Sunday, August 23, 2009

THE ART OF THINGS GOING WORNG...



I've been seeing the billboards and bus kiosk posters for the new thriller Surrogates everywhere for the past three weeks or so. It is apparently a new science fiction thriller starring Bruce Willis and directed by Jonathan Mostow, a fine action director (Breakdown, U-571) who just happened to also give life to the first of two (and perhaps more?) unnecessary sequels in the Terminator franchise. Being unwilling to look it up in IMDb to be sure, I'm only guessing that the plot involves simulated humans set loose amongst their biological counterparts and wreaking havoc on the normal flow of social interaction. Based on the film's catch phrase-- "Human Perfection. What Could Go Wrong?"-- I can't imagine, other than being horribly reductionist, how that guess could be far off. It's the ads themselves that I find off-putting and not just a little bit... familiar. I don't like the Calvin Klein-ish frostiness of the campaign, which is probably fairly representative of the bloodless replicants vs. soulful humanoids angle of the picture, as well as the state-of-the-art technology used to will the film into existence. But brooding, frighteningly thin runaway models have never been, or will never be, my idea of "perfection," my wish being that we could every once in a while see, in our futuristic sci-fi as well as our beer and burger commercials, evidence that "perfection" didn't have such a narrow, pouty interpretation across the board.


But even more egregious than the attitude in which these ads are drenched is their pretense toward originality, or maybe more accurately their confidence that today's sci-fi fans won't recognize the source material from which they are derived. 1973's Westworld, the first movie written and directed by the late novelist Michael Chrichton, posited a future in which adult amusement parks where patrons could live out their wildest, most salacious, decadent and violent fantasies, were all the rage, and detailed what happens when the robots, through an inevitable technological glitch, obtain sentient intelligence and turn the customers' ostensibly safe fantasies into deadly reality. It was a terrific concept, and well-executed, even though it was done so on the cheap, in the waning days before cranky, reluctant studio head James Aubrey gave up the movie-making business at MGM and turned the studio's assets over to Las Vegas. The movie isn't exactly a classic, but it holds a dear place in the hearts of moviegoers my age, not only for the clever conceit of turning Yul Brynner's black-clad iconic hero from The Magnificent Seven into a relentless killer chasing down Richard Benjamin and James Brolin in an unstoppable fashion that could accurately be described as Terminator-esque, but also for its memorable advertising. It's a campaign that the folks who concocted the billboards for Surrogates were undoubtedly aware. And though they attempt to invoke it not so much in the graphics but in their ho-hum catch phrase, they miss the wit of the original in a bid to avoid out-and-out plagiarism. At the risk of flying straight over the heads of those with spelling problems (a major concern in this age of texting and Twittering), there are few slogans as good as the one that sold Westworld, a place "where nothing could possibly go worng..." I hope that Surrogates, a movie whose pedigree suggests it has possibilities, finds more original notions within the narrative than it has in the selling of itself.

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9 comments:

Chris Stangl said...

Yuck. The SURROGATES campaign is also the approximately #(massive made-up number)-th rehash of this sci-fi advertising graphic idea. Probably last seen in the promotion of that TERMINATOR TV show no one seems to have seen.

"Bloodless fashion models with body parts chopped off and robo-parts exposed" is the new "monster/robot/gorilla carrying a passed-out lady."

Mike F. said...

"Being unwilling to look it up in IMDb to be sure, I'm only guessing that the plot involves simulated humans set loose amongst their biological counterparts and wreaking havoc on the normal flow of social interaction."

Not quite, the movie looks more interesting than that. Here's the trailer:
http://www.apple.com/trailers/touchstone/surrogates/large.html

Mike F. said...

Sorry, let me make that clickable:

http://www.apple.com/trailers/touchstone/surrogates/large.html

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Thanks for the link, Mike. My guess on the plot was, of course, way too reductive-- ignorance is neither bliss, nor does it make for accuracy, I guess!

I am more hopeful of a good movie after seeing the trailer than I was from seeing those tiresome ads, which I think Chris characterizes pretty succinctly. But I remain wary of the futuristic gloss in evidence here that has, so many times in the past, been in service to movies that could have used a lot more clarity in place of their spectacularly realized "visions." (I'm thinking everything from Looker to Total Recall to the Matrix sequels.) Maybe Surrogates will be a happy exception to this dreary rule.

The Driveindude said...

**But I remain wary of the futuristic gloss in evidence here that has, so many times in the past, been in service to movies that could have used a lot more clarity in place of their spectacularly realized "visions."**

I don't necessarily agree. Sometimes too much information or clarity of plot gives away too much of the movie. You can probably count on a million finger tips the amount of movie trailers that have come across our screens that have told the audience "everything" they would need to know about the upcoming film. WHY? I want a little intrigue. I like these SURROGATE one sheets.

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Actually, DID, I meant that what I saw in the trailer made me think of lots of other movies in which the effects and the trippy sci-fi concept made for a muddy mix, and what I meant by clarity was clarity in the stories of the films themselves, not the trailer.

I agree with you that most trailers, sci-fi, CGI-oriented or not, have made an industry out of revealing the in and outs of every plot turn. In this case, ambiguity is a much better selling tool because it makes you want to know more. Case in point: the intriguing teaser for Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which ran before Inglourious Basterds this weekend. The movie might be great, it might not be, but the teaser really does tease.

Mark A. Fedeli said...

"Welcome to Itchy and Scratchy Land, where nothing can possib-lie go wrong."

The Driveindude said...

I agree with you on that point, trailers I mean. However I think I might have barked up the wrong tree here. I used trailers to compare your, i.e. **"..movies that could have used a lot more clarity in place of their spectacularly realized "visions." in describing your distaste for the SURROGATES one sheets.

More to the point, I like the perfectionist embodiment of the human element in these surrogates. We've seen it before in a memorable Twilight Zone episode. Yet the posters seem to convey a sense of foreboding... That being part machine, there is something that's bound to go wrong.

I dunno. Like I said, I like'em!

BTW... Frank Huttinger sat for parts of the film with me last night at the Mission. It was the biggest turnout so far of their Classic Movies Nights. Good to see the King on the big screen again with the spectacular Ann Margaret. Yummy Yummy!

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