Monday, January 10, 2011

Surrogates (2009)

Unfortunately one of the problems with knowing about the law of accelerating returns is that you can see how unimaginative most science fiction plots are. Case in point: I watched Surrogates tonight starring Bruce Willis. It's about a future in which people can interact with the world via remote controlled robots while they stay at home.

Now, a typical inner (or outer, irate) monologue of mine while watching some movies might be: "What's that thing on his head? Is that a football? Why is it blinking and sparking like that? Is it running Windows? Wait a second ... that's the INTERNET?! What's he doing with the internet on his head like that?"

Surrogates didn't present this problem, because the internet doesn't appear in it. This is an advanced, futuristic version of our society—and there's no internet. It's just left out of the story! In the future, people make use of really expensive robots to interact with the physical world, but they have no apparent relationship with, you know, the entirety of human knowledge. There are no search engines. No neural implants. People use their computers to ... work in hair salons and drive cars.

I mean, if I had all that technological power, that's what I'd do. I'd just go to work. Duh.

You can do cool stuff with the robots like jump over buildings, climb walls, and kick the shit out of other robots. All the robots are also really hot, because really, why would you have an ugly surrogate? But that just ensured that it remained glued to shallow action movie clichés. I mean, after The Matrix, you're really going to have a futuristic movie in which people aren't hot and don't bounce off walls? Who would watch it?

The other thing that astounded me was the complete absence of artificial intelligence. It's a society so technologically advanced that we can create perfectly realistic humanoid robots—which have to be controlled by actual human beings.

There's a scene in this movie where the FBI puts out a search warrant for a murderer. The murderer is spotted just moments later by a robot watching footage from a surveillance camera. Another character remarks, "Oh yeah, that's so-and-so. He really lives in Maine and is paid to watch that TV all day to spot people we're looking for."

Okay, reality check. The computer in my pocket—the one which is the size of half a ham sandwich—can identify people by their faces without any input from me at all. In fact, Facebook decided not to include that feature on the app, because it presented a privacy issue. (I know, irony.) And you're telling me that 20 years from now we need to pay a person to sit there and look through footage to find someone on video? "But he lives in Maine!"

The movie degenerated into every action-movie, anti-technology cliché at the end. "What button do I press?!" "If I don't press this button, mankind will die!" "Should I push the button?!" "Oh, the moral dilemma!"

Did none of the writers stop and ask, "Wait—do we really need buttons in the future?" Or how about: "Do we really use buttons all that much now?" A button!

So we have a movie about the future in which there's no internet, there's no artificial intelligence, keyboards can end the human race, and there are these robots that people use to do pretty much exactly what they do now. Oh, and people still use Dell desktops in the future. With shitty 15" flatscreen monitors that I could probably pick out of the trash. I forgot that part.

I had originally planned at this point to write something positive about the movie's portrayal of human alienation in a technological society, but I just can't bring myself to do it. At least when Caprica did that, they had it take place in virtual reality, which is arguably more relevant to the future than what this movie did. (Yeah, I watched Caprica. Shut up.)

In short, while visually compelling, this movie was one lousy cliché from top to bottom. I give it a C-.

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