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The Matrix is a science fiction-action film written and directed by Larry and Andy Wachowski and starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, and Hugo Weaving. It was first released in the U.S. on March 31, 1999, and is the first installment in The Matrix series of films, comic books, video games, and animation.

The film describes a future in which reality as perceived by humans is actually the Matrix: a simulated reality created by sentient machines in order to pacify and subdue the human population, while their bodies' heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source. Upon learning this, computer programmer "Neo" is drawn into a rebellion against the machines, involving other people who have been freed from the "dream world" and into reality. The film contains many references to the cyberpunk and hacker subcultures; philosophical and religious ideas; and homages to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Hong Kong action cinema, Spaghetti Westerns, dystopian fiction, and Japanese animation.

Plot

Computer programmer Thomas A. Anderson leads a secret life as a hacker under the alias "Neo", and wishes to learn the answer to the question, "What is the Matrix?" Cryptic messages appearing on his computer monitor and encounters with three sinister agents lead him to a group led by the mysterious underground hacker Morpheus, a man who offers him the chance to learn the truth about the Matrix: swallow a red pill and learn the truth or swallow a blue pill and return to the world as he knows it. Neo accepts by swallowing the offered red pill, and subsequently finds himself naked in a liquid-filled pod, his body connected by wires and tubes to a vast mechanical tower covered with identical pods. The connections are severed, and he is rescued by Morpheus and taken aboard his hovercraft, the Nebuchadnezzar. Neo's neglected physical body is restored, and Morpheus explains the situation.

Morpheus informs Neo that the year is not 1999, but estimated to be closer to 2199, and that humanity is fighting a war against intelligent machines created in the early 21st century. The sky is covered by thick black clouds created by the humans in an attempt to cut off the machines' supply of solar power. The machines responded by using human beings as their energy source in conjunction with nuclear fusion, later growing countless people in pods and harvesting their bioelectrical energy and body heat. The world which Neo has inhabited since birth is the Matrix, an illusory simulated reality construct of the world as it was in 1999 developed by the machines to keep the human population docile in their captivity. Morpheus and his crew are a group of free humans who "unplug" others from the Matrix and recruit them to their resistance against the machines. Within the Matrix, they are able to use their understanding of its nature to bend the laws of physics within the simulation, giving them superhuman abilities. Morpheus believes that Neo is "the One", a man prophesied to end the war through his limitless control over the Matrix.

Neo is trained to become a member of the group. A socket in the back of Neo's skull, formerly used to connect him to the Matrix, allows knowledge to be uploaded directly into his mind. In this way, he learns numerous martial arts disciplines, and demonstrates his kung fu skills by sparring with Morpheus in a virtual reality "construct" environment similar to the Matrix, impressing the crew with his speed. Further training introduces Neo to the key dangers in the Matrix itself. Injuries suffered there are reflected in the real world; if he is killed in the Matrix, his physical body will also die. He is warned of the presence of Agents, fast and powerful sentient computer programs with the ability to take over the virtual body of anyone still directly connected to the Matrix, whose purpose is to seek out and eliminate any threats to the simulation. Morpheus is confident that once Neo fully understands his own abilities as "the One", they will be no match for him.

The group enters the Matrix and takes Neo to meet the Oracle, the woman who has predicted the eventual emergence of the One. She tells Neo that he has "the gift" of manipulating the Matrix, but that he is waiting for something, possibly his next life. From her comments, Neo deduces that he is not the One. She adds that Morpheus believes in Neo so blindly that he will sacrifice his life to save him.

Returning to the hacked telephone line which serves as a safe "exit" from the Matrix, the group is ambushed by Agents and SWAT teams. Agent Smith corners Neo but Morpheus pins him down and gives everyone the order to get out. Morpheus allows himself to be captured so that Neo and the others can escape. They later learn that they were betrayed by the crew-member Cypher, who preferred his old life of ignorance over the real world's hardships and therefore made a deal with the Agents to give them Morpheus in exchange for a permanent return to the Matrix. Cypher is defeated but not before his betrayal leads to the deaths of all crew-members except Neo, Trinity, Tank, and Morpheus, who is imprisoned in a government building within the Matrix. The Agents attempt to gain information from him regarding access codes to the mainframe of Zion, the unplugged humans’ subterranean refuge in the real world. Neo and Trinity return to the Matrix and storm the building to rescue their leader. Neo becomes more confident and familiar with manipulating the Matrix, ultimately dodging bullets fired at him by an Agent. Morpheus and Trinity use a subway station telephone to exit the Matrix, but before Neo can leave, he is ambushed by Agent Smith. He stands his ground and eventually defeats Smith, but flees when the Agent possesses another body.

As Neo runs through the city toward another telephone exit, he is pursued by the Agents while "Sentinel" machines converge on the Nebuchadnezzar's position in the real world. Neo reaches an exit, but he is ambushed by Agent Smith and shot dead. In the real world, Trinity whispers to Neo that she was told by the Oracle that she would fall in love with "the One", implying that this is Neo. She refuses to accept his death and kisses him. Neo's heart beats again, and within the Matrix, Neo revives; the Agents shoot at him, but he raises his palm and stops their bullets in mid-air. Neo is able to perceive the Matrix as the streaming lines of green code it really is. Agent Smith makes a final attempt to kill him, but his punches are effortlessly blocked, and Neo destroys him. The other two Agents flee, and Neo returns to the real world in time for the ship's EMP weapon to destroy the Sentinels that had already breached the craft's hull. A short epilogue shows Neo back in the Matrix, making a telephone call promising that he will demonstrate to the people imprisoned in the Matrix that "anything is possible". He hangs up the phone and flies into the sky.

Cast and characters

  • Keanu Reeves as Thomas A. Anderson/Neo: A computer programmer who moonlights as the hacker Neo, later to realize he is the One when trying to rescue Morpheus from the Agents.
  • Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus: A human freed from the Matrix, captain of the Nebuchadnezzar. He is the one who finds Neo and teaches him the truth.
  • Carrie-Anne Moss as Trinity: Freed by Morpheus, crewman of the Nebuchadnezzar and Neo's romantic interest.
  • Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith: A sentient "Agent" program of the Matrix whose purpose is to destroy Zion and stop humans from getting out of the Matrix; but who, unlike other agents, has ambitions to free himself from his duties.
  • Joe Pantoliano as Cypher: Another human freed by Morpheus, who betrays Morpheus to the Agents to ensure his return to the Matrix.
  • Julian Arahanga as Apoc: A freed human and crew member on the Nebuchadnezzar.
  • Anthony Ray Parker as Dozer: A "natural" human born outside of the Matrix, and pilot of the Nebuchadnezzar.
  • Marcus Chong as Tank: the "operator" of the Nebuchadnezzar, he is Dozer's brother, and like him was born outside of the Matrix.
  • Matt Doran as Mouse: A freed human and programmer on the Nebuchadnezzar.
  • Gloria Foster as the Oracle: Exiled sentient computer program who still resides in the Matrix, helping the freed humans with her foresight and wisdom.
  • Belinda McClory as Switch: A human freed by Morpheus and crew member of the Nebuchadnezzar. Killed by Cypher.
  • Paul Goddard as Agent Brown: One of two sentient "Agent" programs in the Matrix who work with Agent Smith to destroy Zion and stop humans escaping the system.
  • Robert Taylor as Agent Jones: Second sentient "Agent" program working with Agent Smith.


Production

The Matrix was a co-production of Warner Brothers and Australian Village Roadshow Pictures, and all but a few scenes were filmed at Fox Studios in Sydneymarker, Australia, and in the city itself. Recognizable landmarks were not included in order to maintain the setting of a generic American city. Nevertheless, the Sydney Harbour Bridgemarker, ANZAC Bridgemarker, AWA Towermarker, Martin Placemarker and a Commonwealth Bank branch are visible in some shots, as is signage on buildings for the Sydney offices of Telstra and IBM Corporation among others. Other clues to the filming location include left-hand traffic flow and signs featuring Australian English terminology and spellings such as "lift" and "authorised" (rather than the American English "elevator" and "authorized").

Subtle nods were included to Chicagomarker, Illinoismarker, the home city of the directors, through a subtly placed picture of the Chicago skyline, city maps, the destination of the subway train during the subway station fight between Neo and Agent Smith saying "Loopmarker" and place names like the Adams Street Bridge, Wells and Lake, Franklin and Erie, State and Balbo, and Wabash and Lake.

The rooftop set that Trinity uses to escape from Agent Jones early in the film was leftover from the production of Dark City, which has been remarked upon due to the thematic similarities of the films. According to The Art of the Matrix, at least one filmed scene and a variety of short pieces of action were omitted from the final cut, and have (to date) not been published.

The Wachowski Brothers were keen that all involved understood the thematic background of the movie. For example, the book used to conceal disks early in the movie, Simulacra and Simulation, a 1981 work by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, was required reading for most of the principal cast and crew.

Casting

Actor Will Smith turned down the role of Neo to make Wild Wild West, due to skepticism over the film's ambitious bullet time special effects. He later stated that he was "not mature enough as an actor" at that time, and that if given the role, he "would have messed it up". Nicolas Cage also turned down the role because of "family obligations". Prior to the casting of Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock turned down the role of Trinity because she didn't see herself working with the actor then being considered to play Neo.

Production design

In the film, the code that comprises the Matrix itself is frequently represented as downward-flowing green characters. This code includes mirror images of half-width kana characters and Western Latin letters and numerals. In one scene, the pattern of trickling rain on a window being cleaned resembles this code. Generally, the film's production design placed a bias towards its distinctive green color for scenes set within the Matrix, whereas there is an emphasis on the color blue during the scenes set in the real world. In addition, grid-patterns were incorporated into the sets for scenes inside the Matrix, intended to convey the cold, logical and artificial nature of that environment.

The "digital rain" is strongly reminiscent of similar computer code in the film Ghost in the Shell, an acknowledged influence on the Matrix series (see below). The linking of the color green to computers may have been intended to evoke the green tint commonly used on older monochrome computer monitors.

Visual effects

The film is known for popularizing the use of a visual effect known as "bullet time", which allows the viewer to explore a moment progressing in slow-motion as the camera appears to orbit around the scene at normal speed.

The method used for creating these effects involved technically expanded version of an old art photography technique known as time-slice photography, in which a large number of cameras are placed around an object and triggered nearly simultaneously. Each camera is a still-picture camera, and not a motion picture camera, and it contributes just one frame to the video sequence. When the sequence of shots is viewed as in a movie, the viewer sees what are in effect two-dimensional "slices" of a three-dimensional moment. Watching such a "time slice" movie is akin to the real-life experience of walking around a statue to see how it looks from different angles. The positioning of the still cameras can be varied along any desired smooth curve to produce a smooth looking camera motion in the finished clip, and the timing of each camera's firing may be delayed slightly, so that a motion scene can be executed (albeit over a very short period of movie time).

Some scenes in The Matrix feature the "time-slice" effect with completely frozen characters and objects. Film interpolation techniques improved the fluidity of the apparent "camera motion". The effect was further expanded upon by the Wachowski brothers and the visual effects supervisor John Gaeta so as to create "bullet time", which incorporates temporal motion, so that rather than being totally frozen the scene progresses in slow and variable motion. Engineers at Manex Visual Effects pioneered 3-D visualization planning methods to move beyond mechanically fixed views towards more complicated camera paths and flexibly moving interest points. There is also an improved fluidity through the use of non-linear interpolation, digital compositing, and the introduction of computer generated "virtual" scenery. The movie was rendered on a FreeBSD cluster farm.

The objective of the bullet time shots in The Matrix was to creatively illustrate "mind over matter" type events as captured by a "virtual camera". However, the original technical approach was physically bound to pre-determined perspectives, and the resulting effect only suggests the capabilities of a true virtual camera.

The evolution of photogrametric and image-based computer-generated background approaches in The Matrix's bullet time shots set the stage for later innovations unveiled in the sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Virtual Cinematography (CGI-rendered characters, locations, and events) and the high-definition "Universal Capture" process completely replaced the use of still camera arrays, thus more closely realizing the "virtual camera".

Music

The film's score was composed by Don Davis. He noted that mirrors appear frequently in the movie: reflections of the blue and red pills are seen in Morpheus's glasses; Neo's capture by Agents is viewed through the rear-view mirror of Trinity's motorcycle; Neo observes a broken mirror mending itself; reflections warp as a spoon is bent; the reflection of a helicopter is visible as it approaches a skyscraper. (The film also frequently references the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which has a sequel entitled Through the Looking-Glass.) Davis focused on this theme of reflections when creating his score, alternating between sections of the orchestra and attempting to incorporate contrapuntal ideas.

In addition to Davis' score, The Matrix soundtrack also features music from acts such as Rammstein, Rob Dougan, Rage Against the Machine, Propellerheads, Ministry, Deftones, The Prodigy, Rob Zombie, Meat Beat Manifesto, and Marilyn Manson. Other pieces from artists such as Duke Ellington, Django Reinhardt, and Massive Attack are included in the film, but not featured on the soundtrack.

Release

The Matrix was first released on March 31, 1999. It earned $171 million in North America, over $292 million in Foreign Box offices and $463 million worldwide, and later became the first DVD to sell more than three million copies in the U.S. The Ultimate Matrix Collection was released on HD DVD on May 22, 2007 and on Blu-ray on October 14, 2008. The movie was also released stand alone in a 10th anniversary edition on Blu-ray in the Digibook format on March 31, 2009, 10 years to the day after the movie was released theatrically.

Critical reception

The Matrix received generally favorable reviews from film critics, with a consensus forming that it presented an "ingenious" blend of Hong Kong action cinema, innovative visual effects and an imaginative vision. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 86% of critics gave the film positive reviews, with an average score of 7.4/10, based upon a sample of 122 reviews. The site reported that 68% of selected notable critics gave the film a positive review, based upon a sample of 28. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 73 upon its DVD release, based on 35 reviews.

Philip Strick commented in Sight & Sound, "if the Wachowskis claim no originality of message, they are startling innovators of method", praising the film's details and its "broadside of astonishing images". Roger Ebert praised the film's visuals and premise, but disliked the third act's focus on action. Similarly, Time Out praised the "entertainingly ingenious" switches between different realities, Hugo Weaving's "engagingly odd" performance, and the film's cinematography and production design, but concluded, "the promising premise is steadily wasted as the film turns into a fairly routine action pic… yet another slice of overlong, high concept hokum". Other reviewers criticised the comparative humorlessness and self-indulgence of the movie.

In 2001, The Matrix was placed 66th in the American Film Institute's "100 Years... 100 Thrills" list. In 2007, Entertainment Weekly called The Matrix the best science-fiction piece of media for the past 25 years. The film is also ranked number 39 on Empire's "The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time".

Several science fiction creators commented on the film. Author William Gibson, a key figure in cyberpunk fiction, called the film "an innocent delight I hadn't felt in a long time", and stated, "Neo is my favourite-ever science fiction hero, absolutely". Joss Whedon called the film "my number one" and praised its storytelling, structure and depth, concluding, "It works on whatever level you want to bring to it." Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky commented, "I walked out of The Matrix [...] and I was thinking, 'What kind of science fiction movie can people make now?' The Wachowskis basically took all the great sci-fi ideas of the 20th century and rolled them into a delicious pop culture sandwich that everyone on the planet devoured." Director M. Night Shyamalan praised the Wachowski's passion for the film, saying, "Whatever you think of The Matrix, every shot is there because of the passion they have! You can see they argued it out!"

Awards and nominations

The Matrix received Oscars for film editing, sound effects editing, visual effects, and sound. In 1999, it won Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film and Best Direction. The Matrix also received BAFTA awards for Best Sound and Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects, in addition to nominations in the cinematography, production design and editing categories.

Award Category Name Outcome
72nd Academy Awards Film Editing Zach Staenberg Won
Sound Design John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, David Campbell, David Lee Won
Visual Effects John Gaeta Won


Influences and interpretations

The Matrix makes numerous references to recent films and literature, and to historical myths and philosophy including Vedanta, Advaita Hinduism, Yoga Vashishta Hinduism, Judaism, Messianism, Buddhism, Gnosticism, Christianity, Existentialism, Nihilism, and occult tarot. The film's premise resembles Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Edwin Abbott Abbott's Flatland, René Descartes's evil genius, Georges Gurdjieff's The Sleeping Man, Kant's reflections on the Phenomenon versus the Ding an sich, and the brain in a vat thought experiment, while Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation is featured in the film. There are similarities to several works by science fiction author Philip K. Dick, as well as cyberpunk works such as Neuromancer by William Gibson.

