Der Stern (Ge), 2003

Matrix Mega Fairy Tale

(Translated from German by FrouFrou, translation edited by Anakin McFly)

Sometimes its damn hard to be the rescuer of mankind. When it rains and you stand in the middle of the shower, you are not allowed to move a step. When you wear an ankle-length coat of a priest, pulling at your shoulders like a ton weight, because its soaked with rain. But the worst part is that stupid sentence that does not make any sense any more, because you said it a hundred times already.

Keanu Reeves closes his eyes for a second, opens them, raises his head and says with his sepulchral voice: "Because I choose to." This sounds convincing, bold and somehow a little ironic, but not to the directors, two men with basecaps that found shelter from the pouring sprinkler in a tent. "Once more, please" the big one in the loose shirt shouts.

Australia, May 2002

It's lunchtime in the Fox studios in Sydney. Some gloomy-looking guards are smoking their cigarettes in the shadows of one of the storage depots. They wear army trousers with hundreds of pockets, radio units beeping, a dark voice giving commands that nobody listens to. For a couple of months, the American production has occupied the whole of a studio site that usually hosts three productions at the same time. As if there was a state security to be protected, the producers have enclosed the territory with an additional fence. "The Burly Man" the signs on the steel doors inform the visitors. It is the camouflage name of the very movie that is expected in the theaters these days like none before: "The Matrix Reloaded," the second installment of the science fiction trilogy. In a 18 months giant shoot, here in Australia both sequels were produced. During the film festival in Cannes, the second part was just celebrating its European premiere. The release in Germany will be on May 22. In November it will be followed by "The Matrix Revolutions," the great finale.

Four years ago, "The Matrix" appeared from nowhere - and rocked the earth. With no marketing campaign and virtually ignored by critics, the story of the hacker Neo (Keanu Reeves), who learns that his life is just a computer-generated fake and who finds himself the "chosen one" in a war against the machines, became a global phenomenon. In this apocalyptic vision of the future, in which humans are "bred" by the machines as batteries, full of allusions to religion, myths and philosophy, the viewer always discovers new turns and secrets. Real fans do not only watch "The Matrix" once or twice, but dozens of times. In a time when the Internet was spreading like oilslick on water, broadcasting conspiracy plots on a daily basis, in a time when in Western cities people were just sick of the McDonald's, Starbucks and Microsoft monoculture, the paranoid cyber-drama satisfied a deep-rooted desire for meaning and answers - even if they were just provided on a movie screen.

Of course, fascination lay also in spectacular effects like the "bullet-time"-technology, where the flight of a gun's bullet is shown in 360 degrees slow-motion. That had never been seen before. Against this, George Lucas' "Star Wars" episode "The Phantom Menace," arriving in cinemas at the same time, looked patched together on a home computer. In the end, even the critics had to admit that "The Matrix" was a true masterpiece. "Cinematic Crack," the Sunday Times called the movie: "Watch it once and you're addicted." Produced at a fairly low budget of 66 million US dollars, it earned some 460 million US dollars.

So Now It's "The Matrix Reloaded"

Even upfront, the media went hysterical. Movie magazines like the British "Empire" printed special editions with different covers of "The Matrix" heroes. The US magazine Newsweek prejudged the movie as "a revolution in the history of cinema" - without having it seen in full length. Producer Joel Silver heated up expectations by stating, "This time we are going to deliver computer effects that are so elaborate that no one will be able to copy them."

The movie fullfills - to say this right ahead - not all expectations. No question, there are special effects that George Lucas would die for, and the virtually choreographed fight scenes make Bruce Lee look like the discoverer of slowness. A 14-minutes highway chase between the rebel Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and some sneaky Matrix agents sets new standards for action movies; by the way, for the making of this chase, they did not bother to block some streets, but built their own 2.5 km -long highway on a former marine base. The whole movie is a perfectly put together high-speed hype that breaks the borders between cinema and computer games - and at the same time that between mass entertainment and philosophy class.

Mastermind Morpheus, who in the first sequel identifies Neo as the messiah-like saver of the world, talks about "The consequence of a decision that we do not understand, we cannot foresee" (It's actually the Oracle, saying "We can never see past the choices we don't understand." - Ani), does some breathtaking action stuff, leading to a dialogue about reality and illusion, about truth, sense and transcendence. Zen? Yawn.

In "The Matrix Reloaded", the war between men and machine goes to its second round, where artificial intelligence makes a critical leap forward. 250,000 squid-like sentinels are drilling towards the earth core, to erase the last human refuge: the underground city of Zion, a kind of cave with Internet connection. So now its the job of the once-shy computer nerd Neo, who has since evolved into a superhero, to track down the "Keymaker". Only he knows the path into the mainframe of the Matrix, the very program that creates the illusion of the human world, while in fact human beings serve as biological batteries to produce the energy needed by the machines.

