Friday, May 18, 2012

Film Friday: The Thirteenth Floor (1999)

The Thirteenth Floor is a film I should like more than I do. It’s thoughtful and is premised on a truly inspired science fiction idea. And that should easily vault it above most of the garbage that is out there. But The Thirteenth Floor isn’t all that great, and while I recommend seeing it, my recommendation is lukewarm.

** spoiler alert **

On the surface, The Thirteenth Floor is about the murder of Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the owner of a billion-dollar computer company which has created a virtual reality simulation of 1937 Los Angeles. But in reality, this is a science fiction story of a world within a world within a world. The story follows Fuller’s protégé, Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko), who is the prime suspect in Fuller’s death, as he investigates the murder in both the world of 1990’s Los Angeles and the virtual reality world of 1937 Los Angeles. In the process, he runs across the same people in each world and he learns a shocking secret.

If you just look at the concept of this film, this film should be fantastic. Not only does it promise the always fascinating idea of multiple realities overlapping, but it involves intrigue which spans each world in the form of a killer on the loose. This should be a nearly can’t-miss prospect. But it does miss.

The first reason this film misses is the acting. I like Armin Mueller- Stahl and Vincent D’Onofrio, and they are fine as always. But after that, things get dicey. Gretchen Mol plays Fuller’s daughter and Bierko’s sort-of love-interest, but there’s no point where you get the sense she cares about anything. Even when she’s confronted by the killer, she just stands there and hopes the scene works out. All-State Insurance Rep. Dennis Haysbert plays the detective who is investigating the murder. He doesn’t care either. He doesn’t even seem to care when he learns about the multiple worlds and that people are traveling back and forth. The worst offender, however, is Bierko who plays the protégé. He also never cares about anything, which is problematic when he needs to project wonder and terror at his discoveries. And at times, it almost seems like he thinks he’s in a parody (fyi, he was the lead in Scary Movie 4 and his acting there is indistinguishable from here).

The sets are bad too (except the fantastic effect of 1937 Los Angeles), and that’s problematic. The payoff of the film is that you’re supposed to wonder if we might not be inside a machine right now and not know it. But the world the film presents as real never feels like a real world. It feels like a movie with people who don’t change clothes, don’t have homes or friends, and spend their lives in smoky dramatic shadows. There are no personal effects anywhere and no sets that look like anywhere we work or live. This makes it hard to see ourselves in this world.

The dialog is bad too because it lacks grace, subtlety and cleverness. The film starts with Descartes’ quote “I think, therefore I am.” This is a bad omen because this quote is THE generic quote about the nature of existence. It’s so generic it’s almost cartoon-level. And this foreshadows the level of what is to come as throughout the film you get quotes like: “what is real?” and “maybe we’ve met before in another life?” This is the sledgehammer approach to dialog. This is like lovers saying, “I love you” or killers saying, “I am going to kill you.” Also, there is no wit anywhere in this film. And the characters never discuss the philosophy of what is going on -- a glaring omission for a film premised on a philosophical point. Essentially, the dialog in this film is blunt plot and nothing more.

There are also deeper problems. The murder which is meant to keep you interested until the reveal is little more than a pretext. There is no motive for the audience to latch onto until the end and the investigation is little more than a collection of scenes that don’t logically relate to anything. For example, Bierko runs around meeting people but we have no idea where he got their names or why these people matter. The cops don’t seem to follow up on leads. There’s also no sense of urgency. You’re never told the cops are closing in or that the killer is planning to strike again. It seems that Bierko has as long as he needs to solve this.

The machine they are using makes no sense either. They have created an independent simulation of another time and place for no apparent reason. In fact, when the detective asks why they’ve done this, Bierko tells him that is a company secret and he can’t share that information. While that’s a valid answer at that moment, the problem is it leaves the audience with a machine that does nothing except drive the plot. Even when the characters in the simulation discover the truth and demand to know why they created the simulated world, Bierko still has no answer.

