tn_surrogatesBruceSURROGATES is TERMINATOR 3 director Jon Mostow (plus the writers of TERMINATOR 3-4) doing another robot movie, this time free of the expectations and mythology (and budget, from the looks of it) of the TERMINATOR series. The only thing they’re chained to is the “graphic novel” the ads say it’s based on, which means a comic book. Luckily they don’t have to be too careful about adapting it because nobody ever heard of it until it was being made into a movie. You show me someone who has read it and I’ll show you the guy that did the copy editing. I was gonna say the mom of the guy who wrote it but I doubt she read it either. This is not some iconic one everybody knows like Alan Moore’s Watchmen or Garfield’s Big Fat Hairy Deal.

The movie takes place in a future where 98% of the world’s population sit lazily in chairs (with things over their eyes – looks just like the cover of THE 6TH DAY) operating beautiful looking robot duplicates that go out into the world for them. So it’s kind of like THE MATRIX, if everybody knew they were plugged in and did it willingly, and instead of being a computer simulation it was robots. Which if this were real would be kind of better. Everybody knows the old rides at Disneyland with the animatronics are better than the new ones with computer animation projected on stuff. But this is not real and this is no THE MATRIX.

bruce-billyjoelBruce Willis plays Greer, a cop. When he’s a robot he has hair, when he’s not a robot it must be said that he looks kind of like Billy Joel. Fortunately he doesn’t sing any Billy Joel songs, or I would’ve walked out. Greer is one of the cops on the scene for an incident at a night club where a couple surrogates (surries for short) were destroyed and their eyes exploded. It would be pretty much like some cars got trashed or something except that when he goes to talk to the operators it turns out they’re dead in their chairs, their brains turned to mush. Until now having a surrogate has not been like being in THE MATRIX or in a Freddy dream – the whole point was that you could put your robot into danger and not have to worry about it. Except I guess you sort of would because who can afford to buy a new one, and what with insurance rates and all that, I’m sure.

Basically he has to solve this mystery about a weapon that can kill people through their surrogates, which may be connected to a movement on “the reservation” where the last remaining people who don’t use robots live. The movie seems to agree with those people about the technology, but it still portrays them as ignorant fundamentalist nuts.

mp_surrogatesThere’s plenty of cool stuff in this movie. It’s not the breathless TOTAL RECALL sci-fi actionfest I was hoping for (or even TERMINATOR 3), but there’s a pretty good human vs. robot chase or two. Nothing as good as the bathroom fight or the truck chase from TERMINATOR 3, but fun. There’s a whole world of people with doll hair and digitally airbrushed complexions moving around stiffly and not emoting quite enough. There are little details to the world like how robots get high, that the people on the reservation string up dead robots to make an example out of them like pirates, a joke about what you look like when your surrogate is in the shop. And I like the image of organic Bruce Willis, his face covered in cuts and stubble, limping around this artificial world, getting used to what it’s like to get up off your ass and leave the fuckin house.

Obviously there’s a subtext here about this here internet and how much of our lives these days takes place from a distance through electronics instead of just a couple of people standing in the same place having a conversation. You’re definitely supposed to think about all these headsets and handheld devices and newfangled gizmos that me – and I gotta admit, most likely Andy Rooney – are suspicious of. And it has pretty good logic about what would happen after living through these things, that you could become very vain and begin to hate your actual physical form and not want people to see what you really look like.

But the movie is pretty underwhelming. The mystery feels both too convoluted and yet not complex enough. It gets a little hard to follow since different people are controlling other people’s robots (there must be something in the Bible against that) but at the same time it comes unraveled too quickly, there doesn’t seem to be much to it. And maybe this isn’t fair to Mostow, but the advertising kind of fucks the movie, because the trailer shows the ending. In the context of the trailer I thought “whoah, then what happens?” but the answer in context is “the end credits with a cheesy rock song.” So it feels anticlimactic.

It also has that same problem from so many sci-fi movies where it always has to be about the most monumental thing that ever happened, something that affects the whole world and changes everything. Why couldn’t it just be a mystery that takes place in this world? I think that would be more meaningful. I’m sick of people having to save the fucking world. I mean that’s not exactly what this is, but it’s close. How ’bout we scale it down a little bit there, fellas?

And come to think of it I don’t think they even establish the world of the surrogates as well as they could. They go through a bunch of the history but they don’t really show you much of why people wanted to use these in the first place. The idea is that the world is too dangerous for a human to go into, but the robots don’t really take advantage of their safety. A guy jumps off a platform in a night club, that’s about it. Mostly they just go about their business. I mean you can’t tell me people wouldn’t be parkouring all over the place. They’d be doing whatever crazy shit they normally couldn’t. I guess it’s implied that the robots just go out and fuck stranger robots, but being PG-13 there’s not much elaboration. And there’s only a couple shots of weirdos on the subway to show that robots can have inhuman physical appearance if they want to.

This is not a criticism of the movie, but there are obviously lots of questions about what goes on here. They mention surrogates for kids, but you only see one and it’s controlled by an adult, so who the fuck knows where the kids are or who takes care of them or if they have to buy a new surry every six months. And you have to wonder what the protocol is with these things, where do you draw the line with using them? Do you sit in your chair to control your robot sitting in a chair to watch TV or something? Do surrogates jerk off, or does their perfect looks and flawless safe sex make porn obsolete? Do any humans like to fuck surrogates and vice versa? There’s gotta be some new fetishes developing in this world. Do some pervs have websites with spy photos of real women in their chairs? Are there even websites? Do surrogates sit down at a keyboard looking at a screen? If so do they recognize the irony? Do they have different outfits or just the one they sleep in? Does anybody have to iron those suits? If so is it through a surrogate or just some poor working class dude in that 2%? Are there aborigines using these things? Because 98% is alot of the world population. You have to wonder how it works in different cultures, how their histories and beliefs affect their use.

