The Akira Project

Akira_explosionKatsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is hailed by manga and comics fans alike as being one of the best graphic novels of all time. Similarly, the film adaptation, which was also written and directed by Otomo, is considered a premier example of anime and the cyberpunk genre – one that has remained a cult classic to this day. In spite of that, no one has been able to create a live-action version in the almost three decades since it was released.

That’s where the Akira Project comes in. This non-profit, crowdsourced group launched their Indiegogo campaign in July 2012 with the intention of financing a live-action version of the film that was as true to the original material as possible. After spending three days shooting on location in Montreal, Quebec (go Habs!) and a year and a half in post production, and with the help of some 40 artists in 12 countries, they have finally released their version of a live-action trailer (seen below).

In addition to wanting to see a film adaptation that does Akira justice, this project is also a response to Hollywood’s abortive attempts to create their own adaptation of Akira. These began in 2002, when Warner Bros. declared that they had acquired the rights to the franchise. However, since that time, there has been a constant stream of news that indicate that the people meant to write, direct, produce and even star in the film keep changing.

akira_club03For example, from 2008 to 2011, it was rumored that the leading roles would be filled by either Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron, James Franco, Keanu Reeves, Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Justin Timberlake, Joaquin Phoenix, and Chris Pine have all been said to be the front runners for the lead role of Kaneda at one time or another, while Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were all said to be considered for the role of Tetsuo Shima.

The names of those meant to director this film have also changed repeatedly. Initially, it was said that Stephen Norrington was on deck to direct, but in 2008, Ruairí Robinson was said to be the new front runner. In 2010, Warner Bros. was said to be in talks with Allen and Albert Hughes, but Lazar announced that summer that just Albert would directing. Most recently, Jaume Collet-Serra was said to be committed to the movie.

268170-akira06_superThe only name to stick to this project since 2008 is Andrew Lazar, who is committed to producing it. On top of all that, fans of the franchise have also been frustrated by apparent indications that the live-action Hollywood remake will be set in New York rather than Neo-Tokyo. This, combined with Collet-Serra’s apparent dislike for the original characters, has led to concerns that the movie that might result will be a bastardized, Americanized-version of the story that bears little resemblance to the kick-ass original.

Hence the Akira Project’s stated goal of being true to the original, as well as dedicated to making it happen. I tell ya, its a cool time to be alive when fans don’t have to wait for the major studios to get their heads out of their asses, and can make things happen on their own. For more information on this group and its progress, just head on over to the Akira Project website. And in the meantime, enjoy the kick-ass trailer:

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The Matrix: It’s Loaded!

When I wrote about the Matrix last, I believe I said something about how it basically rocked. And the critics all seemed to agree on this one: the action, the plot, the tone, and the rich metaphorical nature of the film all combined to create something that was entertaining, stimulating and even groundbreaking. The only problem with having such a big hit is, how good does the second one need to be in order to live up to the original? Even harder is creating a sequel that can top it! Greater people than the Wachoswkis have tried, few have succeeded.

In their heyday, Lucas, Scorsese, Cameron, Miller and a few others managed to top their first installments. In fact, Google a list of the best sequels ever made and I guarantee that The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back, Terminator 2, and Mad Max 2 will be in the top ten. Hell, top five! Go on, I’ll wait… Was I right? Yes, I’m sure there were other worthy entries in that list, but these ones stand out for one reason. Between movie one and two, they didn’t switch directors! That’s right, sometimes, when it was clear that a franchise was in the making, the studios brought in a pitch-hitter to give the movie a higher profile. But in cases where the original director was still in charge, it was even more impressive when the sequel was better.

Why should this be so, you ask? Well, two reasons that I can think of: One, inspiration is a fickle thing. Rarely does a creative mind know when their idea is truly spent. And unless they had the foresight to plot out where it was going ahead of time, rarely is a follow-up even foreseeable. Remember Highlander? There was a movie that had no business becoming a franchise! It ended in movie one, so movies two, three, four, etc, were mainly contrived explanations as to how there could possibly be any sequels. My apologies to any fans, but in this case, there really SHOULD have been only one…

And reason number two: Duty! If the first installment is a smash hit, the creator can’t help but feel obligated or pressured to create more of the same. In the process, they can overshoot and end up making something that feels totally forced. Or, to use another baseball metaphor, if you hit it out of the park on the first pitch, you’re likely to get nervous and end up hitting air on the second. And lets not forget, when it comes to the creative process, high expectations and pressure are like a hot lead enema. Little wonder then why movies like the aforementioned ones are so popular! In spite of the pressure and expectations, these creative minds managed to produce something golden not once but twice!

