Title: Surrogates (2009)
Director: Jonathan Mostow
Stars: Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames
The only extras included on the Surrogates DVD are a commentary from director Jonathan Mostow (Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines) and a music video by a band called Breaking Benjamin. The song is called “I will not Bow”. Immediately upon watching this music video I knew who this movie was made for. Teenagers. Teenage boys to be precise. I got nothing against teenagers (I was one too at some point!) what Im actually worried about is the type of shitty films that are being made for them! So anyways, I decided to watch part of the music video, just to see what kids are listening to nowadays. The song is so vomit inducing I stopped half way (sorry if I insulted any Breaking Benjamin fans) but watching this video helped me understand the main reason why this movie sucks so much. I mean it’s as if the filmmakers thought “this movie is for teenagers, we don’t have to explain things a lot, don’t take things too seriously!” You could almost feel the filmmakers not caring much for what they were making. You could almost hear them say “this is just a PG-13 sci-fi movie, lets hurry this thing along!”
The premise of this movie is that everybody has a cyborg that does everything for them. People don’t even bother to go out of their homes because the cyborg will do it for them. People have to connect to the cyborg at home while the cyborg goes out into the world and lives their life for them. This has its pros and cons. Pros are you don’t have to go out and risk anything. You don’t catch deceases; you can do dangerous things and not be afraid of dying. You can go out and get crazy without worrying about any negative repercussions. The downside? You’re not living your life. Your real body stays at home, it doesn’t get any exercise, and basically, you stop wanting to really live. You become so dependant of the machine that you become ashamed of your humanity and want to be the cyborg all the time. They market the surrogate experience as being “like real life…only better!”
Interesting premise for a movie no? Yeah, I thought so too. Unfortunately, it is executed in the worst way possible. I’m a huge science fiction nut, don’t know if you guys have noticed it, but I like to really watch science fiction movies. I love how society can be explored through them. And to some extent, this movie does explore a part of our society. It speaks about our dependency on technology, about our loss of humanity. And that’s all fine and dandy (and not all together new) but damn it, why did the movie have to be so bad? One of the major horrors of this movie, is its atrocious script. It never really dwells on anything too long. Its like a child with attention deficit disorder. It shows quick little snippets of information that we are supposed to take for granted just because a character said it. Explain something quickly, move on to the next thing.
Case in point? The leader of the “Human Coalition”. The character that Ving Rhames plays in the film. This is a very important character because it represents the counter point to the way things are. It’s the character that has to stand up for what is right. He has to stand up for the humans. How do we grasp that he is rebellious? That he hates machines? Well, there is this one five second scene where he is sitting in some sort of radio station thing. He grabs the microphone and says: “Look at yourselves. Unplug from your chairs get up and look at the mirror. What you see is how God made you. We’re not meant to experience the world through a machine!” and then he has to stop talking because the government has discovered him. I mean, is this how we “flesh out” a character in this movie? Is this how we know what this guy feels? Ving Rhames appears only about three times in the film. Briefly. We never really get to know him as a character, we only get to know his functionality. This is the leader of the rebels, that’s all you need to know. Pfft. And this is supposed to be the leader of the humans! The characters in this movie are about as superficial as the cyborgs that the film is criticizing. Not much attention was paid to characters and situations. This is as simple a script as they come. Some plot points are simply explained away in a sentence, and we are supposed to take them for granted. As a result, you know exactly where the film is headed, and the film is over before you can blink.
