Berserker Hunter-Killer Robots!

Berserker Hunter-Killer Robots!

Good day, all! Today, I wanted to share some thoughts on a subject that is not only a staple of science fiction but is also in danger of becoming a reality! I am talking, of course, of killer robots! Machines that are capable of fighting, killing, thinking for themselves, and maybe even reproducing!

As concepts go, it’s a pretty time-honored and thoroughly explored one. But as with most tropes and/or things that we might consider to be cliche, there’s a reason for it. The idea that the very machines we create to make our lives easier will someday turn on us, that’s more than just your garden-variety technophobia and sci-fi pulp.

Continue reading “Berserker Hunter-Killer Robots!”

The Future is Here: Black Hawk Drones and AI pilots

blackhawk_droneThe US Army’s most iconic helicopter is about to go autonomous for the first time. In their ongoing drive to reduce troops and costs, they are now letting their five-ton helicopter carry out autonomous expeditionary and resupply operations. This began last month when the defense contractor Sikorsky Aircraft, the company that produces the UH-60 Black Hawk – demonstrated the hover and flight capability in an “optionally piloted” version of their craft for the first time.

Sikorsky has been working on the project since 2007 and convinced the Army’s research department to bankroll further development last year. As Chris Van Buiten, Sikorsky’s vice president of Technology and Innovation, said of the demonstration:

Imagine a vehicle that can double the productivity of the Black Hawk in Iraq and Afghanistan by flying with, at times, a single pilot instead of two, decreasing the workload, decreasing the risk, and at times when the mission is really dull and really dangerous, go it all the way to fully unmanned.

blackhawk_drone1The Optionally Piloted Black Hawk (OPBH) operates under Sikorsky’s Manned/Unmanned Resupply Aerial Lifter (MURAL) program, which couples the company’s advanced Matrix aviation software with its man-portable Ground Control Station (GCS) technology. Matrix, introduced a year ago, gives rotary and fixed-wing vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft a high level of system intelligence to complete missions with little human oversight.

Mark Miller, Sikorsky’s vice-president of Research and Engineering, explained in a statement:

The autonomous Black Hawk helicopter provides the commander with the flexibility to determine crewed or un-crewed operations, increasing sorties while maintaining crew rest requirements. This allows the crew to focus on the more ‘sensitive’ operations, and leaves the critical resupply missions for autonomous operations without increasing fleet size or mix.

Alias-DarpaThe Optionally Piloted Black Hawk fits into the larger trend of the military finding technological ways of reducing troop numbers. While it can be controlled from a ground control station, it can also make crucial flying decisions without any human input, relying solely on its ‘Matrix’ proprietary artificial intelligence technology. Under the guidance of these systems, it can fly a fully autonomous cargo mission and can operate both ways: unmanned or piloted by a human.

And this is just one of many attempts by military contractors and defense agencies to bring remote and autonomous control to more classes of aerial vehicles. Earlier last month, DARPA announced a new program called Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS), the purpose of which is to develop a portable, drop-in autopilot to reduce the number of crew members on board, making a single pilot a “mission supervisor.”

darpa-alias-flight-crew-simulator.siMilitary aircraft have grown increasingly complex over the past few decades, and automated systems have also evolved to the point that some aircraft can’t be flown without them. However, the complex controls and interfaces require intensive training to master and can still overwhelm even experienced flight crews in emergency situations. In addition, many aircraft, especially older ones, require large crews to handle the workload.

According to DARPA, avionics upgrades can help alleviate this problem, but only at a cost of tens of millions of dollars per aircraft type, which makes such a solution slow to implement. This is where the ALIAS program comes in: instead of retrofitting planes with a bespoke automated system, DARPA wants to develop a tailorable, drop‐in, removable kit that takes up the slack and reduces the size of the crew by drawing on both existing work in automated systems and newer developments in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Alias_DARPA1DARPA says that it wants ALIAS to not only be capable of executing a complete mission from takeoff to landing, but also handle emergencies. It would do this through the use of autonomous capabilities that can be programmed for particular missions, as well as constantly monitoring the aircraft’s systems. But according to DARPA, the development of the ALIAS system will require advances in three key areas.

