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review added: 10/23/02



The Thirteenth Floor
Special Edition - 1999 (1999) - Columbia TriStar

review by Graham Greenlee of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Thirteenth Floor: Special Edition Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/B-

Specs and Features
100 mins, R, widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep-case packaging, audio commentary (with director Josef Rusnak and production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli), Cardigans music video for Erase/Rewind, conceptual art, special effects reference photos, filmographies, theatrical trailers (for Flatliners, Starship Troopers, Godzilla and The Thirteenth Floor), film-themed menu screens, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned


"Hey! What'd you do to the world?"

"I turned it off."

Overlooked by movie-goers back in May 1999, Josef Rusnak's The Thirteenth Floor is an engaging science fiction thriller that's picked up a little bit of a cult following on video. Somewhere between a 40's noir and a more intellectual version of The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor weaves computer techno-babble, romance and murder in a mix that is nothing short of brilliant.

Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko) is a wealthy computer programmer, who wakes up one morning to find that his boss and mentor Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl) has been murdered. Hall, who had been working on a new type of virtual reality simulator with Fuller, is crushed and is also implicated by the police as a possible suspect. The fact that Hall can't even remember what happened the night before is more worrisome.

After discovering that Fuller had been using the simulator for his own sexual escapades, Hall uses the simulator himself. It's been designed to replicate 1930's Los Angeles, with its various characters programmed to match people in the real world. Assuming the role of a banker, Hall goes on an investigation inside the virtual world to see if he can find any clues as to why Fuller might have been killed.

As he travels between the two worlds, Hall meets Jane (Gretchen Mol), who claims to be Fuller's daughter (even though Fuller had never mentioned her). Hall and Jane work together and become close, until a final piece of the puzzle becomes clear and all is revealed.

I don't want to give too much away, as the plot twists are what keep this story fresh. But unlike most films with one big twist on the end, The Thirteenth Floor keeps its viewer on the edge, never knowing who is telling the truth or who anybody is. Helping keep these secrets is the incredibly moody atmosphere. This is contemporary Los Angeles, but it's more brooding. Rain is nearly constant. And though the acting in this film can seem a little distant, it works for the story and is ultimately engaging, with yet another great performance turned in by the underrated Vincent D'Onofrio.

The Thirteenth Floor came out about two months after The Matrix, and only days after Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It's no surprise then, that this gem grossed only about twelve million dollars. But don't let the paltry box office or the nearly unknown status of the two stars scare you away - this film is worthy of the praise that those two blockbusters received.

The DVD release contains both anamorphic widescreen and pan and scan transfers on different sides of the same disc. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is nearly perfect. The dark cinematography is presented with accurate colors and no bleeding. Blacks are deep and shadow detail is executed nicely. What keeps this from being completely reference quality is the visible appearance of edge enhancement halos. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also great. The dialogue is always intelligible as the score and the sound effects envelope the listener. The bass is rich and almost always in use.

Making the release a single-layered, dual-sided disc severely limits how much disc space you can use for extras. But we do get a little bit - included is an audio commentary with director Josef Rusnak and production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli. Rusnak's comments include great information in a somewhat dry delivery, while Petruccelli is a bit more "lively" (though he doesn't speak as much). Some of the highlights include background on Simulacron 3, the novel upon which the film is based, and the 70's German mini-series adaptation, as well as Rusnak's education in his native Germany and his friendship with Roland Emmerich (The Patriot).

A non-anamorphic widescreen music video of Erase/Rewind by the Cardigans is included as well. The video is your normal MTV variety for movie material, but I've always been a fan of the song (it also plays over the end credits in 5.1 surround sound). We also get a nice concept art gallery and a gallery of before-and-after special effects photos. There are also trailers for Flatliners, Starship Troopers, Godzilla and The Thirteenth Floor in non-anamorphic widescreen.

Immensely engaging, especially with repeated viewings, The Thirteenth Floor is the rare studio film that requires you to think. And its excellent transfer makes this a great disc to show off your system with.

Graham Greenlee
grahamgreenlee@thedigitalbits.com




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