The Keymaker, a nimble, thick-glasses-wearing little Asian, must be freed first. He is watched over by ghostly twins (Neil and Adrian Rayment) with dreadlocks and Kung-Fu arts. Also there is Agent Smith (Huge Weaving), a former guardian of the Matrix, known from the first sequel, who has learned a new trick: He can clone himself, so in one of the most impressive scenes, more than a hundred Smiths fight Neo simultaneously - thanks to computer technology.

Whoever now still believes that this movie is only for late-puberty boys, shadowboxing after the movies, is deadly wrong. There are a lot of women kicking arses. Besides the known latex-and-leather fighter Trinity, we meet the cool spaceship captain Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) and the cyberslut Persephone (Monica Bellucci), trying to seduce honest Neo. And of course love does not come short: what started out between Neo and Trinity as a tender romance in the first sequel evolves to a huge and indestructable love in times of war.

The production of "Reloaded" and "Revolutions" cost about 300 million dollars; 100 million for the special effects alone. "We knew what diamond we held in our hands," producer Joel Silver states, "and we value it highly." Meaning that the brandname "Matrix" will become a goldmine multimedia shop: Besides the movie, the computer game "Enter The Matrix" is already available, being referred to as the most expensive game of all time (see separate article); additionally there is the "Animatrix DVD" with nine computer-animated short cuts, illustrating the pre-story of "The Matrix". Such a close connection between the computer game industry and movie industry is unheard-of: Joel Silver hopes that the merchandizing should earn more than 150 million dollars for Warner Brothers Studios.

Projects of this size usually are handed over to professionals like Steven Spielberg or James Cameron. But here, the studio bosses have trusted two brothers from a Chicago suburb who used to earn their living with carpenting and drawing comics: Larry, 37, and Andy Wachowski, 35, who wrote the script for "The Matrix" sequels and directed it.

Both men, who are said to wear sunglasses day and night, are known as mysterious and close-lipped people who scarcely give interviews. "They don't want to explain their movies, they want the audience to search for the hidden messages themselves" says Laurence Fishburne. And Keanu Reeves, who owes about a 30 million dollar paycheck to the Wachowski brothers, states: "Larry and Andy are geniuses. I would even have worked for them without knowing the script!"

Only once did the Wachowskis attend a press conference, and that was over after a minute:

Interviewer: "Your ideas will change the way people will watch movies in the future."
Andy Wachowski: "Oh, really?"
Interviewer: "Are you ready to become living legends?"
Andy Wachowski: "Legends? What kind of legends?"
There was no third question, the Wachowskis left the room.

This was in autumn 1992, when the brothers began to draw their first ideas for "The Matrix" on notepads. "We intended to draw a comic book," Andy remembers, "but soon it became clear to us that we put all kinds of stuff into it." So a story was created from Japanese manga-comics, from the theories about reality by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, together with Kung-Fu fights and Christian salvation mythology, combined with groundbreaking effects and technology paranoia.

"They take Bruce Lee as seriously as the Plato's Myth of the Cave," says Carrie-Anne Moss, who had to take a four-months Kung Fu training just like her colleagues Reeves and Fishburne. But like it is in the Hollywood of businessmen and lawyers - eccentric artists are only tolerated after the have earned the first few million dollars. So the Wachowskis delivered their debut as directors with the lesbian thriller "Bound" that quickly became a hit. "After that," according to Larry, "no one asked any questions."

But the shooting in Australia pretty soon became a horror trip: First, Fishburne broke some ribs, then Carrie-Anne Moss her leg. Gloria Foster, 64, who in the Matrix serves as the friendly "Oracle" in the fights against the computers, died. Only shortly after that, singer Aaliyah, 22, who had already shot some scenes as one of the rebels, had a fatal accident. But the baseball-cap philosophers were not daunted. "They are really obsessed," producer Silver says, "these guys remember every single shot, though until a short time ago, they had never been on a filmset."

This time, the directors were also driven by the ambition to produce a movie that no one could copy easily. Even four years after the first film, their stylistic effects can still be seen in music clips, fashion and half a dozen other Hollywood movies. Car-manufacturer Audi currently features an ad campaign shamelessly using the Matrix aesthetics. Fashion designers send their models in long black leather coats and frameless sunglasses, like those worn by Laurence Fishburne, on the catwalk. Action movies like "Charlies Angels" copy complete fight-choreographies with no scruples at all.