But enough about those sequels! Let’s get to this sequel! As I might have also alluded to in the last post, the Matrix: Reloaded did NOT quite live up to the first for many reasons, most of which had to do with why sequels fail in the first place.

The Matrix: Reloaded:
After the first movie’s success, the Wachowski brothers spent some time contemplating what they were going to do as a follow-up. Initially, rumor had it that they were going to make two more movies, one a prequel and the other a sequel. However, the brothers eventually decided on two sequels which would be filmed together and released within a few months of each other. I can’t say if this was done out of shrewdness or kindness, because while this did have some obvious commercial benefits for them, it was also a welcome relief to fans who wouldn’t have to wait a couple of years to see how it would all end.

However, this format also had some drawbacks. For one, it made the two movies seem more like a single movie told in two parts rather than two separate ones. It also meant that the critical flops were a lot more apparent, which led to some sour reviews towards the end. The Wachowksi’s had little to worry about though, since they still had the fans. But they too were saying bad things about the second and third movie that they weren’t saying about the first. In general, I tended to agree with these assessments, and here are some of the more glaring ones that I picked up on:

1. Convoluted Plot/that “Matrix within a Matrix” crap:
Reloaded suffered from a particularly obvious fact in that it was trying to do too much. This is surprising considering that the point of any second act is relatively simple: find a way to darken things. In the fist movie, Neo realized that he was the One and has superhuman powers which made him damn near invincible as far as the machines were concerned. But Act II had to end with things hanging by a thread and the heroes close to losing all hope. So the question remained, how were the machines supposed to get the upper hand on humanity now that their savior had arrived? How were we to get to that hopeless feeling that would keep us all guessing between parts II and III?

The answer: Well, turns out that the Matrix is older than anyone knows. And it has a way of dealing with the One too that ultimately serves its purpose. Basically, the machines periodically destroy Zion and time their system to crash at roughly the same time. As soon as the One emerges, they ensure that he/she finds their way to the Source where they are then given a choice: reboot the system and rebuild Zion once its been leveled, thus ensuring the human race remains alive and the Matrix keeps running; or let all humanity die. Honestly, not a bad idea. Kind of ties things up nicely too if you think about it (but not too much). Ah, but there was one problem when it came to the delivery of this plot line: nobody seemed to get it! After the movie opened at the box offices, the most common reaction reported by movie-goers, aside from being impressed with the special effects, was confusion! And who could blame them? Between the Oracle’s revelation that she is a program and that there are all kinds of exiled sentient programs running around in the Matrix, Smith’s long-winded diatribe about freedom and purpose, and the patronizing lecture from the Architect about the true nature of the Matrix with all the pointlessly big words (ergo, vis a vis, concordantly), everyone seemed to be just a little lost. What the hell did all that mean?

I wasn’t sure myself, and had to watch it a few times just to get it all down. Sure, it made sense in a convoluted way, but if you have to go over it again and again just to get it, the point is already lost. In fact, people were so confused that an entire culture of speculation seemed to spring up in the months between the release of the first and second movies. And rather than being concerned with what all the speeches meant, the focal point seemed to be on the last few minutes of the film where Neo killed those squiddies. Because of that, just about everyone seemed to think that there was a “Matrix within a Matrix”! In short, the characters were STILL in the Matrix when Neo killed them, and that meant… well, that depended on who you asked. Some even went so far (as one friend of mine did) as to say that Neo HIMSELF was a program. It made no sense to me and I told them so (sometimes arguments ensued!). But I could see why this was happening. When people don’t get a movie, they tend to make up their own plot. And just about everybody was doing that here!

