Surrogates (2009 movie) review…

Surrogates (2009 movie) review after the break…

Surrogates (2009 movie) review…

It is said that Clint Eastwood waited over two decades before he shot the movie “Unforgiven,” as the actor needed to be older before he could play the title role.

Movie make-up, of course, can produce a similar effect and has been for decades. A popular episode from the 1960’s TV series “Star Trek” aged now notable actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy amongst others into becoming senior citizens.

Pre-CGI special effects in aging, though, has it’s drawbacks. Real faces become thinner with age, skin color becomes more faded, the skin itself begins to sag in a way that physical make-up finds difficult to imitate realistically. A lot of times, aging make-up in movies and television falls back to two dominating characteristics: Excessive wrinkles with thinning (and gray) hair.

Depending on how deep your reservoir of irony plummets, the actor Bruce Willis has finally come full circle as an actor in the aging department: As a young actor, he played a significantly older character. Now, as an older actor, he has played a significantly younger character.

In 1992, Bruce Willis (then a reasonably spry 37 years of age), donned aging make-up to play an older mortician in the movie “Death Becomes Her.” The entire movie was a not-so-subtle jab at Hollywood’s obsession with youth and how unhealthy such an obsession ultimately is for those who want to experience the joy of a full life.

17 years later, Bruce Willis (now a more grizzled 54 years old), dons anti-aging CGI effects (along with a toupee) to temporarily revert to a more youthful appearance in “Surrogates,”  a 2009 movie based on a comic book series of the same name.

“Surrogates” is really two “message movies” in one – It rails against society’s explosive use of the Internet for all matters social and it also rails against society’s continued obsession with looking youthful. Not only does this movie try to fit in these two messages but it also tries to be *gasp* a movie with a plot about an assassination attempt with much deeper, darker intentions then anyone in this newly enlightened society could possibly imagine.

Bruce Willis helms this movie as an FBI agent in the near future, Tom Greer, who leads an investigation against the “death” of two “Surrogates” – Sophisticated humanoid robots that are idealized replications of real people that are guided around by their real counterparts. Think of them really, really sophisticated R/C cars that you might’ve toyed with at one time in your youth. In this near future society when everyone and anyone has their own “surrogate,” it is an universally understood maxim that damage to a surrogate can not damage the user controlling the surrogate. Of course, this particular assassination proves otherwise – The two people controlling the “dead” surrogates are also deceased, raising the spine-chilling reality that someone, in this fantasy world, has concocted a doomsday weapon that could paralyze the entire surrogate industry.

Eventually, Bruce Willis must abandon his surrogate in order to pursue the killer and uncover the larger conspiracy deeper within. Naturally, Bruce’s “surrogate” is far more youthful looking then “real” Bruce – Imagine if the Bruce of today shared screen time with the Bruce from an earlier film “The Fifth Element.” In fact, all of the surrogates walk around with slightly plastic faces and moving in slightly stilted manners. More then a playful jab at Botox?

Once detached from his surrogate, Bruce naturally begins to reconnect with the “real” world – Having to enter a “free zone” where no surrogates are allowed and trying to speak with his non-surrogate wife with whom he has a more then remote relationship.

As with all competent movies, the messages are must fade to the sidelines for the finale of the plot which forces Willis to make a world-altering decision: Should he allow society to continue to play with their surrogates or does the world need a “time out” from the anatomically-correct robots?

Surprisingly, I enjoyed this movie far more then I thought that I would. The movie, having been derived from a comic book series, certainly is not wanting for ideas – Some people have “rented” surrogates that only have basic functions (as though these robotic humanoids were ripped straight from the movie “A.I.” or “I, Robot”) while there are surrogate-specific drug activities called “jacking.” Surrogates are far more physically capable then actual humans, with displays of magnificent leaps reminiscent of “The Matrix.” Military surrogates are called “G.I. Joes” and have a very basic, nearly robotic appearance.

My appreciation for this film, though, is not bottomless. The film has two glaring flaws that undercut a lot of the intellectual innovation that it attempts to display.

First, the film is set in the near future. Frankly, a technology this wonderful would never be this ingrained into society this quickly. I’d highly doubt that such technology would exist for another two hundred years, let alone the roughly twenty years that this film is set ahead to. This is a flaw that a lot of “near future” sci-fi films have – The symptom of a single super-advanced technology against the backdrop of all other technologies being fairly stagnant. 1982’s “Blade Runner” had the same inherit problem – In that case, they were “Replicants” instead of “Surrogates” and the Replicants were their own person, not controlled by a real person. However, Blade Runner overcame it’s “near future” by wrapping itself around a starkly different urban environment then anyone had ever seen before. 1982’s version of 2017 looked fairly plausible and alien at the same time. “Surrogate” doesn’t have the same luxury, with everything looking fairly… Normal except for the fact that everyone walking around you is a robot.

Second, the “message” is more then a bit ham-fisted in it’s delivery. Surrogates is, by no means, the first time that the subject of addiction to non-personal media has been explored. The original TV series “The Twilight Zone” dealt with such a theme back in the 1960’s! Yes, we should all have healthy social lives but the Internet IS a part of our lives now. We need to integrate this new (Is it still new at 15+ years of age?) tool into our social activities which, ultimately, means that something else is slightly crowded out. We no longer have any qualms about using a telephone, do we? Also, the “youthful” looking message isn’t handled with subtlety either. Is it wrong for us not to explore the causes of aging? Humanity is always looking to turn back the clock and that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. I’d love to see the day when it’s “normal” to live to the year 100 just like it’s normal to live to be 40 today. Each generation is seeing a gradual increase in age expectancy… Should we be afraid if one generation gets a larger leap in that department then previous ones? While I may never see it, I hope that there’s a generation some day where “70 is the new 40” or “90 is the new 50.” After all, turning the “Big 4-0” isn’t the death sentence that it used to be.

The acting was adequate enough for a message movie although I wasn’t entirely impressed with Ving Rhames’ performance as an anti-Surrogate preacher. Ving Rhames is a very distinct actor and it takes a lot for him to disappear into his roles. Here, he’s simply Ving Rhames with dreadlocks and I could never make the leap into seeing him as an anti-Surrogate preacher with a secret or two of his own.

Surrogates is a nice movie but it scrapes the surface of it’s potential. Imagine a Surrogates movie where the focus were on real people living amongst the Surrogates. Do Surrogates eat? How was the restaurant industry affected? How do Surrogates travel now that you don’t need to worry about G-forces or anything like that? Why not trains that criss-cross the country at high speeds now that they only need to transport robots and not living humans?

For what it is, Surrogates is entertaining enough. Yet, like all high-concept films, one can only wonder what might have been had someone been able to riff off of the high concept alone and not be shackled by the source material (which, with a Hollywood exceptions, is apparently quite loyal to the comic book storyline)?

Surrogates is no Blade Runner but it doesn’t have to be in order to be fairly entertaining. However, there’s also no reason why it couldn’t have been more.


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