Usually when I’ve been to see a movie I leave all enthused, eager to write about it – no matter if the film is good or bad, I can’t wait to get home and start typing up my thoughts. Surrogates didn’t give me that feeling and the worse thing is I have no idea why…
It’s important that you don’t misunderstand that last point, Surrogates is by no means a bad film. Not even in the slightest. The problem is that it’s not a particularly good film either.
I think a large part of this is due to the film’s concept. Although something as outlandish and unfamiliar a notion as society living out life through robot avatars might sound like an idea that’s pretty easy to get on board with, something somewhere along the way stopped me getting my head wrapped around the idea of the surrogates and thus stopped me from investing in what I was watching. Having said that though the film does take good measures to try and explain the concept, especially in its opening scenes which chronicle the advances in technology which led to society’s reinvention – but the real issue is that those measures aren’t comprehensive enough. It might sound trite to say it but when we’re halfway through the film and I’m stuck wondering how people eat or go to the toilet when connected to their surrogates, the introduction to the concept has obviously failed to hit the mark.
The real problem here lies with the narrative and those pesky little matters of character construction, pace and depth.
It seems as though when trying to construct characters, attributes have been randomly picked out of a hat. For example Bruce Willis’ character, Tom Greer, had a son who died. The need was felt to tell us this numerous times, but we never really given anything else from it. Did the child’s death result in some kind of change in Tom’s character or personality? Some kind of resentment towards one thing or another? Some feeling of ongoing responsibility and guilt? We never find out much more than the fact that the child died and Tom is sad about it. That is not depth of character, it’s two dimensional layering of back story.
I had a distinct feeling that we’d seemingly missed out on a third act, almost as if a huge chunk of the film had been lifted out. Clocking in at just over ninety minutes the narrative goes through the usual twists and turns you’d expect from a sci-fi thriller but comes around to its resolution rather abruptly. Rather than feel as though there are any real grounds laid down to lead us towards a satisfying conclusion, things just keep on happening until we reach our final showdown. One of the causes of this is the fact that numerous red herrings are thrown in our way to keep us guessing what’s really happening – unfortunately those distractions left me somewhat disappointed, especially when they’re followed by such an ambiguous conclusion. The ambiguity here lies not what happens at the climax, but after the climax. Usually this would not be an issue, after all it can be quite satisfying speculating on what occurs after we’re taken away from a fictional universe. However in this case the ambiguity occurs because of the aforementioned lack of concept development – after all it’s fairly difficult to be able to speculate on something when there are such gaping holes in the logic of that narrative’s universe.
I can’t help but feel the need to reiterate the point that Surrogates is not a bad film – I think I’m mostly just disappointed because I can see the film’s potential and feel it really would have benefited from an extra twenty to thirty minutes to try and flesh out its own universe.
In terms of positives Bruce puts in an enjoyable performance, the make up work on making the surrogates look ever so slightly unnatural is quite masterfully done and there is a really good shot of people falling over (and I mean that seriosuly, despite being mostly CG that shot was ridiculously good).
Niceties aside, in truth the film was doomed from the outset for me – if I can’t get involved in the concept then I’m never going to buy in to the story. Part of me thinks though that this could be my fault and not the movie’s. Maybe the film came to early and I just wasn’t ready for it. One thing’s for sure though, even if the previous statement is true and suddenly in five years time something in my brain just clicks, the aforementioned narrative and structure issues are going to prevent this film from ever being considered a classic.
For now though, for anyone fancying a nice non-committal ninety minute slice of sci-fi thriller action in the vein of Asimov or Dick, Surrogates could well be right up your street, anyone else will probably be left disappointed.