A first look: It's high kicks, high tech and high concepts, as we peek inside the two Matrix sequels now shooting Down Under
The Matrix Reloads
by Jess Cagle
When we last visited The Matrix, computers had taken over the planet and imprisoned the human race in a computer-generated "reality." Keanu Reeves played Neo, a hacker turned superhero recruited to save his fellow man, and the movie ended with him literally taking flight. It was a cliff-hanger that might as well have been subtitled "Watch for the sequel, coming soon to a theater near you - that is, if this thing makes any money."
And it did - $459 million worldwide. More than a sleeper blockbuster, it was a blazingly original collage of martial arts, Oscar-winning special effects and high-toned philosophy borrowed from sources as diverse as Plato, the Bible and Snow White. Since Larry and Andy Wachowski, the fraternal directing duo, had always envisioned The Matrix as part one of a trilogy, Warner Bros. quickly put not one but two more Matrix films into production. "The first movie was like The Hobbit for The Lord of the Rings," says producer Joel Silver. "It's the setup to the big story."
The Wachowski brothers are currently in residence at the Fox studios in Sydney, Australia, simultaneously shooting Matrix Reloaded (part two) and Matrix Revolutions (part three). The movies won't come out until 2003 (Reloaded in May, Revolutions in either August or November), but the hype has already begun. This month a trailer for Reloaded hits theaters, and not since the Star Wars movies has a film inspired so much breathless anticipation on the Internet.
Details about the further adventures of Neo have been closely guarded, but we found some clues on the set in Sydney, where the cast and crew have been working since September and are expected to wrap this summer. On a remote corner of a sound stage stand dozens of latex, life-size replicas of the dastardly Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), all in single file. Why so many Smiths? Since the original film, Smith has learned to replicate himself (he's a computer virus), which means Neo will have to fight several Smiths at once.
Across the stage, in front of the cameras and under the lights, we find Reeves in his familiar uniform (long black coat, dark shades) at the bottom of a crater being drenched by a rainstorm manufactured by overhead sprinklers. Later, drying off in his trailer, Reeves won't elaborate on that particular shot (it takes place in a climactic battle scene in part three), but he does give the following overview of the trilogy: "The first one is about birth," says Reeves. "The second one is life; the third is death." Thanks, Keanu.
This much we know: in parts two and three, Neo must persuade the omnipotent machines to set his people free. The action-packed part two takes place primarily in the gleaming world of the Matrix, while the more serious-minded part three is set in the scorched real world. In the sequels, we will also visit the vast underground city of Zion, inhabited by the few hundred thousand humans who have managed to escape cyberimprisonment. Laurence Fishburne (as the sage Morpheus) and Carrie-Anne Moss (as Neo's love interest, Trinity) are also back. This time they're joined by Jada Pinkett Smith as Niobe, another rebel and a former lover of Morpheus', and Nona Gaye (daughter of Marvin). Gaye stepped in to replace R.-and-B. singer Aaliyah, who had been cast in the role of Zee, a resident of Zion, before she died in a plane crash last year. Gloria Foster, who played the wise old Oracle in the original, also died in September, at age 64, after she shot her scenes for part two. What about part three? Thanks to a quick rewrite on the script, the Oracle will be back, but in a different form.
In the world of the Matrix, all things are possible, but the vexing real-life question is, How do you top a film whose unique style has been copied by nearly every action movie since? "We're just trying to make the best and most surreal action ever," says visual-effects supervisor John Gaeta, who developed the groundbreaking and extremely cool "bullet time" technique, in which the camera seemed to circle Reeves in slow motion as he dodged bullets. Gaeta says he's "expanding" on that technique for the sequels, though "there's pressure to do it without going into military-budget levels." Too late. Warner Bros. will spend close to $300 million on Matrix two and three, all in hopes that Neo can still soar.
Fishburne carries a big stick, "but my character's main focus is intellect and faith"
Numerous versions of Agent Smith, who can now replicate himself, take on Neo
Reeves has learned new martial-arts moves and weaponery for the movies' fight scenes
--CITY OF ZION
This underground haven goes deep into the earth, shielding its human residents from the outside atmosphere and the "diggers" dispatched by the machines to root them out
One half of the Twins -- a pair of lethally blond bodyguards for an evil Matrix tycoon. Most of the scenes in the film have a green hue that evokes the glow of a computer
Jada Pinkett Smith joins the cast as a ship captain. Her character will also play a major role in Matrix video games, which will be released along with the movies next year