Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan



A b1t 0f a pr0blem dec1d1ng where t0 alphabet1ze th1s 0ne. 1 guess we’ll f1gure 1t 0ut. 1t stars Al Pac1n0 and Cather1ne Keener. It als0 starts Win0na Ryder and Evan Rachel W00d, aged 15, wh0 f1ve years later w0uld star 1n Acr0ss the Un1verse. 1 will n0w revert t0 the regular alphabet as the Romans 1ntended.

Pacino is a producer/director who is being driven insane by the silly, stupid things he has to do to keep his temperamental star happy, like picking all the red candies out of a bowl, or deflating the tires on a trailer so it will be lower than hers. A crazy man offers him a computer program that will create a virtual movie star. And it works, beyond his wildest dreams. The rest of the movie is taken up with his frantic attempts to keep the fiction alive, with the severe limitation that he can never produce a live Simone. Some of it is almost plausible, given the sheer insanity of the whole movie business, but some is not, as in a huge concert where she is presented as a hologram. We all know that, despite decades of promises, no one has ever produced a hologram that is even slightly convincing. But that’s no problem. None of this is intended to be taken seriously. It is comic, and bitingly satirical, and I had a hell of a good time.

This movie was made only eleven years ago, as I write this. Is anyone out there old enough to remember Max Headroom? Back in 1984, he was supposed to be the first virtual TV host. What he really was, was Matt Frewer in four hours worth of make-up, and a little computer enhancement. That was the best they could do in 1984. (I recently learned that very little in Tron, from 1982,was actually computer-generated. Most of it was hand colored, frame by frame!) Also in 1982, I remember having a conversation with Douglas Trumbull, on one of the sets of Blade Runner, about something he wanted to do. Doug didn’t like working with actors, either (and who could blame him, after Natalie Wood got herself drowned and almost ruined his movie, Brainstorm?). He wanted to create an entire cast of virtual characters, like those in Star Trek and Star Wars, so he could do movie after movie with the same characters and not have to deal with stars or pay star salaries. The technology just wasn’t up to that in 1982, though.

These days, all the action movies I see are chock full of virtual characters. Hundreds of thousands of them in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey alone. Most of them aren’t good enough for a close-up, but Gollum sure was. And even he wasn’t completely CGI, that was the amazing Andy Serkis in a motion capture suit, something that didn’t really exist in 2002, much less 1984. So far as I know, no one has yet created an entirely convincing, entirely CGI human character like Simone, that is not a human in a MC suit. I’m pretty sure it’s possible—and may have been done, and I either didn’t hear of it, or just couldn’t tell. But one stumbling block is something I never thought of: the Screen Actor’s Guild. The producers of Simone thought about having her entirely CGI, but SAG howled, reasoning (correctly) that if you can CGI one character you can CGI an entire cast. So Simone was played by Rachel Roberts and about a million dollars worth of dazzling tooth caps. They tweaked her digitally, but that’s all.

I think their worries are unfounded. They’ve accepted now that a cast of millions of extras can be CGI. But people continue to want “names” up on the marquee. Why else would they pay big, big bucks to people like Eddie Murphy and Meryl Streep to do voices for the current crop of CG animated characters? There are voice actors who could do just as good a job, VERY cheaply, but then you couldn’t advertise Mel Gibson as the Rocky the Rooster in Chicken Run.