Sep 28, 2009

[Movies] Surrogates (2009)

Surrogates MovieWhen I write my reviews, I have two main principles. The first is to never post spoilers, since I personally hate it when a review needs to resort to spoilers to discuss a film. The point of a review is to encourage (or discourage) someone to watch a movie and you can't resort to spoilers to do that since you ruin the experience for them. The second rule is to focus on the actual media format itself and try to avoid judging it based on the original source material. This is the case for the many adaptations such as books becoming movies or TV shows becoming comic books, etc.

I manage to pull this off fairly well for the most part but every now and then I find movies that really make things difficult for me and I find myself bending (or outright breaking) one rule or another. This is especially the case when I feel very strongly about the source material and it becomes very hard to avoid making references or completely judging a piece based on its source material.

Thus it was unfortunate that I really loved the original comic book series for The Surrogates.

Surrogates is the adaptation of the 2005-2006 comic book series of the same name. I reviewed the graphic novel earlier in the year and pretty much gave it a five-star review. But that was the comic book.

Surrogates BillboardImage by swanksalot via Flickr

Surrogates is set in 2017 (instead of 2054) following the same basic premise - people no longer interact with the "real" world directly anymore since they have come to rely on robot facsimiles called surrogates. These robots are capable of transmitting everything they see, hear, feel or even taste back to their operators who continue to live their entire lives from the safety of their homes. This means no more risk of harm for law enforcement representatives. This means people being able to choose exactly who they want to be. While the technology was originally designed to give handicap people a way to operate as normal people in the world, the lures of offering this product commercially in an alternative fashion was too hard to resist.

Things start to change when operators start getting killed through the destruction of their surrogates somehow and it falls upon the shoulders of FBI Agent Greer (Bruce Willis) to determine how exactly this became possible and who was the mastermind behind the entire operation.

Now, I need to let the comic book fan boy in me get a little press time despite my usual efforts to avoid doing just that. The movie just took too many deviations away from the core story that just bothered me to no end. The biggest beef I have with the movie is the fact that they changed the whole nature of the attacks - in the comic books the mysterious "killer" was only destroying surrogates but not harming their operators in order to send a message to all users that they needed to return to living "real" lives. In the movie they decided to kill the operators, thus fuzzing the lines between the core message of the killings and what it was actually accomplishing. It just felt so wrong. There were many other inconsistencies and changes that I'll never truly understand why they did it, but that's not all too important right now.

Going back to the movie itself, it felt a bit awkward in many places in the movie that it was hard to put my finger on it. When I try to evaluate the movie plot on its own while trying to separate my knowledge of the original comic book series, I can see the average viewer getting confused by the story concept, weirded out by how they chose to develop the plot and at many times lost given many things that just didn't make sense in a logical world. The role of The Prophet (Ving Rhames) was underdeveloped. Greer's wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) seemed to have been made into a big character with one-dimensional motivations. The list goes on and on.

A lot if it seems to do with how much of the story was made to revolve around Greer / Willis and perhaps provide him more emphasis that how he was originally portrayed in the comics. It feels like one of those moments when either the producers decided that Bruce needed more screen time or perhaps Willis himself asked for rewriters and greater emphasis of the other possibilities of his acting range. And thus instead of a hard-hitting science fiction story with a strong message about the need to live our lives to the fullest, we end up with a confused and sometimes preachy film with a lot of Bruce Willis screen time focused on him being all dramatic, brooding or emoting one feeling or another.

The one thing I liked about the movie was the weird Photoshopped-feel all the surrogates had, as if the actors had been air brushed during post production in order to give them that softer, smoother, artificial look that matched the concept of the Surrogates. Sure, we saw none of the more extreme possibilities of having surrogates that were a lot more than their original forms, but what they did manage was pretty decent and nonetheless impressive.

Still, the movie definitely felt like an original story at its core that got warped and twisted in so many ways that it ended up being a hodgepodge piece that lacked sufficient coherence to carry a story with the same strength of the original comic book even if they choose to change things and provide a slightly different message.

Surrogates gets 3.5 facial analysis robots out of 5.


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