THE "MATRIX" SEQUELS
SIZZLING SECRETS REVEALED ABOUT THE MOST ANTICIPATED MOVIE TRILOGY SINCE THAT OTHER THING SET IN A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY
by Jeffrey Wells
The good news is the "Matrix" sequels are coming. The bad news is: not just yet. You'll have to curb your enthusiasm until Thursday, May 15th, 2003, when The Matrix Reloaded, the first of the two follow-ups (The Matrix Revolutions is scheduled to follow a few months later), hits the multiplex. But, hey, you've been waiting since the original Matrix debuted in 1999 for another action blockbuster to connect on a more primal level than the selling of tickets. Star Wars is yesterday; George Lucas himself said as much recently in the Los Angeles Times when he admitted that The Phantom Menace (also released in 1999) wasn't the exciting action movie the fans "wanted me to make.... They wanted to see The Matrix." As the nonstop Web buzz will tell you, the Matrix saga is cabled into the here and now. Writer-directors Andy and Larry Wachowski radically rewrote the rules of action choreography for this hyperdrive Siddhartha, which added a spiritual component to an extremely cynical genre that had been defined by guns, babes and booty. The $459 million worldwide take speaks for itself.
So what's the inside dirt on these hot sequels? We know overseas production wrapped on August 22nd, in Sydney, Australia, after more than 200 days of filming that began in March 2001 in Oakland, California. Producer Joel Silver issued a statement claiming that the two sequels are not two separate films at all: "It is one enormous movie that's being cut in half and shown in two halves."
Gee, that helps. Don't look to the Wachowski brothers; they speak to no one in the media. And good luck talking to the stars. Keanu Reeves, who returns as Neo, the computer hacker turned cybersavior, is typically mum. Carrie-Anne Moss, who plays Trinity, Neo's leather-clad, hog-riding, kickboxing fixation, is, she says, "sworn to secrecy." The same goes for Laurence Fishburne, who plays Morpheus, a leader in the war to save the underground city of Zion from the Matrix and its machine army of drones in dark shades, the most odious of which is Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving).
But the wall erected around the Matrix sequels, which are said to be costing between $300 and $345 million, is not completely impenetrable. We've snagged a copy of the Reloaded script (not one of those fake jobbies circulating on the Internet) and talked to a few insiders. Without spoiling the fun, we figure there's nothing wrong with a little sampling, unless of course you prefer to know absolutely nothing. If so, stop reading right now. Your choice: the red pill or the blue pill.
Tick-tock goes the plot: The story of The Matrix Reloaded is a ticking clock that unwinds in a seventy-two-hour period, which is roughly the time Neo and the rebel leaders estimate it will take for 250,000 high-tech probes to dig their way down to Zion and waste the human populace. The script builds incredible tension, but not merely in a suspense vein. This is an emotionally shattering journey for Neo, who must decide how and if he can save Trinity from a dark fate he's been seeing in his dreams. The story ends in the cliffhanging manner of The Empire Strikes Back.
Sex heats up: Yes, Neo and Trinity finally do it. The coupling takes place in Zion, where the rebellion's high command is based and where the troop vessel Nebuchadnezzar, carrying Neo and Trinity, makes a brief stopover. Zion, which is close to the Earth's molten core, inspires its residents to feverish dancing. As Neo and Trinity make love in a cove of black rock, the sex is intercut with a tribal dance in which, the script says, "sweat, spit and mud fly from the growing fury with the rhythmic slap of naked feet against wet clay." Let George Lucas top that.
Groundbreaking special effects: Everyone remembers the "bullet time" stuff from the first film, with the camera running slo-mo circles around Neo. But those visuals have since devolved into cliché. Silver himself went back to the well in Swordfish, and bullet time has been parodied twice, in Shrek and Scary Movie. "The Wachowskis were very keen on taking their ideas further," says Silver. "They felt that if it was so easy to copy us before, then let's make it really impossible. So with Reloaded and Revolutions, they're not just pushing the technology, they're creating new technology to allow them to do things that have not been done before."
The ultimate chase: Arriving late in Reloaded is a highway chase involving cars and a chopper. Lawrence Mattis, the Wachowskis' manager, claims the chase (a good part of which was shot in Oakland last spring, on a specially constructed stretch of simulated highway) will go on for nearly fifteen minutes of screen time. "It'll stun people," says Mattis. "The adrenaline junkies are going to go back to it several times."
Keanu takes flight: At the end of the first film, Neo found he could fly within the Matrix. The Wachowskis, who reportedly feel that human flight has never looked quite right onscreen, have tried to make up for the deficiency in the sequels with Neo, as one character says, "doing his Superman thing" faster than a speeding bullet.
An attack of the clones: Agent Smith and his identically tailored goon squad have gained the ability to aggressively clone or "copy" themselves onto their rebel adversaries, leading to dicey situations in which an apparent good guy is anything but. (As Neo cryptically comments, "Hmm - upgrades.") The goons have become prolific. There's a fight scene in which Agent Smith multiplies into twelve replicants, all of them duking it out with Neo simultaneously.
Watch out for the twins: Ghostly albino adversaries called Twin One and Twin Two have the capability of materializing and re materializing, sometimes flesh-and-bonelike and sometimes as ethereal as gas. The Twins battle Neo in a scrap in an underground garage.
The jinx rumors: They started when Aaliyah died in a plane crash last year before completing her role as Zee, a freedom fighter, so the Wachowskis had to reshoot her scenes with Nona Gaye (Ali). Then Gloria Foster, who played the Oracle, died of diabetes complications in September. Her scenes for Reloaded had been completed, but the filmmakers had to devise a new way to handle the Oracle in Revolutions.
New characters: Added to the mix are the Architect, the deity like designer of the Matrix; the Key-Maker (Randall Duk Kim), a mystical Japanese craftsman whom Neo is told is the one person who can "reach the Source" and thereby save Zion, and Merovingian (Lambert Wilson), a libertine whose insistence on holding the Key-Maker prisoner is an obstacle Neo must circumvent. Monica Bellucci plays Merovingian's jealous wife. Jada Pinkett Smith is cast as Niobe, a former flame of Morpheus. And there's a Neo-worshipping character called the Kid (Clayton Watson), who has a small role in Reloaded but reportedly figures more prominently in Revolutions.
What could have been: If the folks at Warner Bros. had the cojones, or perhaps if the Wachowskis could have churned out Reloaded and Revolutions faster, the summer of 2003 might have made history with both installments hitting theaters within weeks of each other. But the proposal sparked "controversy" (read: fear of "lost revenues" due to overlapping play dates), according to Matrix trailer cutter Gary Kanew, and the suits wimped. The Matrix Revolutions is now slated to debut in November. That puts their openings six months apart, which is still a revolutionary idea. Think bookends. Think blitzkrieg.
FIVE NEW THINGS IN THE MATRIX
1. More action: Neo flies, the villains clone themselves and computer tricks one-up all that went before. 2. More sex: Neo and Trinity get it on. And Morpheus' old love shows up in the person of Jada Pinkett Smith. 3. More stunts: A car chase, filmed in Oakland, is said to top them all. 4. More characters: Nona Gaye replaced the late Aaliya as a rebel, and check out those evil albino twins. 5. More mystical mumbo jumbo about Neo being the One: Please!