Thursday, October 01, 2009


Render My Hair Back

What happens if your leading man is wrinkled and balding? Well, in the film world, the rage these days is to be able to do decades worth of flashbacks, or alternative fantasies using your mature actor, with computer graphics providing that painless, silkily smooth and flawless skin, complete with luscious and bouncy hair. Bruce Willis being in his prime, well, that indeed is a draw for the film Surrogates.

Like Gamer starring Gerard Butler, Surrogates deal with the rapid advancement of technology, where robotic avatars providing that intermediate buffer between the actual person, and the world they inhabit. But this is not a virtual world, but the real one in which we live in, where we own robots which we can control while semi-conscious and plugged in, and needs battery recharging at the end of the day. Carpe diem becomes possible because risk taking is borne by this metallic shell, though we share in all its sensory pleasures.

This of course makes the field rich for some philosophical ploughing, where one can debate about our rising dependency on technology, preferring virtual interaction and experience over the real thing. The seeds are already sown as you tell from our preference to hide behind handles in online chatrooms, get updates from friends over Facebook profiles versus even interacting over the phone, and the list goes on. We're dealing with the tussle between addiction and the need to unplug ourselves from this mass online grid, lest we slowly lose our humanity.

Or at least that's what science fiction tales like these like to preach about, with proponents of the Surrogate system worried that a recent glitch resulting in the death of their human controllers would spiral mass panic and a system integrity meltdown, and opponents of the system who are more for pro-human activity over playing god and living a life with induced experiences. However, the under 90 minute runtime, which was somewhat of a surprise to me, only allowed very cursory suggestions of such themes about man's obsession to create the perfect society, and our growing technological reliance.

That proved to be a weakness in the story, as it had ideas that weren't allowed to be properly developed, resulting in some rather scatter-brained subplots that were thrown around without much resolution. For example, there was one with Ving Rhames as The Prophet leading the human resistance, but it became somewhat of an intentional farce in wanting to warn about false prophets in religions. Abuse is another frequently used development especially when power lies with authority and legitimacy is questioned.

Director Jonathan Mastow can't seem to steer himself away from robots. His previous film was T3, and here metallic robots with superhuman abilities lie under the synthetic human flesh. All the actors went through robotic acting class to deliberately behave like one, so as to make it easy to tell if they're in their surrogates (beside looking young and extremely attractive) through their very unnatural, rigid acting. This emotionless look might be somewhat of a turn off, besides some very cheap looking computer graphics for a major set action piece (I suspect through the lack of budget in this aspect).

The main narrative follows Bruce Willis' cop Tom Greer who has to unravel a murder mystery, while at the same time in wanting to add some emotional impact to his dogged looking character, gets faced with some matrimonial issues with his spouse, played by Rosamund Pike. As I already mentioned, the film had tried to cram too much in too little time, resulting in a rushed job that would have been better received should it have a little more focus. Not to say that it was as bad or worse than Gamer, but it could have delivered a more focused story.

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