Even More Cool Ships!

Dang it, this is fast growing into a theme of its own, outgrowing the whole “conceptual” thing by leaps and bounds! But there are always more contenders, and people have been nice enough to leave suggestions with me. So the list must go on, taking into account more spaceships, aircraft an assorted vehicles that come to us from a variety of franchises. Some are fast, some are scary, some are just really, really neat to look at! But they all have one thing in common, they are all cool!

Here’s the latest, as assembled by me and with the help of some helpful suggestions!

Cylon Base Ship:
cylon_basestarIn my first post, I mentioned the Galactica and how it had evolved from its original self to become the aged but enduring vessel that we saw in the new series. Well, when it came to the Cylons, the artists seemed to go in the opposite direction. Rather than making the Cylon Base Ships less advanced-looking, they opted instead for designs that looked sleeker, updated and more organic.

This was in keeping with the updated concept of the Cylon race. Whereas in the original series, the Cylons were slow, lumbering robots who simply followed orders and sounded very machine-like, the new Cylons were fully organic beings that could easily pass for humans.

The Centurions, much like their predecessors, remained loyal robots, but were also a hell of lot more streamlined and dynamic in appearance. The Base Stars were said to be constructed out of a cartilage-like material that was soft and organic, but became solid and super-tensile once it hardened. And of course, the Cylon Raiders were themselves equipped with organic parts, living brain tissue inside a metal hull.

Of course, the new Base Ships were downgraded in one respect. Much like the Galactica, the new designers decided to forgo the idea of lasers for something a little more realistic. In the case of the Cylons, this meant missiles instead of flak guns and cannons. However, everything else was significantly more advanced than the original, including the appearance and the scientific foundation on which it rested. Basically, the new Base Ships looked organic because they were organic. Instead of being built in a shipyard, they were grown in them. That’s some advanced shit right there!

All of this were quite ingeniously attributed to technological evolution. The old Base Star and Centurion designs were said to have been what the Cylons looked like during the previous war. Toasters was the term used to describe them, given their chrome exteriors and campy-retro look. Their new designs were the result of over twenty years of progress, going from constructions of metal and silicate materials to biometric tissue which was grown in vats. A very cool concept, and in keeping with the latest updates in the fields of science and science fiction 😉

The Discovery:

Discovery, front view

Cue classical music soundtrack! The Discovery is sailing by… in excruciatingly slow motion! Yes, I’m sure I speak for all those who have seen 2001: A Space Odyssey when I say that the story was brilliant, the cinematography superb, but dammit, did they have to do so many long, drawn out space sequences? Well, as someone very wise said, this movie was made back when people still had attention spans!

But on the plus side, the long sequences allowed audiences to truly appreciate the design and concept of this ship, and many others in the film. In what can only be described as a caterpillar (or ball and chain) type design, the Discovery was originally designed for cargo hauling, but was converted to deep-space exploration when Earth scientists needed to mount a manned mission to Jupiter in a hurry.

One can see without much effort how these concepts overlapped in the design. Being made up of many segments, the spine of the ship was clearly designed to hold detachable cargo pods, whereas the crew and navigation team would hold up in the spherical section at the front. Once converted, this frontal section was given pod-bay doors, a compliment of small explorer craft, and a large scanner array mounted along the dorsal section. The engine compartment at the rear was built for heavy thrust, alluding to the fact that this craft was intended for deep-space missions.

rear view

In addition to all that, the ship came equipped with vast stores of food, cryogenic pods, and an onboard AI known as the HAL 9000. During the better part of its deep space missions, the crew would be kept in cryogenic suspension, HAL would pilot the ship, and they would be thawed once it came close to its destination, or in case an emergency situation arose. Also, its contained rotating sections which would become active once the crew was in a waking state, ensuring that they didn’t succumb to muscular atrophy due to weightlesssness.

Simple, straightforward and technically practical, The Discovery was everything one would expect from the future of space travel, at least from a 1960’s standpoint. And granted, we weren’t exactly building ships like this when 2001 rolled around. But we weren’t exactly fighting the Cold War or discovering aliens on the Moon either. In either case, you’d be hard-pressed to find hard sci-fi like this anywhere today. RIP Arthur C. Clarke. You too, Kubrick! You’re genius is sorely missed!

