Film Reviews:

The Thirteenth Floor

(Josef Rusnak, Ger/US, 1999)

[The Thirteenth Floor - poster]To a soundtrack including The Cardigan's Erase and Rewind (chosen to emphasise the narrative), this German/US co-production, based on a German SF novel tells the story of a virtual world - the inhabitants of which have no idea they are not human. Roland Emmerich, best known to most as director of vaccuous Hollywood summer blockbusters (including Godzilla and Independence Day), acts here as producer. The result is modest, but frankly more interesting than any of Emmerich's epics. The basic concept is a staple of the SF genre (see The Matrix - released the same year) and whilst The Thirteenth Floor isn't at the top of its league, it is a stylish, literate entry worthy of attention.

The major leads all play dual roles - one located in the 'real' world, the other in the virtual equivalent, and its interesting seeing them play two characters - it certainly helps establish how good some of the acting is. Despite being set against a backdrop of the decadent 1930s, our hero doesn't smoke and can't dance. It's nice minor detail touches such as these that help set this apart from many similarly-themed genre entries. The narrative switches between our hero inside the virtual world, who gradually realises that there is an explanation for things like deja-vu and memory loss - and it isn't what you'd want to hear - and those in the real world manipulating the conciousness of the computer-generated characters.

The story unfolds more in the structure of a whodunnit (rather than 'what's happening') - an approach in keeping with its period setting that give the entire production a welcome film noir-ish tone. This is further ably supported by the production design that slightly drains the colours of the simulated world and the rich, James Horner-like score.

One scene has the hero discovering the limitations of his universe when he drives to the 'edge' of the simulation and witnesses the shocking image of the undeveloped landscape: merely green vector graphics against a black void (as depicted in the promotional artwork). This moment reminds the viewer directly of a similar sequence in Dark City - a film with which this, thematically at least, shares a certain amount. Although clearly based upon a potentially intellectually complex premise (Descartes is quoted at one point), The Thirteenth Floor aims to be entertaining rather than challenging. Something it achieves admirably. 7/10

Rob Dyer (October 2004)

See also:

Dark City
Matrix, The
They Live
Virtual Nightmare

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