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13th Floor

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Review by Aaron Beierle | posted January 5, 2000 | E-mail the Author

"The 13th Floor" is a sci-fi film crossed with elements of noir. I found neither side of it interesting. It came out at the same time as "The Matrix" this year and since it exhibited similar qualities, or at least looked similar, audiences stayed away. After watching the film, I can see the real reason why this film flopped: it's a mess- a visually interesting stew with an interesting idea or two thrown into the mix.

In the film, two computer programmers are loading their minds into the first virtual world that they have created for themselves: Los Angeles, 1937. The two programmers are Douglas Hall(Craig Bierko) and Jason Whitney(Vincent D' Onofrio). Their boss is murdered and suddenly, a detective is on their case. While the film was marketed as a sci-fi flick, it's evident from the early moments that it's readying itself to spin into more of a murder mystery. Soon, the daughter of the boss mysteriously appears, adding to the plot points that begin to pile upon one another. Thinking that he was somehow behind the murder, Hall travels back in time to the 1937 LA in search of the truth. Although the film certainly contains answers that aren't readily obvious and may suprise you, that still doesn't help the film, which doesn't add up as a whole.

The film certainly looks good, thanks to impressive production design. Although the cinematography has been praised, I thought it was just okay. This is a case of a film where it may look good, but there really isn't anything behind it all: the actors(especially Gretchen Mol and Craig Bierko) are as blank as the movie is. Beyond that, this is an instance where the trailer is more exciting than the film. There's not enough tension in the film itself to pull us through the early portions of the film. By the time the film actually starts to get going, I'd already given up on the film. I'm not going to give away the secrets of the film, but let me say this: for what the film offers as plot twists, the rest of the film certainly feels like work to sit through. Impressive production design is about all this film has to offer.

The DVD VIDEO: Pretty good anamorphic transfer from Tristar- it's not their best work ever, but I still think it's certainly a strong effort.There's a lot of interesting use of colors- from the blues and greys of the present to the beautiful, vibrant colors of the '37 world. Images are consistently clean, but some are sharper than others. A lot of the indoor scenes are shot in a softer focus, or only lit by the greens of the machine when users are trying to jack into the virtual world. Flesh tones are accurate throughout. Although I enjoyed a lot of the cinematography work, I wish that the lighting during a lot of these low-lit scenes had been a bit brighter. These scenes are a little frustratingly too dim.

There isn't anything in the way of pixelization, but I did notice one or two instances of aliasing. There is nothing wrong with the print used for the transfer. Tristar did a nice job with the image quality.

SOUND: Convincing sound design puts the viewer right in the middle of things, from the sounds of the 30's to the deep rumble of bass when users jack into the machine. Surrounds are used effectively and the details of the environment are done with precision. This is a wide and enjoyable soundstage. Dialogue is clear and well integrated(although not really well-written).

MENUS: Stylish, but non animated main menus based around the film's poster art.

Commentary: Although I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of going through this film one more time with the commentary track, I did. This is a commentary with director Josef Rusnak and production designer Kirk Petrucelli. This is a fairly interesting commentary, with Rusnak doing a lot of the talking, mainly discussing how they created most of the sets and effects of the movie. Although the two have a substantial amount to say about the technical work as well as working with the actors, they aren't the most exciting to listen to. This certainly goes under the "informative but not entertaining" list of commentaries. To be honest, I actually did like to hear what these two had to say about their original concepts and ideas from the film more than actually watching the film itself, but there were certain things that I would have liked to have heard discussed more, like the effects. Not a bad commentary and again, a little more interesting than the movie itself.

Galleries: There is a smmall but enjoyable gallery of conceptual artwork as well as the disc's coolest extra, a before/after FX Gallery. In the effects gallery, we're shown a lot of the scenes of the '37 LA sets before, and then after, and the differences are really incredible.

Also: A music video from the Cardigans, as well as trailers for "The 13th Floor","Godzilla","Starship Troopers" and "Flatliners". Talent bios are included as well.

Final Thoughts: There's really nothing wrong with the disc that Tristar has produced. Audio/video quality is fine and the extras are fairly enjoyable. What I really didn't care for was simply this film. I just found it simply dull. The performances don't redeem it, either. Maybe worth a rental, but that's a slight maybe.

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