Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Thirteenth Floor

The increasingly blurry lines between what is real and what is an artificial construct - both physically and philosophically - are the point of focus in the science fiction drama The Thirteenth Floor. In 1937, a man named Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl) gives a note to Ashton (Vincent D'Onofrio), the bartender at a swank hotel, that's addressed to Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko). Fuller tells Ashton it's crucial that no one else sees the note, and that the information enclosed is of great importance. Moments later, Fuller transports himself to 1998. He's soon found murdered, and a shirt stained with Fuller's blood is found in Hall's apartment. Fuller and Hall both work for Intergraph Computer Systems, a cutting edge artificial intelligence firm, and the "past" Fuller was visiting was actually a stunningly realistic recreation of Los Angeles 50 years ago, complete with people you can meet and places you can visit, that exists only in a microchip. The message he left with Ashton, however, is real. Some people, including LAPD detective Larry McBain (Dennis Haysbert) believe Hall murdered Fuller to assume his position of leadership at Intergraph. Jane (Gretchen Mol), Fuller's daughter, soon arrives on the scene, and Hall finds himself infatuated; Hall is determined to clear his name, so with the help of Whitney (also played by Vincent D'Onofrio), he slips into the virtual 1937 in hopes of discovering just what happened. The Thirteenth Floor makes copious use of digital effects technology to allow its characters to travel between 1937 and 1998 - ironically using computer technology to create a world that exists inside a computer.

You may have noticed a pattern in the fact that certain themes tend to follow me like dark angels, namely those involving time and perception. This movie continues that pattern and easily fits with the likes of The Matrix or eXistenZ. Coincidentally, all three movies were released in 1999 and The Thirteenth Floor, like the other two, relies heavily on the notion of perception and what, exactly, "real" is. Unlike the The Matrix and eXistenZ, however, this film concentrates primarily on the story, with less action and more character development, but does not delve as deeply into the philosophical or existential implications. In other words, the movie drops hints and leaves it up to the viewer to form the actual questions and explore the possibilities in his or her own mind.

The cast are all believable and, for being primarily unknowns, their performances range from good (Mol) to exceptional (D'Onofrio). Now, having grown accustomed to seeing Bierko (Boston Legal, The Long Kiss Goodnight), Haysbert (24, Breach, The Unit) and D'Onofrio (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Full Metal Jacket, The Cell), the movie actually seems like a bigger production than when it was originally released.

The thing that I like most about the film is the fact that the intricate issues are between the characters only, and the bigger story is kept relatively simple, which could have easily become twisted and convoluted by trying to over complicate the main plot. As it is, "the hook" remains intact and an excellent part of the story rather than the entire story.


Chris said...

I remembering one Saturday night my Dad coming home with this DVD (or it may even have been video back then). I'd never heard of it and was surprised by how good it was. Yes it's the story and not the special effects that keep this one going. A quasi-similar themed movie is Dark City. But I'm sure you've seen that one. If not, put it on your list to check out.

John Taylor said...

hi again,
Dark City is one of my favorite movies - I have it on DVD but I haven't used it as a DVD spot because I recently read that a special edition would be coming out soon. Hopefully, I won't have to wait much longer.