Blu-ray Review: Surrogates (2009)

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One of the problems with heading directly into the territory of Philip K. Dick's realm of technological paranoia is the fierce competition you face from a storytelling point-of-view.

As transferred to the screen by John Brancato and Michael Ferris, Surrogates is based on the bestselling graphic novel, which originated from studies of internet addiction and out of body fantasies that people subconsciously revel in, posing online as whomever they select via their avatars to both positive and negative effect.

Co-produced by actress Elizabeth Banks' company Brownstone Productions-- the work from director Johnathon Mostow is less like his auspicious breakthrough thriller Breakdown and unfortunately far more like the “forget it by the time it's back in the box” result of U-571.

In its unapologetic employment of obvious and far-too-rushed exposition that's less subtle than the one in I Am Legend, we find our footing in what is otherwise a killer set-up supplied by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele's original source material.

Set in the not too distant future, the film opens in a world where the avatars we use in our virtual life via video games, messaging, or on user profiles online have come to real life as surrogate robotic human bodies.

At times an allegory for plastic surgery, surrogates have leveled the playing field for people from all walks of life including those who cannot walk literally. Yet because of the blend of virtual and actual, the Boston featured in Surrogates (where incidentally nobody speaks with a distinct Boston accent) has turned individuals into both the couch potato and the go-getter.

Following the loss of their child, police officer Bruce Willis and his wife Rosamund Pike have become housebound out of grief and his wife's fears of the outside world.

Plugging themselves in to "stim-chairs" in opposite rooms so that they never encounter each other in real life, the two spend their days runway ready as the embodiment of the best version of themselves, going to work and interacting with clients and colleagues all from the safety of their Boston apartment.

Of course, we need an opposition to this Stepford madness! Thus, in a world of increased convenience and the use of science to run our lives as human beings, we learn that a group of unkempt surrogate-free human revolutionaries named "The Dreads" (headed up by Ving Rhames) have long been vocal opponents of the decision to willingly plug oneself into this movie's version of a Matrix.

Sanctioned off into their own “reservations” also dubbed “The Res” due to a separation treaty, when the first ever surrogate murder affects a teenage college student as he's blasted with weaponry in robot form and it somehow slays him right in the stim-chair he's plugged into, FBI agents Willis and his partner Radha Mitchell investigate The Dreads.

Yet whether it's failing is in trying to tackle too many issues at the same time or the vaguely racist depiction and presentation of “The Dreads” on “The Res” that made me uneasier than I felt while watching District 9, eventually Surrogates abandons the brains in favor of brawn for the following seventy minutes of the film's 88 minute running time.

Typically high in quality and sharpness in Disney's Blu-ray transfer, that nonetheless makes some of the action CGI effects lose their ability to awe on the smaller screen, the Blu-ray's sound in particular really managed to impress me as the score from composer Richard Marvin was one of last year's immediately standout action scores.

Utilizing strings a great deal to build to rapid crescendos and anticipatory action, Marvin's music perfectly propels the plot along, even when you've already figured it out in its overly drawn out Paycheck style conclusion. Not quite as repeat-worthy as other weak but entertaining Philip K. Dick pieces like Paycheck or even Next, it really makes you eager for the Blu-ray release of Minority Report coming soon for the ultimate in technological paranoia.

Still, despite its flaws, it may have worked better as either a Twilight Zone-esque short or on the page, making this reviewer very eager to pick up the graphic novel, just like I felt after taking in the extraordinarily uninvolving adaptations of Watchmen and The Spirit.

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FTC Disclosure:
Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.