Reed’s Bargain Bin: S1m0ne

simone1

Reed’s Bargain Bin is a recurring column where Reed Farrington tells us about a movie he bought for under $5, and whether or not he regrets the purchase.

Despite the clever title and participation of Al Pacino, S1m0ne did not receive much attention from critics or movie theatre audiences when it came out in 2002. The director, Andrew Niccol, had some acclaim as a result of having directed Gattaca (a smart science fiction film about a physically defective human in a genetically manipulated world) and having written The Truman Show (a smart allegorical film about a man who’s oblivious to the fact that his life has been manufactured for the purposes of a television show). S1m0ne also has a high concept idea behind it: a movie director creates a computer generated actor who becomes a star while only he knows that the actor is computer generated.

I think I’ve had S1m0ne in my bargain bin stockpile for at least two years. I had watched the first 10 minutes when I had bought the DVD. Despite the appearance of Winona Ryder, who I’ve adored ever since Lucas (though, that love was tempered as a result of her shoplifting incident), I wasn’t sufficiently induced to finish watching the movie at the time. My best friend who shared my tastes had even liked the film. I guess I had assumed the film would be more drama than action, and given a choice, I prefer adrenal stimulation. At this point, I should warn you that if you continue reading without having seen the film, then your expectations may be ruined. Every review of this film that I’ve come across spoils this film in explaining why this film is unsatisfying, so I feel I should be allowed the same leeway.

I am not a fan of Al Pacino despite having seen The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Scarface, and even The Scent of a Woman. So I suppose this was another reason why S1m0ne sat in my bargain bin stockpile. Niccol has stated that he wanted an actor like Pacino as the movie director character, Viktor, because he needed an actor who could be compelling during the scenes where he sits at a computer creating the computer generated actor. I suspect that this movie might be the only science fiction movie that we will ever see in Pacino’s list of acting credits. For some reason, there are certain actors who I can never imagine being able to pull off the role of a starship captain. I would include Robert DeNiro in this list. I guess this is why great actors can be miscast. Pacino is good at playing harried characters who are railing against an authoritative or entrenched system, so in a sense, he is good for this part. The audience is drawn into his scheme. Being somewhat a pessimist, I was expecting a bad outcome for Viktor even though he has the best intentions behind his actions.

Pacino is supported by a noteworthy cast. Catherine Keener (Synecdoche, New York, The 40 Year Old Virgin) plays his ex-wife who he still loves. Evan Rachel Wood (The Wrestler, Across the Universe) plays his daughter. Pruitt Taylor Vince (Deadwood, The X-Files) and Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited, Rushmore) play skeptical investigative reporters, or should I say tabloid journalists, who we think will unravel Pacino’s scheme. Elias Koteas (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), a Canadian actor who reminds me of Robert DeNiro, plays the part of the inventor of the technology behind the computer generated actor. (He was also in Gattaca.)

Now I suppose the implausibility of Pacino’s scheme in fooling everyone with his computer generated character is a major point that most audience members will balk at. Even when Viktor comes clean after the authorities think that he has murdered Simone, no one will believe that Simone was not a real person. I’m guessing that the filmmakers are satirizing the gullibility of people when it comes to celebrity worship. In the real world, most people would suspect that at least one person would see through the ruse and reveal the deception; however, there are quite a few people who side with conspiracy theorists, so maybe it is possible to deceive everyone.

By the way, Viktor “destroys” Simone with a virus that is contained on a 5.25 inch floppy! Were we still using 5.25 inch floppies in 2002? The technology behind Simone is glossed over, but this is fine since the point of the movie is not about actors being replaced in the future. Some reviewers think there were missed opportunities in the premise. I was almost expecting that the filmmakers would take the obvious route of having Simone become sentient. If you take the view that even life is not as rational as a tightly plotted script, then you can accept what transpires in S1m0ne. Perhaps you can criticize the movie for its blandness and obviousness, but I enjoyed watching Viktor handle his predicament and the prevalent issues between creator and creation. Oh, this movie has an additional somewhat amusing throwaway scene after the end credits.

simone2

At the time the movie was made, the filmmakers had been thinking of actually using a fully computer generated character for Simone. I’m not sure if that would have been possible at the time. Even the characters in the Final Fantasy film that was released a year earlier weren’t fully realistic. I’m not even sure a character could be generated nowadays that would fool people. Supposedly, the Screen Actors Guild had reservations about the filmmakers attempting to use a CGI character, so the filmmakers decided to hire an actress. Part of the film’s publicity was to conceal the fact that an actress was used. The actress wasn’t even credited in the original prints of the film that was shown in movie theatres. Rachel Roberts, who’s Canadian, plays the computer generated actor who achieves stardom. Ironically, she has only had some small television roles ever since this movie. She did marry Niccol shortly after S1m0ne. I guess that’s one of the perks for a big-time movie director.

