We Swallow a Little Red Pill for a Sneak Peek at The Matrix Reloaded.
by Patrick Lee
WHAT IS THE MATRIX? If you think you know, think again.
As principal photography ends in Australia on The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, the two upcoming sequels to the groundbreaking 1999 film The Matrix, Sci Fi Magazine got a first peek at the film's effects, stunts, sets, design and costumes.
The key word: more.
-Filmmakers built a one-and-a-half-mile stretch of freeway on an abandoned naval base in Alameda, Calif., for one massive stunt chase involving hundreds of vehicles, car-to-car foot pursuits, automatic weapons and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) on a motorcycle.
- Where the first movie had one principal nemesis -- Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) -- Matrix Reloaded will have three: a resurrected Smith and a duo of assassins known simply as "The Twins." Dressed in matching white frock coats and blond dreadlocks, the pair will have the ability to pass through walls.
-The second movie will offer the first-ever glimpse of the human city of Zion. The underground habitation will feature cliffside dellings stacked one atop another, like cells in a giant hive, with industrial fittings, red doors and tiny mushroom gardens out front. Viewers will also visit the massive city of the machines, about which no one is talking. By the third film, much of the action will occur not in the computer-generated 21st-century city that is The Matrix, but also in the so-called Real World, 800 years from now.
- In the Real World, the audience will reboard the Nebuchadnezzar, the hover craft skippered by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). But they will also board at least four other ships, including the Mjolnir, named after the Norse god Thor's hammer.
The sequels, again helmed by writer/directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, are slated for release in 2003 - Reloaded in the spring and Revolutions in the fall. "The first Matrix was kind of like an oxymoron: It was like a smart action picture," producer Joel Silver said. "If you wanted to just enjoy the picture as an action movie with some incredible fights and gunfights and things that are generally accepted as action elements, they're there. But it dealt with a philosophical notion of what is reality. It made people think, and it was brilliantly made. The directors, I believe, are really anxious to see the continuing of the story."
The two sequels pick up the narrative of Neo, Trinity and Morpheus in their crusade against the machines that have enslaved the human race. The sequels reunite the original cast and add Jada Pinkett Smith, Harold Perrineau Jr., Harry Lennix, Monica Belluci and Nona Gaye (who takes over the role originally slated for the late R&B singer Aaliyah), as well as twin karate experts Neil and Adrian Rayment, who will play The Twins.
"The [Wachowski] brothers have put up some great obstacles to test [Neo's new] powers," Reeves said. "And this story kind of goes outside of the Matrix and starts to concern itself with the machines in Zion. So it's almost what he can do in the Matrix is not enough. And he's still on the path of discover and choice. He's told by the Oracle that he has some choices that he'll have to make that will affect the survival of the human race. And there's some hard choices. And I guess it's all of us trying to save the world. And the development between Neo and Trinity is explored. And Morpheus. And Smith... It's really the development of the hero journey for my character. Just the new challenges, new choices. And it's not so much about being born, you know? It's like he wanted to find out where he was. Now he knows. Or he thinks he does."
Naturally, expectations are running high for the sequels, which were shot concurrently - first in Alameda, Calif., then in Sydney - over 240 days in 2001 and 2002. The first Matrix broke ground with it's combination of anime-influenced visuals, kung-fu action and dazzling special effects - including the by-now familiar "bullet-time" sequences, in which motion slowed to a crawl.
"When we made the first movie, we didn't have an enormous amount of money to work with and the boys had very specific ideas about a particular visual effect they wanted to explore, and we were able to use it four times in the picture, and we called it "bullet-time," Silver said. "[That] was in the Stone Age. They decided that in these two movies they would create visual effects that could never be copied. So we have done visual effects in this movie that, because of the time it took them to make and the cost, we'll never see again. So I really think that the bar has risen so high that there is no more bar. And this will end the way movies have been made up to now, because it can't go any further."
The two new films will feature more than 2,000 effects shots, said visual effects supervisor John Gaeta, who won an Academy Award for his work on the first Matrix. The new films will include a 14-minute sequence - involving helicopters zooming through the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney - that producer Silver calls "the most complicated sequence ever put on film, ever. And that won't start until the end of the show, and that's the last thing [the Wachowskis are] going to do. So they know what they're going to do, but they gotta get through it."
Silver said to expect the unexpected. "The computer is allowing us to do things that we never dreamed we could do before, and where the bullet-time sequences...were just the embryonic beginning, the embryonic stage of what the computer could do, it's just now at such a level that they can do anything they want." Silver said. "It [takes] two and a half years to create one shot, which is a reality. That's how long it's taking to do some of these [shots], and again, the [Wachowskis] have enough intellect and understand the process enough so they're able to create an arena that this stuff can exist in that could not exist anywhere else."