In Postmodern thought, interpretations of The Matrix often reference Baudrillard's philosophy to demonstrate that the movie is an allegory for contemporary experience in a heavily commercialized, media-driven society, especially of the developed countries. The influence of the matrixial theory of Bracha Ettinger articulated in a series of books and essays from the end of the 1980s onwards was brought to the public's attention through the writings of art historians such as Griselda Pollock and film theorists such as Heinz-Peter Schwerfel.

Japanese director Mamoru Oshii's Ghost in the Shell was a strong influence. Producer Joel Silver has stated that the Wachowski brothers first described their intentions for The Matrix by showing him that anime and saying, "We wanna do that for real". Mitsuhisa Ishikawa of Production I.G, which produced Ghost in the Shell, noted that the anime's high-quality visuals were a strong source of inspiration for the Wachowski brothers. He also commented, "... cyberpunk films are very difficult to describe to a third person. I'd imagine that The Matrix is the kind of film that was very difficult to draw up a written proposal for to take to film studios". He stated that since Ghost in the Shell had gained recognition in America, the Wachowski brothers used it as a "promotional tool".

Reviewers have commented on similarities between The Matrix and other late-1990s films such as Strange Days, Dark City, and The Truman Show. Comparisons have also been made to Grant Morrison's comic series The Invisibles; Morrison believes that the Wachowski brothers essentially plagiarized his work to create the film. In addition, the similarity of the film's central concept to a device in the long running series Doctor Who has also been noted. As in the film, the Matrix of that series (introduced in the 1976 serial The Deadly Assassin) is a massive computer system which one enters using a device connecting to the head, allowing users to see representations of the real world and change its laws of physics; but if killed there, they will die in reality.

Influence on filmmaking

The Matrix has had a strong effect on action film-making in Hollywood. It set a new standard for cinematic fight scenes by hiring acclaimed choreographers (such as Yuen Woo-ping) from the Hong Kong action cinema scene, well-known for its production of martial arts films. The success of The Matrix put those choreographers and their techniques in high demand by other filmmakers who wanted fights of similar sophistication: for example, wire work was employed in X-Men (2000), and Yuen Woo-ping's brother Yuen Cheung-Yan was choreographer on Daredevil (2003).

Following The Matrix, films made abundant use of slow-motion, spinning cameras, and, often, the bullet time effect of a character freezing or slowing down and the camera dollying around them. The ability to slow down time enough to distinguish the motion of bullets was used as a central gameplay mechanic of several video games, including Max Payne, in which the feature was explicitly referred to as "bullet time". The Matrix's signature special effect has also been parodied numerous times, in comedy films such as Scary Movie, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, Shrek, Main hoon na and Kung Pow: Enter the Fist; in TV series such as The Simpsons and Family Guy; in the OVA series FLCL; and in video games such as Conker's Bad Fur Day.

Franchise

The film's mainstream success led to the making of two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. These were filmed simultaneously during one shoot and released in two parts in 2003. The first film's introductory tale is succeeded by the story of the impending attack of the human enclave of Zion by a vast machine army. Neo also learns more about the history of the Matrix, his role as the One and the prophecy that he will end the war. The sequels also incorporate longer and more ambitious action scenes, as well as improvements in bullet time and other visual effects.

Also released was The Animatrix, a collection of nine animated short films, many of which were created in the same Japanese animation style that was a strong influence on the live trilogy. The Animatrix was overseen and approved by the Wachowski brothers but they only wrote four of the segments themselves and did not direct any of them; much of the project was created by notable figures from the world of anime. Four of the films were originally released on the series' official website; one was shown in cinemas with the Warner Bros. movie Dreamcatcher; the others first appeared with the DVD release of all nine shorts. Several of the films were shown first on UK television prior to their DVD release.

The franchise also contains three video games: Enter the Matrix (2003), which contains footage shot specifically for the game and chronicles events taking place before and during The Matrix Reloaded; The Matrix Online (2004), a MMORPG which continued the story beyond The Matrix Revolutions; and The Matrix: Path of Neo, which was released on November 8, 2005 and focuses on situations based on Neo's journey through the trilogy of films.

Available on the official website are a number of free comics set in the world of The Matrix, written and illustrated by figures from the comics industry. Some of these comics are also available in two printed volumes, the The Matrix Comics.

See also



Notes and references

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