2. Too much going on:
Another thing wrong with Reloaded was the fact that everything felt way too rushed. One minute, we’re getting a long speech or expository scene, and less than a second later, a big fight or a car chase. And all of it seemed to rush on endlessly towards a climax where, I hoped, everything would come together and things would make sense. I realized shortly after seeing it for the second or third time that it was for this very reason that the plot felt so convoluted. Had they taken their time to develop things and flesh things out some more, and not spent so much time cramming everything they could in, the movie might have made more sense and not been so overwhelming. Whereas in the first movie, time was taken to develop things and let questions and suspense build, this movie jumped right in and seemed to keep piling things on the longer it went. Here are some examples:

Mythological characters: In movie one, we were treated to a rich mythology where characters were obviously inspired by classical, biblical or historical figures and sources. This time around, the Wachowski brothers tried to do the same but both over and under-did it. On the one hand, we were saturated with characters who had obvious parallels to mythological figures:

Seraph- the guardian angel of the Oracle, based on biblical seraphs that protected heaven
The Twins – Castor/Pollux, the twin brothers of Greco-Roman mythology
The Merovingian – aka. the Frenchman, a power-hungry, exiled program named after the Merovingian dynasty of early France, who claimed descent from the union between Gods and humans (much like Greeks royals)
Persephone – his wife, based on the Greek goddess of renewal who was brought unhappily by Hades to the underworld to be his wife
The Keymaker – a sentient program imprisoned by the Merovingian who grants access to the back doors of the Matrix, the doors representing the doors of perception and the keys the answers
The Architect – the judicious and perfectionist mathematical program who designed the Matrix and is based on Yahweh, God in the Old Testament, in how he controls and binds all to his creation, even the One

On the other hand, not one of them was well-developed. Take any of the above mentioned characters and try to find a few words to describe them, but you can’t say who they were inspired by or what their basic function was. What can you say about Persephone other than she is inspired by the original and was the Merovingian’s wife, and angry? What can you say about the Merovingian other than he’s arrogant (and French)? How about the Architect, keeping in mind you can’t say he’s the creator of the Matrix and obviously a dick? Hard, isn’t it? The movie simply moved along too quickly to give a single one their due.

That stuff you notice is really the Matrix doing stuff: In this movie, we get a slew of explanations of how supernatural things and conspiracy theories are in fact aspects of the Matrix. A neat suggestion, and somehow related to the fact that there are sentient programs running around who are defying the Source. But do they take the opportunity to follow this thread and develop it, show us some examples and how it might be really, really significant? Not really… Remember that moment in the first movie where Neo’s says he’s having a moment of deja vu? Remember how everyone reacted and how it led to tension and an immediate action sequence? Not only was it a cool sci-fi concept, it was intrinsic to the plot. Here, not so much! Sure, we get to see some examples – the Vampires that work for the Merovingian or the Twins (who are decidedly ghost-like). But no time is spent explaining their purpose, why they chose to defy to the Matrix, or why they were behaving in such a way that the Matrix had to assimilate it. This is important shit, dammit! It shows just how detailed and rich the world of the Matrix is; but it goes by so fast, we barely notice!

Looooong action scenes: Last, but certainly not least, the action scenes were way too drawn out! I mean hey, I love a fight scene or a car chase as much as the next guy, but the fight with the Smiths and the freeway chase? Holy crap, did they go on! In both cases, it just felt like the Wachowski’s were trying to see how far they could take things. How many Smiths can we cram into one shot? How many cool moves can Neo do before he’s forced to fly away? How many cars can we crash and semi’s can we total? How many explosions? And after all that, Neo somehow manages to save EVERYBODY!

3. That dance scene: Really, what purpose did that scene serve? That long drawn out dance scene with the techno music interlaced with scenes of Neo and Trinity doing it in slow motion. Tell me what purpose it served! Was it meant to showcase how the people of Zion were trying to celebrate their freedom? Fine! Show them dancing in the background. Don’t do a ten-minute montage of slow motion dancing and screwing. It’s just plain weird!

4. CGI aint setting!: Here’s something George Lucas should have realized in the course of making his prequels. CGI does not a movie make! It must be somehow freeing to know that budgets are no longer an issue, but really, special effects are not a substitute for real settings or real people! This movie, just like all the Star Wars crap fests, was saturated with CGI, and it didn’t make it one bit more impressive! The massive fight scene between Neo and the Smiths, the Highway chase scene, and a plethora of other shots that were packed full of digital special effects… Well, they just showed! One fan-critic I remember hearing from pretty much summed it up: “No wonder all the characters wear glasses and trench coats and suits. Its so you don’t notice that they don’t look like the actors!”

