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Reviewed May 11th, 2003 by David Nusair


Andrew Niccol, the writer / director of Simone, is no stranger to out-of-the-ordinary storylines. His first film, Gattaca, was a portrait of a future that relied on genetic alterations to determine an individual's career path. He wrote The Truman Show, a movie that was apparently ahead of its time, as it followed the life of a man who unknowingly lives in a fictional town. Now, with Simone, Niccol is exploring the idea of digitally created actors - a concept that's becoming frighteningly possible thanks to filmmakers like George Lucas and films like Final Fantasy.

Al Pacino stars as Viktor, a once-great director whose recent films have bombed at the box office. His latest is about to be shelved due to “creative differences” between Viktor and a spoiled starlet (Winona Ryder). Viktor is determined to finish the film without her, but the situation seems hopeless until he receives a visit from a seemingly crazy computer nerd (Elias Koteas). Turns out said nerd has come up with a program that makes it possible to create a photo-realistic actress. Viktor, desperate and in need of a miracle, uses the program to create Simone (short for Simulation One) and finishes his movie. Well, needless to say, Simone becomes an instant hit and Viktor soon begins to wonder if he'll be able to control his creation for much longer.

While Simone isn't quite the masterpiece that Gattaca was nor is it as gripping and involving as The Truman Show, it's nevertheless an above-average sophomoric effort from Niccol. He's clearly going for a lighter vibe here, with several sequences played entirely for laughs (such as the scene in which Viktor attempts to fool someone into thinking Simone is driving a car, when in fact it's just a dummy). And for the most part, it works. The run time is a little longer than it needs to be and the tone takes a decidedly darker turn towards the end, but otherwise the film is an engaging and enjoyable comedy.

That's due in no small part to Pacino's terrific performance. Because he's always afraid he'll be found out, Viktor is a bubbling mess of nerves and worry and Pacino effortlessly steps into his shoes. It's certainly one of Pacino's most accessible performances in years, and it definitively proves that he's got the timing to act in more comedies. Among the supporting cast, Catherine Keener is saddled with a surprisingly non-cynical role. Of the three other films she's been in thus far this year - Death to Smoochy, Lovely and Amazing, and Full Frontal - she's always been stuck playing sardonic and unapproachable characters. Here, as the head of a studio and Pacino's ex-wife, Keener easily assumes the persona of a tough yet likable woman (something her characters rarely are).

It's clear that Niccol is incredibly talented, and while Simone is pretty much instantly forgettable, it's entertaining enough to warrant a recommendation.

Audio: Simone, surprisingly enough, includes both a DD 5.1 and DTS 6.1 soundtrack and both are quite effective. Though this is a film with little use for surround effects, there are a few instances in which the track comes alive (the sequence where Simone gives a concert is the most obvious example). The 6.1 track is obviously a bit richer than the 5.1, but both are suitable.

Video: Simone is presented with an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer, and it’s quite good. This is a film that utilizes a lot of different colors and filters, so ensuring that it didn’t lose anything in the transfer from film to video had to have been a challenge. But it’s about as crisp and clear as you would hope, which isn’t terribly surprising given how new the film is.

Extras: Unfortunately, there’s no commentary track with Niccol – but there are a few other extras to make up for it. First up are two seven-minute featurettes, with the first one tackling the various issues in the film and the second detailing the process of creating Simone (six minutes). Both are kind of interesting, though they’re most clips of the movie with the participants talking about it. Next up are a whopping 19 deleted scenes. If you’re a fan of the movie, these are a must. Interestingly enough, they’re all in very nice quality; they must have been cut at the last minute. Also included are the teaser and trailer.

Conclusion: Simone is certainly worth a look, particularly if you’re a fan of Gattaca.


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