First, because ALIAS will require working with a wide variety of aircraft while controlling their systems, it will need to be portable and confined to the cockpit. Second, the system will need to use existing information about aircraft, procedures, and flight mechanics. And third, ALIAS will need a simple, intuitive, touch and voice interface because the ultimate goal is to turn the pilot into a mission-level supervisor while ALIAS handles the second-to-second flying.

AI'sAt the moment, DARPA is seeking participants to conduct interdisciplinary research aimed at a series of technology demonstrations from ground-based prototypes, to proof of concept, to controlling an entire flight with responses to simulated emergency situations. As Daniel Patt, DARPA program manager, put it:

Our goal is to design and develop a full-time automated assistant that could be rapidly adapted to help operate diverse aircraft through an easy-to-use operator interface. These capabilities could help transform the role of pilot from a systems operator to a mission supervisor directing intermeshed, trusted, reliable systems at a high level.

Given time and the rapid advance of robotics and autonomous systems, we are likely just a decade away from aircraft being controlled by sentient or semi-sentient systems. Alongside killer robots (assuming they are not preemptively made illegal), UAVs, and autonomous hovercraft, it is entirely possible wars will be fought entirely by machines. At which point, the very definition of war will change. And in the meantime, check out this video of the history of unmanned flight:


Sources:
wired.com, motherboard.vice.com, gizmag.com
, darpa.mil

Star Wars: The Old Republic trailer

As far as the gaming world is concerned, this trailer is old news! But, it’s news to me, and I thought it was pretty darned cool. Not sure how I missed it, since during 2010 I felt I was pretty up on all the news surrounding SWTOR, the third installment in the Knights Of The Old Republic  (or KOTOR, for short) video-game series. Guess not. And of course, when fan reviews began to pour in saying that the game was not all it was cracked up to be, I kind of lost interest.

However, news is beginning to circulate that the KOTOR franchise might actually be the basis for the next Star Wars trilogy. I kid you not, not only is LucasArts deep into deals with Disney to produce the next three installments, there’s also a great deal of speculation as to whether or not they will be sequels or further prequels. But more on that soon enough. Right now, enjoy this video. It’s like Star Wars meets 300 with some Matrix for good measure!

I knew it! It seems that AI’s are indeed coming. Will this result in an I, Robot situation, with benign robots running the planet for its own benefit, or a Matrix/Terminator type situation where they try to kill us all or use us as power plants? Who knows???

Nicola Higgins' Fiction

The nice people at Google have put together a “neural network” of computers which is capable of learning.  In three days it learned to spot cats in pictures, even though it had never been told what one looked like.

Ah, neural networks.  Everyone’s favourite method of creating supercomputers and robots.  Say, Matt, how do you feel about doing a post on different types of robot-brain?  Is there enough variety out there to make it interesting?

The thing that really gets me about it, though, is that right at the very end there is this sentence:

As well as spotting cats, the computer system also learned how to pick out the shape of the human body and to recognise human faces.

A one line throw-away at the end of the article?  I guess they thought people would be more impressed by kitties

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More Plot Holes and Oversights!

Round two! Having done a few more reviews, I’ve come to find new instances where plot muck-ups and weak writing made a movie glaringly bad, or just brought down an otherwise good effort. Here’s what I got this time:

Transformers:
Yeah, I’ve come to decide that Michael Bay is my least favorite director of all time. Not only is he responsible for creating crappy movies that are all form, no substance. He’s also guilty of completely objectifying women, reducing people to caricatures that are annoying and often racist, and just generally insulting our intelligence. And when it comes to his style, the Transformers trilogy stands out as a perfect example. In addition to being racist, sexist and low-brow, it was also full of plot holes. Here are some of the biggest that I could find:

1. Megatron’s Dead… Sort of:
Remember in movie one where Megatron was destroyed, and how they dropped his body into the Laurentian Abyss where the pressure and heat would make it impossible for him to be rescued or resurrected? Well in movie two, Bay disregarded all of that in order to bring the chief villain back. Basically, a couple bad guys swim down there, plug his body with a fragment of the All Spark, and he flies out. Here’s a thought: if you’re planning on making sequels, don’t write yourself into a corner by killing off the lead bad guy and making it impossible to bring him back!

