Imagine a world where you could sit on your arse all day in the comfort of your own home and get others to do your work for you. Sounds great doesn’t it? In fact you could argue that those living on benefits in this country currently enjoy this luxury (ooh, little bit of politics there). But what about your self esteem, social skills and self-improvement? Surely everyone would just end up in their pants, eating crisps looking like Elvis circa 1977?
Johnathan Mostow envisions this dystopian future in the surprisingly cerebral sci-fi actioner Surrogates. Comfort and security come at a price and the price is having to shag your robot wife until, spiritually your soul becomes a circuit board.
In the future people don’t go out in the real world. They sit at home in special pods and remotely control high-tech cybernetic robots or “surrogates“ who live out their lives vicariously so they can concentrate on staying at home and watching porn. The slogan is:
The future isn’t particularly dangerous, in fact crime is virtually non-existent, but there is no underestimating mankind’s desire to do as little as possible. First came the remote control and now this.
Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) is one such sluggard. As an FBI agent he has to investigate the deaths of two people who die when their surrogates are destroyed (something that normally would be impossible). His investigation draws him into the anti-surrogate movement whose leader The Prophet (a virtually unrecognisable Ving Rhames in Bob Marley/Martin Luther King mode) wants to wipe out surrogacy and get the world back to the basics of growing your own carrots and washing once a month.
Willis is in a police chopper tracking a suspect, Miles Strickland (Jack Noseworthy), close to one of the Dredd Reservations (self-policed surrogate-free zones). The police on the ground corner the suspect down an alley not knowing he has on his possession an “O.D.” a developmental weapon with the ability to kill people through their surrogates. After wiping out the police Strickland unleashes the weapon on the chopper which overloads the pilot’s circuits blowing its eyes out.
The out of control chopper spins wildly for what seems like an eternity, clips the top of a building before crashing down and flipping over like a child’s toy.
Whilst you have to appreciate Mostow’s dragging out the suspense for as long as possible there was only one way the helicopter was going with the pilot out for the count; and that was down.
The crash itself looks surprisingly cheap and CGI’d compared to some of his previous efforts and the washed out yellows look like something I would expect to see on the Amiga game Persian Gulf Inferno.
Exploding helicopter innovation
Do passengers survive?
Survive is perhaps not the most apt verb here as everyone is a robot. The chopper pilot does not resurface from the fireball but Willis calmly escapes with his arm torn off seeping some sort of green fluid which may or may not be absinthe.
I found this film to be an unexpected pleasure in a genre dominated by studios that dumb things down to the point of no intellectual returns. Reprising the team behind Terminator 3 writers Michael Ferris, John Brancato along with director Mostow create a fully realised, plausible universe with great touches such as robots “jacking” with electronic “drugs”, beauty salons that resemble garages and roadside surrogate battery chargers.
Willis is not his usual bullet proof self and shows pleasing levels of vulnerability when dealing with some of the movies more existential themes. His flawed relationship with his wife Maggie (Rosamund Pike) elevates the film above the standard sci-fi action fare that normally relies on fancy effects and a blue tint for its authenticity.
The fact that in this fantasy world everyone has flawlessly beautiful surrogates to hide the fact that in the real world they are so ugly they couldn’t get a date from a calendar is a concept anyone familiar with Second Life will well appreciate.
The same way you can never really be sure that 18yr old underwear model you are talking to in a chat room is not a 44yr old truck driver from Burnley no surrogate owner is quite what they seem in the real world. Mostow keeps the action moving ensuring the film never outstays its welcome.
As with most sci-fi you can pick holes in the minutiae until the cows come home. Why have coffee shops for robots that don’t need to drink coffee? Don’t be a smart arse, its called artistic licence.
I won’t spoil it for you but the dénouement is a little far fetched to appear plausible for such a massive company with undoubtedly hundreds of fail safes to prevent their units from malfunctioning on a monumental scale.
(Willis questioning an attractive female surrogate lawyer)
Female Lawyer: Agent Greer, we're not doctors.
Tom Greer: Honey, I don't know what you are. I mean, for all I know, you could be some big, fat dude sitting in his arm chair with his dick hanging out.
Disney took the odd step of not holding any press screenings for Surrogates. This is normally the sign for a studio in “damage limitation mode” with an absolute turkey on their hands that they don’t want universally panned even before it’s had a chance to see the light of day.
Subsequent reviews have been “mixed” but Disney’s failure to back a sci-fi film with brains does the film and the movie industry in general a disservice.