4/10/12

THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR - REVIEW


So I'm watching Rainer Werner Fassbinder's World On A Wire, a German TV movie from the 70's fleshing the idea of a simulated reality and it's all well and good (and long) but in the back of my mind I'm thinkin' there surely  must be an easier way to tell that story.

And that way, it turns out, is The Thirteenth Floor.

Ok, the latter film may not exactly be quite as interesting as World On A Wire in terms of the subtle, surrealist way in which it depicts simulation and the fact the film came out about the same time as The Matrix makes it much less visionary than Fassbinder's ahead-of-its-time effort. That said, The Thirteenth Floor handles its big ideas very well fitting in nicely as a good companion piece to the likes of Blade Runner or Dark City with its "film noir-meets-the near future" vibe and as a good companion piece to the likes of The Matrix or even eXistenZ. Basically, the film looks at familiar sci-fi ideas of simulation and humanity but does so in a way that doesn't leave you feeling like you just sat through a very long lecture on the subject. Definitely a plus.

Without revealing too much of the plot, The Thirteenth Floor is essentially about a simulated reality of a 1930's Chicago in which every electronically created "character" is actually self-aware and living their own life unaware of the big, scary picture. Anyone can essentially just plug themselves in and take over some random dude's life for a couple of hours which is kinda fun for the plugger but pretty terrifying for the plugee. It's a genius idea and the film does very well to deliver you details as stingily as possible leaving you in between thoughts throughout most of it. The film also feels quite modest in that it never pats itself on the back for being particularly clever, stuff just happens and we are left to take it in.

Visually, it's a great-looking movie and the film noir feel really comes out perfectly. It doesn't really go too far in terms of the visuals, not really aiming to fight it out with The Matrix in that department (and rightly so) instead sticking to its guns and focusing primarily on character, plot and style.

In what is probably the best thing the man has ever done, The Thirteenth Floor is ironically produced by Roland Emmerich (2012, Godzilla), a director usually so hell-bent on vomiting mindless chaos into his audience's face rather than producing anything the brain can actually fully digest. I only mention this so a) I can make fun of him and b) so I can fairly acknowledge the man's one non-shitty movie decision. Good on ya :)

The cast, led by Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol and Dennis Haysbert is hardly "A caliber" but does the job nonetheless with Vincent D'Onofrio stealing the show in dual roles. Actually, had the likes of Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman or whoever else was popular in the late 90's been involved the film might have gotten the weight it needed to stand-up proudly alongside The Matrix and Gattaca as a worthy psychological sci-fi modern classic.

As it stands, though, The Thirteenth Floor is a cult gem and one those as-yet uninitiated viewers should definitely check out asap. It won't change your life but it might give you the urge to hop in your car and drive away as far as possible...

Just in case...

*irises turn blue*

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