Monday, June 1, 2009

10th Anniversary: The Matrix (Part 2)

10th Anniversary is a column where we talk about popular movies that are now 10 years old. Are they still popular? Culturally and artistically relevant? If they're franchises, have they retained their commercial viability?

We continue our discussion on The Matrix with Tyler Foster and Matthew Lingo. Look for more 10th Anniversary articles with other members of our writing staff.

Tyler Foster:
Do you think the franchise is dead?
Matthew Lingo: Yeah, it kind of is…
Tyler Foster: Well, if they invented a Matrix television show, for instance: good or bad idea?
Matthew Lingo: It could be interesting. I mean, the basic idea of The Matrix is infinitely interesting. But the Wachowskis only seemed to show a limited interest in creating an expanded universe. It’s nothing like Star Wars.
Tyler Foster: I don’t know, I mean they did spearhead side projects, like the comic books and The Animatrix
Matthew Lingo: The Animatrix was cool but I never felt that their hearts were completely in any of the video games.
Tyler Foster: Well, okay, that's probably true.
Matthew Lingo: I don't even remember the comic books. I do feel like the sequels had an effect on the movie's reputation a little bit. Part of the problem with them is, unlike with Star Wars or even Lord of the Rings trilogy, there isn't a clear, easy-to-follow arc. I remember walking out of Revolutions, I was maybe in the 9th grade, and I was confused as hell.
Tyler Foster: You don't think Neo's journey to being The One is an easy-to-follow arc?
Matthew Lingo: Well, but he becomes the One in the first movie.
Tyler Foster: Do you think the first movie has dated itself? I think it's going to stand the test of time. It's still pretty entertaining.
Matthew Lingo: The first movie probably will, but what I mean to say is, if the sequels had been better envisioned, The Matrix could have been like a Star Wars for our generation. I think the potential for that was there, but instead it's just The Matrix that was a great movie.
Tyler Foster: Well, this isn't directly related to The Matrix, but do you even think, the way movie studios are insistently franchising everything ever that we could even have a Star Wars for our generation? I mean The Matrix is one of the last big surprise franchises. Now everything's franchised.
Matthew Lingo: Well, maybe not now, but back in 1999-2003, it wasn't as rampant. Now it would be much harder, because being a trilogy isn't enough anymore. It would have to be something that would stand out from all the other franchises.
Tyler Foster: It was pretty lucky that DVD was just becoming huge. I think without DVD being huge, there might not be Matrix sequels.
Matthew Lingo: Possibly. It did pretty well in theaters, though, from what I understand…I know I at least saw it.
Tyler Foster: Yeah, but I think we would still be talking about the potential for a sequel today, maybe, it would have been more of a cult, underground thing. Which, I don't know, would probably have been good for it.
Matthew Lingo: Probably. To have less expectations placed upon the sequels. The sequels felt to me like the Wachowskis didn't have enough time to work the whole mythology out in a coherent manner. They always felt kind of disorganized to me. I wonder if doing both sequels in one year hurt it.
Tyler Foster: Yeah, people always make a big deal out of shooting sequels back to back and I think the only time that's been entirely successful is Lord of the Rings, and I think that's because they shot the first movie at the same time too, it was all one big project.
Matthew Lingo: Well, Reloaded is a pretty good second movie. If they had waited, they could maybe have come up with a more satisfying ending, and in addition, it would have created a lot of fan anticipation during the wait.
Tyler Foster: When you shoot an original and then do back to back sequels you're sort of forcing the audience to bunch them together.
Matthew Lingo: Yeah, exactly. Now, when people think of the sequels they probably associate them with each other, and not as three separate chapters. I guess it was kind of disappointing when the whole thing came down to another battle between Smith and Neo. They had battles in all three movies.
Tyler Foster: Yeah, and the battle…there are still bits of it I think are awesome, that shot when they slam into the ground is really eye-popping, but the battle is so boring and tired.
Matthew Lingo: There aren't any ideas behind the fight.
Tyler Foster: I think “spinning sky battle” is the idea. Most of the fight takes place off the ground.
Matthew Lingo: That's true.
Tyler Foster: But first one is the one having the anniversary, so what do you think it is that the first one has that the others don't? A more concise idea, better plotting…?
Matthew Lingo: Well, The Matrix is almost more intriguing as just an idea. What if reality was just a simulation? There's no real way to know whether or not it's somehow actually true, so it's interesting to think about. The sequels kind of get away from that and get more into details. The Matrix also has really strong character writing and good acting. I mean, I can still remember all the specific characters from that movie 10 years later.
Tyler Foster: Characters like the hugely overhyped "Twins" are just wasted in the sequels.
Matthew Lingo: Yeah, the Twins did nothing.
Tyler Foster: They just spouted bad “twin” dialogue.
Matthew Lingo: Too many characters in the sequels are just avatars for a bunch of plot information, but in The Matrix, all of the people on the Nebuchadnezzar are well-developed. You get to know them and care about them, which makes the action scenes better, since you have a vested interest in the outcome.
Tyler Foster: So do you think…The Wachowskis haven't really succeeded at capturing any of the same success, do you think that's their fault or like...I dunno how to put it…was it just the right place and time for The Matrix or….do you think they're the real deal, I guess, or if The Matrix was just a stroke of genius?
Matthew Lingo: Well, a big part of The Matrix's success is that the action really is pretty groundbreaking. It was a really exciting new way to do action scenes. That the story around it was really interesting and the acting was strong and such just made it better. But they could never recreate the shockwaves of The Matrix, since it had the whole element of coming out of nowhere and doing all of these exciting things with the cinematography and slo-mo.
Tyler Foster: Well, but, clearly bullet time is a huge deal, and directors are still using Matrix-style slow motion, so they've made their impact, but is that really the "action" of The Matrix? The Matrix is really about wire-fu.
Matthew Lingo: Maybe action isn't the right word.
Tyler Foster: The Matrix did make wire-fu big for a bit but it was more like a Hollywood fad than anything, and bullet time is a technique, and it's not something The Wachowskis invented.
Matthew Lingo: True, but they brought it to the attention of a massive audience. They didn't invent it, but they figured out a way to use it that would appeal to a lot of people.
Tyler Foster: So, ultimately, how much of their direction would you really say played a huge part in The Matrix being this sci-fi landmark? I feel like it's a good film…because it's a good film, not because it was revolutionary or impactful. It's just got ideas.
Matthew Lingo: Right. I'm not saying it's a good film because of the bullet time, just that the public reaction to the way they used that stuff is why The Matrix stands apart in terms of being a big deal. But, yeah, the heart of The Matrix is just a cool sci-fi story that's well-executed.
Tyler Foster: You'd think they'd make more of those.
Matthew Lingo: Yeah, I know.

