Surrogates (US - BD RA)
Gabe invents a robot to watch the latest Bruce Willis flick for him while he naps...
In the year 2017 the majority of the world’s population lives their lives through surrogate robotic bodies. These bodies are a safe way to experience life, and an easy way to appear young and attractive well into old-age. Any damage done to a surrogate is not experienced by its controller, and humanity has lived in relative peace ever since the invention. One night Jarod Canter—the son of Dr. Lionel Canter (James Cromwell), inventor of the surrogate technology—is murdered while ‘wearing’ one of his father’s surrogates. It’s the first murder in years, and FBI Agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) is put on the case; a case which cannot go public without causing irreparable damage to the status quo.
Surrogacy had a good year in 2009. Well, kind of. There were a number of major releases about the subject, more than we’d usually expect from such a specific subject. I just finished talking about Neveldine/Taylor’s Gamer, a movie about using real humans as surrogate action heroes in a videogame fashion, and here I am again. I don’t suppose the subject really means anything particularly to society since only one of these films, James Cameron’s Avatar, didn’t fail miserably at the box office, and I have a feeling that success had absolutely nothing to do with the surrogacy themes (more like pretty colours), but the fact that major studios thought we’d want an excess of surrogacy centric movies is certainly interesting. At least more interesting than Jonathan Mostow’s Surrogates, which is just about as average a movie as any director could manage.
For the record I am a fan of Mostow’s technical direction, at least in what I’ve seen out of his studio pictures. The guy appears to have never worked from a good script, but has had great luck with his casts, and has displayed genuine skill in suspense and action direction. Breakdown should’ve been an STV The Vanishing riff, but thanks to Mostow’s taut work, and Kurt Russell’s solid performance the film is a somewhat underrated little gem. U-571 had all the makings of a boring Das Boot wannabe, but a cast to die for and the director’s control once again saved the day. The biggest achievement in Mostow’s auteur box is, however, Terminator 3, which is a boring retread of the second film in the series on paper. Somehow a relatively exciting, doom-soaked action flick, with another better than expected cast escaped from ensuing mediocrity. It was certainly better than the forth Terminator movie.
Wow, two paragraphs and I still haven’t really said anything about Surrogates. Frankly I’m finding it almost impossible to remember any specific scene from the film only hours after watching it. I keep thinking I’m remembering something, but then it dawns on me that I’m actually thinking of Minority Report or I, Robot. For the record Mostow’s film has nothing on either flick, even the very flawed I, Robot, which at the very least features memorable action shots. Re-watching the film with the commentary track, I see that Surrogates has basically two major action sequences/chases—one featuring surrogate Bruce chasing the lead suspect through the Dread’s camp, and the other featuring real Bruce chasing a surrogate via car. Neither scene features any specific mistakes. Mostow achieves effective physical presence, and scientifically speaking these scenes should be exciting, but the overall effect is respectfully numbing, like a better than average made-for-TV film. This certainly doesn’t look like an $80 million production.
Much of the blame can be placed on the film’s middling script, which zips from plot point to plot point without giving the characters any chance to develop a presence, even though a great deal of the film’s success rides on the audience’s supposed attachment to them. Mostow is once again blessed with a better than average cast, but this time his actors are wholly typecast, and most of them seem to be content coasting through their performances in a neutral gear. At some points Willis delivers something this side of disinterested, but Detective Greer is more or less the exact same character Bruno has portrayed into the ground for the better part of the last decade. Yet the film’s numbing effect may have more to do with the solitary interesting element—that of the film’s uncanny valley look. The look, which has clearly been mostly achieved in post-production thanks to digital mucking about, both ensures that the surrogate bodies appear subtly unreal, and that the pallet evokes the source material’s comic book roots. The look is commendable from a visual standpoint, and certainly cool in high definition, but ultimately separates the audience from the reality of the film. Such things never kept me from getting involved with animated films, or even Lucas’ half animated prequel universe, but there’s certainly a little too much of Peter Hyams’ dreadfully phony looking A Sound of Thunder in the final product.
