(In theaters, June 1999) This has a very good central idea. The problem is that it has basically just one, and that it is fairly obvious to experienced SF readers. Thirty minutes in the movie -if not earlier-, the astute viewer is way ahead of the characters; fifteen minutes before the end, he can write the remainder of the script himself. Still, The Thirteenth Floor is very well-done, and develops in a way that far more subtle than the usual media-SF histrionics. Plus, the central concept itself is really thought-provoking. Any other year, and The Thirteenth Floor would have garnered raves everywhere. But in 1999, right after Dark City, The Truman Show, The Matrix and Existenz, understated dishes like that taste like leftovers.
(Second viewing, on DVD, June 2009): Generally overshadowed upon release by the showy pyrotechnics of The Matrix and the weirdness of Existenz, this third virtual-reality film of 1999 nonetheless holds up pretty well today: The nature of 1930s Los Angeles is blended with nineties L.A. to produce a glossy piece that plays up drama rather than techno elements. It’s undemanding SF, and it’s perhaps more intriguing because of it. Dramatically, there are a few clichés and a Big Revelation that’s Really Obvious, but no major fatal missteps: The actors do well, the revelations are held in check, and there’s a little bit of sense-of-wonder to top it all off. This isn’t a big or complicated film and however good it is, there’s a limit to how much discussion it can sustain. But it’s still worth a look, and the DVD edition presents a decent amount of deleted scenes, production notes and a decent audio commentary focused on the making of the film.