Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Matrix (1999)

Directors: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Writers:    Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Cast:         Keanu Reeves, Hugo Weaving, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss

A computer hacker learns from mysterious rebels about the true nature of his reality and his role in the war against its controllers.

I saw the film for the first time shortly after it got released through my cousins from Australia who were here for vacation. The film was shot in Australia (Sydney) at around $60 million since it would have cost around $160 million if it was made in US. That sits well for the film because the cities in it lacks an identity which wouldn't have been the case if it was shot in a well known city in US. I didn't understand much of the film when I saw it (14 years old dude), and apart from the cool action sequences, only thing I could remember was Thomas Anderson getting interrogated in an uncomfortable fashion by Agent Smith. I also saw Matrix Reloaded when it came just for the action sequences. I saw the trilogy properly in order and with understanding in and around 2007 and have seen the first one, Matrix, numerous times since. Unlike the other two in the trilogy, it holds up well because it has got a good balance of story, philosophy, intrigue and action. 'Matrix Reloaded' put too much stress on action and the last one 'Matrix Revolutions' was just about mildly interesting. Many people have castigated the trilogy as a whole because of the low standards of last two films, but I think it is unfair on 'The Matrix' since it works well as a standalone film. 

The Wachowskis approached Warner Brothers with their idea and the studio balked at giving $80 million for the director duo whose only previous experience was making the lesbian noir film 'Bound'. In stead they gave them $10 million to see how it goes and Wachowskis spent that amount entirely for the opening ten minutes action sequence involving Carrie-Anne Moss (her first major film). Impressed by the footage they green-lit the project. The film is supposed to  be heavily influenced by Japanese manga 'Ghost in the Shell' which I haven't seen. The story which blends religious elements, mythology, sci-fi and action is a perfect recipe for a studio blockbuster which stand up really well when compared to the Superhero/Comic Book/Sequel-Prequel-Reboot shitfest that we are getting used to off late. In that sense even the subsequent films in the trilogy are also better when compared to the recent blockbusters since it at least is original for a Hollywood film.

The role of Neo was originally offered to Will Smith, Tom Cruise and Leonardo DiCaprio. All of them refused and Keanu Reeves, whose long career as an actor is a miracle, landed the role. The fact that even he couldn't wreck the film is testament to the high standard of the concept and how revolutionary was its production quality. To be fair to Mr. Reeves, he was kind of perfect for the role because he was not made to deliver many lines and most of it were questions. In terms of acting, the excellent Hugo Weaving steals the show. Gary Oldman and Samuel L Jackson were approached for the role of Morpheus before it ended up with Laurence Fishburne.

It is interesting that 'The Truman Show' also came out that year and both of these films spawned paranoia syndromes associated with their concepts. The idea that it is a simulated world that we are living in is also something that some scientists are considering as a possibility. As artificial intelligence is becoming more and more advanced it is not inconceivable that we can create a simulated universe using it. The other sci-fi films prior to it that dealt with AI like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner and Stanley Kubrick's AI which came out later were strictly in the old school sci-fi territory of ultra seriousness. Wachowskis made it cool and for the masses without dumbing down the idea too much. I read that studio insisted on making the film to be more expositionary as they feared that the initial script was too vague for many to understand. That is the only drawback of the film since some of those lines don't stand up well during repeated viewing (and that stunt training scene involving Morpheus and Neo). But the blue pill-red pill sequence would still rank high up if you are making a list of the coolest exposition scenes. 

Overall its one of the best sci-fi/fanatsy/action films of all time which should be judged as a standalone film without using its shittier sequels as a stick to beat it with.

Rating: 5/5