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SIMONE

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jay Mohr, Rachel Roberts
Director: Andrew Niccol
Audio: Dolby Digital EX 5.1, DTS ES 6.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: See Review
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: January 21, 2003

“Our ability to manufacture fraud now exceeds our ability to detect it.”

Film ***

There’s been much talk in Hollywood over the last year or so about the debate of digital actors and the slight threat that the idea may have on the future of real living actors. The release of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within really got people talking. I don’t see it as an actual threat, but it is something to ponder, and is definitely the basis for Simone, an engaging satire of how far a director will go to perfect a film project, even if it means pulling a fast one on the viewing public. Above all, the point that the film makes is quite strong, which is that people can in a sense be hypnotized by digital and visual effects to the point where one couldn’t be able to tell the difference between what’s real and what isn’t.

Al Pacino stars in a rare light performance as Viktor Taransky, a veteran filmmaker whose last three movies tanked big time. His latest project is close to damnation, with his lead actress (Winona Ryder) walking off the film. Viktor soon faces the possibility of being fired once and for all, that is, until a chance meeting with a dying computer genius named Hank (Elias Koteas) changes all of that. Hank succeeded in the creation of a digital human being, who in this case is a ravishing beauty known as Simulation One, or S1m0ne for short. Once Viktor discovers this creation, he sees a possibility to not only replace the lead actress and save his movie, but possibly save his career as well.

Unexpectedly, Simone soon becomes an international sensation, much to the director’s surprise. What Viktor truly cherishes about his new leading lady is that she has all the qualities he feels other actors lack. She’s always on time, she never complains, and says her dialogue just as it is written. Of course, the only reason this is possible is that she is in a computer, and thus is TOTALLY under Viktor’s control, and nobody else knows this. As a believable way of hiding her true identity, Viktor informs the other actors working on the same film that she cannot work with them in the flesh, and that she relates better to people when they’re not around.

Upon the film’s theatrical release, a unique buzz was forming as to the fact whether or not Simone the character was being played by a real woman, or an actual digital creation. In actuality, she is played by newcomer Rachel Roberts, and even though she is mostly seen within a computer screen, she does step outside that setting for a couple of scenes.

The film is the creation of writer/director Andrew Niccol, who wrote The Truman Show and also wrote and directed the much underrated futuristic tale Gattaca. Here he has created another fascinating story about the line between reality and the illusion of technology, and this time around with the help of some astonishing visual effects, and a sharp mounted look. Cinematographers Derek Grover and Edward Lachman have delivered an eye gazing look to this film, which on DVD is really stunning.

With Pacino in top form, in a rare comedic role, and an irresistible premise, Simone is a sharp and engaging Hollywood satire. Even though it loses a bit of its edge in its last act, it still remains funny and appealing all the way through. And Simone herself? Well, she is quite something to look at.

Video ****

We’ve had a number of great looking discs in this first month of the new year, but this transfer from New Line is far and away the most outstanding looking presentation thus far. And even this early in the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this title as one of the runners up at next year’s DMC Awards for best video quality. At first I questioned the notion of the disc being double sided, with an unnecessary full screen version on the opposite side, but my skepticism was soon gone. I mentioned how grand the look of this movie was, and it is even more outstanding in the DVD format. Picture is thoroughly clear and superbly crisp, and the colors are as illuming and natural as can possibly be. New Line remains one of the top DVD studios, and the disc for Simone is infinite proof of their extreme quality.

Audio ****

The same can be said for the audio field, where New Line has supplied are rare 5.1 EX mix, adding an extra boost for necessary sound perfection. The standout moments involve the effects sequences, which there are plenty of, and certain moments, like a scene where Simone gives a rare, live musical performance, with crowds of people cheering offer pure dynamic range. A strikingly superb presentation.

Features **1/2

With no sign of either the Platinum Series or Infinifilm seal of approval, New Line nonetheless still managed to give what they could. Featured are two featurettes, “Cyber Stardom” and “Simulating Simone”, nineteen deleted/alternate scenes, a trailer and a teaser, and some DVD Rom content.

Summary:

Simone, an unfortunate box office disappointment, is truly a movie to be seen on DVD. It’s both an entertaining comedy and a thought provoking satire on the line between real and fake.