If you take long enough to make a movie, someone's going to produce another with a similar theme and get it into the cinemas first. This thought ran through my mind as I watched 'Surrogates', the latest Bruce Willis Sci-Fi Actioner to hit Blu-ray.
The concept behind this movie shares much with James Cameron's 'Avatar' in as much as humans use robot surrogates to do the mucky everyday thing called living while the operator lies connected to a 'stim' chair, experiencing life vicariously.
An operator can decide what his 'surry' will look like. They can be younger, fitter, a different colour or even of the opposite sex. It should come as no great surprise then that most of the surrogates look like they've just stepped off a catwalk.
FBI agent Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) has a surrogate that looks surprisingly like him but 20 years younger and sporting a natty blond wig. Once you've got over the initial sniggers, it's not so bad.
The story kicks off with a young man (in surrogate form) striking it lucky with a fit blonde at a nightclub and retiring to an alley for some nocturnal fumbling. Their exertions are interrupted by an intruder who blasts them with a powerful weapon, which not only destroys them but also fries their operators.
Now who would do such a thing?
Sounds like a job for FBI agents Greer and his attractive assistant Ms Peters (Radha Mitchell).
It turns out that the young man who has just been zapped is none other than the son of surrogate inventor, Canter (James Cromwell). During the investigation it becomes apparent that Greer shares the same kind of grief with Canter in that he too is mourning the loss of his son, who has died in a car crash.
So it looks like someone has a terrible weapon that could change society and there is some fear that it has fallen into the hands of a group led by 'The Prophet' (Ving Rames) who live in technology free areas and are against the use of surrogates, viewing them as abominations.
Without revealing too much of the story, our Bruce has to take to the streets in his old fashioned human form to continue the investigation - but will he succeed in stopping the killings and save society as they know it. See the movie and find out.
The film is adapted from a graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele and emulates some of the artistic style by the use of coloured lighting as well as slightly skewed camera angles combined with significant use of the wide angle lens. 'Surrogates' looks quite striking and director Jonathan Mostow ('Terminator 3', 'U-571') has put in considerable thought to make it seem distrurbing or to keep the audience feeling uncomfortable. The pace of the cutting gives us the opportunity to get a good look at things, while at the same time the film is totally devoid of 'shakey cam', which warmed the cockles of my heart and proved that it is entirely possible to make a good action movie without actually whirling the camera around your head in a desperate attempt to cause the audience to vomit.
The action set pieces come thick and fast to keep the movie interesting with car chases and Mr Willis leaping around, proving that he can still cut the mustard as an action hero.
There's a back story too with Greer's wife played (in surrogate form) by Rosamund Pike ('Die Another Day') who has become withdrawn and remote since the death of their son. Willis wants to give up the use of surrogates so that he and his wife can be together again.
Surprisingly for a movie of the sci-fi type, this is quite a touching scenario and it proves that Mr Willis is more of an actor than many would assume.
The actors used to play the surrogates have all been 'airbrushed' so their complexions are free from blemishes. Apparently, there are over 800 effects shots in this movie - most of which involve 'digitally enhancing' the actors. I had the feeling that there was quite a chasm in the difference between the acting abilities of Bruce Willis and those playing the surrogates. They may well have been playing robots, but even Bruce Willis' surrogate seemed to be in a different league to the others.
The action sequences are all of a high standard too, with no 'suss jobs'. That is to say, none of it looks fake or gives the game away.
While this may not be the most original plot, it is very entertaining for its somewhat short 89 minute running time. The good thing about this is that I did not find myself looking at the clock once and there was always something being revealed or a change taking place that required the viewer to stay awake.
What makes the film interesting is that it was not set is a white plastic and stainless steel future, but in a world that very much resembled our own. Besides, it's cheaper to make a movie without flying cars and futuristic landscapes. What's also quite disturbing is the fact that we're already developing the technology that could easily lead to the creation of surrogates. Okay, so we're still at a fairly clunky, baby stage but things move fast in the world of high tech when there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There's quite a bit of food for thought in this movie that certainly begs the question 'Just because we can, should we?'
Overall, I set out to watch 'Surrogates' with rather low expectations based on having sat through many Hollywood blockbuster movies with a big star attached. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised. It looked good, it held my attention and the story did not totally insult my intelligence. It's probably not the best Sci-Fi action movie ever made, although I'd have to say that it's a pretty good surrogate.
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