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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Surrogates

January 25th, 2010

Surrogates - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

September is usually a terrible time of the year to open a film; however, in 2008 Eagle Eye opened during the last weekend of September and was a surprise hit, earning more than $100 million domestically. Surrogates also opened the last weekend of September and had the same quasi-futuristic setting and plot. However, despite earning better reviews than Eagle Eye, Surrogates never found an audience domestically and only earned about half its reported budget. It will likely do better on the home market, but is it worth checking out? If so, is it worth buying and what format to choose?

In the not too distant future, surrogates are robots that were created by a Dr. Lionel Canter to allow the physically disabled people to live a physically active life. However, after the military started using the technology, production capability increased to the point where everyone could afford to use them. Now nearly everyone does, and not just for dangerous tasks, but for day-to-day activities and it has gotten to the point where most people never leave their homes. It's a world full of agoraphobics, and not everyone is happy with that.

Once introduced to this world in the opening credits, we meet Tom Greer, an FBI agent who is investigating the destruction of two surrogates, one of which was unregistered, which is why the FBI got involved. When they track down the operator of the second surrogate, they find them dead, but that's impossible. You can't kill someone through a surrogate. If you could, it would destroy the whole purpose of surrogates. This makes it a lot harder investigating the crime, because everyone that is involved with surrogates, Dr. Lionel Canter, the company he used to work for who makes the surrogates, the military, etc. are not interested in talking. After being hit with a strange weapon, the same weapon used at the beginning of the movie, Tom Greer is forced to go out into the world without his surrogate for the first time in as long as he can remember. But now that he's vulnerable, he is even more determined to get to the truth.

Surrogates earned 40% positive reviews, which I consider on the low end of average. A Tomatometer score of between 40% and 60% tells me a movie is neither good nor bad. It's watchable, but nothing more. There are times I disagree with the Tomatoemeter score. There have been times I've really liked movies that earned less than 20% positive (Kingdom of the Spiders) and there have been times I've hated movies that earned more than 90% positive (Face/Off). However, this is not one of those times. If I were to assign a Tomatometer score for this movie, it would be 40% positive.

The film has a very interesting premise and the idea of surrogates being used, and overused, certainly had promise. However, the story itself is very predictable. It's yet another movie about a dystopian future brought on by the over-reliance on technology. The murder mystery has a few twists, but none that are too surprising. Also, there were several plot holes to deal with. Firstly, if more than 98% of people worldwide use surrogates, that means the price must be so low that most people would own more than one of them. After all, 98% market penetration is higher than TVs have now and I don't know about you, but there are more TVs in my household than there are people. So it should be no big deal when Tom Greer's surrogate is taken out of commission. He should just grab his backup surrogate and be back in the game right away. Also, surrogates seem to be exactly as durable as they need to be for that plot point. At one point, Tom Greer's surrogate survives a helicopter crash with relatively little damage. But he's able to disable another with small handgun fire to the abdomen. There are some good action scenes, but action scenes can take you only so far.

On a side note, where are all the exotics? If you can make a robotic surrogate, wouldn't a fair number of people choose less than human surrogates? There are people who spend money today to get plastic surgery to give them elf ears, so shouldn't there be elves and trolls walking around in a big city like that?

Extras on the DVD are limited to an audio commentary track with the director, Jonathan Mostow, and a music video. As a solo track, it doesn't have a huge amount of energy, but it does have a lot of information. (It usually takes at least two people bouncing ideas off each other to really get a high level of energy on audio commentary tracks.)

The Blu-ray has these two extras, plus two featurettes and some deleted scenes. The first featurette runs 15 minutes long and talks about the real life technologies that could one day give us surrogates. It presents a mix of real world and movie information and is definitely worth checking out and it even has some replay value. There is a six-and-half-minute long featurette on creating and adapting the graphic novel. Finally, there are four deleted scenes that run a total of just over five minutes. There's not a lot of exclusive extras, nor do any of them push the technology, but I appreciate Disney offering something to those that have made the leap to high definition.

As for the Blu-ray's technical specs, it doesn't really shine on high definition. Due to the sheer number of special effects shots (practically every face in the movie was digitally enhanced to remove wrinkles, blemishes, and just make a little more plastic) it is a little hard to judge what is the result of the transfer and what was intended by the filmmakers. Regardless, the video looks good, but it is not a movie you will use to show off your home theater system. The same can be said of the audio, which makes use of the surround sound speakers to help immerse the viewer, but it is not top tier.

The Verdict

Surrogates is a Sci-fi police procedural movie that works enough that it is worth checking out, but there are enough flaws that it has limited replay value. Call it a solid rental. If you are intent on buying, the Blu-ray does have exclusive extras that are worth checking out while the sound and audio are significant improvements over the DVD. It does cost a little bit more than I would like, but within the range of acceptability.

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Filed under: Video Review, Surrogates