And he was right! Especially during that fight scene, the Smiths and Neo just looked so… rendered! I mean really, the audience KNOWS when its CGI, so its not like you’re able to substitute it for a real shot and expect them not to know the difference. And in truth, it just seems lazy to rely on green screens and site lines rather than real actors, real sets and real costumes; which is why it should be used sparingly, not glaringly! If every face, every motion, every effect, and every background – hell, just everything in the shot – is rendered in CGI, it’s going to look fake! The result is that everyone’s going to be very aware of the fact that they are watching a movie. Suspension of disbelief will fly out the window!

5. Dialogue: Granted this movie had a few good lines, but nothing like the first. In fact, the dialogue in this one seemed very hackney and awkward compared to movie one, even when coming from Laurence Fishburn and Hugo Weaving! Smith’s opening speech to Neo, for example. Holy shit did that drag on! Not to mention that it was so full of cliches and philosophical claptrap! Yeah, I know it was obvious that Smith wanted to kill Neo by the way the background music was all menacing and building up to a crescendo, but you sure couldn’t tell from what he was saying: “I’m free, thanks to you. But see, I’m not really free. Blah, blah, blah, purpose. Blah, blah, blah, existence. Prepare to die!” And Morpheus, the one-time Pez dispenser of cool lines, became a big, over-enunciating machine in this one. Not once did he use a contraction! Right before the highway chase happens, he says “Yes… that is TRUUUE. Then let us PRAAAY, that I was WROOONG.” Laurence, I’m usually a fan, but that last line was hard to hear! Or how about “There are some things in this universe that do not change, Naobi. Some things DO change.” Ick! He aced his lines in movie one, sure, but this time around, both he and Weaving seemed daunted by bad script writing.

6. Neo saves everybody: A minor point, but it annoyed me, and I’m writing this, so there! Okay, so back to the freeway chase! Neo showed up at the last second to save Morpheus and the Keymaker, right? And remember how he did the exact same thing at the end and saved Trinity, even though he foresaw her death and we are told repeatedly that there is a very good chance she will die? So why does he get to save her in the end? One unlikely rescue was enough, two is pushing it. And in the end, this movie would have felt a lot more serious and dire if Neo lost the love of his life in the end. Hell, it would have been the perfect Act II downturn! He decides to forsake all other humans in order to save her, but then can’t! Can you feel the tragedy? I think movie-goers would have left thinking this movie made a lot more sense if that had happened! And before anyone tells me that’d be too sad, let me remind them that she dies anyway in Act III. This way, Neo goes into the final installment bitter, sad and full or rage; ready to kill and even die for the sake of one final act of vengeance/sacrifice in order to save Zion!

7. Holes: Even though I chose to challenge the whole “Matrix within a Matrix” idea on the basis that it made less sense than the actual movie, it did still have holes that could not be ignored. For instance, if the Oracle is on the side of humanity, why has she been helping them to fulfill the Architect’s plans for so long? By sending Neo, and all the other Ones before him, to the Source, she’s been ensuring that they end up doing exactly what the Architect wanted. Sure, they kept humanity alive this way, but they also kept the cycle of human slavery keeps going. Zion keeps getting destroyed, the system keeps getting rebooted, world keeps on spinning and humanity remains oppressed. Yes, Neo broke that cycle in the end and did it with her help. But in essence, she was screwing all those that came before him by feeding them the same bit of prophecy, the one that misled them into thinking that going to the Source would win the war. By the end of movie two, we were told that the Oracle is basically part of the system, thus making her the enemy. And you know what? I believed it! It didn’t seem plausible that she would be doing all that and somehow be on the side of humanity after all.

