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.