Also, how do you take a shit.

As for Bruce, of course he’s good, but this is not one of his better characters. He doesn’t get to use the charm and sense of humor much, but it’s not one of his deeper gloomy roles either. I like that it’s kind of about his relationship with his wife (Elizabeth Banks Rosamund Pike) and trying to reconnect without robots, but he doesn’t get a chance to mine the emotions of that too much.

Not bad. But not good. Not even as good as I, ROBOT, as far as flawed robot movies go. Better than DISNEY’S THE KID I bet, as far as Bruce movies. I haven’t seen that one though.surrogates-ad

This entry was posted on Friday, September 25th, 2009 at 1:48 am and is filed under Bruce, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

68 Responses to “Surrogates”

  1. I agree totally. Had some cool stuff… but it was just OK. I just saw it 12 hrs ago and I’ve already forgotten most of it.

    One thing tho – his wife wasn’t Elizabeth Banks, it was Rosamund Pike from one of the Brosnan Bonds. Banks just produced it, for some reason. Clearly when you need a producer for your lackluster robot movie, you go to the girl from every other comedy film from the past 4 years.

  2. I don’t really know anything about this (and if I do go, I’ll probably avoid all the trailers) but if 98% of the world’s population have these “surrogates” then wouldn’t the population be doubled, essentially? I mean, maybe the surrogates aren’t taking in oxygen and excreting, but that’s a hell of a lot more people about… and by the time we get around to making surrogates, the population will already be a lot bigger (I’d imagine). So is it a really cramped SOYLENT GREEN future with too many people and surrogate people and Will Smith and whatnot?

  3. I’ve read the comic, and I didn’t do any editing on this. The guy who wrote the comic really thought things through, that’s part of what I liked about it. First, nobody died from the unknown marauder, but we saw a fat construction worker who lost his expensive robot that way, and without his robot strength he was unable to do his job and thereby pay the rates, let alone buy a new robot. So it was more like how a society like this would really be. There were also lengthy essays about sex and sexism in the robot age – basically sexism was down, since anybody could be in a female or male robot, but gender stereotyping was up: no way not to have female stewardesses when men can apply wearing female robot skins.

    And when you go to the toilet, the robot is idle, but you can buy an upgrade where you program some general routines your robot does so nobody notices.

    I liked the comic, I’d say it was one of the better ones, though not a great one

  4. Well that was kinda depressing. I had to endure a preview for in front of every single movie I saw this year and I was hoping it would be good because it seemed a lot like the crappy camcorder future-shock movie I was trying to make this summer.

  5. hilarious poster quote at the end, vern!

  6. I’d think sexism being down and gender stereotyping being up would be mutually exclusive situations. Is racism down too because everybody just chooses a white surrogate so that the cop-surrogates don’t tase them on routine traffic stops?

  7. Is it me, or is Bruce kinda phoning it in lately?

    I haven’t really enjoyed a performance of his since Unbreakable and Sin City(yes, I’m including DH4)

  8. I dunno. Willis seems like he’s been pretty hit or miss for the majority of his career. But yeah, he’s about run past that four year limit. (Bruce seems to have a few good roles every four years. Nicholas Cage has a seven year limit.)

  9. I would personally like to see a movie where Bruce stops the plot for a minute so he can do an a capella rendition of The Stranger, with harmonica solo.

  10. What about that one where Robert De Niro was a producer and Bruce Willis was playing Alec Baldwin? I can’t remember what it’s called and I’m too lazy to open another tab and check…

    (manages to overcome laziness)

    … WHAT JUST HAPPENED? I didn’t see it, but I heard it was okay. I think Bruce’s part was more of a cameo, though.

  11. What we really need is a feature length version of this-

  12. “I’m sick of people having to save the fucking world. (and the rest of your paragraph)”

    Dude, you’re going to so laugh at me, but that was my biggest gripe about that Dungeons & Dragons” movie (insert chuckle here) — and not that there was a shortage of gripes about that piece of crap, but that was pretty up there. We had “Lord of the Rings” coming out a few months later, with God knows how much money and talent hurled into it and these jokers make a Roger Corman (or for today’s kids, the Asylum) version of it.

    Why not just do a simple story of some adventurers hitting a dungeon for some treasure? Fit the story to the budget? Make it a simple, mindless action-fantasy movie instead of trying to be some big-ass epic that involves kingdoms, democracy and Jeremy Irons? In that regards it was like seeing an 8 year old girl dressing in her Mom’s clothes and putting on make-up, without being cute.

    Wow. I just wasted five minutes on a D&D gripe in a Bruce Willis film review thread. Is there an award for “best seague-way into a bizarre topic?”

  13. For every great movie Bruce Willis does it is followed by two that are almost unwatchable.

    I have no intention of seeing this movie in the theater because the trailer just looks like a mish mash of every sci-fi movie of the last 10 years. I see I Robot,A.I.,Minority Report, and others all being ripped off in the same 30 sec trailer and i dunno it just looks very un-original to me and your review only confirms my initial suspicions thats its just rehashed rubbish.
    It will prolly make it into my netflix que though as i’ve sat through The Whole Ten Yards, Hudson Hawk and Death Becomes Her.

    And to Stuntock mike I would agree with you if he hadn’t had the role in Planet Terror. I enjoy the shit out of that movie, missing reel and all.

  14. Patrick – it sounds like they had to dumb it down for the movie. Those seem like more interesting aspects of the world to explore than what they ended up with. I guess that’s usually what happens after a sci-fi story goes through the studio executive gauntlet. They do show that men can control female robots, but I took it more as a joke about “that horny girl you’re talking to online is actually a fat middle aged man.”