The reveal is problematic as well. For one thing, the idea that there’s another world comes from out of the blue, and the idea that characters can somehow move up a level to the real world seems like deus ex machina as it is never explained and seems like a cheat to resolve the plot. Also, the way the movie ends makes everything we’ve seen irrelevant. But worst of all, the ending ties in poorly with the rest. Yes, it explains the murders, but it’s not something anyone could have guessed and really is better at explaining “how” the murders happened than “why” they happened. Indeed, there is a disconnect here because there is nothing happening in the real world which would force the murderer to come commit the murders. That makes the ending feel entirely random.

Finally, where this movie really fails is its utter lack of consideration of the psychological aspects. For a film like this to work, i.e. a film based on the confusion of multiple realities, there must be a sense that the realities really are blurring and that the character we are meant to follow is losing their grip on reality -- you can’t just occasionally have a supporting character ask, “what is real.” None of that happens here. Only the Vincent D’Onofrio character ever seems to grasp the sense of confusion at finding out his world is not real. Bierko and the others remain perfectly clear throughout and it never takes them more than a moment to realize when someone is being inhabited by someone from another reality. Because of this, it’s impossible to wonder, as the film hopes we do at that end, if our world might not be fake as well.

I also wonder if another problem with this film isn’t the concept itself? Perhaps the idea of a simulated world within a world has been done so often that audiences are just too wise to the clues and have seen it all before?

Despite these problems, the film is worth seeing. It presents an interesting take on the idea of a world within a world and it has some clever moments. For example, how people come to realize they are in a simulation is well thought out. And the mystery is enough to keep you wondering, though it’s ultimately disappointing.


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks for the review, Andrew.
I'll check it out.

"The dialog is bad too because it lacks grace, subtlety and cleverness. The film starts with Descartes’ quote “I think, therefore I am.” This is a bad omen because this quote is THE generic quote about the nature of existence."

While I'll admit that is the most popular quote, and it sounds cool, it's literally backwards (I know, that's to be expected from Descartes, although he thought he was on to something).

Now, if he had said: "I Am, therefore I think," that would've made sense.
For logically one must exist before one can think, whether one believes in God or not.

I think (after existing) the appeal of Descartes quote to those that believe it (and for most this would be subconciously) is the appeal to ones ego coupled with the desire of power.

Essentially, if one must think before existing that would make one his own god (or godess).
Huge ego booster right there. You control reality. Only you know what's real. Your superdupernatually special!

And it's all because you thought.
Your entire existance is predicated on that easily disprovable upside downn and inside out idea Descartes had.

It would be great to see a film discuss that philosophy and present the counter philosophy (metaphysic really, but metaphysics includes philosophy and science as well as the religious and spiritual).

The philosophy of Descartes (you exist relative to your thinking, or absolute Relativity) VS the Judeo/Christian metaphysic: you exist because of the Absolute Reality (or Truth) and that should lead to being and thinking (ideally).

It could even be explained in an agnostic manner if the director is afraid of mentioning anything religious (let's say Nature).

Obviously, that could be a very deep discussion in a film. A war between reality and illusion, or faith and nihilism.
As above, so below.

Anyhow, I take it this ain't discussed or mentioned in this flick which was a missed opportunity among many.

Unfortunately, I've seen lots of great concepts and ideas ruined because (usually) the director and producers somehow have no clue folks would wanna actually hear anything that gets them to thinking and contemplating.

Most scifi fans wanna be engaged beyond the eye candy and dig into the meat.

Flesh the film out, so to speak and give it a soul.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I hope you don't mind me jumping into the deep end of the pool right off the bat.

I get that way when the whole existentialada is mentioned. :^)

DUQ said...

Andrew, I agree. This movie just didn't fire on all cylinders. I did enjoy it the first time through, but I've never wanted to see it again.

tryanmax said...

Never seen this film, though the title has caught my eye from time to time. Not sure why I've never sat down with it. Maybe the murder mystery angle is overdone?

Having no idea how this movie turns out, while I was reading I got to thinking how cool it would be to have a film where the main character must go back and forth between the real world and the virtual world to do his business, with utter confidence that he knows which is which. Then, partway through, he suddenly discovers the real world is also virtual and he must figure out if he was trapped or if he was ever really real. That would confront exactly what Ben was poking at.

