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S1M0NE (by someone who actually enjoyed the movie)

Date:  Mon, 26th-Apr-2004prevnext

Tags: Commentary, Movies

I first heard about the movie S1M0NE when I read Salon's scathing review. I have to say that, despite the negativity of the review, I was intrigued by the concept of the movie and knew that I'd have to see it...

S1M0NE DVD cover

However, as is often the case, I promptly forgot about it - until last week, when I rediscovered it at amazon.

I ferreted out a few reviews on the web and was surprised to discover a diverse reaction to the film. Some love it, some (like Salon) hate it and some take it way too seriously.

The Story

Al Pacino plays Viktor Taransky, an old-school director who's career is in terminal decline. His latest movie is cancelled by the studio when his leading lady, Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder) walks off the set, in true diva style, because her trailer isn't the "biggest in the lot". The studio boss, who just happens to be Victor's former wife (Catherine Keener), then tells him that she won't be renewing his contract. So it looks like it's all over for Victor until terminally-ill computer genius Hank Aleno (Elias Koteas) offers salvation in the form of "Simulation One", a computer-generated actress of amazing realism.

Naturally Viktor dismisses the crank and, with his tail between his legs, packs up his set and prepares to face his creditors. Unfortunately no one is there to help our hapless hero. He wants to finish his movie (convinced of its potential) but can't even hire an unknown to replace the leading lady. Just when it seems that all is lost, Viktor inherits a computer disk from the late Hank Aleno and thus begins his rollercoaster ride with Simulation One, whom Viktor renames as Simone.

Viktor completes his movie with Simone as leading lady and the film is greeted by worldwide acclaim. Suddenly Simone is hot news. Revelling in his new-found status, Viktor decides to conceal the fact that Simone is computer generated, often with hilarious acts of deception. However, this being Hollywood, the new star's fans, the press and the studio all want more and Viktor is forced to improvise, outrageously.

Simone then appears in a second film, launches a successful music career - complete with a live concert and picks up two Oscars along the way. Viktor realises that his faux star has grown bigger than he ever envisaged and the demands of her stardom weigh heavily upon him. His attempts to reign in the Simone phenomenon ultimately fail and, in an act of desperation, he uses a virus to destroy the software that drives her, before announcing her tragic death to the world. Sadly, it goes from bad to worse for Viktor when he is subsequently arrested for Simone's "murder".


The critics have already highlighted most of the flaws in the plot and the movie itself so I'm not going to repeat them here.

Many have criticised the film's take on stardom and our perceptions and worship of celebrities - arguing that, despite all evidence to the contrary, people just don't behave in the manner portrayed in the movie. Some have bemoaned the casting, citing the various ironies of the roles. Others have slammed the film's technical errors. All of which kind of misses the point, it's a satirical representation of a surreal industry, it's not meant to be taken seriously. Personally I enjoyed the film immensely and I will watch it again just to catch the gags that I will have inevitably missed the first time.

Final Thoughts

S1M0NE highlights a very interesting concept: today, it's theoretically possible to make a feature film without flesh-and-blood actors. Technologically, both the imaging and processing capabilites are up to the task. Studios could create a digital cast that would be virtually indistinguishable from a human one. The benefits of these digital "actors" are many: they make no demands, need no make-up or wardrobe, require no expensive stunt doubles or high-priced insurance and are totally maleable.

Sure, the cost of the hardware, software, training and support is tremendous, but so is the cost of hiring an a-list star (Julia Roberts - $25 million per film, Tom Cruise - $58 million) - against which such costs become almost insignificant.

The point is that making a movie these days is extremely high risk. Studios can be financially destroyed by just one high-cost/low-earning film, hence the current norm of multi-studio productions.

It's not too difficult then to anticipate a new era of film-making, with a plethora of virtual actors and actresses and physical animatronics.

How will the audiences react? Will we elevate digital actors onto the same plateau of worship we currently afford the homo-sapiens? Will we become emotionally attached to the characters portrayed? Would we even accept a digital cast?

Over to you...

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