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Andrew Niccol
Al Pacino, Benjamin Salisbury, Winona Ryder, Darnell Williams, Jim Rash, Ron Perkins, Jay Mohr
Writing Credits:
Andrew Niccol

A star is... created.
Box Office:
Budget (?)
Opening weekend $3.813 million on 1920 screens.
Domestic gross $9.68 million.
Rated PG-13 for some sensuality.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital EX 5.1
English DTS ES 6.1
English Dolby Surround

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 1/21/2003

• Deleted Scenes “Cyber Stardom” Documentary “Simulating S1mone” FX Documentary Trailers; DVD-ROM Content


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S1m0ne (2002)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 22, 2003)

In 2002, audiences embraced live-action movies that integrated computer-animated performers. From Attack of the Clones to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, artificial actors appeared in many of the year’s top flick.

However, that love didn’t spread to live-action movies about computer-animated performers. The failure of S1m0ne to attain any form of mass audience or critical success made this fact evident. Granted, this doesn’t mean that future films that discuss the subject might not do better, but in the case of S1m0ne, audiences showed no interest in the topic.

I can’t say I blame them. When I first heard of S1m0ne, I thought it looked intriguing, and since I liked Gattaca, the prior film from director Andrew Niccol, I thought S1m0ne might offer a worthwhile experience. Unfortunately, the movie comes across as little more than toothless satire that goes nowhere.

At the start of S1m0ne, we meet Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino), a struggling director who must deal with obnoxious demands from pushy and arrogant actors like Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder). Anders quits Taransky’s latest flick in a huff, and the studio then wants to shelve his opus because they worry about legal issues related to Anders’ departure. Viktor’s ex-wife Elaine (Catherine Keener) heads Amalgamated Film Studios, and she fires him over the matter.

Viktor longs for the old days when studios enjoyed control over the actors and not vice versa, and he remains determined to finish his movie. When he steals back the reels of completed film, he encounters Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas), an eccentric who allegedly perfects a method to simulate human actors on film. Hank soon dies due to an inoperable tumor he contracted during his work, but he wills his creation to Viktor. Taransky becomes a pariah in Hollywood, so when he can’t find someone else to appear in his movie, he bites the bullet and completes Sunrise, Sunset with the aid of “Simone” (Rachel Roberts), an actress created with Hank’s software.

Taransky’s dark art flick becomes an enormous hit due to the presence of Simone, and she turns into a major star. From there, the rest of the film follows Simone’s ascent as well as Viktor’s attempts to keep the fact she doesn’t exist under wraps. The latter issue becomes complicated when tabloid journalist Max Sayer (Pruitt Taylor Vince) tries to dig up dirt on Simone. Viktor also deals with issues that relate to his resentment when Simone’s popularity obscures his own work. He even tries to destroy her career but he learns that Simone seems indestructible.

As computer-generated actors become more and more commonplace, the topics addressed in S1m0ne grow more and more timely. Niccol hit a hot subject on the head in Gattaca, as that film looked at genetic engineering. However, while Gattaca offered a generally understated experience, S1m0ne never fails to hit its points right on the head. Niccol doesn’t allow the audience to decide anything for themselves, as he tends to make all of the symbolism and imagery way too obvious and telegraphed.

For the most part, S1m0ne doesn’t actually address the controversies over “virtual actors”. Instead, Niccol more heavily focuses on the satirical aspects of the tale, with an emphasis on the public obsession with fame. While Niccol attempts a sardonic look at society, the effort remains limp. Frankly, it seems hard to figure out his thesis: that we’re losing sight of reality? That people are morons? In the end, the result comes across as little more than smug and self-congratulatory.

As part of the satire, Niccol makes Simone absurdly successful and popular. While I understood that he wanted to spoof these issues, his methods stretched credibility. For one, I can’t imagine that pretentious art flicks like the ones made by Taransky would ever reach public acceptance, no matter how appealing the actress may seem.

It doesn’t help that Roberts plays Simone in a way that makes her seem quite wooden and artificial. Perhaps this was intentional to match the simulated character, but I frankly think it results from the actress’ lack of experience and skills. This makes the public seem even dumber since they rave about an actor who really can’t act.

Matters become worse when we see the silly ways in which Viktor makes Simone work. Even if we can buy the reality of the computerized performer, I nearly gagged when the filmmakers staged a stadium concert that used a computerized Simone. Never mind many logic flaws that marred the climax; I won’t discuss so I don’t give away the ending, but the stretches of reality turn truly inane at that point. The fully-CG Simone also looked pretty artificial; when screens cut from pure CG Simone and Roberts, the changes seemed very obvious.

I could have excused these problems more readily if I thought S1m0ne offered a more incisive or interesting piece of work, but since it seemed so flaccid and pointless, the various concerns became more annoying. The movie enjoyed a clever point from which to start, but the discussion of the subject appeared weak and forced. S1m0ne tried desperately to wow us with its intelligence and provocative topics, but it simply fell flat.

Footnote: Fans of the flick should stick around through the end credits. Some extra footage appears when the text finishes.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+ / Audio B (DTS), B- (Dolby Digital) / Bonus B-

S1m0ne appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided DVD-14; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. While quite positive for the most part, a few issues meant that the image failed to reach a level of greatness.