Doc Whoa said...

Andrew, Excellent breakdown. I felt the movie lacked focus. The murder investigation feels muddled and then the whole slipping back and forth feel equally muddled. There are a lot of clues to what to is going on (except the nonsensical motive) but it's hard to put them together because the whole thing never quite fits. I'm not sure how else to describe it?

Doc Whoa said...

Let me rephrase that. I don't mean they don't fit together, because they do. But it's more like it doesn't matter if they fit together. If that makes sense.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, I don't want to be too had on the film. I enjoyed it enough to recommend it, it just fails at much of what it does. It's like a film that should have been an A but got a C.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, In the end, this is one of those films, where when it's over, you start thinking about the idea and what they could have done with it. The problem is, however, that while the film is going, it doesn't really do that to you. That tells me they never really connected with the idea. And in truth, that is how the movie feels. It feels like you are watching a murder mystery where these other parts occasionally happen rather than the story being focused on the science fiction aspects.

Anonymous said...

I've never seen this film (it's on Netflix so I have no excuse!) but I remember when it was out and even then, it was on my radar because it was the first movie Roland Emmerich produced after directing that horrible (but still almost watchable) Godzilla remake.

I know we've talked about it before at length but I'm totally on board when it comes to cheap art direction and too many movies have sets that look perfect, like the cast just walked onto them on the day: no personal effects, no sense of having been lived-in, no sense of improvisation, etc. In fact, that might be what threw me off the first time around - I probably assumed the film was cheap from watching the trailers and I never pursued it.

From a cursory glance at the director's IMDb page, he seemed to have taken a break after this film and currently works in direct-to-DVD purgatory doing all those Wesley Snipes action films with titles like The Contractor. I guess not everyone can be Spielberg.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, It's is difficult to describe, but "lacked focus" is a good way to put it. The film has definite focus in a big-picture sense, i.e. the murder and the movement between worlds. But it lacks focus scene by scene as there doesn't seem to be a lot of connection between the scenes and the overall plot. It's like things just happen and eventually it all comes to a conclusion.

Although, I don't want to overstate that. The film works, but it just isn't as firmly held together as it should be.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, Descartes was trying to prove the existence of God and he started by trying to list the things he knew for certain. This was his first step, proving his own existence. And he realized that because he thinks, then he must exist. But as the next philosophers pointed out, this is a tautology as it implies existence. Basically, he is saying:

"I, who by definition exist, think, therefore I exist."

That's where it all fell apart.

In any event, the problem with this particular quote is that it's the Buggy's Bunny of philosophical quotes -- you couldn't find a quote that is more widely know. That makes it rather generic and blunt, and to use it acts like an omen that the writer lacks depth. This then gets borne out in the later dialog where everyone says what they are thinking/doing very, very bluntly. And that ultimately strikes me as the fundamental problem with this film -- that it lacks depth.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Godzilla is just a horrible, horrible movie. It really is unwatchable.

The sets here are a problem. They look fine and create a mood, but they make it impossible to relate to the film. These people spend all their time on smoky, dark set where everything is stylized and there is nothing personal. It feels like a film. And it becomes impossible for us to relate to them. It's the kind of film, where you aren't even sure these people have homes.

I think that's a mistake a lot of science fiction makes. They make it hard to relate by making the world seem too sterile.

Ultimately, I do blame the director and I would not have hired him to do another film after this one.

Ed said...

I suspect liked this a little better than you did. I thought it was entertaining and creative. Was it great? Hardly. But it wasn't horrible either and it was more interesting to watch than the latest action flick. That said, I do agree that this film is largely a lost opportunity.

Although I too have to wonder if maybe this entire concept is just played out?

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, It's not a horrible movie. I recommend it because it is enjoyable. It just feels flat, even in the high-emotion moments. It feels like it should have been so much more.

I really wonder if that isn't the problem? Maybe the whole idea of a reality within a reality is played out because every single science fiction show ever has done their version, and they all seem to do the same things.

Ed said...

Andrew, That's one of the problems with science fiction is that there have been so many television shows and they all do the same basic stories. So when films come along and try to use those same premises, they end up seeming flat and unoriginal.

