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SHOULD YOU?
TIP JAR
THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR - 1999
USA Release: May 28, 1999
Centropolis / Columbia Pictures
Ratings: USA: R

YOU CAN GO THERE, EVEN THOUGH IT DOESN'T EXIST.

So yer a pretty damn good programmer and you work with a team of other top notch programmers who all work for this genius boss who is like a father to you - well - if your father was Albert Einstein, anyway.

Okay, so here you are, waking up at home after returning from your holiday sabbatical and, listening to your messages, you hear a phone call from your boss. He called on the very night of your return, while you slept, and he tells you that he's discovered something very strange. He's left a message for you in the Simulation. Then, abruptly, the phone goes dead. An odd call and, with mild interest, you look forward to going to work to read the message. You go to the bathroom and find blood on your sink. You notice your clothes and a towel in the laundry hamper. There is more blood there.

It isn't your blood.

You get another message.

This one is from the police. They would "like" you to come downtown. They would "like" to talk to you.

What's been going on in your absence? Wouldn't you "like" to know?

SIMULACRON 3. The story was about as Philip K. Dick (TOTAL RECALL, MINORITY REPORT) as you can get, only he didn't write it. It was written by Daniel Galouye in the early 1970s. It involved a man who created an artifice earth; a simulated world full of artificially intelligent beings who are coded so well, they believe they are real. And if you hook up your mind to the machine, you'll believe they are real too. And you'll lose your grasp on which world is the real one. It was a popular television show in Europe for awhile. Then, like all TeeVee shows, it eventually came to an end.

Director / screenwriter Josef Rusnak got tagged by Producer Roland Emmerich (GODZILLA, EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS) to direct THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR, based on the German television series from the early 1970s.

Josef got the chance because Emmerich was hot off of ID4 and because someone else took a chance on DARK CITY in 1998: A tale of people who live in a world that is real, but they aren't. Or maybe they are real and the world isn't. Or maybe real is actually whatever you make it. Such is the Hollywood mindset that when an intriguing idea comes up, everyone tries to copy it and burn it right into the ground. DARK CITY had its cult following, but it didn't light up the screens like THE MATRIX did a year later, even though the themes were the same. And this is important because, each in their own way, like THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR, were based, inspired, derived or follow in the footsteps of SIMULACRON 3.

In THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR, Craig Bierko (THE LONG DARK KISS GOODNIGHT) plays Douglas Hall, a wealthy programmer of a revolutionary software that creates an entire world inside banks of massive super computers. His boss is computer scientist / genius Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl: TAUSEND AUGEN, DER JOKER, KILLING BLUE, THE X-FILES), which one character refers to as "The Einstein of our time." It was Hannon who originally designed the software and housed it in a machine that was capable of running it.

Ah yes, the software -

The world within the computers is actually only about as big as Southern California, and purposefully set in 1937, a reality level with old man Hannon's fantasy about the city of his youth. But no matter, the simulated people there live, breathe, eat, shit, and have sex. They go about their everyday lives of action, interaction, and conflict, without the slightest idea that they are no more than electronic matrices: simulations learning within the parameters of an enclosed system and so, not actually real. They are programmed not to know, not to seek, the edge of their world. If Douglas or Hannon or anyone else on the project shut the system down, millions of simulated lives: simulated people that love their sim children and have sim dreams of the future, would be wiped out.

But the inventors don't understand this. After all, they wrote the code. Like a parent that watches their adult child get married and only sees the small child who held their hand in naive innocence and ignorance, the programmers have not come to terms with the fact that they have created actual sentient life forms.

It's an unexpected surprise and one that carries no small amount of risk. Because the programmers are the innocent ones now, too blithe to understand the danger of moving about an artificial world where the sim people can be just as warm and just as cold as real human beings. When you "jack" into the system, your consciousness is removed from your brain and downloaded into the Simulation. Some of the simulated people are tagged as electronic puppets. They have users like Hannon and Douglas from the real world who jack in and inhabit their sim bodies so they can check out the progress of the software, the development of the programming, or just do what they will in an artificial world that seems to have no consequences. Hannon's dirty secret is; he likes to jack into his "puppet" and have sex with lovely young sim-women.