  15. I vote that Vern should close all future reviews (and maybe retcon all past reviews) with a pseudo-poster and blurb. (I know he’s done a few, but dang… I’ve had a pretty taxing day, and I was still smiling for a while after that one. {g})

    Vote now!!–Vote early!!–Vote often!! WHO… IS… _WITH_ ME!!??

  16. epoc (and others), since I’m too lazy to type the shit up, I scanned the pages in, and yes, racism, too *g*:


    Now, you can say that’s unrealistic, and I it just might be, but it’s still a sign of thought being put into it.

  17. Hmm… it seems my comment didn’t go through; if Vern finds it, maybe he exchanges it for this one or something. Basically, I scanned the pages of the comic that deal with racism, sexism et al, that basically set the stage. It’s 4 pages, the first being here:


    and the other ones then 26, 27, 28. I think having 4 links made my comment go poof, so I rely on you being able to change the url manually. Fairly lage images, too, roughly 2 MB, but I didn’t want to tone down the size and make it unreadable, it’s already black on blue text.

  18. dieselboy, too true. I also loved Planet Terror. He wasn’t the main guy though. Same as What Just Happened. He was the only good thing about that.

  19. Actually I dunno about Bruce in PLANET TERROR. He’s in it so little and his character is such a cartoon they could have gotten anyone to play it, and he seems to be acting like he knows that. He is the lynchpin of WHAT JUST HAPPENED, though, and absolutely fucking great.

  20. I don’t know Mr. S, there’s something about his delivery in that sequence that is completely Bruce. No one else would just spit out that entire mountain of dialogue the way he does. Technically, you could’ve stuck anyone in that scene and it would’ve been OK, but he spun it into that movie’s best scene, bar none.

  21. Brendan – presumably you’re referring to the SPOILER SPOILER “We killed Bin Laden” bit… glad you were into it, to me it just felt like a kinda lazy delievery. Like most of the movie, it just seemed too jokey to take serious, but not quite jokey enough to stand on its own, and ended up feeling a little flat. Glad it does it for you, though, because I really wanted to be into it. On the other hand, I guess you’re right that just having Bruce be the one to deliver it gives it automatic gravitas, no matter how into it he is. I mean, would we even be discussing SURROGATES if it starred, say, Michael Douglas? Even when Bruce doesn’t seem to be trying too hard, he’s still BRUCE.

  22. I think I remember you getting into it with Majestyk in some other talkback about Planet Terror so I’m not going to push the topic. But yeah, that’s the scene I was talking about, and while I think Planet Terror as a whole is a little to wink-wink with itself as a whole, that scene hits its tone and pitch perfectly, and it’s all because of just how Bruce delivers it.

  23. I may be the only one, but the scene where Shelton snaps her wrist in the car door handle is unwatchable, just brutal. I don’t know what it is, the rest of the movie I can laugh at (even the kid’s death) but that, I don’t know I just can’t look when it happens.

  24. That was you? I thought that was RRA.

    So many battles, so little consequence…

  25. It’s quite interesting what you say about most sci fi films being about some “grand” event like saving the world or such.

    It’s kinda true; if you look at the ostensibly sci fi films this year – Transformers, Terminator, Surrogates, Watchmen – they all follow the pattern you say. They’re all big budget studio juggernauts though. As soon as you look at indie sci fi this year – say District 9 and Moon, they are a lot more small scale (and, in my opinion tonally much closer to what I counside good sci fi books

    Do you think it’s really a sci-fi thing though? I think if you look at most big budget blockbusters, they tend to be about large scale, world changing events. I wonder if the sci fi films you are talking about are like that not because they’re sci fi, but because they’re big budget studio films. I think once you get outside of big budget studio stuff, sci fi films are just as likely to be small stories (A Scanner Darkly, Pi, The Fountain, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).

  26. Majesytk it might have been RRA, it might have been Subtlety, I really couldn’t say. No one fought to the death (that I know of) so it’s no big thing.

  27. Yeah, I think I remember it being Mr M vs RRA on PLANET TERROR. I was a bit disappointed in it, but liked it well enough to enjoy it. And I would certainly never try to argue a movie out of casting Bruce Willis, that would just be foolish. Fergie, perhaps. But add Bruce to any random movie and you get something a little more watchable. Didn’t think he was too memorable in PLANET TERROR but he got the job done well enough. And hey, who’s gonna be able to compete with the glory that is Jeff Fahey? Nobody, thats fucking who. Even Bruce knows better than that.

  28. You gotta love Bruce’s first line, though: “Where’s the shit?” That’s one of those lines like “What about the girl?” and “What’s happening to me?” that get used so often that they should come on a rubber stamp.

  29. Also, I seem to remember battling someone to the death over Planet Terror (the crowd gave him the thumbs down, what was I supposed to do?) but I guess that was another sight. Maybe the AV Club. The snark is so sharp over there it rends flesh.

  30. Also also, to those who say Bruce phoned it in, I think that might have been on purpose. He’s basically in the John Carradine role, i.e. the established actor who gets hired to give the movie legitimacy but they can only afford to shoot with him for one day so he’s never actually in the same shot with anybody else in the movie. I love how bored and phony he seems. It’s just perfect. It;s exactly the way Cameron Mitchell would have done it.

  31. Mr. M — yeah, that’s the feeling I got too, like he was possibly trying to parody the one-big-name-in-the-picture who wants to get through it with the minimum possible work, while still making sure he or she gets the spotlight. As such, I think he nails it. Um, or, he just WAS the one big name in the picture who wants to get through it with the minimum possible work, while still making sure the or she gets the spotlight. Either way, kinda a funny parody, but not quite enough to make up for the fact that its not exactly a real performance, either, at least to me.