Another thing that bothered me a lot about this movie was that it had an epic storyline that was delivered in such a small scale. I don’t know if this has to do with the economy and with studios tightening their budgets, but this films storyline implied world wide repercussions, yet the film chooses to show only what happens in a small city street. (SPOILERS AHEAD) Like there’s this scene where all the surrogates are deactivated and I thought to myself “okay, this is where the shits really going to hit the fan, were going to see how this is going to affect the whole world” I mean, think about it. If everyone uses their cyborgs to live, that means that even people flying planes are using surrogates. This means that doctors performing operations are using surrogates. I was expecting to see the shutting off of the Surrogates to be a spectacular part of this film. Sadly, repercussions of this world affecting event is reduced to seeing a couple of small scale car crashes on one small city street. (END OF SPOILERS) This just showed me that this film was epic in scale, but not epic in execution. I felt cheated. That’s the best way to describe it. I felt that if I had seen this film in theaters, I would have felt like they stole my money.
The whole idea of robots doing everything for us and us loosing our humanity has been done before in way better films then this one. And since I think you shouldn’t even bother watching Surrogates, I have compiled a list of better films that address the same themes, only better. So take notes, for you will have yourself a far better time watching the following films then you ever will watching Surrogates.
Artificial Intelligence A.I. (2001) - Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence, now there’s a movie big in scale that explores these same themes in detail, not as if it was reading the cliff notes. Cause that’s what I felt like Surrogate’s script was like. As if I was reading the cliff notes for a much better film. A.I. is one of Spielberg’s masterpieces with excellent special effects, performances and it explores the whole aspect of artificial intelligence taking over our lives in much detail.
I, Robot (2004) – This film comes to us from Alex Proyas (Dark City, The Crow) and though I would never go as far as saying that its one of his best films (actually its one of his most commercial ones) its still better film then Surrogates. Its kind of like a murder mystery about the first “murder” committed by a robot. Will Smith investigates. Not awesome, not great, but a hell of a lot better then Surrogates.
Strange Days (1999) On Kathryn Bigelows Strange Days people also start preferring to live experiences through technological means rather then through real life. It also has a “leader of the revolution” that is being hunted down. The future in this film is not as squeaky clean as the one depicted in Surrogates. This is a grimy city on the verge of chaos. The film takes place on New Years Eve 1999, all the chaos and “end of the world” mentality that people had during the last year of the old millennium is executed very well thanks to Kathryn Bigelows excellent direction.
Brainstorm (1983) – This film stars Christopher Walken wanting to live in a virtual reality world. This film plays with a lot of the same themes as in Strange Days, actually Im sure this is the film that inspired Bigelow’s film. But this one gets a bit more philosophical with its implications. The characters on this movie have found a way to record human experiences, and once you put the magic helmet on, you can re-experience the whole thing. But what happens when the government wants to get a hold of it? And what happens when you record someones death? Can we see what happens after death?
So as you can see, when compared to these other movies, Surrogates treats its themes in a simple, child like matter. As if spoon feeding the audience, but with fast food instead of a nutritious meal.
I did like certain aspects of the film though. I mean, I liked the premise; I just didn’t like how they chose to execute it. I did enjoy the whole thing with everyone being a robot. I mean, lets face it. Sometimes when you go out into the world and see “the masses” humanity going about their business, you can’t help but think that we are all programmed in our own way. I actually love this theme of humans relying too much on technology; again, I just didn’t enjoy how they pulled it off on this particular film. But some of the visuals were cool, like these moment when Bruce Willis gets on a train and everyone on it is obviously a surrogate with their blank eyes and their plastic looking skin. I liked the idea behind the weapon that disables the surrogates. Unfortunately, this movie needed to think bigger, needed to explore its themes in a more elaborate way. Even this films action sequences are lackluster! There’s this chase sequence that involves a helicopter crashing into the ground. A great idea, if only the helicopter didn’t look so CGI!
Oh well, I’ve gone on long enough about how bad this movie is. It’s been quite a while since Id seen such a terrible movie. I mean, I guess every generation has its fare share of bad science fiction films. I remember when I was a kid (this was during the 80s) we got movies like Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983) or Ice Pirates (1984). They might not have been great films, but at least those teenage oriented sci-fi films were fun to watch. Watching a film like Surrogates is just painful.
Rating: 1 ½ out of 5