes off a kind of silly when we see it in action, and a moment to explain why this was happening would have helped. Despite the detailed intro to the film, a lot of details are swept aside. My biggest problem with the movie was the weapon which becomes the crux of the story. It looks like a Dustbuster with the front part removed and that's all that I could think about during the movie.

(One other thing about Surrogates: Most of the film reminded me of I, Robot.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just a fact.  The way in which people were dependent on robots and the scene in the robot factory both felt just like the Will Smith film.  And let's not forget that James Cromwell played the creator of the robots in both movies.  I'm just sayin'...)

Surrogates needs to be recharged on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The picture has a notable crispness, which lends it a stunning amount of detail. The colors look very good, and the image is never too dark or bright. The picture shows off very nice depth as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are very good, as they are highly detailed and match the on-screen action. The surround effects really shine during the action scenes, as they help to place us in the action. The subwoofer effects really pack a punch, most notably during the car-chase scene and the helicopter scene.

The Surrogates Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Jonathan Mostow. "A More Perfect You: The Science of Surrogates" (15 minutes) is a short documentary which focuses on the movie, but also contains comments from real-life scientists who discuss the reality of the film and where we are right now in terms of robotics and prosthetics. "Breaking the Frame: A Graphic Novel Comes to Life" (7 minutes) shows us frames from the comic and offers interviews with writer Robert Venditti and artist Brett Weldele. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES, which run about 5 minutes. Two of these scenes are definitely worth watching, as one shows the racism in this world and the other answers an important question from the movie. The final extra is the MUSIC VIDEO for "I Will Not Bow" by Breaking Benjamin. (Finally, a video I actually want to see.)

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long