2. Continuity Error:
This hole actually runs through all three, so you might say its more like a plot tunnel. In movie one, we are told that Megatron came to Earth in the 1930’s seeking the All Spark and then got frozen in the Arctic. It wasn’t until almost 70’s years later, in 2007 when the first film is taking place, that the Autobots and Decepticons came to Earth seeking the same thing. So… no other Transformers were on Earth between the 1930’s and 2007, right?

But then, in movie three, we’re told that the Ark crashed on the Moon in the early 1960’s, thus prompting the Space Race, and immediately thereafter, people and governments began collaborating with the Decepticons. They did this mainly by putting a stop to all subsequent Moon missions, mainly by lying and saying that it was suddenly too expensive (actually, it was!) But according to movie one, Megatron was the only Decepticon to visit Earth before 2007, and he was frozen and in government custody. If the other Decepticons didn’t come to Earth until the first movie in search of Megatron and the All Spark, then who the hell were these humans collaborating with? In other words, who were they taking their orders from if no Decepticons were even on Earth yet?

Ah, which brings to mind movie two. After Megatron was brought back to life, he flew out to the edge of the solar system where a big Decepticon ship was waiting. According to Wikipedia, this ship is called the Nemesis, which is taken from the original animated series. In any case, the Fallen guy is on board and they’ve been breeding “hatchlings”. This sets up the plot since the Decepticons want the Sun blower upper so they can harvest energon and power the things, thus making a new army. Hold on, if they’ve got some huge, badass warship out there, why not just attack Earth with it? And when did it show up in the first place? Didn’t the Decepticons fly in some comet-like spaceships in the first movie? So it had to have arrived between the first and second…

But if that’s the case and they have this big spaceship on hand now, why go through the whole convoluted process of searching from stupid harvester and building an army? Why not just level Earth and the Autobots from orbit? That makes a lot more sense than actually going down there and fighting them face to face. Another thing, where did it go after movie two? In movie three, there’s no trace of this spaceship and Megatron and his crew are hiding out in the Serengeti. That seems awfully stupid if they’ve got a couple megatons of firepower out in space.

But I’m getting distracted here… The main thing is that the whole sun-harvester/hatchling thread doesn’t square with what happened in the third movie. There, they reveal that they’ve had reinforcements on the dark side of the moon for decades who were laying in wait for some big attack once Sentinel was reactivated and set up that transporter gate. But if that’s so, why was anyone bothering with making all of these hatchlings? If you’ve already got reinforcements on hand, why not just call them in and end the war sooner? Sure, movie two was kind of a write off, but you can’t just pretend it didn’t happen! And it was movie three, supposedly the best in the series, that shot the premises of the first two to hell. Once again, if you’re going to make sequels, try to make sure they’re consistent with the other ones!

3. Symbols and Clues:
So if I remember the plot of the second movie right, Sam got his brain zapped by a piece of the All Spark, which made him see symbols. This in turn gave him the knowledge of the last known location of the Matrix of Leadership. Hold on, why the hell would the All Spark have the location of the Matrix encoded into it? The All Spark was the mysterious alien thing that created the Transformers while the Matrix of Leadership was the start-up key to the big Sun Harvester. One was created by forces unknown millions of years ago and the other was created by the Primes thousands of years ago.

In short, these things had nothing to do with each other, so why would the All Spark have that information on it? Doesn’t make sense, but then again, it wasn’t really meant to. It was only meant to serve as a deus ex machina to get the plot rolling in the first place.

