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Surrogates Movie Poster

A movie released September 25, 2009

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2 ½ Stars: "Surrogate" Required to Watch This Lackluster Sci-fi Action Movie

  • Sep 26, 2009
Poster art for "Surrogates."

Remember many years ago when people didn’t have the use of cell phones and now it seems like we can’t get by without having one? Well, the comic book adapted sci-fi action thriller “SURROGATES” does take a little stab at that idea; but in this case, it is the use of artificial beings engineered to make our lives easier. Directed by Jonathan Mostow (U-571), the film based on a screenplay by Michael Ferris and John Broncato, the film feels a little of a mixed bag in my book. The film captures the backdrop of the comic book by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele but misses its message. There have been major alterations to the graphic novel’s story that gave it a more crowd-pleasing atmosphere.
Several years ago, a scientist named Dr. Lionel Canter (James Francis Ginty/ later played by James Cromwell) has invented a “Surrogates” robotic technology that can allow injured people independent mobility, soldiers go to the battlefield without risking their lives, among other applications. Since then, for the sake of profit, VSI has adapted the technology for commercial use where regular people can use the robots as avatars to do their daily routine. The look of the life-like robot would depend on the preferences of the user, as well as certain on-board enhancements and features that can make one’s job a little more easier to do while the ‘operator‘ is safe in one‘s own home (example: a police surrogate would be faster, stronger and more maneuverable than the average model). When an important surrogate is destroyed and its operator killed with it with a special military weapon, FBI agent Greer (Bruce Willis) and his partner agent Peters (Radha Mitchell) is sent in to investigate. Following its clues and his surrogate destroyed by firearms, agent Greer enters the community where humans have opted out of the ‘surrogate’ use under the leadership of a charismatic prophet (Ving Rhames) and must now face the everyday perils without his “buffer”; that includes his own wife (played by Rosamund Pike)…
Rosamund Pike as Maggie and Boris Kodjoe as Stone in "Surrogates."

Being adapted from the graphic novel, the movie “Surrogates” looks very sharp and I am pretty sure director Mostow intended the film to capture the tone of the comic. The work in photography and the visual effects are pretty good (but some looked better than others) and the film is nicely shot. Mostow uses some visual enhancements so that “surrogates” can be distinguished from the actual human being; they have near silky like skin, somewhat emotionless eyes, and very nice features. The film’s screenplay revolves around this network of ‘surrogates’, the tension and mystery slowly unraveling as the film makes the viewer ponder just what is ethical and which is not in the use of the artificial beings? What is the balance between technological advancements and emotional detachments? Is life worth living through the electronic eyes of a robot or should life be experienced first hand?
The film does manage to touch upon the lost of identity when in the use of such technology. People use them to stay safe, be successful and sometimes to feed their own vanity without risks to themselves. I liked the way “Surrogates” manages to bring the doubts brought about without actual human contact, much like today’s internet age that would make one wonder if the face behind the picture is the same. How do you know if a sexy female surrogate is controlled by an actual woman? Well, agent Greer and his wife, Maggie have models that looked very similar to their actual features. Maggie (played by Rosamund Pike) has gone into emotional seclusion after the loss of their son and has allowed her surrogate to take over all their daily routine. John Greer is longing to feel his own wife’s attention and love. Their relationship is made almost immaterial, after all, would a wife be cheating if her surrogate is the one who sleeps with another surrogate? 

A scene from the film "Surrogates."
Director Mostow does have the right ideas in mind, but certain themes are only touched upon but abandoned in favor for the ‘whodunit’ mystery and conspiracy theories at its core. It was obvious that the film was adapted to please the audiences of the multiplexes; while this isn’t exactly a bad thing, it does present a lot of missed opportunities in the screenplay. I liked certain parts of the mystery and the film’s ideas about ‘atonement’, but deep down the film feels more like an action film than an actual sci-fi thriller whose story revolves around the concept of the losing ‘touch’ and its emotional repercussions. There is a compelling tale around here, sadly its powerful social commentary gets lost amid the action and the mystery behind this ‘weapon’. This mystery while interesting at first, gets a little too clichéd. The potential for the ‘surrogate’ feels more like fragmented story pieces and used only as a backdrop than a real integral part of the film. I sure wished that the relationship between Greer and his wife, and their son’s loss be more fleshed out; as well as how other people are coping with this technology. It really bothered me that the movie changed several things from the graphic novel. Also, the film doesn’t make a compelling argument as to why such a technology be so accepted and can go so mainstream around the world. I guess director Mostow is trying to tell his audience not to be lazy or afraid; he gets the point across but not as convincing or as dramatic as I would’ve wished.
“Surrogates” does have some decent action sequences. I guess to compensate, Mostow tries to overload the screen with enough PG-13 violence as he could possibly fit into the film. I liked the scenes with chase with the “Peters” surrogate and the Greer “surrogate” was definitely cool while on pursuit mode. When it comes to rehearsed visual effects, explosions and style, the film doesn’t disappoint. However, the film’s resolution was never in doubt, and the film does fall into the usual trappings of sci-fi action thrillers. Bruce Willis does feel a little out of his element at times but he had enough charisma to pull off his role. I guess the supporting cast wasn’t so bad, although most of them were acting like emotionless ‘surrogates’.
“Surrogates” has enough things going for it that the film manages to take off. I guess while I tempered my expectations, I still couldn’t ignore the fact that it missed its potential for raw emotions, and for a film that is supposed to be humanity’s detachment from life, it felt a little too mechanical and hollow. The film is decent, if you look at it from a popcorn film standpoint, but “Surrogates” should be a lot more than that. The film should have been strong in pitching several issues about our reliance to technology, and on this, the film falters. Changing several key elements (especially the climax) from the graphic novel made the film pretty mechanical and never realizes the humanity behind the story. Then again, that’s Hollywood for yah...

