Friday, June 17, 2011

The Thirteenth Floor

Sometime close to the beginning of 1999, I remember seeing a TV trailer for a movie called The Thirteenth Floor. It was about a machine that you could plug into and enter a simulated virtual reality that seemed quite real. I only saw it once, and then trailers for The Matrix began to appear all over the place. The concept seemed so similar that I kept wondering if the first trailer I saw was for the same film, but it just faded away like a dream. I even wondered if they had changed the movie title in post production or something. To this day I believe this film was simply overshadowed by the Matrix phenomenon that took the sci-fi world by storm just two months before it was released. It is not anywhere near as good, but decent enough that I think it should get at least a little notice.

In the Thirteenth Floor's simulated world, the people who inhabit that world are all just programs, but you can download yourself into any one of them, much like the agent programs of the Matrix do, except in reverse. That world is set in Los Angeles in the late 1930's, and one of most redeeming qualities of the film is the portrayal of the era. The sets, costumes, and entire production is done as well as any Hollywood period piece. And to give it a little flare, elements of film noir are thrown into the story, including a fatalistic love interest and murder mystery. In fact, it is the solving of the mysteries that really moves the story along right up to the very end, with lots of little twists and turns. About three-quarters of the way through, we encounter a twist that is so convoluted it is actually a bit corny. It is precisely at that point that the quality of the script goes downhill. But if you keep watching through the last few plot twists, it kind of redeems itself just for being so fun.

While the budget for set production was ample enough, very little was spent on special effects, with not much more than some CGI and laser light. But it doesn't really matter because the story works without requiring much that is out of the ordinary. As you can see, I'm not giving too much away in case you choose to watch it for yourself at this youtube link for a few bucks.

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