AndrewPrice said...

Ed, That is a problem. It's an interesting problem isn't it? I can't think of any other genre which suffers from the same problem either. Basically you've got an entire industry of "spoiler-makers" out there who are exploiting every science-fiction idea they can think of to fill in their schedule. And in the process, they naturally gravitate toward the best/most interesting ideas and use them so often they stop feeling very original.

That's not saying they can't still fill original, because there are many films that do feel original. In fact, Inception comes to mind as an example of a film which uses the identical concept of Thirteenth Floor and makes it feel much more original.

Doc Whoa said...

Ed and Andrew, I've noticed that too that there a whole bunch of science fiction shows which run around exploiting ideas and causing them to seem less original when films do them. I think that means science fiction films really need to raise the level of their game.

Doc Whoa said...

Scott, Sets are key and I think it's a mistake when shows are too sterile. Star Trek TNG is a good example of this. The rooms were all the same (except Data's) and they always struck me as places no one would really live.

Doc Whoa said...

I mean, in the sense that no one did live there, not that they weren't nice rooms or anything.

Backthrow said...

I haven't seen the film, because I'm allergic to Roland Emmerich (GODZILLA clinched it), but given the criticisms of the finished product (the 'real world' doesn't look lived-in, a lack of dramatic focus), you know who sounds like he'd have been perfect to make the most of this project --if he were interested in doing a sci-fi premise, that is? Sidney Lumet.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, It does mean that science fiction needs to raise its game because it means that people will have seen all the easy stuff. That means you need to go further, delve deeper, and disguise what you do better.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, I agree about sets. I think the key to having a believable set of characters and a real world is to make it feel lived-in. It needs to feel like real people spend real lives there. Too often, science fiction fails at that. And I agree about TNG, their rooms looked like hotel rooms when you first enter. They really could have used the occasional towel or whatever lying on the floor.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, It would have been interesting to see Lumet take on a film like this. His stuff is very intense and very human, and that is the sort of thing this film could have used very much.

I've become allergic to Emmerich as well. He's put out a series of colossal, flat, potential-wasting films over the years, hasn't he?

DUQ said...

Andrew, What do you think about comparing this to Inception?

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

There's only one reason I like to watch the pseudo-Godzilla remake: Jean Reno.

Although many ideas seem played out, I think if the execution was good (writing, directing, acting) folks would still watch it.

Independence Day wasn't original but it's highly entertainable and just fun to watch.

For serious scifi there's really no shortage of original ideas, but it seems most producers/directors don't know how to present them, or get caught up too much in the mundane or 'normal' subplots.

Whatever stories they use, it's crucial to write the characters in such a way that they are likeable and/or interesting.

Any director worth their salt should have seen many scifi flicks (and read many books) to know what works and what doesn't work.

Most directors seem to have no prior knowledge of anything scifi and it shows.
That's why it was brilliant of Marvel to hire Joss Whedon.
He cares about the characters and the story and knows the history of them. He also knows what they will or won't say and do.

If the director really don't care and has no connection to the characters or story then it's gonna show.

Of course, sometimes it's meddling producers or studios that screw things up (Star Trek 5, which was still amazingly watchable but didn't reach it's potential) so I would give directors that weren't allowed to do their jobs a break.

Speaking of worlds within worlds,
When, oh when will they make a Chronicles Of Amber flick? Preferably a trilogy.
Zelazny is such a good writer they wouldn't hafta do much for the screenplay.

AndrewPrice said...

DUQ, That's a good question. Hmm. Now that I think about it, they are the identical concept. The only difference is the motive for venturing into the electronic world?

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I agree 100%.

I think science fiction directors typically fall into two types. The first type are those who have no affinity for science fiction at all. In fact, I'm amazed at how many directors will say something like that, "oh, I hate science fiction, but I don't have to like sci-fi to direct a film." Yeah, right. These guys lack the depth needed to handle the ideas and they make films like this one.

Then the second type are the guys who are pure science fiction and don't grasp that the story needs more than just sciency-sets and paradoxes. They guys make films that are very sterile and unlikable.

