'Thirteenth Floor' above average sci-fi|
By Will Raiman
May 28, 1999
On the thirteenth floor of a downtown office building, a team of scientists has created something that will make a pretty interesting science fiction movie. Seriously though, before launching into this review, let me say that one of the best things this movie had going for it is that like The Matrix,the entire plot had not been revealed before the movie was released. I will do my best not to ruin that for you, the potential viewer.
That said, The Thirteenth Floor deals with, albeit somewhat lightly, many a popular science fiction theme. Those of you who may have seen the trailer for this one might have guessed that virtual reality works its way in there somehow. And nowadays, whenever virtual reality shows up, artificial intelligence is never far behind.
In truth, I had a bad feeling about The Thirteenth Floor even before I went to see it, precisely because I knew these themes would be addressed. The recent glut of movies about virtual reality and the Internet have by and large been terrible. I feared that The Thirteenth Floor would follow down that path to mediocrity.
My fears were only worsened when I saw that the virtual reality machine employed an array of laser beams and a voice synthesizer. I soon realized though, that aside from these faults and a few other small ones, The Thirteenth Floor was a fair science fiction film.
One of my favorite things to read is a science fiction short story, and this movie reminded me of nothing more than reading one. In fact, it is based upon a novel called Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye.
But perhaps a little bit about the movie for you now. Armin Mueller-Stahl plays Hammond Fuller, a kind gentleman, who is also the genius behind what may be the biggest revolution in computers ever. His protege Douglas Hall is played wonderfully by Craig Bierko. Hall is angry, sulking and dark, and he doesn't know why he can't remember where he was when Fuller was killed.
As the police and Hall try to piece together what has happened, Fuller's previously unknown daughter Jane (Gretchen Mol) appears. Hall must try to determine what she is after, as well as try to puzzle out what involvement Fuller's new computer system may have had in the crime.
As more and more clues surface pointing to Hall as the perpetrator of the murder, time begins to run out for him to prove his innocence. His efforts are hindered by the presence of his fellow programmer Whitney (Vincent D'Onofrio), who is reluctant to tamper with the computer that is Fuller's brainchild.
But while this murder mystery is interesting, the secret that its investigation eventually reveals is shocking and devastating. This second plot is what makes the movie worth seeing, and any science fiction fan will appreciate it.
One final praise for the movie: the atmosphere created by the backgrounds is wonderful. The action shifts between the glistening dark, high-tech world of a modern city at night, and a computer-generated fantasy world set in 1930's Los Angeles. Visually, this movie is a treat to watch.
For lovers of science fiction, The Thirteenth Floor can be a welcome and serious break between viewings of the more colorful Phantom Menace. Movie passes from the Technique will be abundant during summer quarter. Stop by the office if you are interested in snagging one and perhaps writing a little blurb about it. See the long box under Two-Bits, page 21.