'Animatrix' is perfect foil for 'Matrix' marketing blitz
by Scott Bowles
A blindfolded man and woman dance around each other, swords in hand, swooping and flicking at each other's clothing until both are stripped to their underwear.
One of the blindfolded combatants in Final Flight of the Osiris.
Welcome back to The Matrix.
Though it's not a scene from the much-anticipated sequel to the 1999 sci-fi fantasy hit, it is the opening shot of Final Flight of the Osiris, an 11-minute computer-generated film that serves as a preview of The Matrix Reloaded, which arrives in theaters May 15
The short, one of a nine-part series known as The Animatrix, will be released Friday and will screen with Dreamcatcher, a Warner Bros. movie that opens Friday.
It is the start of an unprecedented marketing campaign to whet the appetite of fans of 1999's The Matrix, which grossed $171.4 million at the box office.
Aside from Reloaded and the third installment of the trilogy, The Matrix Revolutions, due Nov. 7, fans of the sci-fi fantasy can get their fixes in just about any format.
Several animations are available off the Internet site www.intothematrix.com. Others will be featured before commercial films.
A video collection of all nine episodes goes on sale June 3. Enter the Matrix, a video game that incorporates elements of the films, hits shelves May 15.
Though filmmakers say the movies, shorts and video game will stand on their own, they know Matrix fans clamor for anything new from brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski, the writing/directing team who created the dark story about computers that battle humans for world dominance.
More than 1,100 Matrix fan sites are on the Internet. More than 4 million fans have downloaded at least one online animation.
"The brothers want to tell their story in many mediums, which you couldn't do a decade ago," says Joel Silver, who produced the trilogy.
Osiris tells the story of Thaddeus, captain of the hover ship Osiris, and Jue, his sexy first mate, as they try to get a message back to Zion, the sanctuary of rebel humans. The film, starring Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss, picks up the plot from there.
"You don't have to see Osiris to understand The Matrix Reloaded," Silver says. "But it helps understand the depth of the story."
Animatrix was three years in the making at animation studios in Japan, South Korea and the USA.
Osiris is directed by Andy Jones, the young computer whiz who digitally created humans in 2001's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
Jones concedes that he was nervous when the Wachowski brothers tapped him for the directing role.
"Everyone knows The Matrix. That's legendary to us," he says. "The bar is raised, because fans have such high expectations of what's to come next."
But Animatrix has nothing if not pedigree. Running 180 minutes, the series will include features directed by legends of Japanese animé tradition, including Yoshiaki Kawajiri, who made Vampire Hunter, and Mahiro Maeda, whose Blue Submarine No. 6 has become an animated cult classic.
The names might not mean much to the average moviegoer, but the Wachowskis "are attuned to what hard-core fans want," Silver says. "And they want more than what you'd find in a movie."