Speaking of which, what was the deal with all those clues that lead them to the Matrix near the end? These took the form of symbols (the Primes ancient language) which were scrawled on various historic monuments, and which Sam could now read since his brain got zapped by the All Spark. Again, makes no sense, just there to move the plot along. I mean c’mon, why the hell would the Primes put clues to the location of the Matrix out there for people to see? Wasn’t it said that they were trying to hide the Matrix so it wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands? Wasn’t that why they sacrificed themselves and created that weird-ass cage out of their bodies to house it? Yes! So why would they leave clues around like they are hoping for someone to find it?

Oh yeah, and if the thing falls to dust unless its being handled by a “true leader” – you may recall that Sam had this explained to him when he went to robot heaven (holy shit, that was dumb!) – why bother even hiding it? Wouldn’t it be useless to the Fallen or any other Decepticon if they laid their hands on it? But again, I’m expecting too much if I’m asking this movie to make sense aren’t I? Moving on…

The Matrix Sequels:
The first movie in this trilogy was pretty seamless. And by that I mean I can’t think of a single plot hole off the top of my head. The sequels, however, are another matter entirely. Given the complicated and convoluted plot, it was somewhat inevitable that holes would open up. I think I covered most of them in my previous review of the trilogy, but I never get tired of criticizing flops!

1. Neo’s Powers:
The big mystery after movie two was how Neo managed to destroy machines in the real world with his mind. The explanations was one of the things that made the third movie a big letdown. According to the Oracle, the power of the One goes beyond the Matrix, right to the Source, from where it comes from. What the hell does that even mean? Is she implying that the Source CREATES the Ones? Why on Earth would it do that, create its own worst enemy over and over? Is that supposed to be like some Judea-Christian mystery, like why would God create the Devil?

The way the Architect put it in movie two, the Ones are a natural occurrence, much like the 1 percent of people who can’t accept the program because they are somehow more adept than the rest. But how would this person who can not only reject but control the Matrix bring that control into the real world? Who knows? It’s never explained. And any way you try, it ends up not making much sense.

2. Neo in Limbo:
Another thing that was never explained was why Neo went back into the Matrix when he went into a coma. How did he do this if he wasn’t even wired in? Again, the Oracle gives what clearly is meant to be a mysterious answer, but actually is just weak. Apparently, that’s just something the One can do. He can control machines and go in and out of the Matrix without the need for a plug-in. Really? Does the mind of the One operate like wireless internet? Can he interface with machines and hack into the system without DSL or a Modem? Like I said, never explained, but that’s probably because no explanation would make sense. It’s just weird, ethereal stuff that’s meant to advance the plot.

3. Why did Neo go to the Machine City?
So movie two ended with Neo realizing he could destroy machines in the real world. Sure, the experience kind of left him floored, but once he got all better, he was up and kicking machine ass. Hell, all he had to do was raise a hand and squiddies went boom by the bucket load! So why was Neo’s next move to go to the machine city? Because he was having dreams about it? Or because he figured he could save Zion by making a deal with the Source to stop Smith? Okay, seems a bit contrived, but okay. Still, why would he do that when he could have saved Zion on his own terms? If he can blow up machines with a thought, all they would need to do is fly him to Zion where he could unleash hell on the squiddy army. Zion army almost stopped the machines as it was, but with Neo they could have mopped the floor with them!

And didn’t the Architect say that the Matrix was on the verge of crashing? Yes, that was part two of the whole plan that kept the Ones in line. Blow up Zion, threaten to crash the system, thus threatening all of humanity and forcing the Ones’ compliance. But if Neo managed to use his abilities to save Zion from the attack, and the Matrix crashed as planned, that would mean the machines would lose their power source and die, wouldn’t it? Sure, millions of humans would die too; but as Morpheus said, as long as they’re still wired into the system, they’re the enemy! So yes, lots of blood would be on his hands, but in exchange for that one act of unsentimental ruthlessness, the machines would be licked good!