Which brings me to plot hole number two. The whole cyclical plot of the Matrix, where every One does the Architects bidding, was basically broken by one act of defiance. When Neo was given the choice to comply or let humanity die, he basically decided to try and save Trinity, and in the process condemned Zion and everyone still hooked into to the system. Did the Oracle foresee this? Did she foresee that at one point, a One would come along who could break the whole cycle by telling the Architect to go to hell, spawn a rogue Smith who would threaten to take over the Matrix, cut a deal with the Source to spare Zion, fail to stop him, let Smith assimilate him, then get himself killed by the Source, thus killing off Smith and injecting the reboot code into the Matrix at the same time, therefore rebooting the whole system in the process? Wow, just saying it makes my eyes cross! I can’t imagine how she must have felt! Point is, its hokey and kinda damn weird! I know, I’m going into movie three, but like I said, these two movies are kinda one and the same.

Next, there’s the question of timing. Essentially, we are told by the Architect that Neo was at the Source because Zion was “about to be destroyed”. Concordantly (ha!), the Matrix was about to go down unless he rebooted it with the code he got from passing into the Source. But here’s the thing! During much of the movie, there was still a good chance that the forces of Zion could have stopped or at least slowed the machines down before they reached Zion. The only reason why they made it to the front door without incident was because a Smith took over Bane (a human resistance fighter), set off one of the ship’s EMPs and disabled Zion’s entire fleet ahead of time. If the Zionites had been keeping the machines back when the Matrix went down (because Neo chose not to reboot it) wouldn’t that mean the machines themselves would die off? The Matrix is their main power source, so keeping 250,000 squiddies alive would become very difficult. At the very least, they’d be right screwed in the long run! Humanity’s eventual victory would be guaranteed!

Makes you think doesn’t it? No? Maybe its just me!

In short, The Matrix: Reloaded suffered because the Wachowskis were clearly trying to do too much with this one film. On the one hand, they were trying to top the action scenes from the first. On the other, they were trying to live up or even outdo the mythology of the first. All that seems perfectly natural considering the hype they knew they were generating. After the success of the Matrix, expectations were high and any effort on their part to follow it up would be surrounded by buzz, expectations and high hopes. But if you try to compensate for all that by cramming more, more, more in, you get what you pay for in the end.

Ultimately, I think this movie and the final installment were good examples of what not to do with a franchise. In essence, stay true to the concept and don’t try to outdo it. And, wherever possible, plan for an eventual sequel ahead of time. Hell, that’s what Lucas did and look what came out of that! Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi! On the other hand, he never bothered to storyboard the prequels til well into the 90’s, and look what happened there… On second thought, don’t! No sense opening up THAT can of worms again!

The Matrix: Reloaded
Entertainment Value: 8/10 (still entertaining)
Plot: 6/10 (convoluted!)
Direction: 8/10
Total: 7.5/10

Note: examples of Matrix mythology can be found at www.matrixmythology.com)

The Matrix Trilogy!

“You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth…” Damn that was a good line! If only I could convey Laurence Fishburn’s smooth basso voice through this medium. No joke, I actually do a pretty fair impression. And that was just the tip of the iceburg. But I’m not here to talk about the Matrix’s best one-liners, most of which were said by Fishburn. That I’ll save for another post! No, today I wanna talk about the sci-fi movie trilogy that was one of the most influential of the late 90’s and early millennium. How it all began with a little film noire, cutting-edge action and f/x, and was then followed up by two decent but critically disappointing sequels. Yep, welcome to the Matrix!

The Matrix:
As I already said, this movie was hugely influential, and not just because of what it did right in terms of special effects, tone, and visuals. No, this was a movie that combined all those with a storyline that was so deep and multi-layered, people would spend years afterward trying to discern every level of meaning they could from it. And why shouldn’t they? The concept of an alternate reality where people are deceived into accepting a fantasy world so that the powers that be can continue to exploit them – need I say more? Already you’ve got something that intellectuals ranging from Marxists, Existentialists, Jungians, Freudians, social psychologists and labor critics will want to pour over and lay claim to! And that’s exactly what happened.

