New Line/Roadshow Entertainment .
R4 . COLOR . 113 mins .
PG . PAL
Writer-director Andrew Niccol came to the film industry like so many of his contemporaries - via a successful career directing TV commercials. But unlike many of those contemporaries, it was his writing that got attention first, his screenplay for The Truman Show giving him the “in” he needed in Hollywood. That film went on to become a huge hit with Peter Weir at the helm, but it was Niccol’s directorial debut - the dark, ominous Gattaca, which really got people paying attention to the man’s obvious multi-faceted talent. But S1m0ne, his second go at directing (again from his own screenplay) is, disappointingly, far less accomplished than his debut.
The computer-generated Simone gives "Blue Screen Of Death" a whole new meaning.
Single-minded film director Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) is a frustrated man at the nadir of his career. The creator of movies with Mills And Boon titles but arthouse pretensions, he thinks he’s making great works of cinematic art - though what we see both of his work, and what others think of it, leads us to suspect that this is a director whose time never came and whose ship has comprehensively sailed. Only able to keep making movies through the support of his ex-wife, studio boss Elaine Christian (Catherine Keener), he’s near the end of shooting his latest opus Sunrise Sunset when the film’s star, Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder, unbilled but not uncredited) quits over a dispute about the height of her trailer. The film is canned by the studio, but Viktor is determined to complete it despite the fact that not even unknown actors will work with him. So when he inherits a computer program from mad scientist Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas in an uncredited cameo) he sees a way to get his film made. Hank’s computer program is called Simulation One, and is designed to create a synthetic actor - a “synthespian” as they’re known in the trade, or a “vactor” as Hank prefers to call them. Viktor conjures up the perfect female lead for his movie, names her Simone, and releases the film. The reaction is instant; the public adores Simone and she’s an overnight superstar. Trouble is, Viktor hasn’t told anyone she’s not a real person, and so begins an elaborate deception in order to keep the public thinking that Simone is a real, but reclusive, person.
I Am Pig wows the critics at the premiere.
This is a clever and promising premise, particularly for what’s billed as a satire; certainly Hollywood’s fascination with star power and perfection - along with its regular delusions of grandeur - is ripe for lampooning, and it’s gotten off fairly scot-free since Robert Altman’s The Player. And to be sure, there’s some clever and occasionally biting satire at work here - the sequence of events when Viktor tries to put a dent in Simone’s popularity is laugh-out-loud priceless, and the ludicrous “movies” that Niccol has created to illustrate Viktor’s unique style of filmmaking are wickedly clever, and are always soundtracked by immensely serious classical music - Faure’s Requiem or Barbers Adagio, for example. Winona Ryder is a particular highlight, playing the petulant Hollywood star to perfection. But where S1m0ne loses its grip on the audience is in the characterisations. Pacino plays Viktor flamboyantly, but so intensely that we’re never really sure if we should laugh with him, laugh at him or be seriously disturbed by him; his instant obsession with Simone is surprisingly dark for such a light-toned picture, and his self-obsession so complete that we can never even begin to like him. This creates a problem when we’re asked to give a toss about his relationship with his daughter, or whether his marriage gets back on track. There are very few characters we care about here, actually, and that really puts a dampener both on the humour and the impact of the satire, the result often coming across as heavy-handed and occasionally clumsy. When the film hits its stride - as it does quite regularly - some clever moments ensue, but it’s hard to escape the feeling that the overall tone is slightly askew, and that too many possibilities have gone begging. There’s still a lot to like here, but taken as a whole S1m0ne seems to be missing that certain something.
"Viktor, THIS is the corner of the frame when we work in Panavision, okay?"
In keeping with the usual New Line level of quality, S1m0ne has been given a terrific 2.35:1 widescreen video transfer that is of course 16:9 enhanced on DVD. The somewhat surreal nature of the film is illustrated by a decidedly surreal colour palette in many sequences throughout the movie, and elsewhere there seems to have been a deliberate effort made to balance colour and contrast in what would normally be considered to be an unnatural way. But it all suits the film well, and was undoubtedly the director’s intention. The only caveat here is a tendency for motion to look a little - just a little - “juddery”, as though something went awry in the conversion to PAL from the HD format the film was undoubtedly transferred to originally. Most viewers won’t pick it up, but it does become apparent during some dolly shots and other scenes involving smooth camera movement.
Compression is as good as you’d expect from Roadshow - in other words, flawless. The layer change was rather slow to navigate on our review player, but it’s well placed so as not to disturb the flow of the scene it’s in.
It’s audio overkill time with this disc, as a largely dialogue-driven film gets the ultra-surround treatment with a freshly-created-for-DVD audio mix. This reworking for home video is becoming New Line custom, and should perhaps be more controversial than it actually is - after all, the cinema version of this film did not offer EX/ES soundtracks. At any rate, the two multi-channel tracks here, provided as Dolby Digital EX 5.1 and DTS-ES Discrete 6.1, sound just fine. Some would question whether the use of the extra rear surround channel is worth the trouble for a movie of this nature; suffice to say that played back in good old fashioned 5.1 both tracks sound just fine. The surrounds get relatively little use throughout the film, but are well balanced where they play a role. Strangely, on our review decoder the DTS track played back at a remarkably high average level, and we had to play the film a good 8 or 10dB lower than usual to avoid being hammered against the back wall by the centre-channel dialogue…!
A Dolby Surround track is also provided, not flagged as surround (the menu lists it as “stereo”) but most certainly encoded with it.
Coming this summer: "F0nz1e"
A fairly low-key set of extras is supplied here - notably, and disappointingly, they don’t include a commentary from writer-director Niccol. Most of what’s here is disposable, save for the deleted scenes. The extras from the US disc are almost all here (missing is the ability to watch the film and optionally add the deleted scenes at the appropriate points, and a bunch of Interactual-Player-powered DVD-ROM guff) and while this is a Roadshow rental title, it’s a safe bet that this will ultimately be the exact same disc you buy at retail.
Cyber Stardom: A short (seven and a half minutes) featurette in the now-familiar EPK style; bits are of interest but this one’s a bit too short to offer much to really engage. If you’re wondering, by the way, why Andrew Niccol sounds decidedly not-American, it’s because he’s not - he was born in New Zealand and worked for years in London.
Simulating S1m0ne: Another short featurette, this time covering how the visual effects for the Simone character were done. Some raw animation footage and interviews of interest make this seven minutes worth a look.
Deleted/Alternate Scenes: These 19 deleted and alternate scenes - nearly 24 minutes’ worth of them all up - were obviously removed from the film at a very late stage of production - presumably during the test screening process - as they all look to be at a very finished stage, with on-screen titles completed and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. All are transferred in 16:9 letterbox, though the picture quality isn’t quite up to the standard of the main feature. There are quite a few scenes here that would have worked brilliantly in the final cut, as well as extended looks at the three Taransky “movies” that we briefly see in the finished film (complete with an amusing critical rave for the hilariously faux-arty mudfest I Am Pig)
Trailers: The theatrical teaser and release trailer, both in 16:9 letterbox at 2.35:1 with Dolby 5.1 audio. If the music in the teaser sounds awfully familiar to you, that might be because it’s from the song Happiness by Australian band Regurgitator (the Warner connection at work, presumably!)
A decided disappointment despite a promising premise, S1m0ne gets a lot of things right but gets the big picture wrong, and as a result is only a vaguely entertaining satire when it could easily have been so much more. New Line's DVD is predictably well done and, while the picture quality isn’t as first-rate as we usually see from this studio, most will be more than pleased with the presentation of the movie here.