December 5, 2003
Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski,
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishbourne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster, Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Julian Arahanga, Matt Doran, Belinda McClory, Anthony Ray Parker, Paul Goddard, Robert Taylor, David Aston, Marc Gray,
“George (Lucas) never saw this (phantom) menace coming” was the quote used in one publication to herald the theatrical release of the Wachowski Brothers’ The Matrix. A film that redefines the action genre and brings science fiction to the mass market. It’s only fitting then that this “breakthrough” movie should receive a breakthrough DVD release.
Is The Matrix really the shining light in film that its fans, and indeed its directors claim it to be? Sure it has unquestionably taken action to a new level, and instigated many imitations as all new pioneering films tend to do. As a film though; a piece of intelligent and thought provoking cinema that both entertains and challenges the viewer on many levels, it falls somewhat short. The plot was acclaimed by the cinema going public as one of the best pieces of science fiction seen in cinema today, yet it’s boiling over with sci-fi clichés and inane nonsensical dialogue. The very concept of man creating machines that then go on to over power man both physically and mentally is the stuff of sci-fi folk lore. Terminator, 2001 A Space Odyssey, Westworld, Metropolis and too many more to mention featured man’s creations waging war on the creators. As for the concept of man living a lie in a computer program, blissfully unaware of the reality outside him; cinema has again visited the ground many times before. Total Recall being the most recent example of this, but with shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek Voyager frequently blurring the lines between computer reality and, well, reality we can conclude that The Matrix was anything but original in its concept, at least in science fiction terms.
It should also be noted that The Matrix, like almost every other movie, features one massive plot hole. The kind of plot hole that improbable sci-fi movies have to grin and bear. When Cypher is talking to Agent Smith about betraying Morpheus in the restaurant, they are in the Matrix. Cypher could have only gotten into the Matrix whilst aboard Morpheus’ ship, and would have needed someone to connect him. Therefore, his plans of betrayal would have been known. He could not have conducted his rendezvous in secret. This is why we didn’t see Cypher enter or exit the Matrix at this meeting, it was not possible for him to do it. Never mind, no one will notice.
As a piece of entertainment though it has few equals, so long as you’re prepared to fast forward that banal thirty minutes of uninterrupted dialogue and sci-fi ground re-treading in the middle. The dialogue was of so little importance to messas Wachowski and Wachowski that they even filmed a line wrong, and didn’t care enough to re-shoot, or to even notice. “It is the mental projection of the digital self” exclaims Morpheus to a rather wooden Neo. ‘Mental’ projection of the ‘digital’ self? I believe the Matrix is actually the ‘digital’ projection of the ‘mental’ self, but let’s not split hairs.
When you have an actor as wooden as Keanu Reeves it’s best to avoid long dialogue sequences, and particularly where he has to talk to and question himself – “why me, what did I do? I’m nobody”. Now that redefined wooden. But hey, we all know that Keanu wasn’t hired for his method acting, it was for his looks; and he looks fantastic. Indeed the whole cast look awesome in this film as the production design is the best I’ve seen for years. As well as inspiring action in cinema The Matrix also inspired a generation of leather coat wearing, shades sporting and skin tight PVC donning followers; and we thank it for it. It’s very rare for a film to create a clothing revolution, let alone one that does actually look good.
Despite the plot being something that is overly familiar to sci-fi veterans there is a great theme running through the film of Alice through the Looking Glass. This theme is even carried across to the DVD’s special features, which I’ll come to later.
Of course the main crux of The Matrix is its unrivalled action sequences. The genre has been steadily treading water since the mid eighties with Die Hard and Lethal Weapon creating what appeared to be the peak. Now The Matrix has re-written the rule book on what action really is. Using a photographic style invented by some photographer who’s name escapes me, and will no doubt be accredited to the Wachowski brothers anyway due to the fact that they’ve christened it bullet time; the film shocked audiences with what was actually possible on screen. A series of cameras placed in a line would expose one frame of film each, either at the same time or in sequence and once the frames of film were joined together they would create a moving image of one moment in time – bullet time.
As with Terminator 2’s use of the morphing technology, once bullet time had been unveiled it was used by every low budget production wishing to add a little sophistication into their project, and promptly over used. T2 used the morph because their T-1000 could change shape and imitate anything that it touched, The Matrix used bullet time because it showed the way that the people who had hacked into the Matrix could see everything much faster than everyone else, and were able to act quicker. It was as if time slowed down for Neo, his reflexes and understanding of the Matrix were so great. To throw the bullet time, or morph techniques into an action sequence for the sake of it like so many pale imitation movies have done shows a lack of originality beyond measure.
So what we have here isn’t the greatest sci-fi of all time, nor is it the greatest action movie ever. It has action sequences the like of which had never been seen previously, and has raised the bar on what is required to create a truly original cinematic experience. However, it does have a plodding script, and a final cut that could have done with a further thirty minutes taking out. The Matrix will be on many people’s top ten list, and perhaps deserves to be, but not as a film, merely as a breakthrough in cinema that marks the next evolutionary step in action.
Just as the film redefined action, the DVD release has set a new precedent for the technology. The animated menus drag you into the Matrix with the same forcefulness that brought Neo kicking and screaming into the real world.
The gem of the special features has to be the seamless branching enabled follow the white rabbit function. Whilst watching the film a white rabbit icon appears in the corner of the screen at various scenes, selecting the bunny (assuming it is wabbit season) will take you to a behind the scenes look at the sequence in question. Naturally they all tend to be action sequences!
The now obligatory HBO first look special also features, but when a film features such new technologies as this you’ll tolerate any amount of “this will be the best movie ever” voice over to get a glimpse at how they did it all. You also get DVD Rom content which will please those interactive seekers amongst you, which also features the original screenplay.
Pretty much all of these features are geared towards the action, and that’s what The Matrix is: 100% pure action. If this DVD isn’t in your collection, check who you’ve lent it to for you surely must have bought it!?