Year of the cult film
by Peter Howell
Consider the bounty that awaits the cinephile. Folks in the grip of movie fandom offer advice on getting the best Matrix viewing
Übergeek Harry Knowles is in movie-cult heaven.
"It's a long year this year, filled with geek treats and delights of many sorts," Knowles wrote last week to the many minions of his Ain't It Cool News fanboy Web site. "Will we ever have a better one? Who knows?"
His post alerted the faithful to pictures, which have suddenly hit the Internet, from next December's The Return Of The King, the final chapter of Peter Jackson's smash hit The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Knowles was also commenting on how 2003 is shaping up as a banner year for movie cultists, those people for whom a film isn't just a film, but a total obsession. For them, multiple viewings and theatre lineup parties are a must, as is knowing every last detail about every last frame.
Consider the bounty that awaits the cult cinephile in the next few months:
Not just one, but two sequels to The Matrix, the 1999 sci-fi hit by the brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski that turned Canuck-reared Keanu Reeves into an A-list action hero and made the law of gravity seem like a mere suggestion. The Matrix Reloaded bows May 15, to be followed by The Matrix Revolutions on Nov. 7. Both films will continue the story about mankind's final battle against enslaving computers.
(snipped for non-Matrix)
The Internet is fanning the flames of fandom, allowing unprecedented access to material and unprecedented exchanges between like-minded film geeks.
On Web sites such as Ain't It Cool News and the aptly named CountingDown.com, there's a frenzy of anticipation for many cult-worshipped movies.
Fans of The Matrix seem to be the most cranked, since they're getting a double dose of sequels after waiting four long years. They're engaging in group therapy online to while away the weeks before May 15.
In a thread entitled "Calm Down" on CountingDown.com's Matrix forum, an Australian fan posting under the name "Heyawhatda" cautions everyone not to get overly enthused, lest they risk disappointment:
"All you Matrix fans out there like myself, we're all getting excited and out of control for these two upcoming movies. But the problem is that I think we're hyping this thing up so much in our minds that when we see it we will be thinking to ourselves ... `Well, that was all right, but I thought it would be better.'"
A Miami fan called "Geppettoejam" advises total deprivation prior to seeing The Matrix Reloaded:
"I've even been considering a self-imposed Matrix exile for about a month before the movie is released.
"That, and I know I don't want to go with anyone that is going to tear it apart opening night. I want to watch it, and give it time to digest, so to speak."
Anyone seriously worried about hype will want to avoid http://www.thematrix.com.
It's the official Web site, but packed with so much information, it could rival fan sites for dogged devotion.
Besides the standard teaser trailer, the site also includes a full section of academic essays and commentaries about the many symbols and meanings relating to The Matrix.
If that's not enough, there's also going to be spin-off animated series called The Animatrix, set to make its online debut in February. It will allow fans to download animé-inspired film shorts that will provide much of the backstory of the Matrix legend. (The Animatrix is a clever come-on for a video game called Enter The Matrix, since every self-respecting cult movie also has to have its own game.)
The fever over The Matrix and other cult movies has driven up traffic on CountingDown.com so much in recent months, the site has been forced to move to a larger server, says CountingDown's co-founder Tim Doyle, who hails from Toronto.
"As a data-heavy site, our traffic is being throttled by our database," Doyle said via e-mail.
"It is in need of replacement; we should have a new one installed in a month or two. Things are going great otherwise."
Doyle observed that film fandom is undergoing a sea change, as the legions of enthusiasts for Star Wars and Star Trek feel the heat of the rapidly growing audiences for new cult movies. It's a big reason why 2003 is such a signal year for all of them.
"Both Star Wars and Star Trek have to varying degrees become ossified, stale properties, trapped within the expectations of their respective fan communities," Doyle said.
"Aging zealots police any violation, something which has, I think, made the creative stewards of each property gun-shy of going out on a limb.
"In contrast, The Matrix is new and dazzling; fanboys haven't yet managed to sink their claws into it and drag it deep into the muck.
"As for The Lord of the Rings, it's an old, bookish property that has kept fans in line, largely because most are grateful for the respect and euphoria of a full-fledged, out-of-control, high-quality cinematic adaptation."
There's never been a better year for movie adaptations of comic books, said David Server, an 18-year-old film studies freshman at the University of Southern California, who helps run CountingDown.com.
"I was a huge comic book reader before all these movies started coming out, and it's a great time to be a comic book fan," Server said.
"Seeing all these advances in technology being used to make these characters come to life is just a huge thrill, and so this coming year is obviously pretty exciting. I get that same sense from all the people who visit CountingDown, too. It's always fun to see all these very opinionated fans and longtime readers, some of whom have been waiting up to 20 or 30 years to see these characters in a film, coming together and sharing their opinions about how a given project is coming together.
"So yes, 2003 really is kind of a milestone. I think that's because studios are learning how to spend the right amount of money in the right ways; they're making movies that people can enjoy out of these cult properties that, when translated correctly, tend to have universal appeal. And it's great that with so many interesting characters and properties out there, it isn't even just looking forward one year anymore. In 2004, there are already movies scheduled for Superman, The Fantastic Four and Hellboy."
Did he say 2004? That's practically forever in fanboy terms.
"Personally, I can't stand waiting," says Harry Knowles, but no one really has to these days. Just flip open a Web browser and surf the cult action for any film obsession.