Draconia 1:
Credit for this one goes to Victor of Victor’s Movie Reviews. Initially, I was hesitant when he suggested I post something from the Buck Roger’s universe, but quickly changed my mind when I saw it. Thanks for the suggestion and the links man! Enjoy this one!

Just to be clear, I got nothing against Buck Rogers, I’m just relatively ignorant about the franchise. And after combing through a couple databases, I’m still pretty ignorant. Whereas I thought this was just a popular movie and tv series from the 80’s, I’ve since learned that its roots go way deeper than all that! Originally, Buck Rogers was a novella named Armaggedon 2419, a dystopian story that appeared in an issue of Amazing Stories in 1928. Since that time, the story has been adapted to comic books, radio, television, and with the success of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a feature film and a TV spinoff.

Known more popularly as “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”, it is from this point in the series that this megalithic ship known as a Draconian battleship comes to us. Named in honor of the empire that built it, Draconia 1 was the flagship of the Draconian armada and the flagship of the franchise’s chief protagonist, Princess Ardala. , to conquer Earth and make Buck Rogers her consort. And given its size and imposing nature, I’d say the artists captured these intentions quite perfectly. With a name like Draconi 1, you gotta figure the ship is going to look stern, sharp, and geared up for war!

Earth Force Thunderbolt:
ThunderboltAnother happy contribution from the Babylon 5 universe! An upgraded model that was meant to replace the older Starfury-class fighter, Thunderbolts were two-person aerospace fighters that were had boasted extra firepower, better navigation, updated systems, and the ability to navigate inside atmospheres. Yes, unlike the earlier models, these things could operate in space and in the air.

This was made possible by the addition of extendable airfoils which were attached to the ship’s four engine mounts. In addition, the hard mounts on these wings were capable of holding up to ten missiles. These, combined with its four uni-directional pulse cannons, gave it a serious firepower advantage over its predecessor!

Making their debut in the second season of the show,  the Thunderbolt would play a pivotal role in the Earth Alliance civil war, which broke out shortly thereafter. Thanks to a shipment that arrived on the station before B5 declared its independence, and the addition of several squadrons of defectors from the Earth Force destroyers Alexander and Churchill, Sheridan and his forces were not at a disadvantage when President Clarke’s forces came knocking!

According to the B5 Wiki, the Thunderbolt represented the third incarnation in the Starfury series. In terms of design, they were clearly inspired by their namesake, the P-47, and other WWII aircraft like the P-51 Mustang. In addition, inspiration was probably owed to the F4 Phantom of the Vietnam Era, which also boasted a two-seat configuration and also had the same mouth and bared teeth design on the front. A good thing too, for credit should always be given to the classics!

The Eclipse:
What could be more terrifying than a Super Star Destroyer? THIS, that’s what! And like a Super Star Destroyer, it comes to us from the expanded Star Wars universe. Known as the Eclipse, and taken from the Star Wars: Dark Empire comic series, this vessel was the latest incarnation of Imperial terror technology at its best (or worst)! Originally intended as the resurrected Emperor’s new flagship, the Eclipse II quickly became the symbol of resurrected Imperial might in the comic series, dwarfing even the Executor and all other classes of Super Star Destroyer that preceded her.

Little wonder then why they called it the Eclipse. Park it in orbit over a planet, and boom! Lights out! And much like the Death Stars and Executor-class Super Star Destroyers that preceded her, the Eclipse was nothing short of a vanity project by Emperor Palpatine, its size and awesome power reflecting his megalomania and maniacal ambitions. But regardless of how overcompensating it seemed, this ship was still a behemoth and a real slugger when it came to firepower!

Measuring 17.5 km in length, the Eclipse was absolutely fearsome in terms of its overall displacement, tonnage, and raw firepower. In addition to over 1000 turbolasers, laser cannons, and ion cannons, the ship also came equipped with a superlaser that was mounted on its prow. In essence, this ship was like a mobile Death Star, capable of destroying an entire planet as well as an enemy’s armada. On top of all that, it also came equipped with 50 squadrons of TIE fighters and bombers, 100 tractor beams (the better to capture you with!), and its own gravity-well generators.

