Wednesday, November 27, 2013
(March 1999, U.S.)
Back in the Spring of 1999, my wife (girlfriend at the time) lived on East 86th Street in New York City within a very short walking distance of four, count 'em, FOUR movie theaters! This afforded us untold opportunities to see just about every film that was being released at the time. Sometimes we planned far in advance to see something that was real hot on our "must see" list. Sometimes it just happened to be a restless Saturday night for both of us and we were simply looking to get out and go to a movie...any movie. On those nights, anything was possible for me, particularly since I still had an open mind when it came to Hollywood mainstream movies. Therefore, when we both decided to see what looked like to be a new science fiction/action movie called THE MATRIX, it seemed that anything was possible. Hell, it practically didn't matter to me considering that the only film I could focus any concentration on during the Spring of 1999 was the upcoming return of the STAR WARS universe in a film to be called THE PHANTOM MENACE. So, really, at that point in time, THE MATRIX could have blown me away or it could have really sucked. It didn't really matter to me.
Well, in the words of Keanu Reeves' most often repeated expression of awe..."Whoah!" THE MATRIX not only proved to provide some incredible and spectacular action, but it introduced its audience to a new level of film making effects that hadn't been see before. The film's incorporation of something known as Wire-Fu techniques, including the involvement of top fight choreographers with backgrounds in Hong Kong action cinema, affected the approaches to fight scenes taken by subsequent Hollywood action films, moving them towards more Eastern cinematic styles. These sophisticated techniques from such choreographers, that also including slow motion and spinning camera work, would later influence such works of wire in other films like CHARLIE'S ANGELS and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (both 2000). The "bullet time" effect on the screen during a sequence of spectacular shooting is particularly noteworthy for a striking visual effect without being too cheesy. So, there you have it - the visual effects for THE MATRIX speak for themselves just by watching and appreciating them.
But what about story? Well, can we honestly claim that the concept of the post-apocalyptic world of tomorrow is anything new? No. Can we honestly claim that the world of tomorrow where human beings are dominated by artificial intelligence or machine technology is anything new. No (Hell, just look around you today and you'll see that the majority of the human race have become helpless slaves to everything ever invented by the late Steve Jobs!). What THE MATRIX seeks to introduce to its audience is the idea that our world has not only been scorched by "the big one", but that the human race is living under the influence of a computer-generated simulation (known as the "Matrix") of what the world was like before it all went to Hell! The film's hero, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) has lived in this false world since birth. However, he is believed to be "the One" by a band of resistance fighters led by Morpheus (played by Lawrence Fishburne) who believe he's the man prophesized to ultimately end the war between humans and machines. And like any computer program that has it's bad side, glitches, or bugs, the film features dark-suited men known as "Agents", led by Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving) who seek to destroy the human resistance fighters. Bear in mind, that most of the action we witness in this film takes place inside the world of a computer program (think of TRON with a lot more violence and a lot more at stake for the world!). However, if you die in the Matrix, you die for real, because if the brain dies, so does the body...or something like that.
(hey, I'll be honest with you - a true sci-fi and computer geek could explain all of this a lot better than I could. I'm just a film guy, for crying out loud!)
Beyond the inevitable science fiction concept of humanity versus machine intelligence, THE MATRIX also offers high concepts in the world of dreams versus reality. As Morpheus asks, "Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?" As a man who has bizarre dreams on this planet during the present day, I can only say that such a concept is more than though-provoking, it's downright frightening! But if the world of what is approximated as the year 2199 is scorched beyond recognition by the inevitable nuclear fires, is ignorance not, indeed, truly bliss in this case?? Would we honestly choose the dark, grim and desolate world of reality's truth instead of the blissful world of the simulated? Would we honestly rather not be seated at a restaurant's fancy table eating a juicy steak and drink a fine red wine instead of fighting for our lives against the deadly machines of the underworld?? I guess what I'm trying to say is that I would have chosen to swallow the blue pill. No question!
For me THE MATRIX begins and ends with the first film. THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS (both 2003) may have had its moments, but in the end it was just more of the same shit and not nearly as good.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Neo: "This...this isn't real?"
Morpheus: "What is real? How do you define 'real'? If you're talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain."