It is becoming increasingly evident that these social trends - the obsession with looks, the fear of violence and the immersion in virtual universes - are also gaining ground outside the States. It is not hard to imagine the huge profits that would be made if a surrogate system like that described in the graphic novel by Venditti and Weldele become real.

Of course, the weak point in the concept is that the creation of a custom surrogate would cost a fortune. It is hard to imagine a society in which every citizen - from the pizza delivery dude to the office worker and the President! - can afford a surrogate, an apartment and a car. As the percentage of the poor has not dropped recently, those without enough income to “duplicate” themselves should have gotten a bigger role in the story.

But this is only a minor flaw because the basic idea is brilliant and its execution as a graphic novel is a complete success. The illustrations by Brett Weldele, simple and stark, manage to efficiently express the thoughts and feelings of the characters. The use of coloring is also judicious. Through the choice of colors, shadows and lights, Weldele creates a particularly striking atmosphere. To complete the reader’s immersion in the universe of the surrogates, Robert Venditti inserts supplementary elements between each of the five chapters of the story, copying a technique used by Alan Moore in Watchmen. Thus, we find news articles, ads and even a brochure about the latest technological advances in surrogate materials.

"My character’s clone acts like a superhero!"
- Bruce Willis

The authors imagined such an abundance of complementary details that the comics merit a second reading to fully appreciate them. The plot structure benefits from the representation of viewpoints from all protagonists. There is no “good” or “evil” in the graphic novel, but simply opinions and interests that diverge, leading certain characters to employ methods at hand to solve their problems.

Of course, such a “high concept” could not leave Hollywood unmoved. Disney Studios, through Touchstone Pictures, purchased the rights to the graphic novel, and entrusted its adaptation to the creative trio from Terminator 3 - director Jonathan Mostow and screenwriters Michael Ferris and John Brancato. “People immediately identify with the characters in this story,” says Mostow, “because they understand the parallels that exist between the concept and their own lives. The great classics of science fiction are always situated in alternative worlds with elements that seem real to us. I believe that is exactly what lends this movie its power: it makes us think about the dangers of living bodiless lives, the pseudo-existences that intensive consumption of virtual entertainment can lead us to. In the world of Surrogates people don’t live their real lives simply because they prefer not to take any risks. It’s a danger that threatens us all to differing degrees, and it’s also a fascinating topic to address.”

Jonathan Mostow has not lost his taste for creating striking images, which he demonstrated in the excellent war movie U-571 and to a lesser degree in Terminator 3: spectacular chases, fights, and astonishing visuals - streets clogged with immobile surrogates – abound. Surrogates promises to be quite a spectacle.

To populate his universe of humans and surrogates, Mostow has assembled the perfect cast. Graphic novel author Robert Venditti was particularly thrilled by the casting of Bruce Willis. When The Surrogates was first published he thought that Willis would be an excellent Harvey Greer . . . His wish certainly came true!

Alongside Bruce Willis and Rhada Mitchell, we find Rosamund Pike (Bond’s evil blonde from Die Another Day and the heroine of Doom) in the role of the hero’s wife as well as Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible 1, 2 & 3, Day of the Dead) playing the prophet.

Bruce Willis seems to have had a good time making the movie: “It’s a role that is doubly interesting because I play a surrogate robot that has superhuman strength and endurance, and also the flesh and blood detective who risks his life to resolve the mystery. My character’s clone acts like a superhero, which allowed the creation of some very spectacular action scenes, whereas Harvey Greer has to be much more careful. While his double can make incredible leaps, or keep fighting with a broken arm, Harvey knows that a single bullet could kill him. The contrast between these two facets of the character is very unique, and allows us to create a good deal of suspense and tension - with flashes of humor as well.”

If the work of the team creating Surrogates allows the movie to triumph at the box office, the second volume of the graphic novel Flesh and Bone will be adapted next. Disney has already purchased an option for Flesh and Bone in addition to any further possible sequels stemming from the movie. Bruce Willis may just wind up playing Harvey Greer several times . . .

(Written by Pascal Pinteau, translated by Renae Keep)

  • This is an abbreviated version of an article originally appeared in the September 2009 issue of Fantastique magazine. It is kindly reprinted here with the publishers’ permission.



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