Of course the Wachowskis know that they cannot hinder anybody from helping themselves to the Matrix universe. But maybe they do not bother much, since they know that success and fame in Hollywood only too soon can become a trap. Despite several million dollars in their bank accounts, they still live in 2-bedroom appartments with their respective wives in Los Angeles and drive around in used cars.

Nobody really knows what the brothers will be up to after the premiere of the last "Matrix" sequel in November. Not even Joel Silver, who has an answer to everything. "They could get anything in Hollywood, but they are freaks. Maybe they'll go back to Chicago, drawing comic strips."

The Game - Rapture of Time

Being as cool as the movie's stars - only once. This is what "Enter The Matrix" promises, the videogame to the movie. Stern (the journal) has tested it.

Has the revolution begun? Will movies and videogames become more and more one in the future, until you cannot tell them apart, until movies and games are merged into an interactive gamemovie?

There are a lot of people who want you to believe this - for example the makers of "Enter The Matrix", the video- and computer- game to the second installment of "The Matrix" movie trilogy. And perhaps they are right: Never before have directors of a movie written the storybook for the corresponding game - the brothers Andy and Larry Wachowski did. It is 244 pages long. Additionally, they shot one hour of film especially for the game, with real actors, who did not know whether they were working for the cinema or the game station. Never before has a game cost that much: 47 million US dollars the French game company Infogrames paid to get the exclusive rights for games from the "Matrix" movies and to purchase the game studio "Shiny Entertainment". This is the most expensive license throughout videogame history - and of this amount, not a single cent was included for game development! For that, the French are said to have spent another 20 million dollars.

The very special thing with "Enter The Matrix" is that it is interlocked with the movie like no previous game - "like a zipper," Shiny-boss Dave Perry states. In the game you experience what happens when the camera cuts. Or in the words of Anthony Wong, who plays "Ghost": "When the movie shows you a scene, the game shows what happens in the same building or next door in the bathroom." For example, in the movie a package appears from nowhere, while in the game, the player has to search for it. In the movie, a door is locked. The game requires you to pass through it. Therefore you cannot play any of the big shots in "Enter The Matrix", but characters like Niobe or Ghost who appear seldom enough in the film to experience a lot during the game.

"There is just one way to enter the matrix", advertisements for the game let us know - and they are right. Scenes that are fast and pass by you in a flush in the cinema can be controlled in the game by yourself. For this illusion, Shiny digitalized kicks, jumps and shots of the actors, more than 25,000 photos were taken at the set and over 3,000 moves created that are used by Niobe and Ghost.

But did all these efforts really work out? This is the question even leaders of revolutions must let themselves be asked. The answer is: yes and no. The game is good, because its the perfect match to the movie. In that it is fast as a race: there is not a single second to catch your breath, you run with Niobe, shoot with Ghost, flee, sit in the car, fly, watch the movie and interact with it at the same time, things only possible in a game. The Bullet-Time, where time is slowed down, is one of the high points in the game - when the attacks of your enemies slow down, the gamer now has full control over his movements and becomes the choreographer of the fights, which are usually over all too quickly.

Being in the Matrix is the goal - but to move freely without targeting the programs is not allowed - unfortunately. Even the rooms where you navigate sometimes look a bit boring. The game has its downsides. But on the other hand, the player can now do a cartwheel in Bullet-Time and dodge agents; he can be as cool as the heroes on the screen.

The close interaction between "The Matrix" and "Enter The Matrix" works - the concept is right.

Because in the Matrix, the world is only a computer simulation. And - just like in the movie, where the human beings give their life energy to the Matrix to keep it alive - as though they were linked to the Matrix with cables and wires, the gamers hold the controllers and give their highest value to the game: their attention. Only when the player moves do things in the Matrix start moving.

This game will probably not alter the future of video games, but it is likely that games made after movies will become more expensive and complex. Currently, the big studios in Hollywood fight for good game programmers. Even now it is clear that "Enter The Matrix" will become a success: large enough is the intersection between "Matrix" fans and gamers. 3.5 million copies have already been ordered.

Within the next few days, Infogrames will rename itself "Atari" and thereby inherit the name of the company that founded the game market some 30 years ago with "Pong" - and became famous for burying millions of games in the desert because nobody wanted to buy them. That was the game for the movie "E.T.".

Image caption: Niobe is only a sidecharacter in the movie - but in the game, she is the hero.
Image caption (lower left): dangerously elegant: the game continues where the movie stops.
Image caption (lower right): "Enter The Matrix" will be available for all major platforms - from PC to Gamecube.

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