20 years ago, on March 31, 1999, the Wachowski brothers released a film that gave Hollywood science fiction the kind of spin that had not been felt since the days of a certain Star Wars. The film, of course, was The Matrix. Built around the conflict between humans and machines, the film came with a plot that few could understand, but people all over the world still flocked to see the film for action sequences and graphics of the like that had been simply never been seen on the silver screen. From the evil Agent Smith morphing into different people to the hero Neo iconically dodging a bullet in slow motion, The Matrix set new standards for cinema. Standards which many of its fans believe have still not been matched (THAT is another story), even by its own sequels.
As we celebrate twenty years of The Matrix, here are twenty facts about the Wachowski brothers’ epic that you might not know:
It was comic-al really
The idea of The Matrix came to the Wachowski brothers when they were thinking of an idea for a comic book series, perhaps anime with a mix of martial arts and sci-fi, close to the mid-nineties. They wrote a script, but kept tweaking it right until the time of production.
Keanu Reeves was NOT the chosen one…
Keanu Reeves might seem tailormade for the role of Neo, the “One” who leads mankind’s battle against its machine masters. But he was not the first choice for the role. Will Smith turned down the role because he was not convinced by all the tech around it (he opted instead to star in Wild Wild West – ouch!). Nicholas Cage, Brad Pitt, Leonardo di Caprio and Van Kilmer were also approached for the role but turned it down. In the end, it boiled down to Reeves and Johnny Depp, who was believed to be the Wachowski brothers’ choice. Reeves finally got the nod, or else who knows, Depp might have ended being better known as Neo rather than Captain Jack Sparrow!
…and neither was Carrie-Anne Moss
Neo’s romantic interest Trinity was one of the most intriguing characters of the film and was played by a relative unknown Carrie-Anne Moss. But although, like Reeves, Moss made the role and character her own, she, again like Reeves, was not the first choice for the role. The role had actually been offered to pop star (and Michael Jackson’s sister) Janet Jackson, who turned it down evidently because of scheduling issues. She did make references to The Matrix in her album, Discipline. Sandra Bullock and Gillian Anderson also turned down the role. We left the best for last – remember how Will Smith turned down the role of Neo? Well, one of the actors who auditioned for the role of Trinity was the woman he would marry: Jada Pinkett Smith!
Anything for the master fight master
The Matrix’s amazing action sequences come from well-known martial arts choreographer, Woo-Ping Yuen. Although he liked the script, Woo did not want to work on the film. So, he quoted an exorbitant fee. To his surprise, it was accepted. He then insisted on having complete control over the fight sequences and training the actors, expecting this to be turned down. It wasn’t. And the rest is history!
Wanna act? Read…lots
The cast of the film had to understand its concept very clearly. And for this they had to read not just the script but also French philosopher Jean Broudillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation.” Another book that was recommended reading was Kevin Kelly’s “Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World.” Reeves and Lawrence Fishburne (who played Morpheus) evidently absorbed this reading easily, but Carrie-Anne Moss confessed she had a tough time. Incidentally, guess the hollow book in which Neo hides his illegal software in the film? “Simulacra and Simulation”!
…and work really hard..
Doing all those stunts in the film involved a lot of training. Four months were set aside for just training and even then, there were injuries galore. Reeves suffered a back injury which caused partial paralysis in his legs and required surgery (that’s why he does not kick much in the film!). Hugo Weaving (who played Agent Smith) suffered a hip injury, and Carrie-Anne Moss twisted her ankle during shooting. A number of stuntmen also sustained injuries during the actual shooting – Reeves’ stunt double Chad Stahelski suffered broken ribs, knees and a dislocated shoulder.
…oh and shed weight (lots again)
Remember how emaciated Neo looks when he escapes from The Matrix and wakes up in a pod? Keanu Reeves had to lose fifteen pounds for it. For good measure, they also shaved his entire body!
The One does not always need stunt doubles
In the early part of the film is a scene where Keanu Reeves steps out on the window ledge of his office on the 34th floor to escape Agent Smith, while talking to Morpheus. Reeves actually did the scene on his own with no stuntman,
The script, however, needs graphics…
Evidently the Wachowski brothers had the idea of The Matrix for five and half years and wrote as many as fourteen drafts of the screenplay. However, it seemed studio executives could not really visualise how the story would play out. Undeterred, the brothers hired Steve Skorce and Geofrey Darrow to create storyboards illustrating the story. In all, over six hundred storyboards were made. It was worth it – the script got picked up!
…and explanatory dialogues
Well, the storyboards might have made the script easier to visualise, but they were still concerns that audiences would not understand it. Which is why the studio insisted on a lot of “explanatory dialogue.” Many referred to the screenplay as “the script that nobody understands.”
Lots of visual effects
The visual effects are for many perhaps the most memorable part of The Matrix. They should be. They comprise almost a fifth of the film – yes, almost twenty per cent of the film is visual effects!
Shot down under…really
Almost all the film was shot in Sydney, Australia. Many believe that the film helped make New South Wales a leading film production centre.
The directors would have taken the blue pill
One of the key scenes in The Matrix is when Morpheus offers Neo the choice between taking a red pill and a blue one. The red pill would show Neo the truth about the Matrix, the blue one would take him back to his normal life. Neo takes the red pill. Interestingly, the Wachowski brothers said if they had been offered the same option, they would have opted for the blue one!
Sunglasses that Blind(e)
The sunglasses worn by the main characters of the film attained almost cult status. They were designed by Blinde Design, a brand known for making handmade glasses. The brand beat the likes of Ray-Ban and Arnette to win the sunglasses contract for the film.
Make a world blue by removing…well, blue
The world of The Matrix has a very prominent green tint. This was evidently to give the world a grimy, gritty feel that was mechanical and unreal. And in particular, the colour blue was largely removed as it was seen as a “real world” colour. Not surprisingly, blue was used heavily in the real world part of the film.
No leather coat for Neo
That snazzy overcoat you see Neo walking around in? That was supposed to be leather. But the directors wanted it to billow and float. And leather did not – not even when they put a fan underneath it (and you thought only Marilyn Monroe did that sort of thing?).
Need animals? Get a computer
All the animals in The Matrix universe are digital. Yes, they are all computer generated, according to many people!
Need an epic battle sequence? Get rid of the computers
Computers were used in abundance for special effects in The Matrix, most notably in the breathtaking bullet time sequence, where Neo dodges bullets in super slow motion. However, there was hardly any computer wizardry needed in perhaps the most spectacular battle of the film – when Trinity and Neo fight a number of security personnel in a lobby. It was all practical stuff and took about ten days to shoot!
That tile was NOT supposed to fall off
At the end of the lobby battle, Neo and Trinity exit the lobby. And amongst all the debris left behind, a bit of a marble tile falls off and lands on the ground. It is one of the most remembered scenes of the film, almost a final touch to an epic confrontation. The truth, however, is that that bit of marble was not supposed to fall off at all. It just happened by accident. And the film directors decided to keep it in the final cut. Good call!
…and there was a touch of Loony Tunes too!
The Matrix started out as an idea for a comic book, so it was somehow divine justice that one of its most memorable scenes was actually based on a comic character. The scene was Neo hitting the ground and bouncing up while trying to jump across buildings like Morpheus was based on the iconic Wile E. Coyote from the Loony Tunes universe!