An inspired mission
by Mumtaj Begum
MATRIX fans everywhere had equal opportunity to find answers to the burning questions that arose from the complex world created by the Wachowski Brothers when the final part of the trilogy opened on Wednesday. MUMTAJ BEGUM flew to Sydney for the movie's gala premiere and a chance to touch base with the now hugely famous stars, Keanu Reeves, Hugo Weaving and Jada Pinkett Smith.
KEANU Reeves and Hugo Weaving are describing one of the many challenges they faced while filming The Matrix Revolutions at a recent press conference in Sydney. The two actors, who became friends while training for the first film, The Matrix, in 1997 – play arch foes Neo and Agent Smith in the trilogy; the scene being discussed now is the ultimate fight scene (or the "Super Burly Brawl") in the pouring rain. Both Reeves and Weaving had prepared long and hard, and thoroughly studied the fight choreography right up to the day shooting commenced.
"Everyone was ready and it's 'Take one, action, go!' " relates Reeves excitedly. "Then it starts to rain, and it's like a tonne a minute or something, Hugo and I are wearing glasses and we got our things on, and I can't see him! And he can't see me!"
Weaving continues, "Later on, it's still raining, and we have to talk to each other. Not only can't I hear Keanu, I can't hear myself. That was difficult because we couldn't see or hear."
"But we were fighting each other so much that by the end of it, it's like, 'I don't even need to see,' '' says Reeves, all Zen-like.
And when the fight takes place in the sky, there were different sets of problems to deal with. Both the Martial Arts and Visual Effects teams invented a device called the Tuning Fork. It enabled actors and stuntmen to simulate weightlessness while fighting.
"The Tuning Fork rotates this way or that and basically we can spin, hanging 20 feet above the ground. Other people would move it back and forward and we'd lost control of where we could go. We would be spinning into each other, literally getting into these positions that were just unbelievable," smiles Reeves. "At the same time, you are in these rigs and once in a while Hugo and I would be upside down, hanging out between the shots."
Weaving explains, "The only way to relax is to turn upside down."
Reeves: "Like bats. We were like bats. Good clean fun."
The three actors – Reeves, Weaving and Jada Pinkett Smith (who plays Captain Niobe) – and producer, Joel Silver, are in high spirits as the press conference in Sydney is a reunion of sorts since the filming of The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions ended in August 2002. One thing that immediately strikes an observer is the genuine warmth and respect they have for each other.
When questions are asked, the three actors instinctively take the lead at different points in time. When one is talking, the others listen attentively, and interject when the situation calls for it.
Pinkett Smith shares how after being introduced to everyone, she was taken to the training room and, "Laurence (Fishburne) showed me the stretches and explained to me the routine that needed to be done."
"I remember his introduction," says Reeves, before deepening his voice to resemble Fishburne's, "Jada! Welcome to the House of Pain!"
If formal fare such as a press conference can be this much fun, it is no wonder Weaving sighs at the thought of having to say goodbye to everyone after the premiere of Revolutions is over.
Set in a bleak future, The Matrix trilogy is about a time in which machines rule and humans live in a computer simulated world. Among the better informed are the last free humans who live in Zion and who have the coolest names like Neo (Reeves), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Morpheus (Fishburne), Niobe (Pinkett Smith) and Mifune (Nathaniel Lees). The Matrix trilogy introduces the idea of that world and the war between machines and humans while discussing the evolution of machines, programmes and human beings.
"Everyone, I felt, who acted and worked on this project had a real sense of enthusiasm," says Reeves. "The vision that Larry and Andy (Wachowski) had, brought us to do extraordinary work and to make an enjoyable film that can be enjoyed on different levels."
Sadly, the global arrival of The Matrix Revolutions on Nov 5 marks the beginning of the end to the most original and groundbreaking trilogy in cinema's recent history.
"This is it," affirms Silver. "The Matrix is a three-part movie, and that is completed with this chapter. And completed in an incredible way. It resolves the story and answers the questions. It ends in the way they (the Wachowski brothers) set out to do."
"While the movie series is over, we're going to continue in some different aspects of the Matrix universe. There's a plan for a multi-player game online, probably released as early as the coming summer. Some of the ideas and some of the characters will continue. There'll be another video game down the line too," explains Silver.
Thus far, The Matrix has spawned The Animatrix, a series of nine feature-film-quality short animated films, each between six and 16-minutes long; video game Enter The Matrix and books The Art of the Matrix and The Matrix Comics, released by Red Pill Productions.
When The Matrix opened back in 1999, just below the radar of the much-hyped Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, nobody was ready for the impact it was going to unleash on both moviegoers and the movie industry. From the opening scene of the now-familiar streaming green digits, there was no doubt The Matrix was going to raise the bar by several notches and create new heights in visual effects, kung fu fighting and/or the sci-fi genre. The movie became a cultural phenomenon.
According to Reeves, "There's so much movie on the screen in terms of epic – the battles that takes place, the romance that occurs in the film, big romance, big action, and the world that's created. If you want to go to a place where there's something you've never before, you've got to see The Matrix."
And it all comes back to the exceptional writer-director brothers from Chicago, Larry and Andy Wachowski, who somehow incorporated all their passions – Hong Kong films, Eastern and Western philosophies, anime, comic-books and science fiction – into this extremely complex Matrix trilogy. While they let their work to do the talking for them, the brothers admitted in The Matrix Revisited (the making of DVD) that the trilogy comprises every idea they ever had in their entire life. The directors who had a tough time convincing anyone to do the film initially seem to have made a fan out of everyone, especially Reeves.
"The Wachowskis, the kind of cinema they make and write, they push the boundaries of science fiction or action-drama," says Reeves. "They synthesise so many elements – ideas, plots, characters and emotions – what they do, it's just a kind of cinema you don't see. I find it remarkable."
For Weaving it was because of the two directors that he agreed to do the other two movies. "It was strange saying yes to something that I hadn't read. I've never ever done that. I would never do that. But because of the project and Larry and Andy, I said yes."
But The Matrix wouldn't be The Matrix if not for Yuen Wo Ping (who choreographed the martial arts sequences and turned the kung fu virgin-Westerners into what looked like pros on screen), visual effects supervisor John Gaeta (whose team designed the revolutionary Bullet Time, Burly Brawl, Super Burly Brawl and other virtual cinematography) and conceptual artist Geof Darrow (who did the storyboard).
Silver says, "They (Gaeta and the Wachowskis) decided to create images that no one could copy. And the results are staggering. These guys didn't just raise the bar for action filmmaking, for visionary storytelling, for what is visually possible – they obliterated it."
There's no denying the film has changed a lot of things within the film industry and outside of it. Pinkett Smith notes one of her observations, "One thing I can say, I definitely get phone calls for roles – I guess, what would you say – not written specially for black women. I'm getting asked to do all types of things. The Matrix has probably done that."
And what does The One think of the film?
"I like the film – from the actor's stand point, from the movie stand point. When I started filming, just the vision that they had, and the world they wanted to create. I really enjoyed it. All I hope is people enjoy it as much as I did."