THE FIGHT FOR THE FUTURE BEGINS.
When Larry and Andy Wachowski were working as screenwriters on a film called Assassins (1995), they showed producer Joel Silver another script. He loved it, but not so much when the brothers insisted on directing it. Silver told them to cut their teeth on something, and that was to be the 1996 sex thriller Bound. The brothers’ directorial debut became a hit with critics and Warner let the two rookies start working on The Matrix, a fairly expensive, highly charged action movie with sci-fi elements. Truly, it could have gone either way.
Much like reading “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, the audience steps into a strange, new world where things never are what they seem. The world our main character lives in looks much like the one we all inhabit, only it’s darker, rainier and there’s a shade of green to everything. Occasionally, things happen that are truly confusing.
When we meet Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), called “Neo” by his hacker colleagues, he has felt for a long time that something is not right with the world. That feeling is reinforced when men in black clothes and shades who call themselves agents go after Neo and show him a few tricks no human could pull off. He refuses to cooperate with them and is picked up by a woman, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), who take him to Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), an imposing but trustworthy man who offers Neo a choice between a blue pill that will take him back to his bed and virtually end his strange experience, and a red pill that will show him what’s really going on.
As Neo swallows the red pill, the truth about the Matrix is revealed to him and it’s a shocker. It turns out that he is the Chosen One and it’s his job to fight the machines, enemies of mankind. But he won’t be able to do that unless he brings out the powers that lie nascent in him… and the fight begins by taking on the very deadly agents, led by Smith (Hugo Weaving).
Style is key
It’s not a surprise to learn that the Wachowski brothers started out writing comic books; this concept looks like something from that world and the movie’s design was also created with help from skilled comic book artists. It’s very stylish, the way the main characters dress when they’re inside the Matrix, and the way they handle themselves during fights and shootouts. Expert fight choreographers and CGI effects help make the action memorable; in some sequences, time freezes in order to fully convey to the audience (and Neo himself) just how fast the characters are moving and how awesome Neo’s powers are becoming.
Even now, eight years later, this film looks great, but the key here is style – the ideas behind it are not always up to par, but if you’re willing to go along with the action you will enjoy the film. Reeves is surprisingly engaging as our “Alice”, an everyman who discovers that he is the Christ, but the most thrilling performance is given by Weaving as the evil, lifelike program that articulates its words very carefully (he has a few great lines).
There is much to be said about the concept of reality and what that means, as well as the film’s message about the need to fight oppression. Perhaps you’ll object against the filmmakers’ penchant for showing violence as a thing of beauty. Personally, I can’t help but love a movie that explains déjà vu as a technical glitch in the synthetic world we apparently share. Watch those machines.
The Matrix 1999-U.S. 136 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Joel Silver. Written and directed by The Wachowski Brothers. Cinematography: Bill Pope. Editing: Zach Staenberg. Visual Effects: John Gaeta, and others. Cast: Keanu Reeves (Thomas ”Neo” Anderson), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster, Joe Pantoliano.
Trivia: The directors hired kung fu champion Yuen Wo-Ping to help instruct the fight scenes. Ewan McGregor and Will Smith were allegedly considered for the part of Neo. Followed by two sequels, starting with The Matrix Reloaded (2003).
Oscars: Best Editing, Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Editing. BAFTA: Best Visual Effects, Sound.
Quote: “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area, and you multiply, and multiply, until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet, you are a plague, and we are the cure.” (Weaver to Fishburne)
Last word: “Another process that we had to deal with was that in the Matrix itself we had to have both the new and old. In our ‘real world’ we had to have a world that has seen a lot of decay over the last 150 years, so we distressed the Nebuchadnezzar inside and when the CG is done of the external of the Neb it will also be distressed. We needed to find some way that if, say you were cutting from the Nebuchadnezzar to the same character, but in the Matrix, you would be able to know that you were in a different place. We have tried to express this through color. The Matrix has a predominance of green, all the washes that Peter has used have had a green base to them. Wherever it was possible and practicable we took the blue out, we even took it out of the sky of the translight in the government building. In the real world we tried to push blue as much as possible, so there is a blue base to everything; the Nebuchadnezzar has a blue base. There are other colors used in the film, but it is a relatively monochromatic palette that we have used throughout, with small hints of other colors for definition.” (Production designer Owen Paterson, MatrixFans.net)