These last items are devices which appear quite frequently in the expanded SW universe, usually on Interdictor-class Star Destroyers. Basically, they allow a ship to generate a gravitational field which, when activated, prevents an enemy from jumping to hyperspace. So in addition to being impregnable, this ship could also prevent enemies from withdrawing from a battle. Hmmm, can’t beat her, can’t run away. Not exactly built for a fair fight, was she? But much like her terrifying predecessor, she was eventually destroyed in circumstances which couldn’t help but be embarrassing. I guess the old adages are true: the bigger they are…  etc, and pride cometh before a fall! Or in this case, a really big explosion!

The Nebuchadnezzar:

picture by Aquatium at deviantArt

Now here’s a franchise that hasn’t made the list yet. Taken from the Matrix franchise, the Nebuchadnezzar is a hovercraft and, along with others like her, the primary means of transportation and resistance for the people of Zion. Named after the (in)famous Babylonian Emperor who conquered the Levant, this ship made its first appearance towards the end of Act I, right after Neo was unplugged and had to be rescued.

According to Morpheus, her Captain, the ship is their means for reaching “broadcast depth” in the underground tunnels and hack into the Matrix. Beyond this basic role, it is also a primary defender whenever the sentinels begin to venture too close to Zion. In the first movie, its only means of defense was its EMP. However, in the second and third movie, it was upgraded to include defensive gun turrets.

The second and third movie also introduced many other versions of this hovercraft. Apparently, every ship is unique, each one boasting its own structure, profile, and size; variations on a theme rather than based on a standardized model. Clearly, nobody is Zion believes in assembly lines, at least not where their ships are concerned!

SA-43 Hammerhead:
HammerheadTaken from Space: Above and Beyond, the Hammerhead is an aerospace fighter and the mainstay of the future US Navy and Marine Corps. Named because of its configuration, front and back, this ship is not only cool to look at, but is quite practical from a hard science standpoint.

For example, the front and rear wings are not strictly for artistic purposes. In addition to serving as weapon’s mounts, they are the platform for the ship’s many retro-rockets. In the course of the show’s many action sequences, you always see these ships moving about as if they are truly operating in vacuum. In other words, they don’t swoop around like regular jets or have to roll to turn around. In space, all you got to do is fire your lateral rockets and let your axis spin around!

In terms of armaments, the Hammerhead packs a rather impressive array. A forward mounted laser turret is supplemented by a dual one mounted at the rear, giving the ship a near-360 degree range of fire. It also has hard mounts under its wings for missiles, bombs and rockets. These come in handy when facing down multiple squadrons of smaller, faster, but less heavily armed Chig fighters.

The Excalibur:
excalibur_2Back to the B5 universe yet again! Don’t blame me, they make a lot of cool ships. Anyhoo, this time around, the ship in question is the prototype White Star Destroyer The Excalibur. Designed to be a bigger, heavier version of its predecessor, the Excalibur was similarly based on Vorlon and Mimbari technology, incorporating organic hulls and Mimbari energy weapons.

A joint venture between the Earth Alliance and Mimbari governments, the interior of The Excalibur resembles that of most Earth Force ships. It’s controls are human-friendly, making it a quick study for crews who are used to serving on Earth Force vessels. This came in handy on its maiden voyage, when Sheridan and a crew of EF personnel were forced to commandeer it and its sister ship, The Victory.

It’s weapon consisted of multiple turret mounted beam cannons mounted all over the hull, but concentrated near the front and rear. On top of that, it also boasted a massive energy cannon similar to the kinds found on Vorlon warships. Unfortunately, this weapon was such a drain on the ships power that it could only be fire once in any battle, since its use would result in a systems blackout that could last several minutes. In addition, its ample bays could hold multiple squadrons of Starfuries and Thunderbolts, which were deployed by a pylon that extended from the hull.

In addition to playing a key role in defeating the Drakh, The Excalibur and its crew were also tasked with finding a cure for the plague they viciously unleashed on Earth. Though this spinoff series (Crusade) was cancelled partway through its first season, sources from the expanded universe indicate that it was eventually successful. So in addition to being able to kick some serious ass, this ship was also a capable exploration vessel and a mobile research station.

Spaceball One:
spaceballs6ts4uwDespite odd name and it’s whacky nature, Spaceball One is actually a pretty cool ship! In addition to being able to exceed the speed of light and go both “Ridiculous Speed” and “Ludicrous Speed”, the ship is capable of converting into a giant, robotic maid which, when armed with its megavac, is capable of sucking up an entire planet’s atmosphere. Tell me that aint a terror weapon!

A parody on the Star Destroyers from the very movie it was meant to parody, the design elements of this ship also seemed to pay homage to a few other unlikely sources. One suggested influence is The Discovery from 2001: A Space Odyssey, while another is the Nostromo from Alien. Given the comedic references to both these movies – the alien bursting out of a guy’s chest and performing a little ditty over lunch, or the “plaid” scene in space – this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Thanks to Rami Ungar for (repeatedly) suggesting this one. We consider the matter closed, please stop sending hate mail! I kid of course, keep sending it! We like to hear from you ;)!

UD4L Cheyenne Dropship:
DropShipLast time, it was the USS Sulaco that made the list as a example of a cool ship from the Alien universe. This time around, I thought I’d look a little closer, specifically to its cargo bays. Because it is here that we find those cool Cheyenne-class dropships, the ones that carry Marines, APC’s, and a f***load of munitions to their targets.

Capable of atmospheric and space flight, the dropships are typically deployed from high orbit and extend their wings once they hit the atmosphere in order to maintain lift.The Cheyenne serves primarily as a troop transport, a role it is well suited for since it can take off and land vertically from unprepared areas.

However, it’s nose mounted gatling gun, weapons pods and large compliment of rockets also mean it can attack in a supporting role, namely as a gunship. Once its deployed its compliment of Marines, typically inside of an M579 Armored Personnel Carrier, it will retire to a safe landing zone or offer active support until all enemies in the area have been suppressed.

X-wing:
X-wing_SWGTCG“The Incom T-65 X-wing is the fighter that killed the Death Star. An almost perfect balance of speed, maneuverability, and defensive shielding make it the fighter of choice for Rogue Squadron.” This is how General Carlist Rieekan described the final entry on my list, the venerable X-wing starfighter!

Based on captured designs and built by specialists who defected to the Alliance, the X-wing played a pivotal role in the Galactic Civil War and would form the backbone of the Alliance’s Starfighter Corps. Possessing deflector shields, a hyperdrive, an R2 astromech for repairs and navigation, and a complement of proton torpedoes, the X-wing allowed the Rebellion to launch raids deep into Imperial space and stand toe to toe with its TIE fighter squadrons.

In addition to providing escort to Alliance vessels and conducting raids on Imperial ships and installations, its long list of accomplishments include destroying the first Death Star, proving cover for escaping Alliance ships after the Battle of Yavin and at the Battle of Hoth, and defeating overwhelming Imperial forces at the Battle of Endor. After the formation of the New Republic, the X-wing would go on to play a pivotal role in many subsequent battles and engagements, mainly against the remnants of the Empire.

Featured heavily in the original movies, the X-wing would also go on to become the only Star Wars fighter to get a videogame named after it! Not bad for the little “snub fighter” that could!

Final Thoughts:
And wouldn’t you know it, it seems I have actually have some insight to offer today. Must be on a count of how many ships I’ve reviewed by now. For starters, I think that while aesthetics and artistry count for a lot, some serious props need to be given for a hard sci-fi foundation. Ships that incorporate realistic features, like retro-rocket mounts, wings that only deploy if you’re expecting atmosphere, and practical hull designs, are usually what make the biggest impact. Not that we don’t all love freaky looking spacecraft, it’s just that dropships, hammerheads and starfuries seem somewhat more plausible than saucer sections and mega-dreadnoughts.