The best directors are guys like Ridley Scott, who clearly understand both aspects and is great at mixing them seemlessly.

tryanmax said...

It's certainly a fair bit of sport to kick Descartes around. That isn't to say that "I think, therefore I am" isn't called upon to create an illusion of profundity where none exists. But I still think the statement packs a level of profundity rarely if ever matched in Western--and possibly all--thought.

T-Rav said...

I remember hearing something about this movie some time ago, but I can't remember what it was. Or maybe that was Thirteen Ghosts.

Also, I agree with tryanmax that we shouldn't knock ol' Descartes down too much. As a bit of context, the 17th century was full of skeptics who he believed were ruining civilization by introducing doubt of everyone and everything. His goal was to establish via logic the things we could know for certain, and he started with the question of existence. And it is an effective statement: it points out that you cannot disbelieve your own existence, since to do so is a contradiction in terms. From there, his object was to rebuild certainty in everything else. The results were far from perfect, but it was a worthy effort.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I agree that it offers a tremendous level of profundity, but only as an introduction. And if the film had moved on from there and made the point that somehow existence does depend on our believing in our existence, then this would have been a great start. But it didn't. It just chose to use that quote to try to sound profound. It comes across like writing "E=MC2" and then making the film about someone building a bomb... yeah, they're related, but the quote doesn't really give you much related to the film.

And in the end, I think the problem with the quote is that it gives us a warning that the writer isn't really all that deep and is doing everything at a real surface level.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, I'm not knocking Descartes, and as I pointed out in one of the comments above, he was indeed trying to prove the things he knew for a fact. The problem is that he was wrong. But of course, in philosophy, being wrong often leads you in good directions too and Descartes kicked off an impressive line of argument in trying to prove the existence of God which remains unsettled today.

Thirteen Ghosts is a very different film from this one. LOL!

tryanmax said...

Andrew, you know what's funny? I thought of the same E=mc^2 analogy, but I didn't know how to work it into my thoughts.

AndrewPrice said...

Great minds! Actually, I think both thoughts have become representations of "genius" -- the kind of thing characters write on chalkboards to appear like they are super smart.

Tennessee Jed said...

thanks for a very good and thorough review. It sounds to me as if you are describing so many films which present a premise with plenty of promise, only to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory for any number of reasons. More and more, there are films out there where we say to ourselves "I really wanted to like this one, but . . .)

And I probably will try to catch it sometime, although I find it much harder to do after reading a review which points out it's numerous flaws. Probably a little of the "anchor effect" in play I suppose.

Too bad Dennis Haysbert apparently mailed it in. I had always liked him in most everything in which I'd seen him

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, When you hear him speak, it will be impossible to separate him from the All-State commercials because he uses the same tone, same inflection, and same sentence structure (short, impersonal declarations) throughout.

I think the film is worth watching, but like I say, I do have issues with it. To me personally, the biggest distraction is actually Bierko who literally acts identically to how he does in Scary Movie 4 and that makes it hard to take him seriously anymore. That wasn't a problem before Scary Movie 4, but it is now. And even before, his acting just isn't up to the level of a lead character.

And you're right, there are far too many "I wanted to like this, but..." films these days. That's why I'm thrilled whenever I find a great one.

Doc Whoa said...

Jed, What is the anchor effect?

ScyFyterry said...

I enjoyed this film because it is science fiction, which is rare. It wasn't great, but it wasn't half bad either. You know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of eXistenZ.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, I think that's an apt comparison. They came out about the same time and they are both missing "the it" factor to lift them up. I would say I prefer eXistenZ because it's actors are better and the story is a good deal tighter. But overall, they are in a similar class.

ScyFyterry said...

Oh, good thought on this being like Inception. The idea is actually identical. It's just executed very differently.

ScyFyterry said...

I can see how this and eXistenZ are in the same class. That's a good way to put it.

AndrewPrice said...

Doc, It basically means that once you've been told something, you will tend to rely on that in evaluating something. In other words, if you see a film with no preconceived notions, you might not notice a particular issue. But once you've been told to look for it, you will see it.

