Surrogates on DVD

I recall that once I had seen the trailer for Surrogates, I declared that there was no need to make a live-action Ghost in the Shell film. Having now seen the film on DVD which drops next Tuesday, January 26, I must retract that statement. Surrogates is entertaining enough, but it’s no GiTS.

I was sent a advanced review copy of Surrogates on DVD and since I missed it in the theaters, I was really looking forward to finally seeing it. Based on the Top Shelf comic book series of the same name, the film takes place in 2017 where a majority of people live their daily lives through their “surries,” surrogate remote-controlled robotic bodies that are idealized versions of their operators. Operators don’t feel any pain should their surrogate be damaged. Crime rates fall dramatically. Through surrogacy, mankind has supposedly overcome racism, crime, warfare. Of course, there are those who feel surrogacy is an abomination. The Dreads are people who reject surrogacy choosing instead to live their lives as themselves. They are lead by the Prophet, played by Ving Rhames, and live in Dread Zones where no surrogates are allowed.

Everything seems to be just swell in city until a two destroyed surrogates are found in an alleyway outside a club. FBI agents Tom Greer, played by the always lovable Bruce Willis, and his partner Jennifer Peters, played by the somewhat robotic Radha Mitchell, are sent to check things out. Upon further investigation, they discover that the two operators of the busted surrogates are both dead. This has never happened before. Surrogates have been smashed to bits while their operators remain unharmed. So it’s up John McClane, er, Tom Greer to put the pieces together and solve the case. What starts out as a murder investigation quickly grows to something much larger that could change society forever.

At its heart, Surrogates is a noir murder mystery film. The underlying concept deals with themes of escapism, virtual lives, addiction, self-image, self-worth, the nature of humanity. The movie sort of plays with those ideas but never really dives deeper, never really challenges us examine our own obsessions with living virtually. Instead, the movie is much more interested in the noir aspects of the story, the hidden twists that we never see coming, the hard-boiled detective work, the ass kicking. It makes for an entertaining action film, but it falls a little short as a high concept science fiction movie.

The look of the film is quite slick, almost plastic. Since our main actors and most of the extras are playing themselves as idealized robots, there’s a stiffness to their movements that’s always a little bit off. The makeup gives everyone an airbrushed quality that makes everyone look like walking magazine covers. It’s actually very disturbing. Fortunately, we spend more time with the real Bruce Willis than with the Ken-doll Bruce Willis.

There are quite a number of things that are unintentionally funny. Apparently, surrogacy makes you a horrible driver. There are stellar examples of horrible driving from the very opening throughout the entire film. And it somehow makes you dumber. Plot points that are painfully obvious to the audience must be sledge-hammered into the brains of our characters. For some reason, every time Ving Rhames was on frame, I could help but laugh. He’s definitely got the voice of a prophet, but something about seeing Rhames with big, thick, unwashed dreadlocks is just too ridiculous to take seriously. And where are the bed sores? If you spent all day in your bed driving your surrogate around, your body would be all kinds of busted. After a few weeks, your leg muscles would be totally shot. I don’t know maybe there’s some kind of muscle stimulation going on that wasn’t explained, but dammit, biology geeks want to know! Oh, and the poorly names Overload Device (O.D.) that’s used to kill surrogates, it totally looks like a dust buster without the cone.

Overall, I thought Surrogates was entertaining. Not entirely successful as a sci fi film, not entirely successful as an action film, but at 89 minutes, not long enough to overstay its welcome. Kind of glad I didn’t end up paying full price for a ticket though it’s definitely worth a rental when it hits the Netflix and Red Box. So here’s the bit that’s disappointing. The DVD comes with director commentary and a music video from Breaking Benjamin. If you want real extra features like deleted scenes or a featurette on the science or a behind-the-scene documentary, you’ll have to spring for the Blu-ray. I have a bad feeling that this is the shape of things to come. Since Blu-ray won the format wars, I’ve been seeing more and more extras added to Blu-ray editions of releases with fewer and fewer extras added to the regular DVD editions. Looks like I’ll have to eventually pick up a Blu-ray player or PS3. But only when my ancient, big ass tube tele dies.

The suggested retail for the DVD is $29.99 with the Blu-ray clocking in at $39.99. Amazon already has both for significantly less. And for those of you who will only be able to get the DVD version, here are some clips of stuff you’ll be missing. The embeds were causing errors so I got rid of them.