Like I said in the film section of the review, Surrogates is a very stylized production visually speaking, including comic book page colouring and uncanny skin smoothing effects. The colouring is the key element that makes the Blu-ray transfer an ideal choice over the DVD. The night time scenes especially are just as cleanly colour-coated as other recent comic adaptations, like Punisher: War Zone or Watchmen. There are more hues per frame than found in the hyper-stylized Sin City or 300, but the hues are ultra pure, often neon, and smooth as ice. To boot, shadows are normally represented by high contrast, pure blacks (like the ink used for a comic page), and the overall compositions often feature deep focus. The creepy skins aren’t just super-smooth, which contrasts nicely with the craggy faces of the normal humans, but they’re coloured in eerily even tones, much like artificially colourized black and white films. Though the focus is deep, the backgrounds are usually simple enough to not require high definition abilities, though fans of the film will miss some of the dirtying elements of the non-surrogate world and characters (which usually feature more prominent fine grain than the rest of the film) on the DVD release, not to mention some blocking and noise on some of the brighter colours.
The artificial atmosphere of Surrogates leads to a lively DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. The film is not as impressive as many recent action/sci-fi releases, and specifically doesn’t feature as many neat, abstract aural elements as Transformers or Star Trek, but the more common sci-fi beeps and hums do fill all five channels, and feature regular directional effects. Occasionally things get a little thin effects wise, and a central effects sounds particularly canned, but clarity is paramount, and Richard Marvin’s rather predictable (but effective) musical soundtrack fills out some of the empty channels when needed. Big aural moments include a brief war-games scene, the helicopter crash, followed by a super-powered foot-chase, Bruce’s first scene in the real world without a surrogate, and the wily car chase. Clubbing scenes are always good for a bass bump, and the various punches, gunshots, car crashes and explosions are plenty chucky and pulpy coming out of the LFE.
The extras begin with a relaxed solo commentary from director Jonathan Mostow, who takes us pretty effectively through the production, including adaptation, the plasticized look, the production design, the acting style, and various aspects of plotting. It’s a very solid track, if not a particularly lively one, revealing Mostow’s penchant for the technical aspects of filmmaking. When he tries to discuss acting the director mostly devolves into good natured congratulations, but his overall tone is pleasant. Both the DVD and Blu-ray releases also feature an ‘I Will Not Bow’ music video from the band Breaking Benjamin.
Exclusive to Blu-ray are a selection of four deleted/extended scenes (06:00, HD), and two featurettes. The scenes don’t really do too much for the film other than filling out the sci-fi world, but certainly would’ve slowed the impeccable pacing. ‘A More Perfect You: The Science of Surrogates’ (15:10, HD) is a well put-together EPK that features an interesting look at the reality of robotic technology. This featurette flops a couple attempts at bothering us on a moral level, and I’d prefer a longer look at the real world technology, but the brief runtime doesn’t for a minute overstay its welcome. ‘Breaking the Frame: A Graphic Novel Comes to Life’ (06:40, HD) briefly covers the creation of the original Surrogates comic, and compares it to the film through interviews and neat motion comic frames.
Perhaps the biggest problem Surrogates is forced to surmount, above an unpolished script, a cast of bored actors, and a vaguely distressing look, is the film’s original trailers, which blatantly reveal almost every single narrative aspect. The story does feature a few fun twists, which all become way to predictable thanks to the trailer inclusion of all but one small piece of the climax. When I saw the trailer I assumed this stuff took place half-way through the film, but this is it. Avoid the trailer if you haven’t already seen it and have any want to see the film. It wouldn’t be a great movie without being spoiled, but it would’ve been more entertaining at the very least. As is Surrogates is sadly quite average, but the Blu-ray release looks and sounds good, and features a couple of featurettes and deleted/extended scenes not available on the DVD version.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 22nd January 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, A More Perfect You: The Science of Surrogates, Breaking the Frame: A Graphic Novel Comes to Life, Music Video, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Cast: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjow, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
Genre: Action, Crime and Sci-Fi
Length: 89 minutes
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