At the same time, its fast becoming clear to me that when it comes to designing cool sci-fi ship concepts, the only limits are those imposed by our own imaginations. Really, there are no rules or strictures when your painting with an open canvass, and sci-fi has always been the perfect forum for venturing into the realm of the implausible and impossible. And given the exponential rate at which technology is progressing, dreaming big doesn’t exactly seem unrealistic anymore. If anything, our dreams seem to be coming true faster than we could have imagined. So really, with the possible exception of FTL, nothing we can imagine right now should seem too farfetched. If anything, we should encourage dreamers to dream!

Until next time, and keep those suggestions coming! And maybe come up with some original designs, I’m feeling in the mood for evaluating something new and inspired here 😉

The Matrix: Revulsions!

The Matrix: Revulsions!

With the final movie hitting theaters, fans believed we were coming to it at last! The explanation as to what it all meant in Reloaded, whether their was a Matrix within a Matrix, how would Zion survive, why Neo was able to destroy those squiddies, and who the hell that Bane guy was now. Most or all of these questions would have been easier to answer if the second movie hadn’t left people befuddled and confused. But at least now, with the third movie, some of that confusion might be dispelled. And I for one was eager to find out who was right in the whole “what’s going on” debate!

The Matrix: Revolutions
As it turned, none of us were! The answers we were waiting for turned out to have nothing to do with any of our theories, and we were quite unhappy about that! Not just because we were wrong but because ultimately, the explanations for why things had happened the way they did in movie two… kinda sucked. The critics felt much the same way, with most reviewers panning the film and it earning roughly half of what the sequel had. When describing it and how it wrapped the series up, words such as “anticlimactic” and “unsatisfying” were often used. Most people I knew just called it dumb! And the reasons were obvious.

1. Weak Opening:
So the movie started with Neo finding himself in limbo which is basically a part of the Matrix. (Note: Mobile station is an anagram for Limbo, which was what Neo – anagram for One – was in. Get used to it, the franchise is full of them!) So in addition to the questions about the squiddies, how he’s supposed to save Zion, and whether or not the Oracle is the enemy, there’s the added question of how the hell he could find himself in the Matrix when he’s not jacked in. Meanwwhile, Morpheus, Trinity and the crew of the Hammer are trying to find him, and the Oracle tells them they got to find YET another program who’s being guarded by the Merovingian in order to get to him. Didn’t they do this plotline already? And reusing one so early in the movie is a bad sign, makes the audience think the whole movie’s going to be a rehash of the last one. And after some needless action sequences in the Merovingian’s night club, which just seemed like an excuse to do the one thing they hadn’t tried yet (fighting upside down!) they find Neo and they are free to pursue all the other plot threads they left open.

2. Weak Explanations:
The movie reached a climax of sorts around the time that Neo reached the Oracle and asked her for explanations. There I was in my seat thinking “Here we go!” Finally, we’d get to see what all that stuff was about. And what the Oracle said was interesting at best, lame at worst, and disappointing somewhere in the middle. So apparently Neo was able to stop those machines because “the power of the One extends to the Source” which is, apparently, where his powers come from… Uh, okay. So Neo has powers that enable him to control machines in the real world as well as in the Matrix… Why? Come to think of it, why does he have powers at all? The way the Architect explained it, his powers were a systemic anomaly, suggesting that they were just exhibited in supposedly gifted individuals that cropped up from time to time. But why the hell would those powers extend to the Source, aka. the machine mainframe? And what the hell did she mean when she said they CAME from the Source? Does that mean the Source willed Neo and all his predecessors into being? Did it do this just so it’d have something to do? Or is he just some kind of super-cyberman who defies all comprehension? Seriously man, this was just weak! Compared to all this, what my friend said (hey Sam!) about Neo being a program actually made sense!