Niccol’s movies seem to have a common thread of deception. His last movie was the 2005 film, Lord of War, with Nicolas Cage. His next movie, The Cross, currently shooting in Australia, stars Orlando Bloom whom we haven’t seen since the last Pirates movie. This science fiction movie set in the near future is about a man trying to cross a border that has never been crossed. Shades of The Truman Show!

In closing, I wanted to draw attention to an interesting list of names in S1m0ne’s end credit scroll with the following heading:

Simone wishes to thank the following for their contribution to the making of Simone

Lauren Bacall
Ingrid Bergman
Mary J. Blige
Ernest Borgnine
Marlene Dietrich
Claire Forlani
Greta Garbo
Rita Hayworth
Audrey Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn
Grace Kelly
Veronica Lake
Sophia Loren
Jayne Mansfield
Marilyn Monroe
Rachel Roberts
&
Hank Aleno Software, Inc.

I imagine elements of the actresses in this list were used somehow in the modification of Rachel Roberts. To me, Simone does seem pretty perfect physically. In comparing photographs of Rachel Roberts with Simone, Simone does seem to be subtly different, but I couldn’t tell you which of Rachel Roberts’ features have been modified. Perhaps the influence of the above actresses was more in Simone’s voice. I’m guessing the actresses listed provided inspiration rather than actual characteristics. My mind is drawn to the comedic feature on Conan O’Brien where he would take photographs of two beautiful people and morph their images to produce a composite photograph to illustrate what their offspring would look like. (In case you’re not familiar with this comedy bit, let me tell you that the images would always be grotesque.)

If you actually read through that list of actresses, then you should have noticed a peculiar name in that list. Ernest Borgnine! Some of you younger folk may not know who he is. Look up his image on IMDb. I wouldn’t call him a pretty boy. Borgnine was in Niccol’s Gattaca. There must be an in-joke attached to this. By the way, Hank Aleno is the name of the movie character that created the software that Viktor uses to create Simone. There are several names in the movie that are anagram-like or homonym-like, or that serve as allusions. For example, the name Viktor is a reference to Victor Frankenstein.

For my own edification (or should I say gratification), I thought I would compile a more contemporary list of actresses that I would use to create a physically perfect woman:

Jessica Alba
Elizabeth Banks
Halle Berry
Cecilia Cheung
Heather Graham
Katie Holmes
Kristin Kreuk
Winona Ryder
Michelle Williams
Kitty Zhang
&
Ziyi Zhang

I can’t come up with a witty name for a sequel. The closest I’ve come are variations of Tuesday and Gertrude.

Amount I paid: $2.50.
Bargain bin rating: $2.99. (Note: Rating has been adjusted for inflation. Ha ha.)

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  • sitrom

    I remember being so disappointed with this film. It has whimsey but it feels forced. Pacinos character is not so dissimilar to Ed Harriss’ in the Truman Show but Ed has more gravitas.

  • ToeFu

    Pacino walked through the uncanny valley and tarnished his once illustrious career somewhere along the way. Hoo-ah!

  • Sherin Farouk

    Al Pacino was the best man to take that role. Who else would show you the worries and problems of nowadays directors/filmmakers. Stars abuse their power and Victor wanted to show them that the movie will still be a movie with them or without them. The essense is in the director,scriptwriter,etc…

    Al Pacino never tarnished his career by such a movie.

  • FYI, Simone aka Rachel Roberts appears in the television show FlashForward. Her appearance hasn’t changed at all…

    BTW, I thought the pilot for FlashForward was awesome and brilliant. I guess it’s not that difficult to create a Lost-like show after all.

  • Reed, let’s give Flash Forward more time to digest before we start calling it a Lost-like show. Only time will tell if it catches on with viewers in the same way, and I’m shocked that a Trek geek like yourself isn’t a wee bit worried that Brannon Braga is behind the wheel of this one.

  • Jerry

    FYI

    The credits for the actors:
    [Lauren Bacall
    Ingrid Bergman
    Mary J. Blige
    Ernest Borgnine
    Marlene Dietrich
    Claire Forlani
    Greta Garbo
    Rita Hayworth
    Audrey Hepburn
    Katharine Hepburn
    Grace Kelly
    Veronica Lake
    Sophia Loren
    Jayne Mansfield
    Marilyn Monroe]

    were because their images were used when Pacino scrolled through their files to “simulate” using them for Simone’s composite.

  • Oh, thx, Jerry. So I guess the people in the list were whimsically chosen. Might be interesting for someone to try to create a “perfect” CGI woman from a list.