Why Surrogates is a frightening metaphor for now

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Jonathan Mostow, director of the upcoming Bruce Willis sci-fi/action film Surrogates, had never heard of the Robert Venditti/Brett Weldele graphic novel on which it's based (and which is actually entitled The Surrogates), but that didn't stop the director of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines from signing on to the project.

"I got involved nearly two years ago, and it began with the graphic novel," Mostow said recently in an exclusive telephone interview. "I just immediately responded to the concept. There's just something incredibly resonant about the idea. It's almost a metaphor for the way we're living our lives right now. It's a story that asks the question 'How do you stay human in this relentlessly, increasingly technological world we live in?' The graphic novel ... may have a different meaning for everybody who reads it, on a specific level, but on a general level it's just in the zeitgeist. It's made up, it's science fiction, but it's something that feels very relevant."

Set for release on Sept. 25, the film unfolds in the near future and stars Willis and Radha Mitchell as FBI agents Greer and Peters. It's a utopian world in which technological breakthroughs allow people to live vicariously as their minds are downloaded into replicants—or "surrogates" of themselves—while their bodies remain at home. There should be no crime and no one should die, but the problems start when a pair of surrogates are murdered, leading to the remote deaths of their human operators.

Mostow, in working with screenwriters John D. Brancato and Michael Ferris (who together wrote Terminator 3 and also Terminator Salvation), attempted to capture the essence of the graphic novel rather than try to replicate it in its entirety. The reason was simple and understandable: The Surrogates is not Spider-Man.

"This is not an iconic property," Mostow said. "So we weren't bound by [the feeling] that anybody would be disappointed if we did something different or changed an element of the story. At the time we decided to do this as a movie I don't think there were more than 5,000 copies sold. Obviously the book is a little bit more known now. But Rob has been totally supportive of all the stuff we've done."

Mostow added, "Movies and graphic novels, like novels, ... they're very different mediums. You can't have everything in, and there's a lot you need in for a movie to work that wasn't in the graphic novel. So there was a lot of invention required, but the spirit of the book, I think, is totally intact."