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New Zealand-born Andrew Niccol established himself quickly on the Hollywood landscape with two provocative films, 1997's Gataaca (as writer/director) and 1998's The Truman Show (from his screenplay). It's been a long wait to see what he would come up with for his third effort, and while it's another story that explores the profound relationship between humanity, technology, and media, S1møne (2002) regrettably misfires on a few levels. Al Pacino stars as third-rate director Viktor Taransky, whose latest film is in the tank after A-list actress Nicola Anders (Winona Ryder) takes a walk and his producer, ex-wife Elaine Christian (Catherine Keener), refuses to renew his contract. But after a chance encounter with a software designer (Elias Koteas) who only has a week to live, Viktor is given "S1møne," a virtual woman who can be programmed to say and do anything. Viktor quickly re-edits his movie, using the new actress "Simone" (Rachel Roberts) in the leading role, and the ingenue wins him instant acclaim and the budget for a second movie. However, as media interest grows around Simone, Viktor finds he must continually create reasons for her Garbo-like reclusion — which only fans the flames of worldwide celebrity obsession even more. Credit must be given to writer/director Niccol for his sturdy intent to create films that are not meant just to entertain an audience, but to provoke them as well. But unlike Gataaca, which brought the human price of genetic engineering into stark relief for a lot of folks, S1møne treads water in a virtual world most of us already comprehend on a fundamental level — the vacuous nature of celebrity and the sheer artifice of filmmaking. However, being obtuse is one thing — S1møne also is radically implausible, whereas Gataaca was disturbingly real and The Truman Show sharply satirical. Were it a sci-fi short story, S1møne probably would read well on the page. On screen, it's much harder to accept that one man could manufacture and sustain such an elaborate fraud without any help, or that the entire planet would develop an unhealthy obsession with a slender, bland, vapid young woman with some sex appeal and not much more. Thankfully, Al Pacino delivers a lively central performance, and he manages to make every scene interesting by his mere presence. Good support also comes from Catherine Keener and Winona Ryder, and there are a few amusing bits to be found (the manic, lipstick-smeared Pacino putting his smacker on publicity photographs is a priceless moment). But for a story that claims genuine movie stars are potentially irrelevant, there's a fundamental, unintended irony to S1møne — the quirky, temperamental, slightly deranged Al Pacino makes it worth watching. And nobody can ever replace the likes of him. New Line's DVD release features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with audio in DTS 6.1 ES, Dolby Digital 5.1 EX, and DD 2.0 stereo. Features include the featurette "Cyber Stardom" (7 min.) with cast and crew comments, "Simulating Simone" (7 min.) with a look at the film's digital processes, 19 deleted/alternate scenes, and two trailers. Keep-case.

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