Oh, and the bit about Neo’s mind breaking off and running loose in the Matrix? Also weak! Apparently, he “wasn’t ready” for these abilities, so that’s why he went comatose after killing those squiddies, woke up and found himself in Mobile (Limbo) Station. Yeah, because that’s what happens when you’re the One and you use your abilities prematurely, you go to a train station! I know that the Wachoswki brothers were trying to be cool and mysterious when they wrote this, but this is just inexplicable nonsense! To top it off, we never did get an explanation as to how the Oracle could be on humanity’s side when thus far, all she’s done is lead them into a seemingly hopeless situation. When Morpheus and Trinity confront her, not once do they ask the obvious: “Why did you lie to us, bitch? Why did you say the war would end once Neo went to the Source when in truth, it meant the war would continue and the whole cycle would just repeat itself?” Not asked, not answered. The Oracle just acts like this was all part of the unfolding plan and she’s just telling them what they need to know. Sure, she did tell Neo he’d have to decide between saving Trinity and Zion, which was true, but everything else still felt like lies, or at the very least, convenient half-truths.

3. Obvious Biblical References: In this movie, the mythological references were not only way over the top, but obvious as well! In movie one, much of the mythology was biblical in nature. In movie two, it was more classical. Third time around, it seems like the wheel came back around and returned to biblical. But holy shit was it obvious here! First, there’s the part where Neo is blinded during the fight between him and Bane/Smith. Not only is this an obvious allusion to the biblical Samson, Bane even comes right out and says “A blind messiah!” Are you kidding me? Did the art of subtlety die somewhere between movie’s two and three? No, I can’t defend that. Movie two was never subtle! And the part at the end where Neo decides to sacrifice himself to save Zion? Of course, this particular biblical allusion was building up all throughout the whole of movie three. Scarcely a person in the audience expected Neo to live, especially after Trinity died. But by the end, when Neo’s dead body was being ferried off by the machines, all splayed out Jesus-style? C’mon, Wachowskis!

4. That Lame-ass Death Scene: Trinity survived movie two, which I believe I mentioned was kind of hokey, only to die here. And it took place after she delivered Neo to the machine city, which basically meant she died as soon as she was no longer of use! As if that wasn’t enough, her final farewells dragged on foreeeeever. Seriously, I heard people snickering in the theater, it had gotten so cheesy! Yes, I’m sure there were plenty of people who might have found it touching as well, but I refuse to believe Carrie Ann Moss actually cried when she first read this part of the script! More like she confronted the Wachowskis and said, “You can type this shit, but you sure as hell can’t say it!”

5. Smith Gets Comical: I’ve already mentioned how Smith had most of the best lines in the first movie, right after Morpheus. Part of what made his dialogue so cool was the fact that it was cryptic and delivered in a real cool, badass way. Aside from his incredibly even tone, which made him sound all the more menacing, Weaving showed himself to be an expert at catching the right look. That hard stare, those arched eyebrows, that cruel mouth – he was bad reborn! Then the second movie came out, in which he was still pretty bad. He even had some decent lines, even if they were a little monosyllabic. Remember “Me too…”, or “More!” Or how about “The best part about being me is there are so many of me”. Those were pretty good and captured the essence of Smith’s growing megalomania. But by this movie, he so overdid the evil madman routine that it just got creepy, even laughable. For example, that drawn out scene where he smashes the Oracle’s dish and then does that evil laugh as soon as he assimilates her… That was painful to watch. Oh, and lets not forget that long, hammed-up lecture he gave Neo when they were fighting at the end: “Why Mr. Anderson?! Why do you persist?!” Seriously, he was yelling through clenched teeth! I seriously hope for his sake he was choosing to have fun because he found the dialogue so crappy!

6. Final Fight!: At this point, the movie already had outdone itself in weird, over the top special effects. But that big-time, burly brawl at the end of the movie? That was just plain overdone! Sure, Smith and Neo are both superhuman by this point in things, but did their fight have to resemble a battle between two Supermen? Did you not rip off that franchise enough already with all Neo’s flying? Hell, Link even said it in movie two: “He’s doing his Superman thing!” In any case, the action itself was terribly over the top, and was made worse by Smith’s antics which, as already noted, had gone from cryptic to comical! That, plus all the CGI – which always makes a scene look fake – made this entire scene feel totally superfluous. Mainly I just waiting for it to end so we could see how Neo was going to die and whether or not he would take Smith with him!

