Monday, November 21, 2011

Stubs - The Matrix

THE MATRIX (1999) Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano. Directed by Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski. Written by Andy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski. Produced by Joel Silver. Music by Don Davis. Run Time: 136 minutes. Color. Australia/U.S., Science Fiction

One of the most visually interesting films to come out in the 1990’s, THE MATRIX is one of those special effects films that your parents warned you about. It does not always make sense, and can drag a little in places, but the film is best known for its action sequences and something known as bullet time, a special and visual effect that alters time, space and point of view.

There are two alternate realities at work in THE MATRIX, and neither of them is good if you’re a human being. There is the simulated reality, fed by Artificial Intelligence machines to keep the human population subdued. This is a dream state in which people think they are living their lives. This is the reality we all know. We sleep, go to work, go to school, hack computer systems and eat.

Then there is the real reality, in which humans are nothing more than an energy supply for the A.I. machines that have taken over the world. This is their revenge for mankind permanently darkening the sky, in our last ditch effort to stop the machines by cutting off their primary energy source, the sun. In this reality, humans are treated like cattle; fed and used. When a human dies, it is turned into food for other humans. If this starts to sound like THE TERMINATOR meets SOYLENT GREEN, you’re not too far off.

But humans are not completely defeated. There is Zion, the last human city. And there is a band of people who are trying their best to disrupt the simulated reality. This group is led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Morpheus, for some never explained reason, has latched on to a hacker called Neo (Keanu Reeves) as the last great hope for mankind. During the day, in his simulated reality, Neo, aka Thomas Anderson, is a computer programmer. He knows, through his hacking, that there is something called THE MATRIX, but he doesn’t know what it is or what it means. Enter Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), another hacker, who tells Neo that Morpheus has the answers to his questions.

Neo is then arrested by Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and other men in black, who warn him to stay away from Morpheus. But Neo doesn’t listen and meets with Morpheus anyway. At the meeting he is given the choice between the red pill and the blue pill. The blue pill basically takes Neo back to sleep and he awakes in the morning and will remember nothing. The red pill will provide him with the truth. Naturally, Neo takes the red pill or we have no story. After taking it, Neo wakes up in his pod, connected to wires and tubes. These connections are severed and Morpheus rescues Neo and takes him aboard the Nebuchadnezzar, his ship.

There Neo is repaired, given the low down and uploaded with handy to know things like Martial Arts. “I know Kung Fu.”. (This learn through uploads would be the premise for TV’s Chuck series, but instead of the Matrix it is the Intersect.) Morpheus gives Neo the back story on what happened to humans. He tells Neo that he is the One who the Oracle has prophesized will end the war through his control of the Matrix. Morpheus and crew go around unplugging other humans and having them join their rebellion, but not everyone on board the Nebuchadnezzar is happy about it. Cypher (Joe Pantoliano) seems to regret not taking the blue pill when he had the choice.

Everyone though is amazed at how quickly Neo learns and adapts to his new environment. Like all of Morpheus’s crew, Neo can bend the simulated laws of physics. Morpheus is convinced that Neo will have no trouble dealing with the Agents, who are computer generated programs who are designed to stop any threats to the simulated world.

Morpheus takes Neo to meet the Oracle (Gloria Foster), but she tells Neo that he’s not The One, which is a little confusing, since he is. She also tells him that Morpheus believes in him so much that he would sacrifice himself for Neo. When the group tries to get back aboard ship, they are surrounded by Agent Smith and other security. Morpheus stays behind so that the Trinity and Neo can escape back through the hacked telephone lines to the ship. Once on board they find out that Cypher has killed most of the crew by unplugging them from THE MATRIX and made a deal with the machines to return to his dream pod in exchange for giving them Morpheus.

But not everyone on board is dead. Dozer (Anthony Ray Parker), the ship’s pilot and a native of Zion, is only wounded and he kills Cypher before he can kill Trinity and Neo. Meanwhile, Morpheus is being interrogated in a government building by Agent Smith and others. What they want from him are the access codes to the mainframe for Zion. Neo and Trinity, armed to the max, storm the building. Here Neo is able to put into practice all that he has learned. He is able to twist around the bullets being fired at him. The Agents can’t stop him and Neo and Trinity save Morpheus. On the way back to the ship, Neo is ambushed by more Agents while Morpheus and Trinity escape.

Neo, though is not able to bend his way out of trouble and a barrage of bullets “kills” him in the simulated world and in the real one. But Trinity won’t let him die. The Oracle had told her that she would fall in love with The One and Neo is The One. Like Harry Potter, love saves Neo and he revives in the real world and in the simulated one as well. Now he is able to see THE MATRIX and he destroys Agent Smith. He vows to save everyone imprisoned by THE MATRIX and then he flies off, presumably to the two sequels spawned from the original.

Keanu Reeves seems to be born to play Neo. His range as an actor is almost non-existent, but that works well in this film. Rather than wooden, he comes across as machine-like in THE MATRIX.

For the most part, all the characters are pretty one dimensional. There isn’t a lot of growth or change for them throughout the film. Trinity’s love for Neo seems a little tacked on, as if the writers were looking for something, anything, to bring him back from the dead. (There were those sequels that needed to be made.) The only character that goes through any change is Cypher and he goes from being a disgruntled rebel to spy for the machines, but even that is telegraphed long before it happens.

But THE MATRIX isn’t about things like character development. It is all about the visual effects and in this category it excels. Whether it is the bullet time effect or it is the time slice, with completely frozen characters and objects or spinning cameras THE MATRIX set a new standard in action scene choreography. For many, the lobby scene, when Neo and Trinity are on their way to save Morpheus, is among the greatest action scenes ever.

Throughout the film, there are references made to Alice in Wonderland. At times, the viewer feels that he has fallen down the rabbit hole with Neo. But in the end, THE MATRIX is able to keep its rather convoluted plot moving forward, even if not everything gets explained in the process.

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