Michael Crichton's Westworld sounded the first cautionary
warning about the possibilities of what could happen when a
computerised theme park ran out of control. His Jurassic Park updated
the concept, with its additional theme of man tampering with nature.
Tron further blurred the distinctions between reality and virtual
reality within the framework of a computer game out of control. The
Lawnmower Man and its hideous sequel explored the potential of virtual
reality, as did the nasty, straight- to-video thriller Brainscan.
David Cronenberg's upcoming Existenz also taps into a similar theme,
albeit from a more intellectual perspective.
But it was the recent and ambitious, high-tech The Matrix that
brilliantly blurred the distinction between the real world and a
computer generated virtual world with a barrage of the best cinematic
special effects seen this year. This new thriller from producer
Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Godzilla, etc) and colleague Josef
Rusnak, who worked as second-unit director on Godzilla, also explores
a similar theme. However, The Thirteenth Floor is a high concept idea
given a low brow execution, and it will leave most audiences feeling
even more confused than The Matrix. At least The Matrix was
sufficiently intriguing and dazzling that it drew many back for a
second viewing to puzzle out its intricacies. The Thirteenth Floor is
unlikely to have the same effect, as once is definitely enough for
this disappointing blend of sci-fi and murder mystery.
Computer genius and soft-ware developer Hannon Fuller (Armin
Mueller-Stahl) has developed a virtual reality program that enables
him to recreate his own imaginary world. He has recreated his own
vision of Los Angeles, circa 1937, which he visits at regular
intervals through this new technology. But then something goes wrong
and subjects from his virtual reality world become able to interact
with his real world, with devastating results.
When Fuller is brutally murdered, his collaborator Douglas
Hall (Craig Bierko, from The Long Kiss Goodnight, etc) becomes the
chief suspect. His attempts to understand what has gone wrong lead
him and his technical programmer Whitney (Vincent D'Onofrio) into a
world of danger, murder and technological mayhem. It also leads him
to the beautiful but elusive Jane (Gretchen Mol, from Rounders, etc).
But Hall soon discovers that Fuller's artificial world may not be the
only one, and that other people, with more sinister agendas, are also
able to move between worlds, manipulating events to their own perverse
Eventually, this complex film raises a few questions about
technology out of control, and even forces us to question what is real
and what is not. Ultimately though, the plot has a number of holes
that can't be disguised by technology or whiz bang effects, and
director Rusnak fails to create a genuinely unnerving atmosphere.
Even the special effects here are rather routine, given recent
achievements in sophisticated computer generated imagery. However,
the recreation of Los Angeles of yesteryear is quite spectacularly
done, and Wedigo von Schultzendorff's muted, washed-out cinematography
is quite atmospheric.
The performances throughout are rather bland. Mol looks as
though she is sleepwalking through her dual role, while D'Onofrio does
his usual angry young man thing with a frightening intensity and
flair. Even they seem as unconvinced by all this nonsense as the
Copyright © 2000 Greg King