Can We Get Some Good Science Fiction Movies, Please?
So, I made the mistake of going to see Surrogates over the weekend. I can now confirm what most of you probably already now: it’s a really crappy movie.
It is utterly beyond me how somebody can take such a fascinating idea (remotely controlled robots change society forever!) and turn it into a terminally bland action movie. I wasn’t expecting Blade Runner or anything, but come on; did we really need that superfluous and entirely by-the-numbers car chase scene?
The ‘surrogates’ themselves are also a bit problematic, in that they leap headfirst into the uncanny valley. Yes, it was intentional, but just because you can make Bruce Willis look like a creepy moving doll doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. My idea of ‘the perfect body’ is not something that looks like a CG model from the early 90’s after it’s been run through a bunch of bloom lighting filters.
The full implications of surrogacy go largely unexplored. One of the first victims of the surrogate eye-exploding gun (which also looks like something from the 90’s, now that I think about it) is a female surrogate being controlled by a man – after all, the surrogates let you be literally anybody you want to be. This idea is brought up in the initial fifteen minutes and then swiftly dropped; we see one female surrogate controlled by a man, two surrogates with impossible skin colours, and one white guy controlling a black surrogate, and the only time the wider implications of any of this are brought up is during the entirely pointless infodump opening sequence. Actually, wait, there are two white guys controlling black surrogates, but I shouldn’t talk about the second one because it’s part of a screamingly obvious plot twist. Trust me, I haven’t ruined anything for you. If you’re paying even the slightest bit of attention to what’s going on, you’ll be able to plot the entire movie based on the first five minutes alone.
This is the problem with the movie-by-committee mindset. The core idea of people living their lives through robotic doubles is fascinating, all the more so because most people in real life would gladly do it if they could. I sure as hell would, if for no other reason than knowing that I’d be all but immune to death my misfortune unless a plane crashed into my house. Think about how it would change our ideas of identity and prejudice if you could choose your appearance based solely on your own whims. Want to change your skin colour? Go right ahead. Your sex? Easy. Being able to literally walk in another person’s body would alter our perceptions about how we relate to each other enormously, yet Surrogates goes straight to the lowest common denominator rather than mining such rich veins of inspiration.
Needless to say, there’d be some opposition to the surrogacy movement, and this is a point where the movie stumbles particularly badly. The ‘Dreads’, as they’re inexplicably called, oppose the ‘perfect’ robotic bodies because…well, it’s never really explained. They have some sort of vague religious motivations (surrogates are ‘abominations’, apparently), but it’s never elaborated upon. The people in the Dread reservations subscribe to the most bland set of beliefs imaginable – they cremate their dead, probably to make things a bit more exotic, but don’t seem to have any religious symbols or doctrines beyond ‘robots are bad’. I’d like to say that the producers were making some sort of point with this, but it’s far more likely that they just needed a motivation for their antagonists and were terrified that somebody, somewhere might react to their movie on an emotional level. Hence we get the Genericans.
The characters are equally flat. Bruce Willis’ detective is utterly inscrutable for most of the movie’s scant running time, and comes across as downright psychotic at several key points by launching into violent or emotional outbursts for no visible reason. Why does he change his opinion on surrogates? I have no idea. Why does he beat up that surrogate guy in his apartment? Some sort of embolism, I’m guessing. What does he actually think about anything going on around him? Your guess is as good as mine, and probably as good as the writer’s. The supposedly emotional scenes between him and his wife are downright excrutiating, mostly because he’s phoning it in and she’s represented by her creepy, lifeless Barbie-robot the whole time.
Surrogates isn’t as offensively bad as this review might make it seem, but it is plagues by the all too common problem of wasted potential. It could have been fascinating, which makes its crushing blandness all the more disappointing. Still, it’s probably a hell of a lot better than Gamer. (Or Pandorum, but the trailer alone was enough to put me off that one.)