Try Harder

Surrogates made its home video debut earlier this week, and although Touchstone’s DVD includes a commentary track with director Jonathan Mostow, the disc still falls short of the materials needed to support an expensive production with a striking futuristic vision.

Part of the problem is DVD gradually being downgraded by the major studios as a secondary format not worthy of extras, and the fact Surrogates wasn’t a stellar box office nor critical performer. Why make a flop seem better than it is? Or why make the effort to create a proper release when the real goal is just to get the title out there for the rental market?

Compare Surrogates (2009) with I, Robot (2003), and there’s a marked difference in how each studio and director chose to support their respective film. There are, in fact, some similarities between the two productions, although it might be a case of one recent detective tale set in a dystopian future produced under the shadow of another.

The plot points within I, Robot are anchored around a prophetic myth that unfolds in stages during the course of a murder investigation where a cop allies himself with a female corporate egghead in order to uncover a conspiracy that threatens to doom humanity.

Surrogates is grounded in an urban realism and has a cop and his female partner investigating a murder, and uncovering an ex-corporate element seeking to return the now-shuttered human population to its now-mythic past of an active culture with meaningful, physical interaction after years of living through robotic avatars.

Those are two very distinct storylines with the potential for wholly different commentaries on how technology has made us bad. Surrogates makes robotic gear the key de-evolutionary element that enables humanity to slowly regress from its inherent social nature to an anxiety-prone sad sack, but Touchstone’s marketing seems to have been designed with an eye on tapping into our familiarity with I, Robot, as well as the publicity iconography that’s still visible on store and rental shelves.

Case in point below: Why create a new campaign when we can build on an existing one?

Note the similarities with the poster art? They're BOTH looking in the same direction.

This is usually what the producers of B-movies or direct-to-video fodder do: try to create a false sense of familiarity, and tap into our retention of images. When you think of McDonalds, you also see the logo in your mind. When you think of futuristic movies about sleek robots with a rebellious cop running around an urban setting, most likely I, Robot comes to mind. Ergo, let’s just riff on something people already know.

The unwanted tie-in to I, Robot was the first flaw in shaping Surrogates for the masses. The second was pruning the story and ultimately the film’s running time to a surprisingly abbreviated 85 mins. (without end credits). This is a Bruce Willis film with expensive special effects, from the director of Terminator 3, and the writers of Terminators 3 and 4.

Ah, right. T4. That other film with a mucked up structure and horrid dialogue. Ah, of course. T3, with terrible plotting and workmanlike dialogue. Only the composers managed to walk away from these productions unscathed.

Alongside a film review of Surrogates, I’ve uploaded a CD review, and you can also check out a fall of 2009 interview with composer Richard Marvin about crafting his solid score for the film.

Surrogates isn’t bad, but it is a tragic case of missed opportunities, as well as watching Bruce Willis clearly acting in a film that now exists on the cutting room floor. Maybe the 10th anniversary Blu-ray will contain a longer Director’s Cut?

I’ll have a few more soundtrack reviews up this weekend, and next week, and with Region 1 land finally getting Season 3 of Doc Martin on DVD, I’ll have reviews of all three seasons, to be followed by some recent BBC productions hosted by star Martin Clunes, where he’s nowhere as rude as the socially dented Doc.



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