Retro Review: S1mone

This new comedy poses this question: Can we eventually replace movie-stars with digital composites? If they all looked like Simone, why not? Just kidding.

Al Pacino stars as Viktor Taransky, a Hollywood movie producer who ends up having a run-in with a selfish starlet named Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder). Nicola storms off the set when her ludicrous on-set demands aren’t met leaving poor Viktor baffled on how he is going to complete his dream project.

Just when Viktor is at the end of his means to keep his project afloat a mysterious package is delivered to him. Within the package is an experimental program known as “Simulation One” or later known as Simone (who looks a lot like supermodel Rachel Roberts). This program contains a computerized actress who is so real it baffles Viktor. Viktor uses Simone to complete his dream project. Eventually the whole Simone persona takes on a life of its own and Viktor must try to maintain his secret. But how long can the charade last?

“Simone” is written and directed by Andrew Niccol who also directed “Gattaca” and wrote “The Truman Show”. Niccol continues his fascination with twisted what ifs within our world. He gained a lot of critical and cult fame with “Gattaca” which explored genetic engineering and helped launch Jude Law’s career to a wider audience. Then in the “Truman Show” he helped bring Jim Carrey to drama and feed on our fascination with reality TV. This time Niccol goes after Hollywood but with his beautiful witty dialogue and always pushing his question, Niccol succeeds once more.

“Simone” has a fresh and interesting angle. I liked the idea of seeing a synthetic actress. Animation has evolved so much that I am sure one day we will have a film that has humans in it who are 100% digital but look like us. I would like to see animation eventually get to that stage.

I think the idea of replacing humans in a film is a little ridiculous but as for a completely digitized project, why not? The film never explores the debate of it being a positive thing but instead comments on how so many problems would be evaporated in Hollywood if it did occur. I thought that commentary was quite funny but never for a minute believed it could ever happen.

Unlike “Gattaca” and “Truman Show”, Niccol doesn’t surround us in a new world to bring forth his point. This time he sets his story in contemporary times. I liked that departure because it does make you ponder his question more. I believe the whole purpose of the piece was to ponder that very question.

I really liked Pacino in this picture. I liked his performance as a departure but also a vessel for the audience to travel in. There are a lot of scenes where it’s just Pacino and a computer screen so you really need an actor with a lot of depth to pull them off. I also enjoyed the tormented wife played by Catherine Keener but Keener has played this same role so many other times. I wondered if it would have been more interesting if she would have investigated Pacino instead of the tabloid guy (Pruitt Taylor Vince).

Like a lot of Hollywood films in this territory, “Simone” has oodles of potential and is very interesting in theory. But besides that there is little else to work with. I admire Niccol for pushing the envelope and opening up another what if. I just found “Simone” some what shallow and inconclusive as a whole. So says this digital critic.

(3 out of 5)

So Says the Soothsayer.

Posted: August 15, 2002

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