RENT IT [2 ½ Stars]
Teaser poster Bruce Willis Rosamund Pike Lobby Radha Mitchell teaser poster poster

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September 30, 2009
I have to say, I wish I'd read your review before I went to the theater to see this.  I was pretty disappointed.  It was a great concept but it never lifts off.  I understand the whole theme of "Depending Too Much on Technology is Bad," thing, but as the movie opened up and carried on I was reminded of when I was eleven years old and discovered that I could talk to people online for the first time and Mom gave me this big long lecture about how dangerous it can be.  The movie felt like sitting through that lecture again (because you have people do things like have a surrogate that is nothing like them--that fat guy who impersonates a woman and of course, the son borrows his father's surrogate and whatnot).  

I guess what I'm saying is the movie could've really been better, if it hadn't been relying on the kinds of lectures and internet safety crap that they started doing in the late 90's.  In short, if the film was released in 1999... it might've seemed more relevant (and then people would've quickly forgotten about it because of The Matrix).  It just seemed like whenever Surrogates could've really taken off and said something more... it never did.  And as a result the movie was just really a letdown for me.  I figured it all out with in twenty minutes or so... the movie doesn't try very hard to give you any ideas of who else is behind it.  That was pretty sad to me.  

Sorry, I shouldn't go on for so long.  It's still fresh in my mind is why.  Great review as usual.
October 02, 2009
Thanks, bud. I agree with your comment and your opinion. I read the graphic novel and the film does have certain scenes that were lifted from the book--the book was good but the second book "Flesh and Bone" (a prequel to the book) was better IMHO. I gave it a half star because it tried to capture its message but unfortunately it killed its message. The book was more about vanity, it also explores the moralities and immoralities of using the a surrogate in a very human manner, as well as the feeling of playing god. This movie as you said became 'preachy' in a style that felt redundant. The movie just uses the backdrop of the graphic novel. If you don't intend on reading the book...read on: Canter controlled Steeplejack...he used him to kill the prophet. Steeplejack helped Greer disable the surrogates. Greer's wife committed suicide when her surrogate was disabled. It had a shocking ending...
October 02, 2009
Heh, I'll probably still read it, but I sort of figured that perhaps Greer's wife wasn't supposed to live.  The movie itself seemed totally unsure of itself.  They make sure to film all the pills and such (and show her pop one earlier) that it seemed like the crew was having a hard time making up their mind.  And then remembered, "That's right, we're hollywood... people like happy endings."
September 26, 2009
We're always quick to blame the director but we have to remember that at least one screenwriter was involved here, unless the guy adapted it for the screen himself--shall we say, pulled a Raimi?
September 27, 2009
The issue is the screenplay may be taken from the graphic novel but missed its message by a mile. I guess filmmakers wanted a more crowd-pleasing climax than one truly faithful to the source material. After all, some folks were complaining about WATCHMEN about being too faithful.
September 28, 2009
And then the studio has the ultimate say over what happens.
September 26, 2009
When it comes to Bruce Willis and sci-fi films, it seems there are only two ways to go: big budget / special effects (ie, "The Fifth Element") or character / story (ie, "12 Monkeys"). Personally, I prefer the more intelligent character and story-driven films. I guess this isn't really one of those, huh?
September 26, 2009
It was too bad. It had certain key scenes lifted from the graphic novel that the movie did have the right tone and atmosphere somewhat, but the emotions and what the book was trying to say was lost when they changed the climax. This is one of the big budget special EFX flicks..if only this was intelligent then we'll be happy...
September 26, 2009
I was thinking it would be cool to try something new on the site, you, Trashie, and I... will e-mail you about it.
September 26, 2009
will wait for it.
September 26, 2009
There's that secret. And everybody but me seems to be in on it.
September 26, 2009
No, that's nothing to do with the secret actually. Though it is a secret of sorts. An experiment really.
September 26, 2009
Thanks for the concise and informative review. You saved me from spending $10 on seeing this instead I will see James Cameron's movie "Avatar" which has a similar concept / plot device.
September 26, 2009
Thanks! This wasn't as bad as I feared it would be, but certain elements from the graphic novel were lost that the film lost a lot of its depth. However, I do like Rosamund Pike... ;-)
More Surrogates reviews
review by . October 01, 2009
