He's been behind some big movies in his time, but for ace producer Joel Silver, it's The Matrix that's the centre of his universe.
by Ian Spelling
A big bear of a guy with a booming voice to match, The Matrix producer Joel Silver has been behind huge film favourites like Weird Science, the Die Hard trilogy, the Tales from the Crypt television series and films, the Lethal Weapon saga, Romeo Must Die and Swordfish. We'll forgive him for the likes of Xanadu, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane, Jumpin' Jack Flash, Hudson Hawk, Fair Game and Ghost Ship; after all, no one's perfect and he did bring The Matrix to the screen.
It is The Matrix trilogy that will earn Silver his place in the hearts of genre fans worldwide. Silver firmly believed in Andy and Larry Wachowski when they came to him with their ambitious ideas for The Matrix, and he ran interference as they directed the first film in the manner they saw fit. Once the film became a phenomenon, Silver put everything in place for the brothers to complete their vision with back-to-back sequels. Now, with the Wachowskis declining all press duties while polishing the next two instalments [sic] in The Matrix saga - a no-interview clause is actually included in their contracts--Silver has emerged as the spokesman for The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Make no mistake, it's a gig that Joel Silver relishes.
A huge smile crosses the uber-producer's face when he contemplates the second film's imminent release and the public's appetite for everything and anything Matrix-related. In fact, Matrix mania is well underway, what with lengthy, exuberant magazlne cover stories (guilty as charged). After all, there's a helluva lot to talk about: the Animatrix animated shorts on the internet; the premiere of one Animatrix segment, the nine-minute long, Wachowski-penned Final Flight of the Osiris, which precedes the Stephen King movie Dreamcatcher at cinemas; the nine film Animatrix compilation DVD due for release in June and the Enter the Matrix videogame set to reach stores just as The Matrix Reloaded packs them in at cinemas.
"We're a month and a half out and we had a cover of Newsweek in December, so I guess they know that we're coming," Silver notes with a laugh. "I just think that it's a unique opportunity. It's like, 'How many groundbreaking things can we do?' We're trying to really change so many things. When you see the movie, you'll see where I'm going. Dreamcatcher was really the right movie and the right audience for launching this project in a way that was unique and unusual, This story that [Final Flight director] Andy [Jones] told, which is written by the boys [as Silver regularly calls the Wachowski brothers], is really the beginning of the saga. It begins the story and then continues to Reloaded and then to Revolutions, and really directly relates to the game as well."
This isn't just a marketing blitz for the sake of it, though, as everyone involved with he Matrix series sees it as something special, a franchise that can successfully have a life across multiple outlets simultaneously. "We've been careful," he claims. "The reason that we got the cover of Newsweek is because we haven't been all over the place. We haven't been hammering people and we're not going to do that. This is not marketing, this is story. This is a piece of the movie. This is not promotional. Yes, we're going to have the animation be available, but it's nine stories. It's all story-driven and the idea that the boys had was to tell this story in multiple mediums and that's what we're trying to do."
So are all the Animatrix stories essentially Reloaded prequels? "No," Silver replies. "The Second Renaissance I & II is a prequel to the whole thing. It tells how the world got from our world today to a world that could exist. [Final Flight] is like Matrix 1.5, [set] right before Reloaded begins. Two have gone out on the Internet. [For] the first one, the Second Renaissance, we had over four million downloads. That was shocking to some of the big hardware companies. They didn't know that there was that much memory out there, that people could take that much in. The second went up and we had 250,000 downloads in the first hour.
"Program," which is kind of more traditional animation, Japanese animation, and is on the web now, is like an episode of The Matrix series. It's a story within the Matrix. Final Flight of the Oslris relates directly to the movie. Some of them have other information about the Matrix world. Trinity [voiced by Carrie-Anne Moss) is a character in the [Animatrix] detective story. I mean, they're all different, but final Flight of the Osiris is really significant. It's on film. We lucked out that it was released with Dreamcatcher. It worked out great for us and we just think that if we have fans out there, and I hope and I think that we do, if they want to get a start on [the sequels], this is how to do it."