Almost immediately after the release of the movie, people from each and every walk of life were trying to say that the movie’s message was something akin to their own philosophies. “The Matrix is a metaphor for industrial society! “No, it’s a metaphor for class-warfare!” “No, it’s a metaphor for false-consciousness!” “No, it’s a metaphor for the futility of belief systems and the need to define your own existence!” “No, it’s a metaphor for the struggle of the individual to self-actualize amidst the herd.” “Shut up, you’re all right!” One of the main reasons the Matrix was so influential and such a big hit was the fact that it had such a broad appeal. It had something for everyone, and I don’t just mean the ivory tower types. It was fun, action-packed, yet smart enough that you didn’t have to check your brain at the door. But I don’t want to go long here so let me just break down what it did well!

Sci-fi Premise: In truth, when I was first watching it I found the movie’s big revelation (as far as science fiction ideas go) just the slightest bit hokey. We created AI, we got into a war with them and destroyed the world as we know it. To survive, they converted us into a great big power plant and feed us an alternate reality to keep us docile and controlled. It was pretty novel, and made perfect sense, but I guess I thought that explaining this alternate reality in any real terms kind of brought it down. Up until that point there was a whole lot of David Lynch-type weirdness and suspense going on, and once the sci-fi foundation became clear… I dunno, just seemed a tad incongruous. In a way, it was like Dark City, a noire-suspense movie that was pretty damn intriguing until they made it about aliens. Somehow, those two genres just didn’t seem to fit.

But that’s when it hit me. The explanation for what the Matrix was almost didn’t matter. At that point, you found yourself so engrossed in the richness of the idea that ANY explanation as to what it really was would feel like a letdown. It was one of those moments where you just went “Oh! Ohhhhh…”. But what can you do? Sooner or later you have to explain what’s going on, otherwise you end up exactly like David Lynch, making movies no one understands but them damn intellectuals! And like I said, the plot made perfect sense and was actually pretty damn cool once they got right down to it. The AI thing has been done to death, but never before had anyone considered how a race of evil machines might come to rely on human physiology to fulfill all their evil-machine needs.

Wake Up!: And let’s not forget the extremely potent metaphor about wakefulness and sleeping. Already, the Wachowski brothers were handing the critics and intellectuals something they could ponder on and fight over like a piece of meat. What is the significance of this being asleep in a false reality and the need to wake up and accept the harsh truth? Is it a metaphor for false consciousness and class conflict, where the workers must wake up and realize they are chained and break free? Is it about the individual who must throw off the comforting illusions about a moral universe and a loving God in order to see the truth of how the universe is a harsh, cruel place? Who knows, who cares? Point is, it worked! And it was done so right that it really didn’t matter. Take for example Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep of dreams who acts as Neo’s guide the world of the Matrix. He is clearly the wise man/father figure of the bunch who is seeking to enlighten Neo, and his dialogue throughout the movie is punctuated by this idea of dreams and the need to awaken:

“I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Hmm? Tumbling down the rabbit hole?” “You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up.” “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?” And of course, who can forget the tagline: “Welcome to the real world.” Hell, even Keanu Reeves gets a good one in there: “You ever have that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re awake or still dreaming?”

See? It’s appropriate and fitting, relying on existential undertones, mythological/literary references, and poignant imagery to construct a world in which people are suffering from a delusion and need to break free. Even the theme song, “Wake Up” by Rage Against the Machine seemed like it was written especially for the movie (Rage can always be counted on to provide a hard rock anthem for anything revolutionary!)

Free-Will vs. Determinism: Here is something that could have easily gone wrong, and yet it didn’t. In truth, this movie managed to present the whole free-will/determinism in a way that was actually pretty faithful and interesting. On the one hand, Neo tells Morpheus that he rejects the idea of fate in favor of free will, and even though Morpheus seems to agree with him on this, he also believes that Neo’s fate has been written. He is the One, you see, the one who’s return was foretold by The Oracle. Seems like we are being told that fate is real and free-will is an illusion. Sounds simple enough. And yet, when Neo goes to see the Oracle, the one who’s been telling everyone what’s to happen, she tells him flat out that he’s not the One. He’s got the gift, but he’s not ready or something. Moreover, she tells him that Morpheus will sacrifice himself needlessly to protect Neo and his belief in him. Now we’re being told that choice is the overriding thing and how blind faith is potentially lethal.

