Motor Trend (US), June 16, 2003
Matrix Reloaded, Cadillac Remade
Nothing is what it seems. In the thematic Matrix universe, data is tangible, reality is virtual, and the mind's power is nearly infinite. In a world of high-gloss, green-tinged special effects, Cadillac believes appearance is everything and the deft product placement in this summer's slickest sci-fi extravaganza may grant the luxury brand more youth appeal than Led Zeppelin's entire back catalog could accomplish.
The depth and diversity of The Matrix blasted conventional ideas of sci-fi moviemaking by using the best of a spectrum of philosophical and dramatic sources woven into a textured, multilevel tale exploring the transcendental nature of human existence and free will. Heady stuff for popular consumption. It doesn't hurt to surround that tale with a very tasty crust of visual candy. An eclectic and rapid-fire assemblage of kung-fu, machine guns, and swordplay tantalize the eye, triggering adrenaline no complex discussion of causation ever could.
Amid the dangerous action, Cadillac scores premium real estate in marketing heaven, putting the American luxury division one step closer to a total makeover of its public perception. For nearly 15 minutes, millions of eyes will be focused on a familiar automotive icon: Cadillac's crest and wreath.
The Matrix Reloaded begins shortly after the conclusion of the original film, pitting heroes Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus against both new and familiar villains. The action centers on Neo and crew halting a mechanized blitzkrieg bent on the destruction of the last bastion of human civilization, Zion. Shutting down the attack requires direct access to the digital world known as the Matrix. Like the typical corporate IT manager, only one man has the knowledge and ability to unlock the portal, the KeyMaker. Spiriting him away from his malevolent host and twin banshee henchmen involves a foot chase that erupts into a sedan vs. SUV shoot 'em up.
Casting two Cadillacs in leading roles required setup both on- and off-camera. Before film was ever loaded, suitable vehicles approved by its auteurs -- the Wachowsky Brothers -- had to be found. A tip came into GM about a spot available in Reloaded. It was aggressively pursued by the Cadillac promotions department. Cadillac's general manager, Mark LaNeve, states, "...this is the first time Cadillac has strategically invested and leveraged its products in a major film." Matrix Producer, Joel Silver, puts it a bit more succinctly, "They were so desperate...er, anxious..."
Silver, though, admits that his previous experience with GM has been very good, paving the way for this tie-in. Nearly every vehicle in his 1993 feature "Demolition Man" was a GM concept with the hero car, a stunning red Olds 442, making the film a real treat for observant car enthusiasts. Though it's no longer a concept, at the time of filming, a production CTS was a long way off. Jim Taylor, Vehicle Line Executive for CTS, said that working protoype test vehicles, or "mules," were available for the Wachowski's inspection. They were accepted. But, the Escalade was a more difficult sell. The SUV simply didn't have the right look. Drawings of the proposed EXT, a "sport/utility truck" based on the Avalanche, finally got the nod. Since no EXT had yet been built, Chevy Avalanche prototypes and Escalades donated their chassis for reskinning with fiberglass EXT panels.
Chase scenes are notoriously taxing on vehicles even without gun play. Silver said an axle shaft broke on the very first jump. Vehicle attrition, or the "General Lee Effect," necessitates the procurement of multiple stunt, static, and camera-mount vehicles. Some may only require partial bodies or interiors. GM provided the better part of 24 vehicles in total, 14 CTSs and 10 EXTs, to cover that need. Each was essentially hand-built with work completed by the production crew. Taylor notes that this diversion did not interfere with the CTS production schedule that was further in the future. Interior replicas were the last pieces provided because they had not yet been finalized by Cadillac. At the end of filming only six vehicles remained from the original batch.
Introducing the vehicles into the plot structure begins with the aforementioned foot chase, which terminates in an underground garage housing several vintages of Cadillacs. From this fleet Trinity snatches the sporty silver CTS as her car. The evil banshee twins float into a big, black Escalade EXT for the villain car and the chase begins.
Action proceeds from inner city, to aquaduct, and finally, to the freeway. Here, the CTS, carrying Trinity, Morpheus, and the Keymaker crash, slam, bob, and weave through myriad commuting vehicles in an effort to shake loose the deadly posse that swells to include agents and police officers.
The freeway is the cornerstone of the action sequence. A three-month construction project yielded 1.4 miles of three-lane psuedo-freeway purpose-built for this chase sequence. Cost? Peanuts: about 30 million dollars. Every on-ramp, off-ramp, and overpass (two of each) gets a serious workout leading to a Cadi-clismic conclusion on an overpass. Our heros vacate their bullet-riddled CTS, and Trinity and the Keymaker hitch a ride on a trailer full of new sportbikes. Morpheus remains and lays waste to the Twins and the Caddies. Unfortunately for Cadillac, this is where the chase scene becomes truly exciting. Trinity hot-wires a Ducati 996 motorcycle, jumps it off the trailer, and threads the Keymaker through speeding head-on freeway traffic. While Morpheus had his hands full with an agent, the sudden appearance of another protagonist, Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith), in a blue '67 Firebird actually drew cheers from the crowd. Was it the car or the girl? Both. In The Matrix the heros traveled in a '65 Lincoln. It makes a fleeting cameo in Reloaded as well.
The Cadillac/Matrix deal began in 2000, long before automotive ad campaigns and rap videos thrust those aggressive chrome grills into the public consciousness. As a by-product of long post-production and Cadillac's own intensive public awareness program, the wow factor for both vehicles has diminished in 2003. In terms of movie-making, this chase will likely never achieve the cult status of the Mustang/Charger battle in Bullit. It may, however, mark a cultural event horizon in terms of Cadillac's brand evolution. "We no longer want to be exclusively associated with the white-hair crowd," said Cadillac Promotions Manager, Mary Moore. In terms of audience acceptance, Moore, surprisingly, sees little or no active involvement trading on Reloaded promotional opportunities like die-cast vehicles. Being prominent fixtures in a blockbuster adventure may be its own reward, given liberal distribution and the vitality of DVDs. It is certain that when the film launches, more than a million eyes will see not only see the launch of two new GM vehicles, but witness the remaking of an entire brand.