AndrewPrice said...

Terry, It is an interesting comparison.

Anonymous said...

This was a solid C as far as movies go. It had a good story, but was undone by bad acting and bad direction. 1937 Los Angeles was great when they showed it, but you only saw it a couple time.

Gideon7 said...

Inception is a masterpiece. Christopher Nolan spent 8 years working on the screenplay and it shows.

Each level of reality has its own color palette: one level is tinted in all blues, the next all reds and browns, the next all white. As the film jumps back and forth between each level the changing color tint lets the audience know immediately where they are.

Except, of course, when the level of reality is deliberately ambiguous. (Hint: There are at least 6 levels.) I love this film.

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, I really liked the shots of 1937 LA, and I wished there had been more. In fact, it would have been nice if they has spent more time in the 1937 world over all.

AndrewPrice said...

Gideon7, You love Inception or Thirteenth Floor or both?

I agree that Inception is a much, much better film all around. It handles the same issues at play here issue with a lot more intelligence, creativity and depth. It also delves deeply into the types of things which should arise out of people moving between alternate realities and not being sure what is real -- Thirteenth Floor really only skims those things.

Gideon7 said...

Haven't seen Thirteenth Floor. I've seen Inception three times. Each time I discovered something new I missed the previous time.

AndrewPrice said...

Ah. That's what I thought you meant. I've seen it several times as well and I keep seeing new things in it each time as well. There is a LOT packed into that movie. Very commendable!

Anonymous said...

Doc -

I would expect the crew quarters on the Enterprise to look more or less the same but I do agree - it all looked a little too perfect, though the dull lighting didn't help either. One of the things I liked about Star Trek VI was that they added little nicks and scratches to the bulkheads - subtle but appreciated.

To the room -

Re: Roland Emmerich, I never thought he was a bad director but I haven't seen 10,000 BC and 2012 was a painful experience. He seemed to lose something after he and producer Dean Devlin split up.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Looking at his filmography, it's hard to say he ever had it. Independence Day was solid and Stargate was ok. But other than that, I'm not thrilled with anything he did, and all of his enviro-doomsdayism is crappola.

On the Star Trek issue, it's not that the rooms themselves look alike, it's that there's nothing personal there. They look like hotel rooms. There are no personal pictures, no dirty clothes, no half eaten lunch sitting around waiting to be tossed out, no papers, no games, no junk, no workout gear, no nothing. There is nothing to tell you that these people actually live there.

T-Rav said...

I've only seen bits of 10,000 BC and 2012 and neither looked interesting. When the latter came out, I read a guest article for Entertainment Weekly by (of all people) Stephen King, basically complaining that Emmerich had a tendency to belittle tragedy and suffering if it didn't affect the main characters. He specifically cited the scene in 2012 where John Cusack and his family are escaping a collapsing L.A., and it's set up to be magical and breathtaking how narrow their escape was, and there are obviously millions of people dying in the city while this is happening. I guess all directors have a tendency to do that sort of thing--ignore the background characters--but even in Independence Day, he seemed to be really bad about it. I still roll my eyes at the dog in the subway tunnel.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, I get you. :-) Honestly, I just wanted a reason to talk about Descartes.

I take it your opinion of Inception has improved over time?

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, The Day After Tomorrow is an atrocity. 2012 is an atrocity times ten. First, it's incredibly long. Secondly, it's incredibly pointless. Third, it's nonsense. It's one of those where you simple can't believe anything that happens to the main characters. And while I normally loath King, he is right this time -- Emmerich treats all the deaths like "wow, cool, look at that! Splat... dude!" unless they affect a main characters. Then we're supposed to cry.

Any excuse to talk about Descartes is a good one! LOL!

It has improved a good deal, though I still have "core doubts."

Anonymous said...

T-Rav -

I totally agree and King is correct: 2012 was borderline sadistic when it came to death and destruction. With today's technology, you can now see the tiny people falling to their deaths and after a while, it became too much. On the other hand, I still don't mind the destruction in Independence Day - I don't know... maybe because we're a little further away. Maybe because it's simply a better movie so even the bad parts are elevated a little bit. "A rising tide..."