So naturally, Neo goes to save Morpheus when he’s captured and succeeds. All indications point to the very real possibility that he IS the One now. How can this be? Well, Morpheus explains that the Oracle was really telling him what he needed to hear so he could make the right choice when the time came. Or, if you wanna go that route, that the path is set, but its up to the individual to choose whether or not to walk it. Morpheus even says it as such: “She told you exactly what you needed to hear. Neo, sooner or later you’re going to realize just as I did that there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.” Through all this, it seems that they are making the argument that fate and free will are intertwined, the one very much dependent on the other rather than in conflict with it (which is the point of paradoxes, if I am not mistaken).

Mythology: Already I mentioned Morpheus’ character and the clear mythological reference he represented. Alas, there was the Oracle too, who’s character is also borrowed from Greek mythology (the Fates). Like Morpheus, she acts as a sort of ethereal guide who’s advice is often portentous and vague, but always helpful in the end! And let’s not forget Trinity, a clear reference to the Father-Son-Holy Spirit combo! Granted, I had a hard time figuring out exactly how Trinity fits this profile, but one could argue she’s a trinity of her own: warrior to the cause, lover to Neo, and surrogate daughter to Morpheus. But a better one I’d say comes in the form of her mentoring role to Neo. Already he’s had two mentors who’ve shown him the path. Morpheus who brough him to wakefulness and the Oracle who challenged him to believe and choose. Trinity makes three (no pun!) in the way she at last reveals to him that he is the One through her love. Therein, perhaps, lies the real Trinity: the Guide, the Seer, and the Lover. Woo, that was deep!

And let’s not forget, Neo has plenty of Jesus stuff going on too. He is the prodigal son, after all, the one who was prophecied to return after he first showed up and freed the first of the free people of Zion (speaking of Biblical references!) And remember the way he was resurrected at the end, and through the power of LOVE? Yeah… that’s a Jesus reference all right! But don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t cheesy! It was actually pretty damn stimulating. Here is another thing that can easily go wrong or seem preachy, but the Wachowski’s pulled it off without a hitch!

Literary: And of course there were the numerous references, scriptural and visual, to “Alice in Wonderland”. Morpheus’ greeting to Neo, where he compared Neo to Alice? That was just the first time it came up. Almost immediately thereafter, we get that eerie shot where Morpheus is offering Neo the two pills. The image of the pills and Neo are reflected in Morpheus’ big shades as he tells Neo that he has a chance to keep dreaming or, as he puts it, “stay in Wonderland” and learn the truth. And again, next shot, Neo is in a room where he peers into a cracked mirror and freaky shit begins to happen. Can you say “Alice and the looking glass”? Then there’s the bit about the spoon-bending, and how Neo catches his reflection in it as it bends. And of course near the end where Neo calls Tank and says: “Mr. Wizard, I need an exit.” Dude, all these psychedelic literary references! All I can say is “Whoaaaa!” (Sorry Keanu, I know you hate that!)

Disbelief: One thing I definitely loved about this movie was the many subtle references to truth and belief. Again and again, characters are being confronted with situations that are real, but they cannot accept. It only serves to punctuate the underlying theme of the movie, how reality is sometimes harsh and one must learn to break with comforting delusions. Consider when Neo is told the truth about the Matrix from Morpheus: “No, I don’t believe it. It’s not possible.” “I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I only said it would be the truth.” Or the scene where Neo and Morpheus are in the jump program: “You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind.” And of course, when Cypher gets burned: “No! I don’t believe it!” “Believe it or not, you piece of shit, you’re still gonna burn!” replies Tank, right before scorching him! And what does Agent Smith say before Neo blows him away with that minigun? “No!” Oh, and last, when Neo is shot and apparently killed. What does Morpheus say: “Can’t be…” Of course you knew he wasn’t dead, but wasn’t it better that they included that final act twist!

Badass Look: Remember those dark glasses and trench coats and how perfectly they worked with concealed guns? Yeah, we all know what happened with that… terrible! In addition to all the pain and suffering those Columbine assholes caused, they ruined a perfectly innocuous fashion statement! But it was cool while it lasted. And those gun fight scenes and the martial arts… holy hell! Much like Lucas, they knew exactly where to draw their inspirations from (aka. rip off!). Kung Fu classics like the Bruce Lee lineup, westerns and John Woo shoot em ups! And with all the death defying, anti-gravity stuff they were able to throw in, not to mention all the slow motion, bullet-time effects, it was like action was redefined for a new generation. I can’t even recall how many movies ripped off the effects or directorial style the Wachowski brothers pioneered with this movie!