While the plots of the Matrix Reloaded and particularly The Matrix Revolutions remain top-secret, at least this much is known: Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Moss) must defend Zion against machine army invaders who seek to destroy it and its human denizens. Along the way, there's some Neo-Trinity romance, a mind -bending fight between Neo and 100 versionns of Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), and encounters with such new characters as Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), Morpheus' ex, and Persephone (Monica Bellucci), a luscious temptress out to seduce Neo.
"We really have a scheme to not talk about what you're going to see," Silver begins, though his inner showman promptly betrays him. "We really want to have our fans see it for the first time. So, we're really careful. I mean, it does continue the story in a really vast way. The first story [the original the Matrix film] was a little movie, if you look at it. It's all on a renegade ship that has a very charismatic leader who believes that there is a guy out there who can help solve this long history of warfare between man and machines. He feels that this guy can help them and he has to have this guy realise that he can. Well now [in The Matrix Reloaded], the story starts with, 'How do we do this? Can we do it?' It's a very complex tale, and we're telling it - as we say with the videogame - on all formats. And that's true, The videogame is coming out at once on PlayStation 2, on Xbox, on GameCube, and the movie is the same way, it exists in all formats in that if you want to perceive it as an incredibly spectacular visual FX action movie, that's there, If you're looking for an incredible love story, it's there. If you're looking for a really philosophical view of what's happening in our lives today, right now, it's there. All these things are there. It's planned that way."
Anyone seeking closure during the six-month window between the May release of The Matrix Reloaded and the November arrival of The Matrix Revolutions would best be advised to look elsewhere. It's been promised that The Matrix Reloaded will end with the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers. "They are one movie," Silver says of the sequels. "The Wachowski brothers are really very talented and they crafted a structure of a conventional movie in Reloaded, but it really is the first half of a much bigger movie. Oh boy, it has a cliffhanger!"
Though The Matrix Revolutions, which is reportedly set mostly in the decimated real world, will likely conclude the saga, buzz is already building about the possibility of The Matrix 4 and beyond. Silver won't rule out anything. "Well, the story that the boys wanted to tell ends in Revolutions," he comments. "I mean, could they continue the story, the characters? Look, they can. All of this stuff that we're talking about, they wrote. They wrote all of this. They are passionate about the project, about this idea that they came up with, about this world that they've created. I'm sure that if they wanted to continue writing whatever they can, they can. [But] this story does end at the end of Revolutions."
The Magnificent Matrix
Silver's smile returns yet again when he's asked if, five years ago, lie had a clue as to the potential magnitude of The Matrix, if he imagined huge box office and sequels. "You always hope when you make a movie that you can do something that really affects people and that they really take to it," he explains. "A lot of movies that I've been involved with, when the movie is over, you go, 'Look, let's go to dinner,' and that's your first reaction. This movie really affects people and it really leaves them with something, and that doesn't: stop in Reloaded and, boy, will it not stop in Revolutions! This is really a movie that causes discussion and thought and conversation. I just think that this is what we should he doing. We can make these other movies. I loved Cradle 2 The Grave [a recent Silver production that opened in the top slot at the US box office]. It was a fun movie. I like being number one. It's nice to make some money. It's a fun picture, but it's not the same kind of experience as the Matrix."
Silver leans back in his chair, takes a deep breath and continues.
"Did I think that The Matrix would get to this place?" asks the producer, whose upcoming projects include the horror film Gothika With Halle Berry and Penelope Cruz, as well as the comic book-based movies Lobo and Adrenalynn, with Christina Ricci reportedly on board to star in the latter as a Russian cyborg. "Of course, you always dream. I mean, hope is a big part of the movie, the notion of hope. The boys had the whole story. I've been involved with movies where the movie ends and the studio says, 'Make a sequel.' We realised that there was a commercial opportunity to make more money with a sequel, but the story was over. So, we have to wrack our brains and figure out how to tell another story. A lot of times, they haven't been successful. They may have been commercially successful pictures, but I don't think that Lethal Weapon 4 was a successful movie. It was Friends with guns. But these guys came up with this whole Matrix story [at once]. It barrels through."
The Matrix Reloaded is released on 15 May in the US and 23 May in the UK with The Matrix Revolutions following on 7 November in both countries.