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

You phrased the Trek answer more eloquently than I did but that's more or less what I meant. :-)

Nick Meyer paid better attention to this sort of thing in his movies. Spock had a Biblical painting in his quarters, Kirk had a duffel bag, we saw a galley with actual dishes, etc. - not perfect, but an improvement over what had come before.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I'm big on eloquence motherf*cker. ;)

I agree though, Meyer included a lot of little touches which really made the ship feel like it was a real ship and not just a set. If there is one thing I could tell most science fiction directors it would be to learn to include these little touches. It doesn't cost much to make a set feel real and it adds so much.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Tryanmax said...

"It's certainly a fair bit of sport to kick Descartes around. That isn't to say that "I think, therefore I am" isn't called upon to create an illusion of profundity where none exists. But I still think the statement packs a level of profundity rarely if ever matched in Western--and possibly all--thought."

Well, if you mean profundity in the sense of very destructive for those who have embraced that philosophy, then I agree.

Particularly since it led to Rousseau, Kant, Marx, etc..

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

T-Rav said...

Also, I agree with tryanmax that we shouldn't knock ol' Descartes down too much. As a bit of context, the 17th century was full of skeptics who he believed were ruining civilization by introducing doubt of everyone and everything."

Wait, so Descartes tried to counter the skeptics by using the Cartesian Method of doubt?
Not to mention that doubt is not a cognitive method (such as reasoning) to begin with (questions yes, but not doubt).

"His goal was to establish via logic the things we could know for certain, and he started with the question of existence."

No, he didn't start with existence, but with his whimsies about what he'd like to know about what he could not know.

His goal was to 'free himself' from the reality which Aristotle gave him no escape from, so that he could believe in whatever he wished were true - truly, he put Descartes before de horse.

"And it is an effective statement: it points out that you cannot disbelieve your own existence, since to do so is a contradiction in terms. From there, his object was to rebuild certainty in everything else. The results were far from perfect, but it was a worthy effort."

Ok, the first rule of sound thinking and forming a syllogism, is that your premises must be true, or nothing true can follow from them.

He began with an arbitrary proposition, because only that would allow the appearance of thought, while enabling him to depart from the confines of reality.

Descartes ultimate goal was not absolute truth but rather absolute certainty.
The same aspiration that leftists have today.

I find Descartes' taxidermy philosophy to be worthy only as it can be used to teach folks how not to think.

I much prefer Critical Reasoning to Critical Doubt anyday.

For an outstanding (bit long, but it's worth it) post on the dangers inherent in the destructive philosophy of Descartes and those who followed him see here:
Reasoning VS Descartes

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I think you're being a little hard on Descartes. His ultimate goal was to prove the existence of God and the steps he took of trying to catalog what he actually knows to be absolutely true rather things he just perceives as true, is a very valid method for such an analysis. It in fact forms the basis of scientific inquiry, where you can't start with any assumptions.

The problem was that he got trapped in a flaw within our language which assumes existence when you describe existence. That's why I suspect philosophy will ultimately need to turn to math to solve questions of reality because it contains the genuine concept of non-existence -- zero.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Andrew, I'm not saying Descartes didn't have good intentions, however...let's see what Descartes said:

“I thought it necessary that I reject as absolutely false everything in which I could imagine the least doubt, so as to see whether, after this process, anything in my set of beliefs remains that is absolutely indubitable.”

Doubt (especially imagined doubt) can't be used as a reliable tool to replace reason and logic.
It also makes any truth one might perceive (or conceive, as he later says) relative.

One can literally imagine doubt in virtually anything, and that would vary from person to person. That doesn't mean it ain't true.

Conversely, if one can't imagine any doubts about something that doesn't necessarily mean it's true.

Here's Descartes again in his Discourse Method:
""After this I inquired in general into what is essential I to the truth and certainty of a proposition; for since I had discovered one which I knew to be true, I thought that I must likewise be able to discover the ground of this certitude. And as I observed that in the words I think, therefore I am, there is nothing at all which gives me assurance of their truth beyond this, that I see very clearly that in order to think it is necessary to exist, I concluded that I might take, as a general rule, the principle, that all the things which we very clearly and distinctly conceive are true, only observing, however, that there is some difficulty in rightly determining the objects which we distinctly conceive."