  32. I don’t know. Considering how natural Bruce usually seems onscreen, I would say acting fake constitutes a performance. Whether or not that performance works, though, is completely up to you, of course. I’ve shed enough blood over this movie.

  33. Bloodshed … over. Ah, I still love ya, bro. We’ll always have HUDSON HAWK.

  34. Can you fucking believe it?

    I feel a duet of Swingin’ on a Star coming on…

  35. Robert Rodriguez says on the director commentary that he directed Bruce to act exactly the way you guys are describing his performance. They shot his scene in one day, against a green screen in Rodriguez’s living room.

  36. Plastique – it’s true. I had the same complaint about the Hellboy movies. I think it would be cool for someone to spend money to create the world but not have to come really close to destroying the world. It could still be worthwhile. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of it Blade Runner is a good example – it’s a big event but not earth shattering. It affects the characters involved but not the whole world.

  37. The second HELLBOY had the same big Save The World Thing, but I reckon it worked a lot better than the first one.

  38. Yeah, when you create great characters and an interesting world, its usually enough fun just to let them kind of run around and play in it. It’s not that big epic stories are exactly a bring-down (hey, STAR WARS is centered on pretty big events, although interestingly EMPIRE isn’t really) its just that its kinda hard to keep thinking of new interesting ways to threaten all life. And even if you do think of an interesting one, the stakes are pretty much the same whether its a nuclear holocaust or, say, a giant vagina-squid from another dimension/our deepest subconscious fears. So they all play out kinda similarly and usually don’t get to have as much fun with the world itself as smaller stories.

    For all their faults, I think the focus J.K. Rowlings puts on the everyday world in the HARRY POTTER series is a huge part of their appeal; those have big events in them too, but most of the books and movies is just about day-to-day life, which she fills with cool detail. And, of course, it’s also much more relatable.

    Which isn’t to say that the stakes are necessarily low; I would argue that something like MINORITY REPORT would qualify, even though the events of the movie would alter the world quite a bit, but really most of the movie is about one man’s story and at the end he SPOILER really only “saves” three people who just get to live in a house instead of a tank of water. So I’d call it a smaller-scale story.

    Examples of great smaller-scale sci-fi pics (besides the ones Plastiquehomme correctly mentioned : STRANGE DAYS, THE THING, ALIEN, STAR TREK 2 and 3 and kinda 6, eXistenZ, BRAZIL, DARK STAR, GATTACA, MAD MAX (all), PRIMER, ROBOCOP, MINORITY REPORT (kinda), SOLDIER, SOYLENT GREEN (kinda), A CLOCKWORK ORANAGE, and um, WATERWORLD. Well, they can’t all be zingers.

  39. Actually, in The Thing, they make a big deal about how if the thing gets to the main population it will conquer the world in under a year, so that’s what motivates them to isolate themselves and become so obsessed with killing it. Just saying.

  40. Could you argue War of the Worlds? Yes, that whole movie has global scale implications, but not anything the main characters. The movie isn’t about creating some super weapon and figuring out a strategy to use it, but is instead about cowering in a basement terrified, hoping the nutjob who’s in the basement with you doesn’t get you all killed.

  41. Very interesting premise, but not explored well enough.

    For example they never really explained why 98% of people have chosen to use surrogates. The thing is, I believe most people would like to use the robots occasionally for work or for fun, but all the time? That’s a bit hard to take, especially since the world otherwise is 100% contemporary.

    The film also never adresses how human bodies are kept functional and healthy, as they seem to spend all of their time lying still with no nutrition or water coming in. You would end up in terrible shape in just a few days like that.

    And how do humans make children, when people date surrogates, and fall in love with surrogates, never actually meeting the actual person behind the robot?

    I think if you want to sell a premise like this, you really need to get the details down. Otherwise at least for me it’s hard to truly believe in the reality of the world the film is showing. And if I don’t believe in that reality, I feel emotionally disconnected, which is what happens here.

    The two action scenes were fun, but the film could have had more. Too much talk, when you consider that mostly the dialogue wasn’t very good.

    But Bruce I thought gave a very committed and good performance. He wasn’t phoning it in here.

    So all in all it’s pretty good, but nothing to write home about. Better than Transformers, but not as good as I Robot, which I really enjoyed as popcorn scifi (I’m not comparing it to Asimov’s novels in any way, as I feel that would be pointless).

  42. my favorite end of the world/large scale disaster of the last few years has actually been Danny Boyles Sunshine and i think mostly because it focused on such a small group of people and left all the scenes of panic back on Earth up to your imagination. You know that shits prolly hitting the fan back on Earth but the director knows you know that and focuses on the details of the different characters relationships instead. In the end good characters and flushed out relationships are better than a few scenes of extras rioting in the streets for food or seeing all the worlds large cities frozen over or some long speech from the President about humanity banding together or whatever.
    So yeah large scale event movies can def be good but shit focus on developing some characters i can relate to first.

  43. Tuukka – excellent points, I hadn’t even gotten around to wondering about the reproduction. But it’s almost like that movie CARS, it really leaves you wondering how this all could possibly work. Now that you bring it up, I think if they had shown that the surrogates carry a sperm and egg and mechanically create some sort of test tube baby without the parents ever meeting I would’ve thought the movie was a must-see.

  44. mebbe its in Children of Men world and there dun be no children so that’s why you don’t see them and no-one cares about reproduction. cept unbeknownst to them Clive Owen is racing across UK to take Joy to Europe and bring new hope to the world. In US everyone uses surrogates to try live as long as they can since for them, this is all that’s left and everyone wants to be the last few left alive like Omega Man but without the zombies. Question is, will they be happy when they discover the second chance the world has – will they abandon their surrogates , or will they be like WoW addicts and never get it? This movie sounds prity good for a sequel, i think i will catch it next weekend, ta for review.