4. The Treaty Thing:
By the end, we’re told that a treaty is in place between humanity and the machines, as a result of the deal Neo cut and the sacrifice he made. Just one question, why are the machines going along with this? Once Neo did his thing and ensured Smith’s destruction, the squiddies just up and left Zion for good. Why? They were on the verge of wiping it off the face of the Earth. Why not follow through and finish the job?

What’s more, why did the Architect promise the Oracle that all humans who couldn’t accept the program would henceforth be set free? That was never part of the deal! Neo just said he wanted peace, he never said anything about the “red pills” henceforth being released. Sure, it seems like an elegant solution to the problem of what to do with them in the short run – just let them go and join Zion – but what about the long run? The more people the machines let go, the larger Zion gets. What’s going to happen when they get too big for their britches and start encroaching on machine territory?

Surely, the machines would have been able to foresee this, so why did they go along with it? Are we really to believe that within all their programming, machines believe in such a thing as keeping their word? The Architect seemed to think so… he gave HIS word that from then on, the unruly humans would be set free and got offended when the Oracle questioned him on that. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that honor is a human thing, based on ethical insight and emotion, and not cold, hard logic. And as we saw repeatedly in the Matrix, emotion is something the machines don’t care for. So really, once they realized they were in a position of power, wouldn’t the rational, MACHINE thing to do be to keep going and wipe Zion out?

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the ending they went with better. But it didn’t really make a whole hell of a lot of sense. And the Wachowski’s seemed to acknowledge this too, since they wrote in the bit where the Architect asks the Oracle: “How long do you think this treaty of yours can last?” Sure, it was meant to sound cynical and machine-like, but it was also true. If the Architect could see how little sense this made, surely the rest of the machines could too!

5. The Big Climax:
I saved this one for last because its the one I'm the least clear on. The way the movie ended, it seemed like a culmination of various things. But almost immediately after I saw it, the logic began to escape me. Let me see if I can recap it. Neo promises to deal with Smith, the Source plugs him in, he and Smith have their big fight. It ends when Neo realizes that he and Smith are destined to come together and cancel each other out. Like the Oracle said, "he is your equal, your opposite", and once Smith blows up, the Matrix reboots because Neo still was carrying the reboot codes he picked up when he went in and met the Architect. It's poetic and wraps things up; but really, how did Neo letting Smith merge with him destroy the guy?

On the one hand, it might be that what the Oracle said was meant somewhat literally. Having Neo merge with Smith, his equal and opposite by this point, might have just overloaded Smith's program, but if so, why did he assimilate Neo? He had JUST taken over the Oracle and was now in possession of her prescience. If he saw what she saw, why do the thing that would guarantee his destruction? However, there is an alternative explanation, one which I came up… with all by myself!

My personal impression was that the Smiths blew up because the Source killed them. Or rather, it killed Neo for failing. That's what appeared to be the case, at any rate. The Source was pissed and zapped his body, but since he was now indistinguishable from Smith, it was really Smith who got zapped and this overloaded him and destroyed him. Still, this idea also presents problems. If zapping someone wired into the Matrix was all it would take to kill Smith, why didn't the system do that the moment he started copying himself onto people? Seriously, by the end, he had copied himself onto every single person within the Matrix. That’s a couple million opportunities to kill him!

Or, here’s another idea, the Source could have started unplugging everyone Smith copied as soon as he started doing it. At the same time, corner him some agents and shoot the original Smith, then boom! He’s contained, Neo’s help would have never been needed, and the machines would be free to wipe out Zion. Again, I’m overthinking things, but that tends to happen whenever movies stop making sense.

More in part II, coming up next…

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)

Matrix, best lines!

As I realized about two sentences into writing my review for the Matrix, a seperate post would need to be created just for all the great lines of dialogue! Not just one-liners; no, this baby also boasted some of best back and forth bits of writing in recent memory. Here are just some of the gems, in no particular order…

Morpheus: What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this (holds up a battery)
Neo: No, I don’t believe it. It’s not possible.
Morpheus: I didn’t say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.

