Herald Journal Columns
May 26, 2003 Herald Journal
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'The Matrix Reloaded' raises the bar on special effects


There's something about sequels. Actually, there's several "somethings" about a sequel such as "The Matrix Reloaded," and I'd like to point out just a few.

First off, as is the case with so many sci-fi/fantasy sequels ("Lord of the Rings," "Star Wars"), if you didn't see the first, you probably won't understand the second.

With this film, the effect is compounded by the fact that a lot of people didn't understand the first one ("Which reality was real?").

But, to counter this, "The Matrix Reloaded" uses that tried and true Hollywood devise: dazzle them with fights, chase scenes and effects so they won't care about the story.

And these fights are spectacular, designed by Yuen Wo Ping, the martial arts fight choreographer who proved himself in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

There's a freeway chase scene that should make Schwarzenegger drool (They built their own freeway, with overpasses and everything, in Australia just for this 14-minute sequence). And the special effects are almost overwhelming.

Secondly ­ and closely related ­ If you didn't like the first movie, I can guarantee you won't like the second one. If all that violence, action, and special effects stuff is not your cup of tea, see a different film.

In the pre-release promotions, it was touted that "Reloaded" had many times the number of special effects as the first film. That was an underestimate.

The original "Matrix" introduced the groundbreaking filming technique, "Bullet Time" ­ that often-copied stop-action, slo-motion/fast-motion 3D effect that set the bar so much higher for all sci-fi and action films to follow. Each of those shots takes many hours and dollars in pre-production, shooting and post-production.

When I saw how many were in "Reloaded," I was impressed that ifttook only four years.

I used "The Matrix" as the keynote science fiction movie in my college film appreciation classes for several semesters. I kept hoping for a new, better film in the genre, since I lectured that the criteria for next greatest sci-fi movie was that it had to outdo the special effects of previous one, and still tell a good story.

After "2001 A Space Odyssey," then came "Star Wars," etc. None appeared that topped "The Matrix." If I were still teaching those classes, I'd go to "The Matrix Reloaded" - for it certainly tops the effects and spectacle ­ but I'd require students to see the first one.

Thirdly, if you didn't like the complex, mythological, metaphysical, mindbending story concept of the first film, here's a tip if you go to "Reloaded": when you see a cryptically named character (Morpheus, The Oracle, The Architect) start into a monologue, go get more popcorn.

I, personally, liked the thinly veiled Christian framework of "The Matrix."

Directors Andy and Larry Wochowski, who also wrote the screenplays, know what George Lucas knew when he made the first "Star Wars" ­ what all good storytellers know: there are no new stories.

So, if you want to tell a successful story, tell one that has worked in the past and throw in your own twists.

Lucas retold the Evil-Father-Versus-the-Good-Son myth from ancient cultures. The Brothers Wachowski chose the Messiah story, but there's a lot of Eastern mysticism in there as well.

Here's a little test to see if you'll like the story.

My favorite Zen joke goes, "Did you hear the one about the Zen Master who asked the hot dog vendor to make him one with everything?"

The Wachowski's know their science fiction lineage as well. There was a film back in 1927 that set the mold for all serious sci-fi to come.

Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" was the "Matrix" of the late silent era. Several of his themes find their way into "The Matrix": the utopian city secretly run by sinister machines; the revolt of the oppressed underdog; mankind being controlled by the very machines we built; the chosen one who descends into the underworld (more mythology).

"Metropolis" is still Lang's masterpiece, even though he made movies until 1960, and it's well worth finding a copy to see where so much of our current sci-fi came from.

My fourth point about sci-fi/fantasy sequels: the middle film bears the burden of being, well . . . in the middle.

It's stuck between the beginning and the end. Not only do you need the exposition of the first film to understand the second, the the second doesn't really end in any kind of satisfying way.

"Reloaded" throws a pretty heavy plot twist at us right before the end, and then jump cuts to "To Be Concluded."

Fortunately, the final installment has already been shot and releases in November.

There's a sequel to that Zen joke, too.

The hot dog vendor made one with everything and handed it to the Zen Master, who handed the vendor a $20 bill.

The vendor put the bill in the cash register and turned away. So the Zen Master said, "Hey, where's my change?" The hot dog vendor replied, "Change comes from within."

Rated R for sci-fi violence (were these "real" people dying, or "virtual" people?) and some sexuality (considerably more than the first film).

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