Sony // 1999 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Margo Reasner (Retired) // October 10th, 1999
Question reality. You can go there even though it doesn't exist.
A slick Sci-Fi thriller that probably will leave you asking more questions after you see it than before you started watching. Although this was a sleeper in the theaters this well put together DVD presentation should give this taut thriller a broader audience.
On the thirteenth floor of a corporate building in Los Angeles a group of computer programmers have created a 1937 virtual world of Los Angeles. When the leader of the project, Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl, Shine, The X-Files), visits this virtual world by "jacking in" he discovers a secret that he must tell his associate Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko, The Long Kiss Goodnight). Before he gets the chance to do this he is murdered by someone he appears to know while in present day reality. When Douglas Hall returns from his trip he finds out that Fuller was murdered and is greeted by Jane Fuller (Gretchen Mol, Rounders) who claims to be Hannon's daughter. Douglas sets upon a quest to find the murderer of his associate, the secret that Hannon alludes (in a voice-mail message) to having left him, and the reason for Jane's sudden appearance. In order to find the answers to these questions Douglas "jacks in" to the virtual world that Hannon had been visiting with the help of their third associate Whitney (Vincent D'Onofrio, Men in Black).
The story for this film comes from Daniel F. Galouye's novel, Simulacron 3. The plot has several different layers and the more of them that you feel like peeling away the more enjoyable the experience of seeing this movie will be for you. At its most simple level this can be viewed as a slick Sci-Fi computer-generated reality film with a who-done-it subplot and some nifty special effects. Another level down and you're asking yourself how much meaning does life really have for these characters who live in the computer-generated reality? An even further level down and you begin you ask yourself if the environment that the computer-generated world sets you in can change your basic personality and those of people that you know. The degree that you enjoy asking yourself these types of questions will determine how much you will like the experience of viewing this film.
The picture is presented in both Full Screen and Widescreen 2:35:1 aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Although most of the scenes are dark the video presentation is top-notch throughout. The audio gets very high marks as well. There is very good separation of sound and the subwolfer gets a good workout during the special effects scenes. There is a wealth of extras on this disc as well...included are: Director & Production Designer Commentary, Conceptual Art Gallery, Before and After SFX Gallery, "Erase/Rewind" music video by "The Cardigans" in DD 5.1, Talent files, Theatrical trailer for this movie as well as Godzilla, Flatliners and Starship Troopers all in DD 5.1. (Note -- I was not able to find the Production Notes that are listed on the DVD cover.) I will also warn you that the SFX Gallery and the Conceptual Art Gallery are pretty simple extras, worth viewing once.
The underlying story here is a pretty complicated one and those who are looking to grab a bucket of popcorn and be mindlessly entertained by special effects for two hours are going to be disappointed. I will also warn that most of these actors are fairly new and although they did a pretty good job I wasn't blown away by their abilities. They carried the story off well, but I didn't find myself eager to track down their previous works. However, the most annoying thing about this DVD was the fact that the 5.1 sound for the movie had to be accessed from the main menu instead of defaulting or being changed with the audio button on the remote and the subtitles defaulted to on. But even with these drawbacks this DVD is one worth owning and watching when you get a quiet moment.
If you enjoy Sci-Fi or murder mysteries then at least give this one a rent, but if you also like thinking about the concept of reality then go straight to buying mode and give yourself a special treat.
Columbia gets aquitted for a good attempt at a Special Edition. Some music from the movie while showing the Gallerys and defaulting to 5.1 sound without subtitles would have gotten you an A+ rather than just an A...
Review content copyright © 1999 Margo Reasner; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Audio Commentary
* Theatrical Trailer
* DVD-ROM and Web Link
* Conceptual Art Gallery
* Before & After Effects Gallery
* The Cardigans Music Video
* Talent Files
* Production Notes
* Bonus Trailers