Saturday, January 9, 2010

“Surrogates” – The worst toupee ever.

Maybe it’s just me, but there have been quite a few good science fiction movies this year. With “Moon,” “District 9,” “Star Trek,” and “Terminator: Salvation” delivering more good sci-fi than we’ve seen in years, “Surrogates” is just icing on an already delicious cake.

Considering the amount of marketing done prior to release, there isn’t much you shouldn’t already know. People have robots, which they control mentally from their homes and send out into the world in their stead. The mental link allows people to actually be their robots, receiving all forms of sensation back through the link. This has led to a nearly zero crime rate and disease rate and people no longer need to leave their homes. In a startling turn of events, a major blockbuster movie included some fantastic consistency by not only maintaining the perfect looks of the robots throughout the film, but also including the deterioration of the people controlling the robots. We are treated to dirty people in bath robes who can barely keep themselves standing (when they unhook from their robot links for whatever reason) due to muscle atrophy. It reminded me a lot of the humans in “Wall-E” who had turned to blobs of skin with heads. I also think the makeup artists deserve Oscars for making Rosamund Pike and Radha Mitchell gorgeous (not difficult) and revolting (don’t ever do it again) in the same film.

What you may not have realized about this movie is that it is very similar to “I, Robot.” The premise of robots doing everything for people is the root of both movies; each film examining the consequences. Both are also murder mysteries involving the inventor of the robots (who happens to be played by James Cromwell in both films) where the main character is a cop who would rather not have the robots around at all. Supposedly, the film is based on a series of comic books from the mid-2000’s, but it might as well have been called “I, Robot: A Different Angle.”

The one place where “Surrogates” falls short is in the method that people are being killed. A group of natural people, those who live without surrogates, have gotten their hands on a secret ray gun that delivers a virus to the robot and kills the operator. I’m okay with the virus part, but the ray gun was a little hard to take. It was developed by the military (naturally) as a way to defeat opposing armies (only robots fight now), but was never mass-produced. Putting the ray gun aside for the moment, can we please have one movie where the military is not involved in some conspiratorial kind of way? It’s just so easy and only seems like a negative running commentary and some kind of protest against current wars. Not to mention, if everyone just stays home now, why would there be a need for a military anymore? There shouldn’t be anything to fight about with other countries.

Anyway, these natural people are led by a so-called prophet, who is really just a dirty hippie with dreadlocks. They think the robots are an abomination and we are led to believe they are going to try to kill everyone with a robot. It was at this point that I became confused. If the military couldn’t get the thing to work on a large scale, how were technological morons going to do it? Enter the brand new ability of the police to remotely shut down any surrogate and you magically have an answer. You also have another op-ed taking a shot at the federal government for spying on Americans (seriously, it’s time to stop polluting our two hours of escaping reality with some of the worst parts of reality). Even though I enjoyed the film, it was all just a little too convenient to be considered good writing.

Before we go, I want to go back to the consistency of the visuals. The producers really do deserve credit for not getting lazy as the movie went on. The surrogates were always pristine and the people controlling them nearly always looked like death warmed over. In fact, the only knock I have against them is for putting that creepy, chester-molester, blond toupee on Bruce Willis’ surrogate. They’re supposed to be upgrades from their real selves, not visually repellent.

Rating: Not as good as “Moon” or “District 9,” but still very solid sci-fi. You should only ask for two dollars back, because Bruce Willis should never look like that.

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