Any initial hopes I may have had for 'The Thirteenth Floor' were quickly dashed about twenty minutes into the movie. As one of the wave of "cyberpunk"-fueled sci-fi yarns that hit theaters in the '90s -- some good, some bad (see 'Dark City' and 'eXistenZ' for an example of the former, and this for the latter), 'Thirteenth Floor' certainly wished it was another 'Matrix.' The movie starts out with a clever enough premise, and interesting visual design, but 'The Thirteenth Floor' quickly descends into a deep and utter narrative mess. This is another one of those incomprehensible sci-fi movies that figures if it throws enough arty images and pseudo-profound "theory" at the audience, no one will notice it's really a piece of lamebrained gobbleygook. Luckily, I'm not that gullible.
An adaptation of Daniel Galouye's little-read if highly-praised novel "Simulacron-3," 'The Thirteenth Floor' gets the same basic story down, but misses the lyricism and surreality. Craig Bierko stars as the second-in-command to the recently murdered CEO (Armin Mueller-Stahl) of a big corporation. Seems this company has been spending the past half-decade or so and millions of dollars recreating the world of 1930s' America inside a mainframe. This virtual reality is truly flesh-and-blood -- anyone entering it is greeted by real humans, complete with souls. After Bierko becomes the prime suspect in Stahl's murder, he must enter this universe to find the clues that will prove his innocence. Alogn the way, he will also have to outfox a detective (Dennis Haybert), and avoid the duplicitious seductions of the CEO's daughter (Gretchen Mol).
The inspirations for 'The Thirteenth Floor' are obvious. In additon to 'The Matrix,' it cribs from just about everything Philip K. Dick ever wrote. Even more irritating, it lifts its visual design from 'Blade Runner,' mixing the hi-tech with classic film noir. This might have been fine, but 'The Thirteenth Floor' wastes its influences. I have not read Galouye's novel in full (only excerpts), so I can't say if it is more successful. But 'The Thirteenth Floor' has nothing to say about its subject, nor does it express any coherent or resonant themes about humanity, science, or technology. This is a film that's all surfaces and poses and attitude, with no apparent substance.
'The Thirteenth Floor' is also badly cast. Bierko has been effective in other films, but usually as a supporting player or as comic relief. Here, he's totally vapid -- I just could not drum up any empathy for his anti-hero. Ditto Mueller-Stahl, who dies too quickly to register, and Mol, who as the obligatory femme fatale is hardly in the league of the greats of the '40s and '50s, or even Sean Young in 'Blade Runner.' Add to that a mess of a narrative, borrowed visual style that never dazzles, verging-on-cheap special effects, and a forgettable score, and you have one of the biggest sci-fi misfires in recent years. Proceed at your own risk, or better yet, just rent 'Blade Runner' or 'Dark City' again and see how tech noir is done right.
'The Thirteenth Floor' gets a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1). It looks to be minted from the now age-old DVD master, and that's not a good thing here. This is some of the weakest high-def I've seen in recent memory, even on a catalog release.
The print isn't in great shape -- there's no major damage at least, and film grain is thin and consistent, but there's plenty of dirt and blemishes. But that's about the only real positive I can say. The image is otherwise very soft and fuzzy -- it just doesn't look sharp, or boast any depth. Blacks are fine, but contrast is quite flat. I could never detect much in the way of fine texture. Colors are okay, but sometimes fuzzy. The encode is surprisingly good considering the poor source, with only some noise but no pixelization, etc. Sony really got lazy with this one.
Sadly, the audio ain't any better than the video. This sounds like a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) in name only. This is a mucky-looking movie with mucky-sounding sound design.
Surrounds are weak. There's slight score bleed and minor atmosphere, supported only by the sporadic blast of discrete effects. It's hardly involving. Dynamics are weird -- bass seemed too strong, but also lacks tightness. It's like a bad car stereo at times, where the low end just all bleeds together. The high-end is better, with some sense of space and clarity. Dialogue can be murky at times, with low tones obscured, or overpowered during action-y moments. Sigh -- not so hot.
'The Thirteenth Floor' doesn't contain much in the way of extras. Maybe that's a good thing...?
'The Thirteenth Floor' is pretty lame. It plays like a dated and borderline-incomprehensible 'Matrix' rip-off. I'm not sure why Sony dusted off this justly-forgotten catalog title for Blu-ray, but they did. The video and audio are weak, and the supplements likewise. This is one to avoid.