Okay, some stuff was good in this film. That battle scene where the machines reached Zion, that had some good parts to it! The action was pretty intense and it did have the right feel. Sure, there was the part where Kid (that’s his name, no fooling!) commandeers a mech and shoots the doors to Zion open, saying “Neo, I believe!” right before he shoots. Oh, and of course the part where Link’s wife and some militia women are popping off rockets and taking down the big drilling machine, but then start to get cut to pieces by squiddies shortly thereafter. Those were pretty cheesy, not to mention a pretty cheap attempt at making the audience care about some tertiary characters. But hey, the action was cool so I can forgive. I can even forgive the Aliens rip-off with the mec suits (known here as APU’s) since they are cool in ANY context AND were put to good use! Oh, and and that whole squiddy/hovercraft chase scene? Also not bad! It was fun and tense, and as opposed to the lesser characters dying in Zion, the audience actually seemed to care about what happened to Morpheus and Naobi (as always, played by Jada Pinkett Smith). Her badass delivery and sharp wit also made the scene believable, but dammit did they have to repeat that crappy “There are some things that do not change… and some things do” line?

And you might even venture to say that part of why this last movie seemed so disappointing was because they did a pretty good job of making things seem hopeless in Reloaded. In addition to being confused, I seriously went away wondering how the good guys could possibly win at this point. Yes, the plot was underdeveloped because of pacing problems and too many action scenes being piled on, but the whole concept of the Matrix being centuries old and there being several predecessors to Neo was still borderline genius! After movie one, with what seems to be an open and shut plot, they had their work cut out for them making it seem like everything was about to take a turn for the worst. And yet, they managed to pull it off! From movie one to two we went from thinking Neo was invincible and humanity would win to believing Neo was helpless and humanity screwed. So you might say there was little inspiration left for when it came time to brighten things up again, to find a way to make the good guys win that was plausible and consistent with the whole theme of prophecy and “this has all been foretold”.

But alas, the weak ending where Neo dies and the machines for some reason decide to leave Zion alone cannot be so easily forgiven! That, on top of all the other flaws in this movie meant that this franchise was ending on a groan and not a hurrah. Seriously, why did the machines leave Zion when they were an inch away from wiping it out? And why, for that matter, did the Architect promise the Oracle the “red pills” would be set free from now on? That was never part of the agreement! Neo said he wanted peace, not that all humans who couldn’t accept the program should henceforth be set free so there would be no reason to go to war. Makes sense, but why would the machines accept it? Because they felt honor bound to acknowledge Neo’s sacrifice? Because they promised they wouldn’t? What kind of machines are these? Honor, promises, solemn oaths; these are HUMAN things! They are based in emotion and ethical insight, not mathematics or cold calculation! And you call yourselves machines! Pah! I spit on your machineness!

And let’s not forget what kind of moral this all amounted to: that humanity and robots need to live in peace. Sure, the whole concept of human-machine interdependency came up repeatedly. It came up first in the original when Morpheus explained how humans power the Matrix, and how this was ironic given humanity’s historical dependence on machinery. It was resurrected in that needless scene where Councillor Hamann (that old dude from Zion) takes Neo tot he bowels of the city to look at the machines and reflect on the irony of THAT. But to take that to the point where they must learn to live in peace and harmony, Kumbaya-style, just seemed lame! And as the Architect said to the Oracle: “How long do you expect this peace treaty of yours to last?” Good question! As it stood, the only thing protecting Zion from exterminations was this treaty; but in time, humanity was likely to recover and expand, at which point they’d be wanting to shove a great big EMP up the Matrix’s ass! Any calculating machine would know this, hence why they would have finished the job when they had the chance! But at this point, no one was looking for practical. They were looking for over…

The Matrix: Revolutions, people. A disappointing but not terrible ending to a very promising franchise. Perhaps, like with Highlander, there really should have only been one. Or perhaps they shouldn’t have tried so hard to top everything from the first. In truth, I think that if they had just taken their time and gone with those rather genius ideas – the ones about rogue sentient programs and how the Matrix and the whole One thing were a lot more complicated than originally foretold – the sequels would have been much better. But, as I said, greater people than the Wachowskis have tried to make lighting strike twice. Who can blame them for not succeeding?

The Matrix: Revolutions:
Entertainment Value: 7/10
Plot: 5/10
Direction: 6/10
Total: 6/10

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)