Studio: Touchstone Pictures
US Rating: PG-13 – For Intense Sequences of Violence, Disturbing Images, Language, Sexuality, and a Drug Related Scene.
Film Length: 89 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 – Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French and Spanish Language Tracks
Subtitles: Spanish and French
Release Date: January 26, 2009
Review Date: January 31, 2010
“Look at yourselves. Unplug from your chairs, get up and look in the mirror. What you see is how God made you. We're not meant to experience the world through a machine.”
The Film: 3.5 out of 5
Bruce Willis is aging well. Now 55, he is still able to play the thinking man’s action hero in evermore interesting projects. Surrogates is in many ways classic material for Willis, and his character, FBI agent Tom Greer, a perfect fit for his conversation averse, brooding heroic style.
Surrogates, based on a five-series comic book written by Robert Venditti, is set in the somewhat familiar sci-fi trapping of a questionable future where technology has produced an unintended detriment to society; a future where robotic surrogates are used by millions of people so that they may stay safe and protected in their homes. These avatars offer ideal versions of people; younger, stronger representations controlled remotely, producing an active society containing a majority of age-defying, good looking robots. FBI Agents Greer and Peters are called to the scene of a murder, a rare crime, where the victim is the son of the surrogate technology creator. Murder is rare, but it is the nature of the murder that has terrifying repercussions. The destruction of the surrogate caused the death of the controller, something that should never happen, and if true, would jeopardize the foundation of society’s reliance on the technology, the guaranteed safety of the user. As Greer investigates the crime, he begins to uncover terrifying secrets, and after his surrogate is damaged, he must head out into the world as he really is; exposed, a little frail, vulnerable, and apprehensive.
Director Jonathon Mostow’s Surrogates walks a familiar sci-fi path, churns in noir detective territory, and relies upon solid pacing to deliver a surprisingly effective crime drama. Mostow has found greater success in smaller, taut thrillers like his excellent 1997 film Breakdown, and the entertaining but historically questionable U-571, compared to his bigger budget action films, like 2003’s disappointing Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines. Surrogates represents a hybrid of his ambitions, a tighter scaled film with a larger scope, and the results are quite good.
Wrapped in the science-fiction action are questions of the implications of technology, the reliance on inaccurate representations of self, and the subjugation of certain rights and responsibilities to the power and lure of technology. Mostow, working from a script by John Brancato and Michael Ferris fortunately keeps those themes alive even as he exits in to moderately exciting action sequences. The balance between the cerebral and the cyber-action isn’t always maintained, but the clear effort to make a more substantive sci-fi action film merits more appreciation than this film received during its box office run.
The cast is good, with Willis giving yet another solid performance as the troubled and tired soul awakening to a hero called upon at a time not if his choosing; a role he has perfected with many underappreciated performances in films like Hostage and 16 Blocks. Radha Mitchel as his FBI Partner Peters gives a good turn in a role that requires more range than you might expect from such a character. James Cromwell appears as the creator of the surrogate technology (in a role a little reminiscent of his character from I, Robot), Ving Rhames portrays the Prophet; leader of a resistance movement against technology, and Boris Kodjoe plays the stock FBI boss.
Surrogates holds true to its premise, remains faithful to its themes, and serves up a few moderately effective action sequences to qualify as an action film. In many ways, this film should have been more successful, but something held it back. It could be the now well-worn premise, the disjointed marketing campaign, or poor release timing – but regardless of the reason, Surrogates is certainly worth checking out on home video.
The Video: 3.5 out of 5
Surrogates is presented in a widescreen - 2.40:1 image – and is enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This DVD presentation contains some noticeable differences between the look of the film and the computer generated elements throughout. That quibble aside, the image is a bit softer than expected, but colors are bright and effective, the darker (night) elements clear (avoiding a murky appearance), and there is no evidence of meddling by excessive edge enhancement.
The Sound: 3.5 out of 5
The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound option available is quite effective. Willis’ mysterious, serious dialogue delivery – in which he is apt to almost whisper his lines, is balanced well with the more active audio canvass of the future. There are a few good sequences where directional audio effects are employed and healthy boom and rumble in the bass and low frequency effects. Solid, if mostly unremarkable audio.
The Extras: 2 out of 4
“I Will Not Bow” Music Video by Breaking Benjamin (3:45): Music video using clips from the film.
Feature Audio Commentary by Director Jonathon Mostow: A good listen as Mostow covers good details from the creation and production of his film. Some tone of disappointment that this film was so poorly received can be detected.
Note: The blu-ray version, which Matt Hough reviews for HTF, contains additional special features not available with the DVD version.
Final ThoughtsJonathon Mostow is a talented director, Bruce Willis a reliable and always watchable action star, and the tale told in Surrogates, while familiar, is worthy sci-fi fodder. So why did Surrogates falter at the box office? I am not entirely sure, but suffice to say this sci-fi actioner satisfies the more curious mind, and will satiate the casual viewer seeking an evening of entertaining, well-executed, and reasonably thoughtful science-fiction. Imperfect, but worth your time.
Overall Score 3.5 out of 5