  45. Just saw the movie and I’m going to have to disagree with Vern a little bit here, but I think the movie falls squarely in the ‘good’ side of the spectrum. I don’t know maybe the premise connects with me a little bit more, or I’m more forgiving of the (admittedly plentiful) flaws then he is. But I liked it much more than I, Robot. I would have loved this if this wasn’t attempting to have some kind of high-stakes doomsday scenario, and was instead just a regular movie set in this crazy world, Blade Runner being the precedent. But knowing that that is never going to happen, I am happy to have a movie that at least seems to have a brain and a soul. My favorite part being watching Bruce’s body language in the scene where he is first walking around unplugged, and he’s wringing his hands and freaking out whenever anyone touches him. Also SPOILER, I liked how the kind of used they played around with the technology for the mystery. Like how the partner character dies halfway through the movie, and then her surrogate keeps getting used, so no one is ever aware, or caring, of the fact that she died.

  46. Personally, I’s agree with the earlier post that proposes that “end of the world” scenario isn’t intrinsically flawed, it’s just that most directors are too ham-fisted and and most scripts too cliched. Take a thoughtful little film like LAST NIGHT: definitely apocalyptic but totally compelling due to strong character work and a refusal to pander to bombastic spectacles. Another great Cronenberg performance in that one, too.

  47. Cinematical is running an article making a case that Willis is a great actor. And by “great” I assume they mean Paul Newman Great or Marlon Brando Great. Or at least Steve McQueen Great.

    There are some fantasitc performances on the list.

    It’s at the following link:

  48. I always thought it’s weird that whenever Bruce makes a non-action movie, everybody is like “Bruce Willis wants to prove that he can be more than an action hero”, although it seems that less than 45% of his movies were action movies. I would even go so far and say that Bruce is the prototype of the modern character actor who stars in action movies.

  49. I’m pretty sure this is based on/ripped off a David Brin book called ‘Kil’n People’
    as to ‘why would people use them?’ i answer ‘why the hell not?’

  50. Interesting evisceration of Surrogates http://www.bigempire.com/filthy/surrogates.html

    I thought the wierdest thing about Planet Terror was Fergie. I mean why? I thought cool indie type stuff had cool edgy indie people or people who at least had talent. Can you imagine in the 80’s when they were making Siesta, they were like ok cool, Ellen Barkin, Jeff Goldblum, Grace Jones, Jodie Foster, Julian Sands, Gabriel Byrne, Isabella Rosellini, Alexei Sayle. Wait wait, dudes – Debbie Gibson!!!! Genius!!! Call her people and give them whatever she wants.

  51. I just saw the movie last night and gotta say that overall i liked it. It was definitely better than the 37% on RT would have you believe. I think what would’ve made it better for me was more detail into the world of the surrogates, like Vern and others were saying, and also a little bit more action wouldn’t have hurt either. My buddy suggested having an intro scene where someone (via surrogate) tries to use their robot powers to rob a bank or something and then robo-bruce has to stop him, showing how some people abuse their surrogate privelages or whatever. Or ya know, just a more exciting intro, like in action movies where they have to do the initial setup piece of action to show you just how badass the main character is.

    I must say tho that Bruce, as an actor, keeps on getting better. I really thought he was digging deep into those scenes where he was trying to reconnect with his human wife but her surrogate form kept shutting him out. I felt pretty sad for him during those scenes.

  52. Jareth Cutestory

    October 1st, 2009 at 7:05 am

    Michael – I’m too old to know or care who Fergie is: I had to look her up on Wikipedia. When I watched PLANET TERROR she didn’t stick out to me at all. So it’s not like some superstar was interrupting the film.

    But yeah, maybe people who know who she is would find her distracting in the film.

    But this idea that popular stars hurt the credibility of an “edgy” film is silly. You pick the best person for the role, regardless of their outside work. I really don’t like Madonna, but she probably did a better job in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN than most other actors would. And David Lynch made great use of Billy Ray Cyrus in MULHOLLAND DRIVE.

    Maybe ten years from now, when Fergie is lost in obscurity like Kim Wilde, it won’t be such a problem.

  53. This was a movie where I could predict the ending right from the beginning, and I would have preferred to have been wrong. But in any SF story where there’s a technology that makes life good, the moral is that man was meant to struggle and suffer, and the hero has to destroy the technology. As a friend of mine pointed out, it would be poetic justice if, after destroying the computer that runs a planet’s utopia, Captain Kirk went back to the ship and promptly met a superior being who decided Kirk’s life was too soft and he wasn’t struggling and suffering enough, and took away all his technology.

    The solution is always to take away the technology and go back to being miserable. Adapting to the perfect life by finding new goals and challenges and growth is never an option.

    If the movie weren’t so technophobic I’d be willing to cut it some slack on the logistical problems like how do people keep their muscles from atrophying, how do they go to the bathroom, is there enough room for everyone, etc. It’d be nice if they thought it through super-thoroughly, in the spirit of true SF, but for a good enough story I’d be willing to say “Whatever. Don’t argue with the premise.” If the story had warmth.

    With more thought they could have thrown in some possibilities to add texture to their fictional world. You know there would be furries who would want to be a humanoid animal, people who’d want to look like famous dead people, literalists who’d want to look like actual robots, and bodies that would be impossible IRL, like a giant talking pair of underpants. Power users and hackers and body-modders. A few people would actively choose to be fat; most people would just want to look like classically beautiful humans and there’s nothing wrong with that. If people were being judged on their looks, it would be on the looks they chose, not the looks they were forced into by life. Except of course the movie makes a point of mocking people who are big fat guys with female surrogates, on two occasions. Because again, humanity is never allowed to progress. We have to be punished for wanting things to be better.

