The Thirteenth Floor

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Details At A Glance

Category Science Fiction/Mystery Theatrical Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - 1.78:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 5.1
Rating Other Trailer(s) Yes, 1 - Dolby Digital City
Year Released 1999 Commentary Tracks Yes, 1 - Josef Rusnak (Director) and Kirk M. Petruccelli (Production Designer)
Running Time 96:25 minutes Other Extras Biographies - Cast and Crew
Gallery - Conceptual Art
Gallery - Special Effects Before and After Comparison
Music Video - Erase/Rewind (The Cardigans)
RSDL/Flipper No/No
Cast & Crew
Start Up Movie
Region 2,4 Director Josef Rusnak
Columbia Pictures
Columbia TriStar
Starring Craig Bierko 
Gretchen Mol
Vincent D'Onofrio
Dennis Haysbert
Armin Mueller-Stahl
Case Brackley
RRP $39.95 Music Harald Kloser

Pan & Scan/Full Frame None MPEG None
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Dolby Digital 5.1
16 x 9 Enhancement
Soundtrack Languages English (Dolby Digital 5.1, 384 Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary (Dolby Digital 2.0 , 192 Kb/s)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Macrovision Yes Smoking Yes
Subtitles English
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or
After Credits

Plot Synopsis

    When this title was announced on Columbia TriStar's release sheet, my first reaction was what the heck was the film? It was a film that I certainly had not heard about at all, which usually is a sure sign of a lack of quality in the film. So going in to watching this film, the apprehension level was high. After having now watched the film, it is certainly a tad perplexing - or perhaps more accurately described as weird. Not exactly a piece of pure entertainment but certainly a film that gets you thinking about what is going on - especially as it does at times get a little confusing. The audio commentary makes mention of changes made to the film after test screenings, as the original cut "lost" the audience. They never really got over the problem in my view.

    I have no idea how I am going to adequately synopsise the film without either confusing you or giving too much of the film away. The basic premise is simple enough: what is reality? Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl) has led a team that has developed a new virtual reality simulation that allows the participant to travel back in time to experience, in this particular instance, Los Angeles in the 1930's. During the course of testing the simulation, Fuller has made a rather startling and disturbing discovery that he knows will result in him being killed. So he decides to leave a message in the simulation for one of his team, Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko), to get a hold of and also learn the truth. Trouble is, Fuller was indeed right about being killed, and Hall becomes the prime suspect, even though he has no recollection of committing any murder. He does however have a telephone message from Fuller just before his death, so travels back in the simulation to seek out the message that he knows exists. Trouble is one of the characters in the simulation has read the message and is disturbed by the truth revealed therein. Furthermore, the death of Fuller has brought out of the woodwork a beautiful women claiming to be Jane Fuller (Gretchen Mol), the daughter of Hannon Fuller - but there is no proof to her claim. The race is on to prove the truth one way or the other for Hall, whilst avoiding the investigations of Detective Larry McBain (Dennis Haysbert). Anything beyond that will reveal too much of the story and destroy the film for you, so I will shut up right now.

    With a story as dense and complex as this one, the audience needs an awful lot of help to keep track of what is being presented to them, whilst also building the suspense towards the final truth. That takes some skill in the writing department and to be honest I felt that the writers did not quite succeed. It also takes some skill from the actors to switch between two personas, and thankfully this was reasonably well achieved. Craig Bierko managed to convey just the right sort of confusion in the lead role (and his alter egos - yes, he had two). The attractive Gretchen Mol enhances her burgeoning reputation with her performance here, although it has to be said that she had perhaps the easiest role to play in this dense story. Overall, the cast did a damn good job of trying to keep the line between reality and virtual reality recognizable, even as questions about what constitutes reality and virtual reality start to push forward in your mind. Director Josef Rusnak did a decent enough job with the story here, but to be honest it is the work of production designer Kirk M. Petruccelli that makes this film work at all, and this is a fine example of how good design work can make a film far more than perhaps it should be. The effects work was in general superb, especially as a lot of it was very subtle stuff that you would miss, without the benefit of seeing the brief extra on the topic.

    Be warned - this is not a film that is going to please everyone. It is extremely dense, at times a little confusing and definitely thought-provoking. This is entertainment at which you have to work, but it is a very rewarding film if you take the trouble to watch it.

Transfer Quality


    Since this such a recent film, you would expect a fine transfer - and we got it.

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    This is a wonderfully sharp transfer throughout, with some gorgeous definition to it at times. It is a very clear transfer, which helps enormously with the transfer, as if this were to get a little murky, you would really lose track of where it was going. There is a wonderful sparkle to the film at times and this certainly counts as one of the best looking transfers through my player in the recent past. Shadow detail throughout the film is very good. There appear to be no problems with low level noise in the transfer.