Hacker Theme: Another group of people who must have loved this movie was hackers! For years now I’ve been studying hackers and hacking as a phenomenon, largely because of the relevance it and they play in the digital age. And I can honestly say that this movie was part of what got me interested in the first place. The way every member of the resistance began as a hacker and how it was their natural “affinity for disobedience” (as Morpheus put it in Reloaded) that led them to that path in the first place? Hackers everywhere must have been rejoicing to see that they were the heroes in a movie other than Hackers! And let’s not deny that this added another layer of meaning to an already multi-layered movie. In addition to the Marxist/Existentialist stuff, we also got some commentary about how in the digital age, hackers are tantamount to freedom fighters! Their enemy, government and industry and their attempts to control the flow of information and monitor all our habits. Not bad, huh?

Wicked Lines: I’ve already mentioned a few gems, and like I said, I’ll probably have to dedicate an entire page to them later. But I’ll be damned if I don’t mention how many gold nuggets were to be found in the script here. With this movie, the Wachowski brothers seemed to stumble onto the secret of good dialogue. Short, sweet, sharp, and best when delivered by Fishburn! Yeah, Hugo Weaving too, and this movie was his breakout role after all! Here’s a shortlist (most of which are from Fishburn!)

Morpheus: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

“Sentient programs. They can move in and out of any software still hard-wired to their system. That means that anyone we haven’t unplugged is potentially an agent. Inside the Matrix, they are everyone and they are no one. We have survived by hiding from them, by running from them, but they are the gatekeepers. They are guarding all the doors, they are holding all the keys, which means that sooner or later, someone is going to have to fight them.”

“Remember, all I’m offering is the truth, nothing more.”

“What is real? How do you define real? If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.”

Agent Smith: “Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization. I say your civilization, because as soon as we started thinking for you it really became our civilization, which is of course what this is all about. Evolution, Morpheus, evolution. Like the dinosaur. Look out that window. You’ve had your time. The future is our world, Morpheus. The future is our time.”

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. 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 and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.”

“I hate this place. This zoo. This prison. This reality, whatever you want to call it, I can’t stand it any longer. It’s the smell, if there is such a thing. I feel saturated by it. I can taste your stink and every time I do, I fear that I’ve somehow been infected by it.”

Cypher: “You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? (Takes a bite) Oh… ignorance is bliss!”

Trinity: “Let me tell you what I believe. I believe that Morpheus means more to me than he does to you. I believe if you are really serious about rescuing him, you are going to need my help. And since I am the ranking officer on this ship, if you don’t like it… I believe you can go to hell. Because you’re not going anywhere else. Tank, load us up!”

“Neo, I’m not afraid anymore. The Oracle told me that I would fall in love and that that man… the man that I loved would be The One. So you see, you can’t be dead. You can’t be… because I love you. You hear me? I love you. (kisses Neo, brings him back to life) Now get up!”

Okay, that’s enough! And in reality, that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

And I think my point is clear. Between the martial arts action sequences, the gun fights, the slow motion bullet-time segments, the philosophical journey, the debate between free-will and determinism and a whole lot of commentary on freedom in an age of zeros and ones, this movie pretty well rocked! I’ve seen it too many times for it to be entertaining anymore, but needless to say, I saw it about three times when it first hit theaters and a few times more when it came out on VHS/DVD. It was just something you could watch over and over, and felt the need to since there was too much to really get into in just one sitting! And even at the time, I had to admit there was a certain Star Wars-esque quality to the whole thing, like it was destined to be a pop culture phenomena and a cult-classic at the same time. Like Lucas, the Wachowski’s drew inspiration from a number of sources and knew how to make them work as a package. And wouldn’t you know it, they suffered from the same curse! Years after the release of the original, they followed it up with two more. And… well, you know… more on that next time! Stay tuned for a list of the Matrix’s best lines! I’ve alluded to it enough so expect it next time.

The Matrix:
Entertainment Value: 10/10
Plot: 8.5/10
Direction: 9/10
Total: 9/10