"The Matrix" nabs 4 tech Oscars
by Dade Hayes
HOLLYWOOD (Variety) - From the moment it debuted on the last day of March one year ago, "The Matrix'' signaled a new direction.
It offered moviegoers a fresh action aesthetic. It gave Keanu Reeves his career back. And it handed Warner Bros. a franchise to replace its shopworn "Batman.''
The Academy joined in recognizing that trailblazing path Sunday night, handing "The Matrix'' Oscars in all four technical award categories in which it was eligible.
The film captured trophies for editing, sound, sound effects editing and visual effects, beating out more established teams behind the '`Star Wars'' prequel, "The Mummy'' and "Stuart Little.''
Backstage, best editing winner Zach Staenberg enthusiastically touted the picture's sweep as a technological changing of the guard.
"I definitely feel that way,'' he said. "I feel like we're going into new cinematic territory and the fact that it could be recognized against other, more established movies definitely means that there are significant changes. We like to feel that we are on the cutting edge.''
The jubilation over the win for "Matrix''' could be felt as far away as Australia where the Oscars for Aussies Steve Courtley and David Lee (visual effects and sound, respectively) were greeted with cheers from the 150 people lucky enough to see the awards live. These happy few were gathered at at a lunch hosted by local mogul Kerry Packer and his film celebrity magazine "NW.''
The impact of "The Matrix'' was felt long before the Academy Awards. By last summer, TV commercials and competing film trailers borrowed its jump-cut karate sequences and techno soundtracks.
Commercially, the picture helped Warner Bros. break the $1 billion barrier in annual domestic box office for the first time. Energized by the success, the studio promptly greenlit two more "Matrix'' installments starring Reeves.
It also ushered in a kinetic visual style marrying traditional martial arts with a high-tech cyberspace sensibility. "Matrix'' producer Joel Silver has extended elements of the picture's trademark look into other projects, namely current box office standout "Romeo Must Die.''
The Jet Li starrer's fast-paced blend of martial arts and hip-hop helped it gross $25 million in its first five days. Its $4.1 million opening last Wednesday was No. 2 for any pic in the January-April span -- behind only, you guessed it, "The Matrix.''