The Matrix Reloaded
I have always enjoyed Sci-Fi, both in the books I read and the films I watch. This is not unusual; this is one of the most popular genres and for good reason. Sci-Fi allows us to leave this mundane world behind for a little while and transcend the common restraints of time and space. In 1999 a film came out that was a truly pivotal movie, one that exerted incredible influence on the way the genre for be presented in the future. The Matrix told the story of Tom Anderson, a computer programmer that earned extras cash by hacking. He discovers that the whole world is an illusion created by sentient machines that actual keep the human race in a coma like state to generate electricity. What we perceive as reality is nothing more than an elaborate video program beamed into our minds. As the second installment of this trilogy begins there are a quarter of a million people freed from their forced sleep and living in a subterranean city, Zion. The machines have discovered the location of this refuge and within 36 hours they will have bored through the walls. Only Anderson, now know as Neo, the One, can save mankind. What makes this film different and superior to most of the genre is the infusion of philosophical under currents and the utilization of Judea-Christian references. This is a film that will challenge your ability to think and reason as well as providing a treat for the senses. Sure there are the required special effects and computer generated material, taking the art to new heights but there is something more. The concept of reality and control are foremost in what drives the action. There was a little Sci-Fi flick I first saw as a child, Invaders from Mars. In it the little boy awakens one night to see a space ship land and the aliens control the people of the town. At the end we see that this was all a dream, he awakens again and much to his shock sees the ship again. This device of doubting reality is frightening not only to the child but also to us adults. To be forced to doubt reality keeps the audience constantly on edge, there is little to grab hold of, almost nothing we can be certain about. Since there are a number of plot holes in the story, things like why would the machines bother to create such an elaborate dream world, by keeping the audience off balance with these doubts are attention is redirected. Like many second installments of a trilogy this is far darker then the first film. The emotional levels are much more intense and since we all know most of the story already more time was spent on developing the interaction of the characters both new and old.
Most of the cast from the first Matrix returns here. Keanu Reeves as neo, the Messiah figure is not the kind of actor most people associate as being a ‘great actor’ yet he consistently lands roles that permit him to do the job better than most others in his profession. Where as in the first film Neo was full of doubt and reservations here his confidence has blossomed as his powers in the Matrix increases. Laurence Fishburne plays the enigmatic Morpheus, one of the leaders of Zion and devoted believer in Neo as the mystical ‘One’. He embodies ‘Cool’, in control, strengthened by his beliefs; he is the zealot willing to die for what he knows to be true. Carrie Ann Moss returns as Trinity, now somewhat diminished as the strong female characters and forced more into the love interest for Neo. The warrior maiden role is largely conceded to Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe. While she is not a true believer in Neo she is dedicated to the salvation of Zion and the liberation of mankind. As my daughter noted, ‘she rocks’. Finally there is Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith, an enforcer constructed by the evil machines. Weaving is one of the most versatile actors I have ever seen. Whether he is a cross dresser in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert or Elrond king of the Elves in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he puts on the persona demanded by his role like a comfortable old pair of jeans. Rather than playing Smith as an unemotional bad guy he inserts just a hint of gleeful satisfaction into this character.
Larry and Andy Wachowski are brilliant as the co-directors of this series. They do not fall into the trap of over indulgence in the computer generate effects. They use special effects to heighten and punctuate the story. True the effects are a new level in CGI and Hong Kong martial arts but they never overwhelm the story. Kids that watch this movie may concentrate more on these effects but for the adult the underlying plot twist makes this film work on several levels. There is a now famous scene on a highway where the Wachowski brothers could have opted for having the action done by computer. Instead they had one of the largest sets ever constructed. They know the limits of computer graphics and more importantly when to use reality to convey they point to the audience. This translates into a respect for the all important people that pay their money for this film. After the success of the first movie they were able to get the budget to film the next two installments back to back. While the third film is not out yet this should translate to a greater degree of continuity. As directors they gave the actors the freedom to actually explore the humanity of their characters, a rare departure from the one dimensional portrayals common to this genre now.
The DVD is extremely well done. For a long time now the original Matrix has been a reference disc to show off your home theater. The Dolby 5.1 audio works out of all six speakers. It does appear that the audio was mastered a bit low. Some have reported that they had to push the gain up significantly from what is currently the standard. The anamorphic video is near perfect, free of distortion and defects. Along the extras are looks at the various processes that where used to bring this to the screen. The Freeway chase is highlighter and more interesting than most special effects featurettes. There are a couple of more expository featurettes and DVD ROM links to the next installment. This disc is sure to become one of the new generation of reference discs. Thanks to the extras you actually can get more out of viewing the film on DVD than you could in the theaters. As the third installment is readied for the theaters get this disc and enjoy.