    The transfer deliberately has two distinct colour palettes on display here. The current time period has a very vibrant feel to it with lots a nice bright greens in particular for the simulation. This was described as "hot colours" in the commentary and that really is an apt description. The 1930's scenes have a more muted palette and it almost has a sepia tone to it. Whilst the colours are still vibrant they are much less colourful with a predominance in the browns, grays and duller reds. This certainly makes the switch between the two time periods very easy to follow, especially with the jump between the two being a very electric looking silvery blue tunnel effect. The current time period is also enhanced by a slight oversaturation of colour at times, but nothing garish or distracting.

    There were no MPEG artefacts noted in the transfer. There did not appear to be any significant film-to-video artefacts in the transfer, with only some extremely minor hints of aliasing around the usual suspects like venetian blinds, that were nowhere near being a distraction. There were very few noticeable film artefacts, and overall this is a very clean transfer.


    This is one very dynamic soundtrack, and you will need to judge your viewing level well, or else you will be forever upping and downing the volume level to cope with the dynamics.

    There are just the two audio tracks on the DVD, an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and an English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 surround encoded soundtrack. I listened to both soundtracks.

    Dialogue was reasonably clear and easy to understand.

    There were no apparent audio sync problems with the disc.

    The score by Harald Kloser is a little overshadowed by the visual aspects of the film, and to be honest did not leave any sort of indelible mark on my consciousness. However, it has to be said that I was concentrating a little more than I normally would to watch a film (I had to), and this has the effect of filtering out the extraneous things like music soundtracks.

    The wide dynamics here are going to cause problems for some people. The main range problem is balancing the bass channel with everything else, especially during the simulation start up and close down sequences. Overall, I felt that the bass was just a little too prevalent in the mix, but aside from that this is a very good soundtrack. The surround channels got some decent use, although the rears could perhaps have been a little more prominent. There was not a huge amount of detail in the surround channels, although at times there was little opportunity in the film for it. The resultant soundscape, especially for the 1930's scenes, is very good and nicely encompassing.


    Collector's Edition it says and in numbers that is certainly true. In actual content though, I am a tad disappointed, although to be fair trying to cram everything onto a single layer, single sided disc has a lot to do with it.


    Actually quite nicely done even though lacking any audio or animation enhancement: they do appear to be 16x9 enhanced though.

Theatrical Trailer (2:06)

    Quite a good effort, unusually presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, that does a good job of selling the film without revealing too much (for a change).

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    Disappointingly brief, and really this is not good enough for a Collector's Edition. Take a leaf out of Universal's book - that is the sort of comprehensive effort we should expect here.

Audio Commentary - Josef Rusnak (Director) and Kirk M. Petruccelli (Production Designer)

    To be blunt, these guys sound really boring and at times this becomes quite tedious. Still, if you can get past that, they do manage to reveal a lot of quite interesting background stuff to the film and some of the changes made after the test screenings. Overall though, not something to get real excited about, which is not helped by the ums and arrs, and Josef Rusnak's English needs a little work.

Gallery - Conceptual Art

    Nine concept drawings for the film, completely without annotation which makes the inclusion dubious at best. Hardly enough to get you awake, let alone get the blood flowing. One day I hope Columbia TriStar discover annotations so that we at least get some idea of what the artwork is trying to achieve, as well as providing a context for the artwork.

Gallery - Special Effects Before and After Comparison

    This is the only extra that really piqued my interest, but even then it is depressingly short (only ten sets of two photos) and lacking any annotation at all. Still, it does convey the extent of some of the special effects work, and the subtle nature of some of it.

Music Video - Erase/Rewind (The Cardigans) (3:43)

    A so-so song from a so-so group (let the vitriol flow) that was about as exciting as watching a stalagmite grow. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, not 16x9 enhanced and with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. I could live without it.

R4 vs R1

    It would appear that for all intents and purposes the Region 1 and Region 4 releases are the same, making Region 4 the region of choice with the inherent superiority of the PAL system.


    A very intriguing film that is not going to be for everyone. I found it a little difficult to keep up with the flow at times, but overall I quite enjoyed the film, and it does certainly pose the question as to how the heck do we know what reality really is. I would strongly recommend that you give this a rent first if you have never seen the film, as at a $39.95 recommended retail price, it could end up being a pricey mistake.

    A very very good video transfer.

    A very dynamic audio transfer.

    An extras package that frankly I find a little disappointing for a Collector's Edition.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris
30th January 2000

Review Equipment
DVD Pioneer DV-515; S-video output
Display Sony Trinitron Wega 84cm. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Audio Decoder Built in
Amplification Yamaha RXV-795. Calibrated with the NTSC DVD version of Video Essentials.
Speakers Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL