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Directed with loads of bizarre style by Jonathan Mostow, the man behind Terminator 3: Rise Of The Machines among other 'big studio' productions, 2009's Surrogates is an interesting vision of a possible future where everyday people have stopped doing things like going to work and instead control surrogates from their own homes who basically do all their dirty work for them. Technology has advanced to the point where surrogates are cheap to make and cheap to own and are able to do more or less everything a living, breathing human can do. With everyone tucked safely inside their own homes and only the surrogates roaming the streets, there isn't much crime and murder is almost completely unheard of... until one night when a college student who turns out to be the son of the man responsible for creating the surrogates in the first place turns up dead.
Two F.B.I. agents named Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) and Jennifer Peters (Radha Mitchell) are called in to investigate the situation. Their investigation takes them into the heart of a subculture opposed to the surrogates and everything that they represent. Lead by a 'prophet' (Ving Rhames) who may or may not be completely insane, this group appears to have been responsible for the murder but the further Greer and Peters get with their investigation, the more they have to wonder if there isn't a whole lot more to all of this than just the violent acts of some fanatics.
Surrogates take on where we're all headed is an interesting one. The surrogates themselves don't age and are quite perfect looking, allowing their owners to present whatever sort of ageless image they want. Youth and beauty are the rule, not the exception and it seems as if everyone in this movie is, to a certain extent, living a lie. You know how on social networking sites people only post pictures of their good sides? How everyone is presenting themselves in as good looking a light as possible? Mostow's film takes that concept off of sites like Facebook and slathers it across day to day society. It asks us to question what's real and what isn't, what is life and what is inevitable artificiality.
Heavily influenced by films like Blade Runner and I, Robot, Mostow's adaptation of the comic book by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele points a lot of fingers and makes a lot of social criticism without offering up any solutions or answers. Granted, when viewed as entertainment only it doesn't necessarily have to but the film's anti-technology message is seemingly at odds with the filmmaker's rampant use of CGi and digital filmmaking technology. Or maybe that's the point? It's hard to say, because as entertaining as Surrogates is on a surface level and as a piece of spectacle, its message gets confused and muddied. Perhaps it's all meant to serve as a vague warning of sorts, that if we allow ourselves to get so completely and entirely wrapped up in our online lives to the point where we can't leave the house without our mobile devices then this is what's around the corner for us, though the film fails to address just how the widespread adaptation of the surrogate technology happens as quickly as it does, what with it being set in 2017 - a future that isn't too distant at all, really.
Political leanings and societal meanderings aside, Surrogates is good entertainment. Willis is his normal likeable self, channeling Bogart at times and lending his naturally gruff screen presence to the picture quite well. His interaction with Mitchell doesn't feel too forced at all and you can buy the pair as partners. Ving Rhames steals the show with his supporting role, really escaping into the part to the extent that it might take you a while before you recognize him here. There's a lot of action in the film and it moves along at a very quick pace. The opening murder scene is done well and sets the stage quite effectively for the ensuring mystery to come. The cinematography is good and while the digitally altered faces are initially distracting, once you get used to them and accept them as part of this future world, they have an interesting effect in that they've asked you, the viewer, to accept the false surrogates in much the same way that the characters in the movie have.The Video:
The 2.40.1 AVC encoded 1080p high definition anamorphic widescreen transfer on this disc is... weird looking. Intentionally so, but still weird looking. The most obvious quirk is the faces of the surrogates themselves. They've been digitally cleaned up to have ridiculously smooth skin and as such look appropriately artificial. Now, this hasn't been done to the 'human' characters in the film, all of whom show good facial detail and strong skin tones. So you wind up with a film that sometimes looks nice and natural and other times looks completely fake - but again, it's obvious as you watch the movie that this is what Mostow and his crew were after and that it's all been done on purpose. That aside, the disc looks quite good. Detail is strong when it's supposed to be and color reproduction is nice and bold. Black levels look pretty strong and shadow detail is impressive. There aren't any compression artifacts to note nor is there any obvious edge enhancement and by and large this is a really well authored disc of some strange looking source material.The Audio:
The English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track on this Blu-ray is pretty impressive. From the car crash that happens early on in the film to the gunshot that basically brings it all to a conclusion, there's a lot of surround activity here to pick up on as well as plentiful bass rumble to ensure that the low end can carry it all. Dialogue is crisp, clean and clear and never hard to follow and the levels are all properly balanced. There's some interesting ambient noise present in many of the outdoor scenes while the action sequences are literally explosive and come at you from all directions. The movie sounds excellent here. Alternate French and Spanish language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are included on the disc as well, as are subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish.The Extras:
The extras start off with a commentary track from director Jonathan Mostow. It's a bit dry in spots but Mostow covers all the bases here, talking about adapting the graphic novel for the big screen, some of the changes that had to be made to the story, working with Bruce Willis and the rest of the cast and the effects work. He comes across as a nice enough guy and seems genuinely appreciative of the people who he worked with on this project. He spends a fair bit of time simply explaining what's happening on screen but when he starts diving into some of the complexities of the storyline the track is definitely more interesting.
Also included are two featurettes, the first of which is A More Perfect You: The Making Of Surrogates. This is your standard fifteen minute behind the scenes/making of documentary that includes interviews with the cast and crew. Willis expresses his admiration for the material while scholarly types expound upon the film's themes and its science. The second feaurette, Breaking The Frame: A Graphic Novel Comes To Life, is a seven minute piece that lets the creators of the graphic novel that this film was based on talk about creating the property while we're treated to animated versions of some of the more poignant frames from that graphic novel appearing on screen.
Rounding out the extras are a music video for the song I Will Not Bow by that band Breaking Benjamin, a handful of inconsequential deleted scenes (four scenes, six minutes in total, with unfinished effects work), trailers for a few unrelated Disney/Buena Vista properties, menus and chapter selection. All of the extras on this release are presented in high definition.Overall:
Surrogates may be a mixed bag in terms of how it approaches and deals with its admittedly interesting source material but Buena Vista has done a fine job on its Blu-ray debut. The transfer, as quirky as it may be, seems to be a pretty close representation to how we're supposed to see the movie while the sound quality is excellent. The extras do a fine job of documenting the project and round out this package quite nicely. The film isn't a classic, by any stretch, but it's entertaining enough. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.
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