Gaeta added, "On the environment side, we travel to some pretty substantial places. We go underground to Zion, and it's a whole very culturally driven design. It's not just a rocky crevice, but there's a lot of texture in the type of people there, the way it all looks. Where you first arrive that acts as the defensive front end in a transit station for all of the ships that travel through the pipes and the whole network. Zion itself houses about a quarter of a million people. And then there are secret places, layered throughout Zion, deep in the Earth. Between Zion and the surface of the Earth we go into many, many more tunnel-system areas, and then, of course, we go onto the surface of the Earth, and we see a lot more about what that's all about, and that's shocking, horrific, fascinating."
Production designer Owen Paterson showed SCI FI Magazine a set for one of the Zion dwellings, a facade carved into a rock wall. "They kind of go in a big cylinder shape, and there's lots of layers of them," Paterson said. "You can see the mushrooms [out front] that you eat in Zion, along with the single-cell protozoa and all that sort of stuff. The concept of this was that we're deep under the ground, and people need houes. And as it went along, you can see as you start putting them side by side they're kind of like tenements where they live. We built, I think, 12 of these so we could do our acting part, but also so the visual effects could use that as the texture map, if you like, then create the rest of Zion [digitally]."
There will, of course, be fights, including sophisticated wire work, again choreographed by Hong Kong martial-arts master Yuen Woo Ping. "[Weaving] and I just have been fighting and fighting and fighting," Reeves said. He added, "Neo fights with some weapons. Carrie-Anne got to do some driving. Laurence had some weapons as well."
Fishburne said the heavy physical activity took its toll. "Carrie-Anne and I were injured during the very beginning stages of our training for Reloaded and Revolutions," he said. "Keanu was recovering from surgery on the first one. Hugo was injured on the first one. A couple of times. A lot of people, I think, don't understand how incredibly taxing all this work is physically. If you look at The Matrix Revisited [the video featurette on the making of The Matrix], there's a small clip of Keanu at rest, talking to someone. And there's steam rising off of his head. No special effect. The amount of time and the hours that we were required to train are the kind of hours that professional athletes deal with. And when we're working on wires, we come down, and we're bruised. When we fight with each other, we're often making contact with each other and walking away bruised. You get little nicks, cuts, sprains."
Some of the fights are enhanced with visual effects supervisor Gaeta said. "We want to show Neo as having, you know, extra-special powers - super powers," he said. "What we're going to do is create virutal characters, which are like fully [computer-generated] characters, and fully CG environments. But we will do so in a fashion that has never been seen before. It will be the state of the art, undoubtedly. And part of that involves a very thorough approach to getting the best and most complex [fight] choreography that one can."
Unlike other recent films, the two Matrix sequels will for the most part use physical sets, rather than computer-generated or miniature ones, production designer Paterson said. "There's some fantastic sequences in that we've specifically built some rather big sets, [including] one at Alameda, which was this tenement. It's [for a] series of fights. In the first film we built one subway station. We're building four in this one. So there's a kind of an exponential scale-up of everything."
Everyone gets a new look as well. For Neo, costume designer Kym Barrett devised a tight-fitting wool cassock with an almost clerical feel to it. "We thought that he comes into the second movie with a new confidence in himself and what he's doing," she said. "I wanted to give him something with a little more regal feeling to it. I mean, he's not totally confident, but he believes in something now. He believes in himself. And it's kind of religious in a way."
For the twins, Barrett came up with something she called "Jon Bon Jovi meets Southern evangelist." "We wanted them to be kind of ghostly, but they're a little cheeky, they're a little mean," she said.
For Trinity, Barrett reserved the same shiny black latex as in the first film, but with a twist. "I think [Barrett]'s just taken the movie to a whole other level as well, just like everyone else has," Moss said. "I think that costumes are a little bit more extreme, perhaps. What's so wonderful about the costumes, for me, anyway, is that as soon as I slip into my Trinity outfit, I'm her. And so the costumes give me a big part of my character. And you really appreciate that in a movie like this."
Once the trilogy is complete, Fishburne predicted that the three Matrix movies will change the way films are conceived. "The things that they're creating are really going to change the way that we're able to make films 25 years from now," he said. "It will be a completely changed medium, I think. [The Matrix movies are] going to be remembered as a monumental event in the history of filmmaking."