Review: The 13th Floor (Don HARLOW)

The 13th Floor

Movie by Joseph Rusnak, from the novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye

reviewed by Don Harlow

  "You believe in the ruler of your country."
  "Well, I've seen him! I've seen him on television."
  "And have you not also seen people materializing out of showers of silver light on this television?"
Ingold Inglorion and Rudy Solis, in
Barbara Hambly's The Time of the Dark, p. 36

   "Question reality" seems to be a movie buzzword for this season, just as "asteroid" was in 1998. We started out with The Matrix, chock full of action, and now we have Daniel F. Galouye's Counterfeit World, later reprinted as Simulacron-3 and here retitled The 13th Floor. This, by the way, is Roland and Ute Emmerich's (Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla) contribution to 1999.

   Hammond Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl), with the help of two highly competent assistants and a dedicated cadre of software gurus (who never appear), has devised an entire simulation of Los Angeles, circa 1937, in his company's computer system. He has also, apparently, devised a means by which individuals can upload (though the term "download" is regularly used) their consciousnesses into doppelgangers within the simulation, and Fuller has been using this technique to recapture the carnal joys of his youth, via a simulated variant of himself named Pearson, who owns and operates a simulated bookstore. Unfortunately, he discovers a rather frightening secret, whose nature should be fairly obvious to the knowledgeable viewer as soon as the nature of the simulation is explained. He leaves a letter in the simulation for his assistant, Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko), returns to his own reality, and is promptly murdered by some person unknown, though Hall has reason to believe that it might have been he who committed the crime, despite his lack of any memory of the deed. Faced with this fear, he must contend with a bulldog-like L.A. police detective (Dennis Haysbert) who suspects his guilt. And, of course, he falls in love with Fuller's daughter Jane (Gretchen Mol), who suddenly appears out of nowhere to lay claim to the company and close it down, and who may actually be a supermarket checkout girl from Long Beach ... or maybe not.

   The title reflects the fact that the center of action, Fuller's company, is located on the 13th floor of a tall building -- and, presumably, also the fact that, the number "13" being considered unlucky, many buildings simply don't have a 13th floor, or at best use it to hide operations that they would prefer not to make public.

   For the Emmeriches, this is a fairly cheapo film -- good night-time aerial shots of downtown Los Angeles, realistic scenes from prewar L.A. (though, as Hall says, there are some problems with the colorization), some interesting detective work by Hall as he tracks down what's going on, but no super-special effects except for a bit of fogged-eyeball work and a bunch of green rays that go shooting out in all directions in the computer room. The story is more interesting than most, being the product of a genuine story-teller (though not one of the very best) and not of a Hollywood writing team. It's an interesting way of passing a couple of hours. And, who knows, it may leave you questioning reality.

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