    The movie does go a little into how the use of surrogates got started, in the rant of the inventor played by James Cromwell (looking like a dying Steve Jobs). He claims to have invented it only for the physically disabled, and that he was horrified that regular people would use it as a chance to be beautiful. As if gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia and lookism and sizism aren’t legitimate problems. But they’re not, according to the movie. Because if a big fat guy is using the technology, that invalidates it entirely.

    In fairness to the movie, as inevitable as the ending was, I didn’t see the twist about the Prophet coming. That moment where he’s sitting completely still in his tent and then he opens his eyes was cool.

    Re: Patrick: It would be interesting to know what the percentages of gender would be in that universe. Would it still be about 50/50? I could imagine people trying different bodies and figuring out what they get the most fulfillment out of.

    Unfortunately the above links to the comic have expired, but with a Google image search I was able to get a pretty good representative sample. It looks like the comic suffers from the same problems as the movie. Depressing, but not surprising.


  55. That’s an interesting point about Technophobia in Science Fiction, Felicity. Like the films that preach the gospel of small town home spun simplicity made to enable execs to buy the latest Sports car, there’s always been something a little hypocritical about the films that warn us that science has the potential to turn Jeff Fahey into a destructive cyber god, but wanting us to see the film on the basis of its ten minutes of revolutionary computer imagery.

    But I understand where that comes from because I think I share the same, or a similar, hypocrisy. I spend quite a lot of my leisure time online, but will roll my eyes at behaviours that I consider to be those of the so-called “extremely online” (and I’m not talking about the obviously shitty ones). I dislike a lot of how online culture has evolved and expanded in the past 10-15 years, but it’s not like I’m logging off or coming up with alternatives. If we really are in the last days of Twitter I’m not going to be shedding many tears, but I recognise it represents a genuine vocational need for people like our host, and we can’t just go back however appealing that looks from the right distance. It will leave a void, and all you can hope is that it’s replaced with something better, not worse.

    As for SURROGATES itself, my memories are fairly vague but I remember enjoying it at the time, it seemed like a decent if simplistic and slightly fogeyish parable for what we now realise was the relatively quaint early social media age. It was hardly subtle but I seem to recall it stayed just about within the parameters of keeping the sub in subtext. It doesn’t seem to have gained a (earned or not) reputation for being “ahead of its time” like GAMER, for whatever that’s worth.

    My other random memory about that film was that Michael Biehn had a blog or something where he gave a scathing review to TERMINATOR: SALVATION (maybe not the best look, as we didn’t say back then) and he tried to say how easy going with films he was by saying “I’m the guy who made it all the way through SURROGATES”. I thought that was weird, because it’s not as if the film was particularly infamous. Although I can’t find any record of Biehn commenting on either this film or SALVATION, so maybe it was some kind of hoax I fell for. SURROGATES also gets a negative shout-out in an episode of COMMUNITY.

  56. I’ll always remember SURROGATES as the movie I watched twice one Friday night, interspersed with reports on the Sandy Hook shooting, in the middle of an epic 11-hour wait in a Brooklyn ER to get somebody to look at a nasty ear infection that was tearing my head in half. I eventually had to sneak into the patient area, scuttle around until I found my chart, and stake it out until I was able to snag a passing doctor, who looked in my ear for a half a second, agreed that I had an ear infection, and gave me a prescription for antibiotics that I couldn’t pick up until the pharmacy opened on Monday morning.

    I have not been able to bring myself to watch SURROGATES again since that night, but it definitely convinced me that we should all trade in our failing meatsacs for more robust robotic bodies.

  57. I think Hollywood (or popculture in general) is not just technology-, but all in all sciencephobic. It’s always :”Oh no, we made the computers too smart or created a killer virus or cloned Dinosaurs and now we have to pay the price for it! Curse you, scientists! Why do you always have to play god!?” and almost never: “Don’t worry y’all, our scientists are on it and they will save the day!”

    How many times did you see science and technology as the solution and not the problem in a movie or TV show? I try to think really hard, but the only two examples I can think of were THE MARTIAN, where it helped Matt Damon to survive and SCORPION, where a bunch of surprisingly likeable nerd stereotypes saved week for week their own and everybody else’s asses with their scientific knowledge.

    And honestly, I do believe that kind of paranoid hostility to progress in modern popculture might have been the main reason for today’s surprisingly huge Antivax movement. Don’t wanna point fingers at the TV like a pearl clutching Karen who thinks that her kid did something dumb because of BEAVIS & BUTT-HEAD, but, well, you might have heard how the writer of I AM LEGEND had to tell everybody that his script was completely made up and no vaccination will turn people into night dwelling mutants, after some right wing pundits started to use it as a propaganda tool.

  58. And no, I don’t know why our society fetishizes suffering and earning everything the hard way so much. Hard work is overrated! I would love to live in a STAR TREK utopia, where everybody can have everything by telling his computer to produce it for them! Sure, winning an exhausting uphill battle is nice, but if I would have the choice to NOT fight this battle and still get the same results, I, and I’m sure everybody else on this planet,would gladly pick the easy way.

    The worst part of THE MATRIX has always been for me the one where Smith tells Morpheus how the original Matrix was a paradise, but the humans rejected it. BULL FUCKING SHIT! Even THE GOOD PLACE ended with telling the audience that you will get so sick of heaven, that you wanna walk through a suicide door and stop existing at all. I have no idea where this shit is coming from.

  59. It’s coming from the same place as all those movies made by millionaires about how money can’t buy happiness: pure class-war propaganda. If our oppressors get us to love our own suffering, we’re less likely to rise up against them.

