Welcome to the real world. On March 31,1999,theatres across the US opened to a leather-clad Morpheus telling audiences that the world they lived in was nothing but an elaborate smokescreen of virtual simulation. There are no cars or trees in the actual world,he said,only unconscious human bodies in pods donating bio-electrical energy to giant machines under a grey sky.
Multitudes came to watch The Matrix,and many acknowledged that it had changed sci-fi movies,as they knew it. A few thought Morpheus could be talking sense. Who knew what life was about,anyway?
And therein lay The Matrixs allure.
Using extended metaphors from pieces of literature as far and in-between as Lewis Carrolls Alice in Wonderland (Follow the white rabbit) and texts on Greek mythology,the movie played on suspicions that have probably haunted mankind from its dawn. The suspicion that the world is nothing more than maya,that humankind could just be Super Marios hopping around in a computer game controlled by somebody else,that there must be more to dejà vu (the movie explains it as anomalies that cause overlaps in the matrixs code when something is changed,that is) and out-of-body experiences than what the experts want us to believe.
For seekers of cheap thrills,it had all the ingredients of a standard Hollywood potboiler: action like never before; a pinch of love dropped in through the Neo-Trinity sub-plot; a good measure of betrayal,courtesy Cypher (played by Sopranos baddie Joe Pantoliano); evil,in the form of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving); and all the cryptic wisdom you could get from Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) and Oracle (Gloria Foster). Though the movies premise leaned heavily on the age-old machines vs mankind storyline,it looked nothing like Terminator rip-offs that had dominated the previous decade.
It was a movie that had everything for everyone.
The Matrix Reloaded,however,happened to be just that reloaded. With nothing going on for a while,Neo and Trinity reveal their feelings to each other,resulting in a PG-13 scene in a darkened room. Agent Smith plays spoilsport,revealing that he has now separated himself from the Source,and has mastered the ability to replicate himself. Also,Zion,the settlement of freed humans,is under threat from a sentinel attack. Consequently,the odds get harder,action goes up a notch,and the screen fills up with flying robots and Agent Smiths.
To its credit,Reloaded did present some characters as intriguing as The Keymaker,The Twins and the rogue programme-turned-mobster the Merovingian. A guest appearance by the ravishing Monica Bellucci as the mobsters wife earned the movie a few bonus points; everybody loved it.
Sadly,it was the long-awaited Matrix Revolutions that turned out to be the dampest squib in the trilogy. With most of the movie building up to the final showdown between mankind and the machines,Neo got pushed to the background,rising only at the end to save the day. Not a lot of action,or at least the fun kind,took place in the matrix either. The original concept recycled beyond recognition,it relied heavily on special effects and robot wars to bring the story to a climax that had better suited the last instalment of the Lord of the Rings franchise.
However,all was not lost. It was in the same year that the most brilliant addition to the Matrix series came along noticed only by niche cinema goers. A collection of 10 animated shorts that either threw light on unanswered questions or narrated unrelated stories pegged to the main theme,called the Animatrix.
The most closely linked episode to the Matrix storyline was the two-part Second Renaissance,which provided an animated narration of the events that led to the Machine Age. The blame was squarely placed on humanity,for becoming decadent enough to endow robots with artificial intelligence and then displaying phenomenal stupidity by launching a hate campaign against them.
While Final Flight of the Osiris was a direct prequel leading to the events of The Matrix Reloaded,the psychedelic Matriculated told the story of a few freed men who try re-educating predatory robots by introducing them into a matrix of their own making with disastrous results.
The most striking among all the animated shorts was the film noir-like A Detective Story,which acted as a precursor to the first movie in the trilogy. When contacted by Matrix-controlled men to find Trinity,then identified by the commonfolk as a notorious computer hacker,a weary detective believes it to be the case to end all cases. That turns out to be true,but not in any way he had expected.
Other notable shorts in The Animatrix include Kids Story and World Record.
The Ultimate Matrix Collection,which was first released in the United States on May 22,2007,contains 10 DVDs providing footage of movie shoots; interviews with the directors (Andy Wachowski,Lana Wachowski),sci-fi experts and actors; expert discussions on factors that inspired the concept; music videos; trailers and storyboards,in addition to the movies themselves. So,if you are a Matrix buff with 406 minutes to spare on one of the best sci-fi trilogies ever made,this may be just the thing for you.