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Surrogates (Blu-ray Review)

18 Jan, 2010 By: John Latchem

Street 1/26/10
Box Office $38.6 million
$29.99 DVD,  $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of violence, disturbing images, language, sexuality and a drug-related scene.
Stars Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, James Cromwell, Ving Rhames, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe.

Based on a graphic novel, Surrogates depicts a near future when the synthesis of computers and prosthetic technology allows people to live risk-free lives through robotic bodies they control from the comfort of their homes.

In what could be seen as a comment on the rampant use of plastic surgery, those using surrogates are presented as imperfect people hiding behind their perfect artificial bodies, in opposition to those who embrace their humanity, flaws and all.

The film sets out to explore the ethics and consequences of living life remotely through another body, rather than reducing the concept to a plot device as James Cameron does in Avatar.

Bruce Willis stars as Tom Greer, an FBI agent pulled into a rare murder investigation when two people die after their surrogates are destroyed by a new weapon. The implications of such a device threaten the very foundations of surrogacy.

We are not meant to identify with this world. Subtle make-up and CGI effects give the characters a plastic sheen of artificiality, while director Jonathan Mostow imbues a retro style into the film’s production values and camerawork.

It’s all designed to intentionally evoke an eerie feeling of a society that is both familiar yet slightly askew. The creepiness is supposed to help the audience embrace Greer once he’s forced to continue without his surrogate, becoming vulnerable in a world of immortals.

On an intuitive level, the depiction of a surrogate lifestyle doesn’t go far enough to seem authentic. I tend to doubt it would be as simple as living life through a robot. Why would the surrogates need to sit down, for example, or drive cars? Why would someone use a surrogate to operate the computer when the technology should just let them access the system directly? And what’s the point of war if both sides are fighting with robots whose destruction yields little consequence to their masters?

There are also other issues to consider, such as propagation of a species living virtual lives, that the movie refuses to deal with.

Such logical problems aside, the setting is adequate to service the metaphor of the digital age, in which society is dominated by technological interactions to the detriment of our humanity. The film is effective enough at what it is trying to accomplish, but I think pushing the concept a little further would have improved it immensely. Unfortunately, many filmmakers can’t seem to shake the legacy of Blade Runner and the idea of immersing sci-fi concepts into a noir setting.

It’s a hard film to love, but those who do enjoy it will get a kick out of the extras, especially a featurette about the science behind the fiction and the existing technology that could lead to surrogacy.

There are also a few interesting deleted scenes, a good behind-the-scenes featurette and a great commentary with Mostow, who is both anecdotal and analytical when appropriate.

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