THE MATRIX RETURNS
EMPIRE VISITS FOX STUDIOS AUSTRALIA FOR AN EXCLUSIVE FIRST LOOK AT THE SPECTACULAR SEQUELS THAT WILL RULE 2003.
Exclusive Report from Australia
by Colin Kennedy
On Saturday evening, May 18, Joel Silver snuck into the back of a theatre in Westwood, L.A., showing Attack Of The Clones. He was not interested in the film (although he liked it), he was there to watch the trailers. Or more precisely: watch the audience watch the trailers. "The first trailer that came up was Minority Report," Silver recalls, "which had a very tepid response, and then Sum of All Fears, which kind of got a nice response, and then our trailer started and it was unbelievable: the kids went crazy and they stayed crazy. When it ended there was this thundering reaction I've never heard before. I've never seen a collective response for a piece of entertainment like that before - ever."
Said trailer, of course, was for Matrix sequels: Reloaded and Revolutions. After three years of near-silence punctuated by the occasional disturbing rumour, it took only one minute and 15 seconds of slow-mo tease for everybody to be certain: The Matrix is back, baby - and nothing will ever be the same again.
Today, back in his production office in Fox Studios Australia, overlooking Sydney Cricket Ground, Silver is taking a break from overseeing the marathon production which begain in Oakland, California, in March 2001 and is not scheduled to be completed until July 2002. ("This is day 209," Silver smiles, "I think.") It is a working holiday, with Silver meeting a select handful of the world's press - including Empire - while "the boys," as he paternally dubs the Wachowski brothers, Larry and Andy, continue shooting in any one of the six huge sound stages currently occupied by 'The Burly Man' (Warner Bros' transparent code for The Matrix).
Silver shyly informs Empire that he has not yet told "the boys" about the Westwood incident, acutely aware that the brothers are already starting to feel the burden of expectation. Empire wonders whether Silver himself is showing any nerves. He rubs his beard and grins: "No, because we got it. We got it. We got the movie right here."
Exactly what Silver and the boys have got, though, remains something a mystery. During a week on set in Sydney, Empire catches glimpses of some of the mammoth sets (in total 150 have been built, including, for one climactic car chase, nearly two miles of freeway at the former Alameda Naval Base in California!), but hears very little about the plot, "We've all agreed," Silver confirms, "to not really say what it's about because we really want people to experience the picture."
What Silver will confirm is that the expanded storyline was fully in place before The Matrix became a $460-million global phenomenon. "Actually the first script ended further than the movie - you actually went to Zion (the last remaining human city), which we really felt we just couldn't do. We had too much story, so we just backed up a little bit. But we knew that the story continued."
Of this continuing story, Silver offers only tantalising details:
- It is not two movies - "It is one enormous movie that's being cut in half." (The action apparently takes place over one 24-hour period.)
- The aforementioned is a "mind-boggling" car chase that takes place within the rules of the Matrix.
- Much of Reloaded is set in the Matrix and concerns itself with Neo coming to terms with "superhero" powers and the ability to "perceive" the mulitple levles and different "programs" of the Matrix.
- Multiple Neos and Agent Smiths will fight. (Look out for a table-top confrontation in a Chinese restaurant and a fight in a mirrored room.)
- The returning principals are joined by Monica Bellucci, who plays an evil Matrix temptress, as well as Nona Gaye (who replaced the late Aaliyah) and Jada Pinkett Smith who play warriors in the PVC-clad Trinity mould.
- Both movies, but mainly Revolutions, will visit "scorched Earth," where "biomechanical machines" terrorise Zion.
All this, and the Wachowskis are not scheduled to start the most ambitious action scene for another couple of weeks. "That," Silver smiles, "is a 14-minute sequence that is the most complicated sequence ever put on film." Indeed, you can forget the widely-copied 'bullet-time' - Silver promises effects shots so complex and expensive that "they will never be attempted again." (The combined budget of the two films is rumoured to be $300 million.) As Silver says of the special effects, "I really think the bar has been raised so high, that there is no bar."
So as long as there's still no spoon...