It's weird that The Matrix isn't more a part of the culure than it is.
Tyler Foster: I dunno, I think it is. I don’t think we’ve forgotten it or swept it under the rug or something.
Matthew Lingo: It feels like more of a cult thing to me. It felt so big in 1999 that it feels like there should still be all sorts of Matrix stuff in stores.
Tyler Foster: It feels different from the reception to other franchises to me, I guess. It feels like it still has that respect.
Matthew Lingo: Oh, probably. The Matrix is a lot smarter than most franchise movies. I mean it actually has ideas. Even the Spider-Man or Batman movies don't really have what The Matrix has. It goes beyond just being good storytelling and becomes something more by posing interesting questions, and considering The Matrix when it was made, they had to have assumed it was a one-off. It's kind of admirable that they really stick to the idea they had, that everybody is just being harvested by machines and being deluded, it's a really dark idea but the first movie doesn't end with Neo saving everyone, or anything close to that. They stuck to their guns. And how many huge blockbusters do you see that even show an awareness of any sort of philosophy or anything like that?
Tyler Foster: I dunno, I think maybe in that sense like…I mean, you're right. So, even if it's not three movies, maybe The Matrix still is a Star Wars of our generation. I guess I don't know that being one movie precludes it from being that.
Matthew Lingo: You're right. I think it is that good. It's just a bummer that they couldn't keep it going, but I don't think that makes The Matrix irrelevant. It stands on its own really well.
Tyler Foster: Well, I think the sequels are sort of disappointing, but I don't think they're disgraceful, I can watch The Matrix and watch its sequels and still take it as a whole and not feel like it was terrible or a waste. Even the best franchises, people almost forget, everyone hates The Godfather Part III, people don't like Temple of Doom, there's huge debate over whether Jedi or Empire is better. I mean, nobody loves all of any franchise, do they?
Matthew Lingo: Yeah, I don’t think they’re disgraceful.
Tyler Foster: I'm thinking that eventually, the fact that the sequels are inferior will just be accepted as part of what The Matrix is, and it won’t be this big deal to people anymore, like “oh, they ruined it,” or something.
Matthew Lingo: I think you're right. I imagine it just seemed worse at the time, because in the moment I think people really wanted The Empire Strikes Back, but it wasn’t that, so people were let down.
Tyler Foster: Yeah, because the hype machine was going.
Matthew Lingo: But I mean, I didn't really dislike any of them.
Tyler Foster: I still think Reloaded is pretty great, it's a solid B+ in my book, so it's just Revolutions that drops the ball.
Matthew Lingo: And The Matrix is still a classic.

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