  60. CJ, I think you’re the first person I’ve seen online say they didn’t like THE GOOD PLACE finale; I’m pleased to see it, because I didn’t like it either. To be fair it might have played a little better if I’d have seen it the day it aired. A little. I think (SPOILERS FOR GOOD PLACE FINAL SEASON) “we have literally infinite time to do absolutely anything we want, but gee, we’re bored and would just like to stop existing now” would have still been pretty hard to emphasise with in late January 2020. But seeing it in the last couple of months of that year, following about eight months of so many people having their lives snuffed out, and on a personal note having lost a member of our small family for unrelated but sudden reasons just before that, it felt particularly galling that I was supposed to empathise with that.

    In general I thought the last season of THE GOOD PLACE was kind of weak, because I think Michael Schur tends to get schmaltzy and fall in love with his own characters more than I do, and gets too fond of scenes of them making googly-eyes at each other. I’m telling you people, think laugh tracks/studio audiences were for dum-dums all you want, but they encouraged a certain discipline.

  61. Honestly, death absolutely terrifies me. Not the heaven or hell stuff, but that there is a good possibility that nothing comes afterwards. Okay, when it happens, it surely won’t bother me, but that’s what makes the finale of THE GOOD PLACE so terrifying to me. There is simply no escape the awfulness of life, even if you end up in heaven, according to them. And then they present what is basically a mass suicide as happy ending!

    Shit man, Jason’s fate almost made me turn the episode off early! He is the first of the gang who wants to go, but then accidentally stays 1000 more years because of his stupidity, but has absolutely no reason to regret that extra time, because he found enlightment! If this isn’t a great example for “Hey, don’t quit, you never know what happens next”, I don’t know what it is. Then he still ran through the door, calling the already gone Chidi to wait for him and I was like: “Wait a minute. Does he even know what the door does to him? Because he still is pretty much an idiot! Did you explain it to him correctly?”

    In conclusion: Fuck the THE GOOD PLACE finale. It went from one of my favourite shows, to something that I will never ever rewatch or even recommend to others.

  62. Thanks for the validation, everyone. :-)

    CJ Holden, on its good days, STAR TREK says that technology is the solution, not the problem. Trapped by a seemingly-omnipotent being? Analyse it and see if there’s a fluctuation in its energy so we can fight it during the low point of its cycle. Weird spatial anomaly has the ship’s systems malfunctioning? Reroute the thing through the other thing to compensate. Thinking your way out of problems should be your first response. And then on its bad days, STAR TREK says you have to destroy the computer that takes care of the people because otherwise they’re not suffering enough. Don’t just let them continue to have a good life but ask them to read more books. Take them back to the stone age because then they’ll be “free.”

    In spite of all the B-movies about giant atomic insects, the 1950s seemed like a generally pro-science time. Maybe the Cold War persuaded people to be high-tech to keep up with their global rivals.

    That song about little boxes made of ticky-tacky hits a little differently for generations who will never be able to afford home ownership.

    Re: THE MATRIX, I agree humans wouldn’t consciously reject paradise. Maybe what the movie was trying (and failed) to say was that the humans kept thinking it was too good to be true and couldn’t believe it. The machines still could have split the difference and made a world that pleasant and fair without being perfect, but then it wouldn’t be a match for our world, so it wouldn’t be able to make you question if we could be in a Matrix and not know it. And if you can get sick of Heaven, then it’s not Heaven, by definition.

    Mr. Majestyk: I think you’re onto something. At the very least the millionaires making these movies and shows have forgotten what it’s like to be bad at life and feel despair. There’s a story that Elvis is at a press conference and a reporter asks him why he makes those stupid movies instead of getting back to his real obligation, his music, and Elvis says “I expect you’ve never been poor.” I expect the writers who think suffering is necessary have never been bad at life. Earning things builds character and creates internally-generated self-esteem, which is great—when it’s possible. But a lot of us are not good at life, and while we keep trying and trying, it’s just never going to happen the hard way. At least, not for the things society places the highest value on, like wealth and beauty and fitness and power. No wonder depression is epidemic.

    Every so often I think, “The older I get, the less I would mind being turned into a RoboCop.” For some bizarre reason Dr. Faxx (ROBOCOP 2) saw the only two possibilities as being fit young cops who are horrified at losing their body, or psychotic criminals who become unstoppable killing machines. It never occurred to her to ask wounded veterans who would love to be able to walk again, or even just middle-aged people whose knees are starting to give out. Of course then there wouldn’t be a movie. Or there would, but it would be PROTOTYPE X29A.

  63. While the balance may be negative, I don’t think it’s correct to say that Hollywood/pop culture is uniformly anti-tech. The MCU movies have all kinds of awesome tech and generally lean “dual-use” to “tech is awesome” — Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Wakanda, Hulk. All awesome of one form or another that is gnarly-dude in good hands and dangerous in sinister hands, but ultimately the good hands and their gnarly-dude tech wins. Pandemic movies like OUTBREAK and CONTAGION are science-is-awesome movies. DEEP IMPACT and ARMAGEDDON are science (and hard work, and ingenuity, and courage) are awesome movies. Also, remember that the same people who think science and tech are totally awesome are the people who make films like TERMINATOR 2. I would submit that most films that are tech-heavy see technology in ambivalent terms, which is a perfectly reasonable way to see things that create indoor heating, plumbing, heart surgery, as well as nuclear weapons, greenhouse gas emissions, mass surveillance, social media, etc.

    Part of the issue is that a world where science and tech simply sit around being uncontroversially awesome — like a world where characters sit around feeling comfy and chill and not experiencing adversity and struggle — is an extremely boring film world. Hence, much of this befuddling “it’s the man, you guys!” propaganda reduces to the fairly banal observation that films are biased toward conflict (to include struggle and technological ambivalence), because this is what engenders stakes and suspense in a narrative.

