Simone (2002)
New Line Home Entertainment
Cast: Al Pacino, Catherine Keener, Elias Koteas, Winona Ryder
Extras: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailers

"S1m0ne" is the digital age’s answer to "Sunset Boulevard." Picking up where Billy Wilder left off, writer/director Andrew Niccol examines how technology might play a part in the ego-mashing machinations of modern Hollywood. While he makes some salient points about our ghoulish hunger for celebrity, the addition of artfully arranged zeros and ones do not make the same tired observations about the Movie Moloch any fresher.

When flummoxed film director Victor Taransky (Al Pacino) finds his leading lady (Winona Ryder, hopefully acting) walking out on him because he didn’t remove the red M&Ms fast enough for her, all he can see is his career and his latest multi-million dollar opus going down the toilet. Faster than you can say "deus ex machina" a savior appears in the form of a dying computer programmer (Elias Koteas) with a home-made CGI program that can create a synthetic actor. Infusing "Simulation One" with every male archetype about feminine mystery (blonde hair, alluring voice), Taransky substitutes his new discovery "Simone" into the film. Needless to say, the film becomes a runaway hit and the public cries out to Victor to meet their new object of desire. Victor begins playing a cat and mouse game with the ever-growing legion of Simone’s fans, just keeping her out of reach. Like all cautionary tales about creation, Victor soon learns that once the CGI Genie has been unleashed, putting it back in the bottle may cost him not only his newfound success…but also quite possibly his freedom.

All the targets one expects from a Hollywood hatchet job can be found in "Simone": the "genuinely artistic" director who falls prey to his own thirst for acceptance and success, the public and media adoration of a glamorous cipher, studio executives who sell out for a quick buck. Actually, the hoary chestnuts Niccol’s script embrace reach as far back as 1937’s "A Star Is Born." Just because Vicki Lester exists on a floppy disc does not make the same Tinsel Town potshots any more relevant. Pacino’s Taransky is supposed to be the conscience of the film and the viewer, but when he falls into the corny "success smothers creativity" trap, one would think that the ups and downs of his career would have taught him to avoid that pitfall. Pacino seems to relish the moments when he can lampoon his profession and Catherine Keener, as his beleaguered ex-wife/producer (Hollywood cliché #47: the director/producer-husband/wife connection) does what she can with basically the "supportive skirt" role.

The 2.35 <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer is first rate with excellent color rendition and detail delineation. Given that Pacino wears solid black for much of the movie, the image excels making those blacks look nice and deep. Even though I didn’t expect otherwise, the source print exhibited no blemishes and there are no compression or digital artifacts.

The disc offers the audio in matrixed stereo surround, <$DD,Dolby Digital> EX 5.1 and <$DTS,DTS>-ES 6.1 flavors. Both are aggressive sound mixes with frequent surround channel activity and a consistent presence. By and large, the Dolby and DTS mixes play roughly the same with a very slight nod going to the DTS track for greater clarity in the louder passages and more "oomph" on the LFE track during the concert sequence. (The Audio Setup menu states that "the audio is optimized for DVD no re-equalization necessary." Not only a nice touch, but thanks for the heads up.)

The supplements include two featurettes, each running about seven minutes, examining both the CGI technology used for the film as well as a kind of crystal ball speculation on the future of "synthespians." Nineteen snippets comprise the "deleted/alternate scenes" section. The scenes can be accessed independently or within the context of the feature, courtesy of a "Simone" logo at the bottom right of the screen. (Maybe I’m just dense, but getting it to branch properly is not exactly intuitive and it took a couple of tries before I got the hang of it.) The trailers, both the teaser and full theatrical, are presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and 5.1 sound.

As a DVD, "S1m0ne" excels on every technical level. As for rehashing yet another slam against Hollywood as "A Star Is Rendered," Simone pales in comparison to the Jar Jar Binks fiasco. Now if someone chronicled how Jar Jar muscled his way into "The Phantom Menace," THAT would be a slice of Hollywood Babylon to savor…