 Last night, I saw "Surrogates," starring Bruce Willis.  If you haven't heard of the movie, it's about a world where everyone uses perfect-looking robots to live the life that they can't live.  It's something that touches on the current advancement of this type of technology that keeps evolving. The movie idea was great, but trying to tie all the loose ends, made you wish that they had more time to do this.       One of the things that they really …
review by . December 29, 2009
Jonathan Mostow has the ability to emotionally and structural sabotage any script, no matter how good the concept. JM chopped the Terminator franchise off at the knees with T3 to the point where even the Terminator 90210 TV show ignored the film completely. Now he's been presented with yet another high-concept premise and has a Michael Bay-like drive to totally f--- it up in a way so vicious that a sequel is as unlikely as someone not mistaking Bruce Willis' toupe for a Zhu Zhu hamster. Mostow should …
review by . August 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
The film "Surrogates" when first released in the cinema escaped my attention, and I only really watched it by both coincidence and my own laziness. Picture the scene, you have the movie channel on, it's late, you're tired and you can't find the remote. Rather than getting up to look for it I thought to myself "f*** it, I'll just watch what's on next"; what was on next was Surrogates. Suddenly very vague memories of the times seeing the trailer and thinking …
review by . September 29, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Does anyone remember when AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, MMORPGs first came around and all that jazz?  And people loved jumping on Internet Forums and creating a persona for themselves or a profile?  People do these things for many reasons, but the biggest of them all seems to be to partake in escapist enjoyment.  Some people do it for the soul purpose that their life just sucks.  Happens all the time.  Surrogates isn't the first film to tackle this sort of …
review by . April 05, 2010
Surrogates falls into that category of films that end up being much better than anticipated. Films that do not screen themselves for critics ahead of the release date are usually predestined clunkers, as not wanting a write-up in the Friday papers is a red flag that the distributors are almost certain that the weekend box-office is the only shot they have of recouping costs before word of mouth kills the film. Expecting the worst, Surrogates manages to surprise with a decent story and great …
review by . October 06, 2009
 Surrogates plays like a substitute for a crime thriller. To all outward appearances it is a science-fiction whodunit, but upon closer examination, the characters and plot are underwritten and obvious, and the entire production hinges solely on the not-inconsiderable charisma of Bruce Willis. In the future, people will be able to plug in and experience life through robotic surrogates that venture out into the real world and interact with other mechanical doppelgangers. Some people rarely, …
review by . December 30, 2009
A good idea and ingenious plot gone to waste by poor production values...
I've seen movies like this before. Many times before The Matrix, I Robot, Minority Report, The Terminator. The list goes on, while this film lacks originality in the main focal point of the plot it does give a very nice and enjoyable spin on an old tale.               Surrogates is a highly entertaining but ultimately flawed movie due to it's reliance on formula. But it's idea is solid and it's execution is very thought out. So why is it that this …
review by . October 13, 2009
Surrogates, Ving Rhames
If nothing else, Surrogates has proven that, toupe or sans-toupe, I'm still a Bruce Willis fan. While the premise of Surrogates certainly intrigued me, in the end it was knowing that Bruce and Ving were being reunited for the first time since Pulp Fiction that brought me into the theaters for this one. The good news is that Surrogates is good. Not great, but that's okay.      It's the first half hour of the movie that was the biggest hurdle for me. The son of the inventor …
Quick Tip by . August 16, 2010
Idea was good, kind of Phillip K. Dick-esque story, but the execution, especially the ending made it feel pretty lame. Also a waste of great talent, really awesome cast.
Quick Tip by . July 18, 2010
This film is like Avatar on Earth, but hey this came out before Avatar... lol
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About this movie


Surrogates revolves around the mysterious murder of a college student linked to the man who helped create a high-tech surrogate phenomenon that allows people to purchase unflawed robotic versions of themselves, being fit and good looking remotely controlled machines that ultimately assume their life roles, enabling people to experience life vicariously from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
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Genre: Action, Sci-Fi, Adventure, Fantasy
Release Date: September 25, 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated

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