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That such images should be indiscriminately crammed into a half-baked cyberpunk P.I. story is probably the worst thing about the whole movie. There's nothing quite as embarrassing as Terminator Salvation's unsubtle paean to the vulnerability of the human heart, but Surrogates is still wracked with sledgehammer revelations about its clones used as barricades to hide one's own physical and psychological unattractiveness. What truth is Tom's beautiful partner (Radha Mitchell) hiding behind the guise of her own surrogate? The answer won't shock you in the slightest. (Not to mention that the film's more deliberate dips into significance can be severely idiotic--a clear visual link from Barack Obama's campaign to the Dreads' mad pontificator Prophet (Ving Rhames) seems like a screed against trusting political authority, only to quickly veer off into the territory of "secret Muslim" conspiracies.) Yeah, okay, living vicariously is hardly a way to live at all. Nothing we couldn't piece together from the trailers alone. Then again, when most of your action-scene participants are literal rag dolls to be beaten and tossed around without consequence, you automatically acknowledge a distinct lack of urgency to the entire affair, an unavoidable familiarity--resulting in a bizarre scenario whereby everything and nothing are simultaneously at stake. So what happens once the safety net disappears? What happens when humanity is once again directly imperilled? In two months it will be forgotten, but credit where credit is due: Surrogates is such an end-all/be-all that it puts forth an interesting, if not entirely successful, effort to break the cycle of the same old shit. Originally published: September 25, 2009.
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THE BLU-RAY DISCby Bill Chambers Buena Vista brings Surrogates to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer I can only describe as difficult. As director Jonathan Mostow says in his feature-length commentary, the movie boasts some 800 visual effects shots, most of which involved digital facelifts to give the actors a more uncanny appearance. But while the surrogates do look plastic-fantastic, that airbrushed quality almost never seems unique to skin, resulting in a cruddy, eye-straining image only exacerbated by the picture's noir aesthetics. (Blacks bleed together in deep, detail-swallowing pools.) According to the IMDb, Surrogates' D/I was 2k, which seems low for a contemporary, F/X-heavy film, and artifacts abound--chiefly, solarized whites--that I haven't seen since the early-'90s, when outputting CGI to film was a relatively new procedure. Grain? Mercurial, at best. An aptly imperfect presentation, perhaps, but an off-putting one just the same. While the mix itself is surprisingly hemispheric except during a pivotal chase scene through a junkyard, the attendant 5.1 DTS-HD audio sounds clean, rich, and suitably aggressive. On another track, find the aforementioned yakker from Mostow, who does eventually run out of material and start narrating the flick but has a lot of interesting things to say until such time. I was particularly intrigued to hear that he fished a few wide-angle lenses out of the Panavision vault that hadn't been used since the '60s (shooting in Super35 instead of anamorphic, one presumes, to accommodate them), all in pursuit of angles straight out of the John Frankenheimer playbook. There are probably more "inevitable dashes of pretension" than I can count, although even at his loftiest--Mostow talks about hiring a "mind coach" for the cast to make their performances less human--he's not overbearing.