The Ultimate Matrix Collection
June 26, 2005
Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski, ,
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster, Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Monica Bellucci, Helmut Bakaitis, Nona Gaye, Harold Perrineau Jr., Jada Pinkett Smith, Mary Alice, Lambert Wilson, Bruce Spence, ,
It’s safe to say that The Matrix trilogy has become firmly entrenched in our pop culture zeitgeist. It is a classic example of being in the right place at the right time with just the right blend of genres: moody film noir, Cyberpunk science fiction and kick ass martial arts movies. Throw in some existential philosophy, some messianic themes and some truly breathtaking special effects and you have a series that became a new generation’s equivalent of Star Wars. In an attempt to compete with New Line’s impressive special edition sets for The Lord of the Rings movies, Warner Brothers has packaged The Matrix trilogy in a massive 10-DVD set with many hours of supplemental material guaranteed to keep fans of these films busy for days.
On the surface, The Matrix (1999) is about Thomas Anderson (Reeves), a computer programmer by day, hacker by night. He seeks out international terrorist and super hacker, Morpheus (Fishburne). When they meet, Morpheus tells him that the world he knows is merely a computer simulation. “The real world” is an apocalyptic hell ruled by omnipotent machines that harvest millions upon millions of human beings for energy. Anderson is reborn as Neo whom Morpheus believes is “The One,” the saviour of humanity from the machines.
The Matrix is a perfect blend of thought-provoking concepts and spectacularly cool action sequences that takes John Woo’s Hong Kong action techniques (slow mo two-gun action) to a whole other level. Not surprisingly, everyone was expecting big things from The Matrix Reloaded (2003). The hype and the stakes were very high. General critical consensus decided that it did not live up to the promise of all the advanced hype. But then, how does one top a first act like The Matrix? Perhaps it is because Reloaded tries too hard to replicate and then top sequences from the first movie.
The machines are digging their way through the earth to reach and destroy Zion, the last outpost of humans liberated from their technological oppressors. For some unknown reason, Agent Smith (Weaving) has gone rogue and become even more powerful, able to clone himself many times over. He and Neo fight in a brawl like something out of a Jack Kirby comic book as they send each other flying into buildings. Morpheus, Neo and Trinity meet the Merovingian (Wilson), one of the oldest programs within The Matrix, in order to find the Keymaker who plays a significant part in their mission to save Zion.
The Wachowski brothers upped the ante on the famous bullet time technique by applying it to an impressive car chase sequence involving Trinity driving a motorcycle into oncoming traffic and the collision of two tractor trailer trucks—easily the most impressive action sequence in the movie. The Wachowskis concluded their ambitious Cyberpunk trilogy with The Matrix Revolutions (2003). It was greeted with almost universal critical damnation or indifference and diminishing financial returns. So what happened?
Revolutions jumps right in with no pre-amble. Neo has disappeared into a nebulous zone between The Matrix and the real world. The machines are rapidly drilling their way through the earth to get to Zion. Morpheus and Trinity are trying to find Neo before this happens. Agent Smith has become so independently powerful that he is a threat to both humanity and the machines. The humans go to war against the machines and Neo faces off against Smith one last time.
It’s safe to say that Revolutions is something of a disappointment. After the groundbreaking brilliance of the first movie and its under-appreciated sequel (which isn’t nearly bad as most critics would have you believe), Revolutions is not a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. The film collapses under its own narrative weight and is unable to resolve the gaping plot holes at its conclusion.
The Animatrix (2003) opens up the universe of The Matrix to other collaborators who work in the world of animation. There are nine short films that range from realistic computer animation, like in “Final Flight of the Osiris” (by Final Fantasy’s Andy Jones) to traditional Japanese anime with “Beyond” (by Koji Morimoto). What makes these animated shorts so interesting is that they explore the margins of The Matrix universe and also further the mythos that the Wachowskis established (three of them are actually written by the brothers). There is a nice variety in the kinds of stories that dabble in several genres and yet all fit comfortably in the world of The Matrix. “A Detective Story” for example is a moody, atmospheric film noir by Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop) that brilliantly evokes vintage black and white noirs of the ‘40s.
There are two audio commentaries for each movie. In an interesting move, the Wachowski brothers have divided them into pro and con sides. The pro is represented by philosophers Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber. West spends most of his time throwing around terms like “global information system” and pontificates pretentiously about “the power of Eros.” As one would expect they talk at length about the philosophical and religious meanings behind character names and themes that the films explore. The con is represented by a trio of film critics, Variety’s Todd McCarthy, Vogue’s John Powers and film historian David Thomson. They are pretty easy on the first film but the knives come out with Reloaded as they start slamming it right from the opening action sequence. However, more often than not they try to impress with their film knowledge as they name drop filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and movies like Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998).
After awhile, the prevailing attitude of a lot of the extras on these discs is that of an over-confident sports team as opposed to the familial, humble vibe of The Lord of the Rings crew.
The Matrix Revisited traces the film’s humble origins from an idea that the Wachowski brothers had for a comic book to the screenplay that they ended up writing to the film that they made to the legacy that now exists. The documentary covers the various aspects of the moviemaking process: from the writing of the screenplay to the creation of the sets to how specific scenes were shot. There is a good mix of interviews conducted with the main cast (although Joe Pantoliano is conspicuously absent) during the filming of The Matrix and more recent ones that look like they were done just as production was beginning on The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions. Even the camera-shy Wachowski brothers are interviewed, as are many of the unsung heroes that worked behind the scenes (like comic book artist Geof Darrow) and are rarely discussed in articles about the movie. There is a solid mix of talking head interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and clips from the movie itself. It’s quite a revealing look at how a big budget, high concept film is put together.
The Matrix Reloaded Revisited features all of the live-action sequences the Wachowskis shot for the Enter the Matrix video game but without putting any of them in any kind of context (they bridge the time between The Matrix and Reloaded). Some of the highlights of this disc also include a detailed look at how the exciting freeway chase sequence was filmed. A mile and half of freeway was constructed in California specifically for this sequence! It’s amazing how much of it was done without CGI. Also of interest is the creation of the battle between Neo and 80 Agent Smiths. Keanu Reeves points out that there are more fight moves in this one sequence than the entire first movie!
The Matrix Revolutions Revisited examines how the film’s epic final siege was done. Not surprisingly, it features a mix of live action, models and extensive CGI work. The cast talk about their characters, including Harold Perrineau, Jr. who gushes about his experiences and Nona Gaye who comments on the bittersweet experience of