Oracle: Do you know what that means? (Points to banner) It means know thyself. I wanna tell you a little secret, being The One is just like being in love. No one needs to tell you you are in love, you just know it, through and through.

Morpheus: The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. But when you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters. The very minds of the people we are trying to save. But until we do, these people are still a part of that system and that makes them our enemy. You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it. (Woman in red dress walks by) Neo? Were you listening to me, Neo? Or were you looking at the woman in the red dress?
Neo: I was…
Morpheus: Look again. (Agent Smith points a gun at his head) Freeze it.
(Everything freezes)
Neo: This… this isn’t the Matrix?
Morpheus: No. It is another training program designed to teach you one thing: if you are not one of us, you are one of them.

Cypher: All I do is what he tells me to do. If I had to choose between that and the Matrix, I’d choose the Matrix.
Trinity: The Matrix isn’t real.
Cypher: I disagree, Trinity. I think that the Matrix can be more real than this world. All I do is pull a plug here, but there… you have to watch Apoc die.

Trinity: I know why you’re here, Neo. I know what you’ve been doing… why you hardly sleep, why you live alone, and why night after night, you sit by your computer. You’re looking for him. I know because I was once looking for the same thing. And when he found me, he told me I wasn’t really looking for him. I was looking for an answer. It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.
Neo: What is the Matrix?
Trinity: The answer is out there, Neo, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

Morpheus: Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Neo: No.
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: Because I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.
Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?
Neo: The Matrix.
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
Neo: Yes.
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

Morpheus: The pill you took is part of a trace program. It’s designed to disrupt your input/output carrier signal so we can pinpoint your location.
Neo: What does that mean?
Cypher: It means fasten your seat belt Dorothy, ’cause Kansas is going bye-bye.

Morpheus: I won’t lie to you, Neo. Every single man or woman who has stood their ground, everyone who has fought an agent has died. But where they have failed, you will succeed.
Neo: Why?
Morpheus: I’ve seen an agent punch through a concrete wall; men have emptied entire clips at them and hit nothing but air; yet, their strength, and their speed, are still based in a world that is built on rules. Because of that, they will never be as strong, or as fast, as *you* can be.”
Neo: What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?
Morpheus: No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

Neo: Yeah. Well, that sounds like a pretty good deal. But I think I may have a better one. How about, I give you the finger… and you give me my phone call.

Agent Jones: Only human.
Trinity: Dodge this (Boom!)

Agent Smith: You hear that Mr. Anderson?… That is the sound of inevitability… It is the sound of your death… Goodbye, Mr. Anderson…
Neo: My name… is Neo.

Agent Smith: The great Morpheus. We meet at last.
Morpheus: And you are?
Agent Smith: A Smith. Agent Smith.
Morpheus: You all look the same to me.

Neo: I know kung fu.
Morpheus: Show me.

Morpheus: How did I beat you?
Neo: You… you’re too fast.
Morpheus: Do you believe that my being stronger or faster has anything to do with my muscles in this place? Do you think that’s air you’re breathing now?

Morpheus: “C’mon! Stop trying to hit me and hit me!”

Agent Smith: It seems that you’ve been living two lives. One life, you’re Thomas A. Anderson, program writer for a respectable software company. You have a social security number, pay your taxes, and you… help your landlady carry out her garbage. The other life is lived in computers, where you go by the hacker alias “Neo” and are guilty of virtually every computer crime we have a law for. One of these lives has a future, and one of them does not.

Neo: I know you’re out there. I can feel you now. I know that you’re afraid… you’re afraid of us. You’re afraid of change. I don’t know the future. I didn’t come here to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it’s going to begin. I’m going to hang up this phone, and then I’m going to show these people what you don’t want them to see. I’m going to show them a world without you. A world without rules and controls, without borders or boundaries. A world where anything is possible. Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you.

And that’s where it ended! Coming up next, The Matrix: Reloaded and all it did right and wrong.