Cyberpunk Review » Surrogates

September 25, 2009


Movie Review By: Mr. Roboto

Year: 2009

Directed by: Jonathan Mostow

Written by: Michael Ferris & John D. Brancato

IMDB Reference

Degree of Cyberpunk Visuals: Low

Correlation to Cyberpunk Themes: Medium

Key Cast Members:

  • Greer: Bruce Willis
  • Peters: Radha Mitchell
  • Elder Cantor: James Cromwell
  • The Prophet: Ving Rhames
  • Rating: 6 out of 10

    Bruce Willis in “The Surrogates”

    “What??? Only six stars? What happened?”

    Overview: After reading the graphic novels, I thought I was ready for the movie. Unfortunately, Hollywood decided to “tweak” certain elements until there’s little left resembling the books. Not that ink-on-single-colors would work for a live-action film, but they could have left the action in Georgia instead of moving it to Boston, and leaving Greer (Harvey, not John) as a city detective as opposed to an FBI agent. While some “tweaking” might not have hurt, totally deviating from the books doesn’t. This could probably be traced to the trio of Mostow, Ferris, and Brancato, who were also behind the train-wreck of Terminator 3.

    The good news is the message remained intact.


    The Story: In a near future (no exact year given), humans spend all their time at home jacked into stem-chairs while piloting their surrogates, robotic avatars that interact in the real world now abandoned by humanity.

    Two surrogates are destroyed by a mag-pulse type weapon. The destruction kills the operators, one of whom is the son of the surrogate’s inventor. FBI agent Greer searches for the weapon and is lead to the walled “Dread Nation” where his surrogate is destroyed by the anti-surrogate group. He continues without it as he probes deeper into a conspiracy that involves the military, Virtual Self Inc., the company behind the surrogate phenomenon, and the surrogate inventor, Dr. Cantor.

    Greer’s Surrogate

    William Shatner, you are not.

    What else went wrong? Another problem, other than the deviation from the books, is the look of the movie. Other than scenes showing the stem-chairs and a couple of scenes showing the “central control” of the surrogate grid, it is virtually impossible to tell if it is 2053 or 2009. Having live actors playing the robotic roles only adds to the confusion, though there were times where they not only looked like robots, but acted like robots. That was a surprisingly interesting touch.


    … And the message? You can hear just as the movie starts: Does living life through a surrogate mean you’re actually living? Does being a robot make you less of a human? Have you been so plugged into your surrogate that you can’t unplug? And once you are unplugged… then what?

    Those kind of questions about humanity being (over)connected to technology are what cyberpunk writers and fans have been asking since William Gibson’s first draft of Neuromancer.


    Conclusion: If you’ve already read the books, the movie may only disappoint you with how far off it is. Bruce Willis fans and fans of action films may get a kick out Surrogates. Cyberpunk fans should find the message familiar, though you would be better off with the books.

    Zaire Powell III, aka “The Prophet”

    “Holy father, I pray that you keep Jonathan Mostow, Michael Ferris, and John D. Brancato from ever making another cyberpunk movie, lest they cause the universe to collapse on itself.”


    September 25, 2009

    Klaw said:

    Well I was really looking forward to this but the consensus seems to be the T3 guys wiped their ass with the story so… some writers need to learn the difference between a theme… and an after-school special “big message”.

    September 26, 2009

    BW said:

    Still going to see it to support the film and to show the studios that science fiction is still relevant. Really tired of “super hero” films.

    Illogic said:

    Why not go see something good instead?
    I get the “support sci-fi” sentiment, but supporting all sci-fi no matter the quality just seems a bit daft.
    If you’re tired of super hero films I’d recommend Special and Defendor. Special is really good, and I’ve heard the same about Defendor, though I haven’t seen it yet, so can’t say for sure.

    September 27, 2009

    Clint said:

    Sure, it deviated from the source material. But does that automatically make it bad? It was futuristic science fiction set deliberately in the very-near-future to emphasise the relevance of the themes to modern society. Is it a problem that they chose to simplify certain aspects to make the message more appealing to common folk?

    The sequence with Willis’ damaged surrogate leaping over shipping containers carrying a big gun was very ‘Ghost in the Shell’, visually if not thematically. Imagine the same thing with Motoko controlling that remote body.

    What could be *more* cyberpunk than a world where everyone sits in nerual interface chairs controlling robots?

    September 28, 2009

    caprison said:

    well… this is causing my ocular implants to have some sort of moist material drop from them. I haven’t seen the film yet but I’m already sorry I saw it. Is it really only a 6 of 10? I’m hoping it will surprise me.

    October 2, 2009

    Burnt_lombard said:

    Saw it today. Was average. I wish Paul Verhoeven directed this material, would have been a much better film!

    Skrýmir said:

    I would have actually rated it lower. I don’t think the message got across as well. THe Dread Population was reduced to trailor park refugees, it just appeared as though they skimmed over the Novels. They could have at least left the ending in tact. No using the actual “Villian” from the comics was a huge disappointment. The Prophet was poorly cast. Changing John/Harvey’s Detective to a woman was lame. This would have been a perfect movie for a Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis teamup like 12 Monkeys, the Partner role was perfect for Pitt. The concepts of Vanity from the Comics were little explored, just glanced at, The Dread were poorly developed. I’d have given it 3 stars myself as the only character with any believable Acting was Bruce Willis.

    October 5, 2009

    Anonymous said:

    After Watching Surrogates, I Felt That Jonathan Mostow’s Second Cyberpunk Work Is Probably The Greatest Cyberpunk Film That Hollywood Was Able To Produce. To Date, Surrogates Is Better Than Terminator And Robocop Combined.

    Skaarj said:

    WTF 6 stars? No way.
    The movie is great and why should you give a rat’s ass about “cyberpunk visiuals”? Man, Gibson himself told us - cyberpunk is right here now, today. That’s what “Surros” is showing.
    It’s not about some crazy robot staff, plugged/unplugged or gitsy cyberbrains. It’s about humans. Glamour pussycat mask over a crippled ugly hag, unable to do anything - that is the message, that is the reality. It’s not “the Matrix” that has us - *we* do this willingly.

    ice said:


    ice said:

    hi skaarj

    October 24, 2009

    tj said:

    The designer from iRobot :p

    October 25, 2009

    APX said:

    I found this movie extremely bored, the history line isn’t catchy and the few action sequences it haves really suck.

    January 18, 2010

    Pasante said:

    I agree with the anonymous guy.
    It’s one of the best movies of “cyberpunk” created by hollywood.

    January 19, 2010

    Zeithri said:

    I wrote my own review of this movie on my blog.

    All I can say is:
    The movie was seeworthy but there is nothing good to really fetch up that hasn’t been done before AND BETTER

    January 29, 2010

    InterApex said:

    Both this and gamer were out about the same time.

    I saw both and was really pleased by Gamer and its Second Life like influences, Nanobot Control, Retro Gamer/Hacker Culture and many many other things.

    When I saw this it was terrible. Excellent premise, Horrid Horrid Movie.

    Why the fuck in 2053 or whatever would we be using Cisco IP phones??? In 40 years time we can develop Surrogates but cant use the web for communication so instead we use office phones from 2003 and cell phones from 2008?

    Cell Phones??? WTF They are surrogates for fucks sake, Why do they use cell phones or phones at all to relay messages??

    December 26, 2010

    46175 said:

    I nearly fell asleep while watching it.

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