The Matrix Reloaded
The words 'eagerly-awaited' hardly convey the anticipation for The Matrix: Reloaded, due in cinemas in May. Judy Sloane attended the launch of the spectacular Anime version - Animatrix - and found out more...
On a chilly night in Los Angeles, the cast and crew of The Matrix, plus guests, walked down a red carpet on the Warner Brothers' studio lot and entered the Ross Theatre to view one of the nine Animatrix movies that will be released on DVD following the première of Matrix: Reloaded. The nine-minute film, The Final Flight of the Osiris, which was written by the Wachowski brothers, mixes CG-animation and Japanese anime, and is directed by Andy Jones, who helmed the astonishing photo-real CGI in Final Fantasy. The only guidelines for this film were "to make it sexy and fun," says Jones. "Also they wanted to keep it as realistic as possible in terms of what they'd developed and what they'd created with the first movie. We had to make sure it lived within that world. It takes place right before the second film, so you do have to know what it means to go into the Matrix, and all the stuff they set up in the first movie, to understand this."
The Final Flight of the Osiris improves on the extraordinary work Jones achieved with Final Fantasy. "I think in terms of technology and the animation, Final Fantasy was pretty phenomenal," he acknowledges. "We've pushed up the animation with this one a little bit. We used a lot of motion capture, as well as key-frame animation, very similar techniques that we did for Final Fantasy. But we were able to do a lot more. In Final Fantasy we never saw skin, and in this one, in the opening sequence you see skin right away!"
Perhaps the most enthusiastic spokesperson for The Matrix, in all its incarnations, is the movie's producer, Joel Silver. "If you just see the movie by itself, then I am sure you will love the film. But there are all these other available avenues of content - The Final Flight of the Osiris will open theatrically with the movie Dreamcatcher on March 21. And then there is the rest of the series of short films of The Animatrix - one begins streaming tonight on our website www.whatisthematrix.warnerbrothers.com) and is available free to our fans. Then there is the videogame Enter the Matrix, which incredibly interconnects with all that has happened so far in the movie. You have scenes that the Wachowski brothers have written and directed for the videogame that are not in the film, but connect to the movie. So there are all these other streams of stories - if the audience wants to find more information, then it is available to them."
The game, which can be sampled at www.enterthematrix.com, was the brainchild of the Wachowski Brothers. "They always wanted to do this," says Silver. "They are very connected to what is going on, they play videogames, and they just felt that this was a good opportunity to enhance the movie experience by adding more content, and they did a wonderful job. The short films are spectacular and the game is unbelievable. And it will continue on into the movie."
In a unique marketing move,, the final movies in the Matrix trilogy will both be released this year. "We don't think the fans are going to want to wait for the next film," remarks Silver. "When I saw The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, I didn't want to wait a year to see the sequel." What can we expect from Matrix Reloaded? "There's one incredible fight sequence that took almost two years to create," responds Silver, "and that's why I always say no one can copy us, either because of cost or time. Not many films can spend two years dealing with one sequence."
Spending two years filming the movies was an achievement for the actors as well, as Laurence Fishburne confirms, "It was so long that we went through so many things. There was the excitement of doing it, there was the tragedy of losing Aaliyah (in a plane crash before she began shooting), then there was the speculation about who'd replace her, then there was the tragedy of September 11th and trying to get over that, and then being away from home in Australia for so long, and being glad to be home for Christmas, and then coming back and wanting to finish! But the joys of it we were doing something that's ground-breaking and wonderful, and something that people are really looking forward to seeing."
For Nona M Gaye, who replaced Aaliyiah in the movie, it was truly a bittersweet experience. "When I came to Australia everybody was so nice to me and made me feel welcomed and at home. Aaliyah's memory was on the set the whole time. My speaking on it too much makes me feel a little bit uncomfortable. All I can do is say how much I honour the fact that I was able to do this, and I would never think of saying that I could do as good a job as she could have done it. All I can hope for is that people will accept it."
Jada Pinkett Smith has the distinction of appearing in both Matrix Reloaded and the videogame, Enter the Matrix. The star admits working on the game was as taxing as filming the movie. "I had to do four months of motion capture, and three weeks of facial capture. They needed it to be authentic."
A fan of videogames, Pinkett Smith explains why she's so high on this one. "If you have a combat game, like Mortal Kombat for instance, most of the players are going backwards or they're going forwards when they are fighting. In this game, you can move in several different directions, as if you have a real live person that you're controlling."
Does she ever play videogames against her husband, Will Smith? "No, we play as partners," she laughs. "He's the one that controls the movement of whatever character we're playing, and I'm the brains of the outfit. I say, 'No, you've got to go to the right, didn't you see that little flash right there?' I'm just terrible!"
Tales from the Animatrix
That the Animatrix episodes would vary widely in tone and tools was only to be expected: Each of the directors commissioned is a top artist in the anima field, and each has a highly distinctive visual style. In World Record, a champion sprinter uses superhuman exertions to push him through the Matrix barrier. Takeshi Koike created a sense of heightened physicality that recalls the bulging comic book panels of Golden Age comic book giant Jack Kirby.
Director Mahiro Maeda was given a great deal of freedom to come up with his own solutions to the questions that were posed by the first Matrix film but which were never explicitly answered. His Animatrix episodes The Second Renaissance Parts 1 and 2 supply the backstory for the entire trilogy, recounting the history only hinted at in The Matrix of the rise of intelligent robots in the early 21st century, their war for survival against the human race and the eventual construction of the Matrix itself. Since the most highly-evolved machines had assembled themselves, Maeda reasoned his robots would "form their bodies from machine parts that exist currently, like pipes, springs, solar panels and motors. I also tried to envision what sort of form the machines would take when they rose up as huge structures basing their designs on parts they were already familiar with."
Matrix Side Stories
Andy Jones' The Final Flight of the Osiris ties in directly with the main storyline of the series, depicting a band of human revolutionaries who deliver a warning message to Neo and his companions in Zion - a message whose eventual delivery serves as a key plot point in Matrix Reloaded. Others tell what the Japanese refer to as 'side stories', ranging from incidents in far-flung outposts of human struggle against the machines to poignant, Twilight Zone vignettes of daily life inside the Matrix environment. Koji Morimoto's Beyond tells the story of a small group of teenagers who discover, to their delight, a tiny programming error in a forgotten corner of their simulated Matrix neighbourhood. Others like Kid's Story, featuring the voices of Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne Moss, illuminate the backstory of a character (The Kid) who we'll also meet in The Matrix Reloaded.
As Morimoto recalls "I presented the Wachowski brothers with a character who can play with and enjoy the concept of another level of reality, without pursuing the hard truth behind it. And they said, "As long as the characters remain happy within their condition and unaware of the Matrix all the way to the end, then it's fine."
"I've always got this really eerie vibe from the Wachowskis," says digital technology consultant Michael Arias. "They've really got the Matrix story mapped out, from hundreds of years before the first feature even began. Some of their discussions with the anime directors felt like lectures from Stephen Hawking on the nature of the universe. They weren't just being didactic, they really had looked at this world of theirs from every angle. And even if you know the Matrix is a simulation, it can still be dangerous. You can be tricked by it and want to believe it. Like the character Cypher in the first film played by Joe Pantoliano, he chooses the simulation, even though he knows its not real."
Peter Chung's story Matriculated, which he wrote and directed, takes another angle. "In the first movie, the human beings are in a dream world created by machines. I wondered what would happen if a machine was placed inside a human dream? That was the basic premise of my story."