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The Thirteenth Floor

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Thirteenth Floor

Starring: Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol
Director: Josef Rusnak
Rated: R
RunTime: 100 Minutes
Release Date: May 1999
Genres: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Thriller

*Also starring: Vincent D'Onofrio, Dennis Haysbert, Steve Schub

Review by AlexI
3½ stars out of 4

"I think. Therefore I am"
- Descartes

Virtual reality is a topic that has almost defined its own genre. Since 'Dark City' (1998), films about alternative universes and parallel worlds have been coming one after another. The most popular and original of them all has been The Matrix. All the films released after it, have been less successful. David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, released only a couple of months after The Matrix, was accepted and even appreciated (by some), but the hype was gone. And when 'The Thirteenth Floor' aired this fall, it was completely overseen and ignored. I admit that this issue has become something between tiring and annoying, feeling like eating the same meal over and over again. It was therefore I was less than excited, when I went out to see to 'The Thirteenth Floor'. However, I was positively surprised by Josef Rusnak's latest picture. Matrix was an entertaining thrill ride through dreams and reality, combining the best of Hollywood's action and effects with an intelligent story. eXistenZ was a violent, gory and unsettling journey through reality and virtual reality, ending in blood and madness. 'The Thirteenth Floor' is somewhere in between. Instead of going after the crowds - the action audience (like The Matrix), or aiming at the horror fans (like eXistenZ ), 'The Thirteenth Floor' presents a more intelligent plot, witch will provide a less entertaining and more serious experience, that the true science fiction lovers will find rewarding.

In a near future...On the thirteenth floor of a classified building, a genius scientist, Hannon Fuller, has created a simulated world, his personal dreamworld, where every inhabitant is a complex, selflearning program that only believes it is real. Right after the first testing of this world, Fuller () is found murdered. Douglas Hall (), his closest friend and business partner, immediately becomes the prime suspect and must enter through the thirteenth floor in search of the truth. A beautiful woman (Gretchen Mol) who suddenly appears on the scene may hold the key to the mystery, which might unravel the horrifying truth about his own existence. The first "download into simulation" is impressive. It is the creator's first visit to his world, his creation. In order to enter this virtual universe, you have to take over someone's identity, become another person. This is called conciseness transfer, and this is part of the tragedy in the film: People "wake up" in unknown places and strange things start happen. They start to doubt in their own sanity. These innocent people pay for the mistakes of their "users" and creators with their sanity and their lives. It is a frightening reality; the fact that all the people in the simulation (the program links) are living out their lives, oblivious, not knowing that they are puppets in someone's fantasy.

With an appealing ("Blade Runner" - type) of detective story, this film presents the beauty and possibilities of virtual reality and the lurking danger that is always present. Our modern world is metal and glass -- cold, unfriendly, impersonal. The thirties are different -- colorful, beautiful, elegant, virile. This contrast demonstrates a wish for change. Virtual reality is here portrayed as a magical, enchanting power that seduces you into its endless possibilities. To some it is just a journey to their personal paradise, to some a personal playground -- a life without any consequences. For others - a way to start over and "correct" their mistakes, by living in an illusion of their past. Virtual reality is a wizard that transforms your hopes, dreams and fantasies to life. At least that's how it is all beginning. But when you're waking up from your dream, the real world seems worthless and unreal and all you can think off is returning to your personal paradise. This, almost narcotic effect, soon turns into confusion and ultimately madness. Some important and interesting philosophical questions are raised -- what is real? what is thought? who are we? If these were answered, this film would be the greatest science fiction ever made. They are off course not answered, but posed in an intelligent manner. The visual aspect of the film is one of the key elements, since it portrays the contrast between these computer-simulated universes. Kirk M. Petrucelli has done a marvelous job with the recreation of the thirties with its glamour, grace and color; and setting this world in opposition to our own -- an almost caricatured recreation of the nineties. There are some honest and decent performances by an almost unknown cast and Harald Klose's moody musical score that is at in right place at the right time.

A rather unusual thing about'The Thirteenth Floor' is the almost complete lack of special effects. There are no CGI animated creatures, no bullets in slow motion. This is a more philosophical approach, reminding about the European way of filmmaking. This is off course a major disappointment to the audience that is used to endless gunfights and mutated amphibians, but the more serious science fiction buffs and 'Dark City'-fans will be pleased. This film is interesting and inspiring. It has everything eXistenZ doesn't, but it lacks the immediacy and intensity of The Matrix. And then there is a happy end which, like in 'Dark City', completely alienates it from the rest of the story and context. The plot itself is not as original as the filmmakers want us to think, since they have virtually sucked out all information from the best science fiction classics, including Blade Runner and 'Dark City' . With this in mind,'The Thirteenth Floor' doesn't make an Oscar candidate or a film that will be remembered a year from now, yet this is a beautiful, elegant and intelligent take on virtual reality.

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