Hey! If you got the processing power, why not? It's not like you'll catch something and how can you really call it cheating?

Unfortunately, the software is still being built and no one realized just how real the simulated people would not only appear to us, but to themselves. Sims have no concept of being any different from you or I. Old man Hannon realizes this one night, and in his sudden panic, writes a letter, within the simulated world, and leaves it with his trusted bartender to hand to Douglas Hall when he comes into the simulation.

But even Hannon Fuller hasn't really come to terms with these matriculated humans. He doesn't fully understand just how real he and his team coded the people of this world. How the sims have developed their character, personalities, and morality just by interacting with each other and existing in this environment - and of course the many more humans these sims created on their own via birth.

The bartender, Ashton (Vincent D'Onofrio: MEN IN BLACK, THE CELL, IMPOSTER), unknown to Hannon, decides to read the letter, and his world view is radically changed. Hannon, meanwhile, calls to leave a message for Douglas, only to be murdered by someone with a familiar face. Once Hannon is out of the picture, Merry Mishaps occur.

Imagine playing a game of Sims by yourself, and one day, out of the clear blue, your best friend Sim, says, "I know what you really are." and shoots your sim dead. In THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR, your consciousness is downloaded into the computer. If someone or something kills your sim body while you are in it, your mind "crashes" without making it back to your real self. You leave behind a living body full of stored memories and nothing active within to retrieve and use them.

Despite the complicated world view, no one in THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR stops everything and explains to some newcomer just what the hell is going on. There is no need for a Morpheus to teach a tubful of exposition to a befuddled Neo. There is no need because that is the mystery we are going to discover.

Yes. With everything I've told you, I haven't revealed the mystery.

The story line is simple and easy to follow despite the depth of the plot. This is done by keeping the murder mystery first and foremost and wisely using the story device of the Sim world as nothing more than a tool, instead of a star. Less than half the movie takes place within the Sim world even though the story revolves around it. After all, Hannon wasn't killed in the Sim world, he was killed in the real world. All Douglas knows is that Hannon left him a phone message, in which he told him that he left a letter in the Sim world that Douglas must read. Douglas must find that letter!

Because one of the very small cast must be the murderer.

Is Whitney really as mellow and harmless as he appears? He didn't write his Sim character that way. And who is Jane Fuller (Gretchen Mol), the woman who comes forward after Hannon's death, claiming to be his daughter? A daughter that Hannon never told his best friend and confidante, Douglas, about?

Even more intriguing, just how much of one's mind does one use within the Simulation? Is it possible that Hannon left his own mind within the Simulation, knowing that someone was out to kill him in the real world? And who is out to kill him in the real world? Real users get in and inhabit sims, can sim minds get out and inhabit users?

Douglas needs to find the answers to these questions because every day more evidence of murder is pointing at him. Police Detective Larry McBain (played with smooth intrusive threat by Dennis Haysbert: SUTURE, THE MINUS MAN), is on his heels nearly every moment that Douglas spends outside of the Simulation. The key to the mystery is within the machine.

While THE MATRIX got all the attention at the theaters, due to its flashy SFX, spiritual plotline and incredible action sequences, THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR is a well plotted, slow evolving mystery. If your attention span can stand a few minutes at a time without people screaming at each other or blowing things up, you may find the suspense of this gem worth your while. For a movie that did mediocre biz at the box office, word of mouth in video land kept this flick among the higher priced DVDs for nearly 5 years. It cost a premium price longer than DARK CITY or THE MATRIX. In its own way, there is a good reason for that.

4 ShriekGirls

Shriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek GirlsShriek Girls
This review copyright 2003 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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