So Descartes stumbled upon one of the major flaws in his method. Unfortunately, he doesn't delve deeper into the ramifications of it.

To quote (for brevity) from the link (which, I think does a masterful job of exposing how screwed up the Cartesian Method is):

"Be careful now, because he (Descartes) does not say, that in order to establish truth, you will examine the facts and basis for your ideas, check your ideas against reality, and in looking for contradictions between what is, and what is proposed, that you will examine, test and verify as best as you can whether they are true or not while working towards a clearer and clearer conception of what is True, no no no nooo… what it does say, is that you, within the confines of your own little isolated mind, checking only against your own notions of how things seem to you, those notions are sufficient to decide whether something measures up to your notions… or not.. without reference to reality, and reality is then officially pronounced to be, as you clearly and distinctly imagine it to be."

I think it's more than language, although that's certainly a problem. Descartes essentially abandons objective reasoning.

Language problems notwithstanding, I can read Socrates, Aquinas, Bion, etc., and get value from their philosophies.

Derscartes, Hume, Kant, etc., I see worse than valueless when folks embrace those philosophies.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, I'm not saying Descartes was right. He was in fact wrong. But he does state an important principle about having to prove something to be true before treating it as true. And his intentions were not like Hume or Kant or Marx. His goal was simply to prove the existence of God, something he believed in deeply. The other guys were trying to prove the need for dictatorship essentially.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Yes, I concur his intentions were good. Plus, he did help with differential physics I think it was. Something math.

I believe Descartes also admitted that Aristotle was right a few times (that induction and reasoning are both essential) after trying to come up with something completely new, so I give him points for that.

I was emphasizing mostly what Rousseau, Hume, Kant, et al ran with with. I don't believe Descartes ever intended for that to happen. He did have a concience.

AndrewPrice said...

Ben, That's what I've always read/heard. So I've never been too down on Descartes. Now the other guys you've mentioned, those dudes I do not like at all. I think they got it completely backwards and justified violence masquerading as a means to prevent violence -- basically, they argued that it is moral to use force so long as you are oppressing people for their own good.

Anonymous said...

Here we are 11 months later...!

I commented above but I most likely avoided reading the actual review... unfortunately, I figured out the "twist" about a third of the way through. If you want to see this idea done better, watch the TNG episode "Ship in a Bottle."

My comments about art direction are still valid and it's an obvious sign of a small budget, along with the lack of extras. They obviously spent all their money on the 1937 scenes. I was surprised they managed to film this movie in LA - I had assumed they filmed it in Canada or the UK with stock shots of LA thrown in. But nope, all LA! I did like the film noir vibe, though.

It's funny... if Christopher Nolan (or Ridley Scott, etc.) had directed this movie, it would've made half a billion dollars and we'd still be talking about it. But it was directed by a guy who's now toiling in direct-to-DVD land.

I like Bierko and Moll so maybe I was pre-disposed to like their characters. But yeah, no sense of urgency and no explanation for why the simulation was created in the first place. And Bierko does seem to have some information now and then that makes you wonder how he got it.

The idea of getting killed and then your simulation comes back to life in the present... I didn't buy that for a second! How could that even work?! :-)

And the Descartes quote at the opening... I thought the same thing. Moriarty uses the same line in the aforementioned Trek episode.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think you're right that if you throw a different name on the production, it would have made a fortune and we'd still be talking about. That's kind of an interesting thought isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Andrew -

Yes, it is. Some directors just have a knack for this sort of thing.

Some of the best directors could transition seamlessly from one genre to the next while others discover their niche and stay in it... while others do well in one genre and, despite wanting to try new things, get typecast.

I think if this film were released today - with the Internet and social networking being what it is - it might have a little more staying power.

indiescifi451. com said...

13th Floor is one of those flawed but still enjoyable films... there were many of them in the '90-s/early '00-s. And it's definitely better than "Avalon".

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