How The Matrix Changed The Rules for Action Movies
By deftly using the computer's capacity to create alternative worlds, the filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski were able to put their hero (Keanu Reeves) into an astonishing, gravity-defying world that was satisfyingly complex and mind-blowing. Echoes of that film are still being felt, and there will be not one but two "Matrix" sequels in 2003 to cement its influence.
In the old action movies, we knew it wasn't actually the star scampering across the top of that moving train, but a stunt man. And when there were close-ups of the star, it was on a safe sound stage, far from the moving locomotive. "We knew it wasn't Sly Stallone climbing those mountains," Mr. Rothman said.
But on the computer, anything is possible. So "The Matrix" showed us Mr. Reeves -- in full close-up, not a stunt man -- running up the sides of walls and flying through space.
"It used to be that a lot of action stars were there for their physical skills, but 'The Matrix' really killed that," Mr. Garner said. "You can't now just go up to a guy and hit him with a stick and that's enough. Movies like 'The Matrix' have opened up this world where anything is possible. So you don't need action stars who can really do those things. You can hire people for their acting skills instead."
That is why, Mr. Garner said, this next generation of action stars will much more likely be in the Ben Affleck or Tobey Maguire mold -- accomplished performers who build their characters and then let the computer do the stunts.
And finally, some people see in movies like "The Matrix," a tendency toward greater thematic and character complexity in the action genre -- and away from the simplistic revenge plots that drove the genre for most of the last 15 years. This may be wishful thinking, of course.
"Once you have seen a movie like 'The Matrix,' you can't unsee it," said Paul Dergarabedian, chairman of Exhibitor Relations, a Los Angeles-based company that monitors movie box-office totals. "And it changed the way people thought about action movies, and what they expected of them.
'The Matrix' gave this type of movie a brain," said Jeanine Basinger, chairwoman of the film studies department at Wesleyan University. "It really did change everything. Filmmakers now realize that action doesn't have to be dumb. Moviegoers have always known this, but it's taken until now for filmmakers to catch up. So a whole thing lies ahead, which is really going to be the maturing of this entire genre, whoever the stars are going to be."