Tickets selling fast; fan Web sites buzzing
by Sara Steffens
Round 2 of The Matrix has plenty of punches.
CATHERINE FLORES-ESPINOSA liked "The Matrix" so much, she saw it eight times -- in the theater, that is -- plus another 40 or so at home after she bought the VHS and DVD versions.
"Actually, I just watched it again today," admits Catherine, a high school senior who lives in Fremont. "Every time I see it, I have a new favorite part. There's always something else that's new that catches my eye. The directors, the Wachowski brothers, they're so amazing about detail."
For Catherine and legions of other devout fans, "The Matrix" is more than just a movie, it's a way of looking at the world. Sure, they love the over-the-top, gravity-defying kung-fu battles that helped the movie gross more than $170 million in the United States alone. But the larger story, they agree, is what keeps them coming back. And back. And back.
And finally, their fidelity is being rewarded with a sequel, "The Matrix Reloaded," which opens Thursday (Wednesday night in some theaters).
"It starts with people being fans of the effects and then those fans go away, and the ones that stick around are more philosophical," says Paul Martin, Web master and editor-in-chief of Matrixfans.net, one of the larger fan sites inspired by the movie.
"What I think happened was that this film used a lot of symbolism that people connected to," explains Martin, a 22-year-old computer-design student from Grand Rapids, Mich. "Not only that, but the special effects were like nothing we've ever seen before, and the story was top-notch. The premise was very cool: agents that could take over the bodies of those still plugged in, people doing superhuman things, dodging bullets, and loading up stuff directly into their brains, immediately able to fly a helicopter or do kung fu."
Four years after its release, "The Matrix" remains the subject of a passionate online community that catalogues its every element, debates its philosophy, collects anything bearing its name, and even composes fan fiction stemming from its plot.
Since April, when Warner Bros. released the trailer for "The Matrix Reloaded," the Internet buzz grew into a roar. Fandango.com reports that advance tickets for the sequel are now its top seller, accounting for 65 percent of the online service's current sales.
The movie's stars are now plastered across magazine covers throughout America and Europe. Assessing the expected popularity of "Reloaded," its companion video game, and "Revolutions," the third episode in the "Matrix" trilogy set for release in November, Newsweek went so far as to dub 2003 "The Year of the Matrix."
From what he's learned of the new film, Martin says "Reloaded" won't disappoint fans smitten with the eclectic philosophical underpinnings of the original "Matrix" -- which include not only a recurring Alice in Wonderland motif, but a hefty dose of existentialism, a rumination on the problems of determinism and a bizarre blend of hacker ethic, Buddhist philosophy and not-so-subtle biblical references:
"While I was watching the movie (the first time), I had come from a Christian background, that just stuck out, and it was like, wow ... Neo is 'The One.' He dies and he comes back more powerful ... he comes back glowing like a white light; it's pretty crazy. Cipher betrays him like Judas."
Given the technological bent of "The Matrix" story line, it's not surprising that computer programmers and video-game enthusiasts are strongly represented among its most loyal fans.
"It takes just a lot of elements and puts them together -- kind of like that geek gene that people have that makes them like martial-arts films or science-fiction movies," says Sal J. Barry, Web master of Matrixunloaded.com, a site devoted to Matrix action figures and collectibles.
"It takes that kind of person and it makes them into the hero, instead of being this big, muscular guy trained in special-forces combat; you have the will to do this, in a way you believe you can do it, so you can do it. ... It plays a lot into the power of the mind."
Like many fans, Barry -- who is 28 and works as a Web designer and graphic artist for a Chicago toy company -- says the film's emphasis on self-determination, its "believe the unbelievable" motto, resonates on a deeply personal level, in much the way "Star Wars" junkies latched onto Obi-Wan's directive, "May the Force be with you."
Barry says thinking about "The Matrix" prompted him to trust his instincts, chucking his hopes for a film degree to begin training in computer graphics. "I feel like this was the right thing for me to do, since I got hired right after I graduated," he says.
For Catherine -- better known in Matrix circles by her online handle, "Glitch" -- the film was a beacon of hope after she lost a treasured aunt and grandmother in the same year.
"'The Matrix' kind of helped me keep faith that life can get better again. To see Neo searching, in a way it comforted me. I didn't know what I was going to do because I felt so heartbroken. The movie helped me to realize that anything is possible; there are different ways of looking at the world."
To say that Catherine's excited to see "Reloaded" would be a gross understatement. A full two years ago, she went out to visit the movie's set on the Saturday night that the crew shut down the Webster and Posey tubes between Oakland and Alameda.
"We got there around 10 p.m. or so and stayed until 1 or 2 in morning; they were just setting up the chase scene where they go into the tunnel. We saw the stunt drivers and everybody there, doing the test runs; it was amazing. ... Laurence Fishburne came over; he wanted to thank us for coming out and showing an interest, but he said they couldn't come over and chat because they needed to focus on the stunts. He was really nice."
That particular scene happens to be included in the "Reloaded" trailer -- which her computer animation teacher at Fremont's Washington High School has taken to showing every day at the beginning of class.
Catherine's begun clipping articles about "Reloaded" to add to her collection; she's also ordered the new "Matrix" video game, due for release Thursday and purchased her tickets for Wednesday night's 10 p.m. premiere, for which she plans to don her Trinity costume -- a catsuit, black trench coat and boots that have seen heavy rotation on previous Halloweens.
"My friends keep telling me they don't want to see me get my hopes up for it," she says. "I am scared that it won't be any good, but knowing how much they've pulled off so far, and having seen the new trailer, I feel confident that they will definitely blow the first one away."