    “Normal” struggle and challenge actually is good, both in forming character, fostering empathy, staving off boredom, and investing life with a sense of meaning and richness. Of course, there certainly are truly awful things — like major trauma, violence, or debilitating conditions — whose redeeming value I will not argue for. Felicity is right that certain things are not in the cards for certain people, and that is extremely painful and even tragic.

    So, I am not disputing any of that, but I absolutely am disputing the idea that a world of idle creature comforts without struggle is a good thing — or the makings of an enjoyable movie. This is precisely what’s wrong with inter-generational wealth inequality (trust fund kids or others “born on third” or “second”) — they live their lives with massive resources and safety nets, which tends to retard empathy and reinforce caste-like ideologies of entitlement.

    And it is absolutely true that people rationalize their wealth (rationalizing away the luck or treachery factors or the role of shared societal wealth — infrastructure, enforceable contracts, natural resources, the education system, rule of law, etc.). This is very much part of the problem with the Anrold and Sly narrative is that you start from the perspective of the 1 in a million person who made it and then you project that backwards to create a story of why the 1 in a million simply “wanted it more” than the other 999,999 (the films are actually more mixed and inconsistent on luck vs. hard work). Anyway, this is what the “winners” of society do — they rationalize their position as a result of their superior work ethic and entrepreneurial courage and use this to maintain and pass down their wealth and status (or engage in performative philanthropy), when in reality it is at best 10-20% skill/hard work and 80-90% luck/timing/free-riding on our natural resources, infrastructure, and workers.

    In conclusion, the Rocky narrative that anybody can do anything is obviously false consciousness, but it is also inspiring and necessary to a good movie, which is also why Adonis Creed can’t just be a pure trust fund kid, he has to start his life under difficult straits or else we would not respect him or feel like his struggle has any weight.

  64. Skani — I just want to say it’s really nice to see you. I missed your posts.

  65. Thanks, Johnny.

  66. RE: Marvel’s pro-science stance

    To a degree one could say yeah, the MCU isn’t as anti-science and technology as the rest of today’s popculture. Tony Stark is basically the coolest guy in the universe, but his science is more “I build a stronger weapon to blast the bad guys away” and not “I invent a vaccine to cure cancer.” While The Hulk became more of a good guy and less of a threat, it was still “Oh noes, a failed experiment turned him into a rage monster!” And they even had a full movie dedicated to an evil A.I. trying to erase humanity too.

    So while they definitely do the best to usually not show scientists as evil egomaniacs who use their inventions for evil or have their inventions backfire because they deserve it, but as cool, fun rockstars, I’m not sure if it counts, since they focus more on the “We build cool SciFi gimmicks!” aspect, that detaches them from reality IMO. Even before the whole Muskerfuck of the recent weeks I couldn’t care less about a guy who supposedly built futuristic cars (Let’s just buy into his lie that he was the brain behind Tesla for the sake of argument). I don’t even know who invented Alexa! But I sure as hell do care about whoever will be able to make Covid disappear completely.

  67. I’m sorry, CJ, but no. In the case of the MCU, you’ve established my point that movies that give technology a prominent role often are ambivalent about it, seeing it as a dual-use force for good and evil (you’ve got your Ultrons and your Visions). A thesis along the lines of “MCU features bad and cataclysmic uses of technology, as well as wondrous and world-saving ones” does not establish your earlier thesis of “movies [except a couple recent ones like THE MARTIAN] are consistently anti-tech and anti-science.” It does not even establish the more modest claim that “even MCU movies are largely negative about science and/or technology,” which is simply absurd on its face, like saying that MCU movies are largely negative about jacked dudes, Norse gods, and magical sorcery. Note that my quotation marks are not direct quotes but just ways of bracketing off shorthand summaries of how I try to summarize the train of thought in this latest and earlier posts of yours.

    Here is my broader point about why MCU and cinema writ large are not uniformly positive, but rather conflicted or ambivalent, about technology — at least in the trivial sense that negative, as well as positive aspects and potentials of it are emphasized. Begin point: Movies (and esp. MCU) are in the same sense ambivalent about human nature and everything that emerges from it, with technology simply being a key byproduct of humans expressing their humanity. Technology includes the wheel, movable type, bio-engineering (mRNA vaccines and bio-weapons), cell phones, and gas furnaces. Technology is ambivalent, because it is created by humans, who are ambivalent in both intention and actual impact/outcomes. The claim that films are anti-science is like the claim that films are anti-human. Films are neither: they are pro-conflict by design (like journalism), because conflict sells, because the absence of conflict is boring, and because conflict and ambivalence are real and unavoidable features of all civilizations and human lives. Films are ambivalent about technology and human nature, because all people are flawed and some people are more sacrificial or more exploitative than others, running the whole gamut. Your example of Elon Musk is a perfect one. The correct way to assess his person and his contributions to humanity is neither “unambiguously and entirely good” or “unambiguously and entirely bad.”

    For my part, I care about electric cars and electrification, because it’s a major part of addressing climate change. The idea that Elon Musk being a fuck boy IRL or at twitter somehow nullifies the progress we’ve made on electricification, which he clearly has played a significant role in that is now locked in (via its influence on other auto-makers and battery technology knock-on effects) is simply absurd. The fact that Elon Musk is a narcissistic asshole does not change any of that.

    I also think the jury is still out on Musk at Twitter. If he manages to completely bankrupt it or turn it into the cultural equivalent of Yahoo!.com, his un-tethered ego will have done humanity a great service.

  68. Felicity, I thought The Matrix did a good job of explaining tha humans were rejecting paradise. Smith said they had to keep dumbing it down over and over before they got to a point that wasn’t awful, but not great, and humans were okay with that. I thought that was a great concept.

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