Sharpness generally appeared excellent. Other than a few slightly soft wide shots, the movie remained nicely distinct and accurate. The majority of the film came across as crisp and detailed. Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, but a little edge enhancement caused some distractions. As for print flaws, I noticed a little grit at times. Otherwise the movie remained clean.

S1m0ne usually provided a fairly natural palette, though the tones became somewhat hyper-real at times. One bathroom sequence adopted a decidedly sickly green hue, for example. In any case, the colors looked vivid and well depicted across the board. The tones always seemed clean and accurate, and they showed no signs of noise or other issues. Black levels were deep and dense, and shadow detail looked clean and appropriately opaque. Without the slight softness, edge enhancement and specks, S1m0ne would have made it to “A’-level, but it remained worthy of a “B+”.

S1m0ne provided Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. The DTS version seemed noticeably more satisfying. I’ll discuss it first and then relate the differences I experienced between the two.

The soundfield seemed fairly subdued. S1m0ne generally offered a chatty flick, so the mix didn’t demonstrate much activity. For the most part, the imagery remained focused on the front channels, where I heard good stereo delineation of effects as well as some decent general ambience. Elements blended together well and moved neatly between channels, but not a whole lot happened. The surrounds contributed nice reinforcement of both score and effects, and they came to life a little more in sequences like the one at the stadium concert, but the track remained rather muted in that domain.

Audio quality seemed decent, though a few issues appeared. Speech sounded reasonably precise and natural, though I noticed a little too much echo and tinniness. Nonetheless, the lines remained intelligible and they lacked problems related to edginess. Effects seemed crisp and accurate, and they showed fairly solid bass response. Music also came across as bright and lively, and low-end seemed warm and vivid.

The Dolby Digital track fell a little short of the DTS one mostly due to audio quality. The Dolby mix seemed a little more stiff and rough, especially in regard to speech. Dialogue also came across as somewhat sibilant during the Dolby mix, whereas that issue didn’t occur during the DTS one. The soundfield of the Dolby track demonstrated a little less ambition; while the DTS version didn’t make great use of the rear speakers, it seemed more involving. Bass response also was a little looser for the Dolby track, as low-end material appeared slightly boomy. The two remained similar enough for me to only differentiate them slightly in regard to their letter grades, but the DTS audio for S1m0ne definitely provided the more satisfying experience.

Despite New Line’s reputation for excellent special editions, S1m0ne doesn’t offer a lot of features. We start with a featurette called Cyber Stardom. This mixes movie clips, images from the set, and interviews with writer/director/producer Andrew Niccol, actors Rachel Roberts, Pruitt Vince Taylor, Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, and Evan Rachel Wood, visual effects supervisors William Robbins and Gray Marshall, visual effects producer Crystal Dowd, and lead flame artist Ricardo Torres.

”Stardom” examines the present and the future of artificial actors. In addition to some philosophical discussions, we also learn some of the challenges related to the creation of Simone. For example, we hear of problems related to the depiction of mannerisms. The seven-minute and 41-second program speeds through topics too quickly, and it doesn’t seem very interesting or stimulating.

We get more effects material in Simulating S1m0ne. The six-minute and 51-second piece uses the same format as “Stardom”, and we hear from visual effects producer Crystal Dowd, actor Rachel Roberts, visual effects supervisors William Robbins and Gray Marshall, writer/director/producer Andrew Niccol, and lead flame artist Ricardo Torres. The piece provides the basics for the computer animation of Simone as well as material about the CG head and body, the hologram effect, synchronization of interactive screens, and some other issues. Although the program seems too light at times, it still offers a pretty tight little look at the effects.

Next we find a collection of 19 Deleted/Alternate Scenes. Presented anamorphic 2.35: with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, these last between 17 seconds and 176 seconds for a total of 23 minutes and 38 seconds. None of these did much for me, but fans of the flick should enjoy them. Interestingly, we get to see the “uncut” segments for some of Simone’s movies.

In an unusual move, you can set up the DVD so that the scenes appear as you watch the movie. They show up at the appropriate times, and this offers an intriguing way to view them. Unfortunately, New Line neglected to include a “Play All” option, which made it tough to navigate all 19 of them via the special features menu.

In addition to two trailers - presented anamorphic 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio – we find some DVD-ROM materials. “Script to Screen” lets you read the original script while you watch the movie; the video runs in a small screen on the left as the text displays on the right half of the screen. The “Hot Spot” sends you to a New Line site that apparently offers revolving pieces of information and activities. “The Real Simone” links to a website about the character. A fairly interesting place, it includes images of lots of materials we see in the movie, such as magazine covers. Other downloads and items also appear.

Despite an intriguing notion behind it, S1m0ne did little to make itself interesting. Instead, the film seemed fairly inane and silly. The DVD provided very good picture with generally positive sound and a small roster of extras. Fans of S1m0ne will probably feel happy with this DVD, but I can’t recommend this smug movie to anyone else.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.0869 Stars Number of Votes: 23
6 3:
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