The following is a guest post by Alexander Hammond. Alexander is a writer, traveler, cynic and essayist, whose passions are fantasy, Science Fiction and humor writing, astronomy, quality cinema, the environment and wildlife. When not writing, he can generally be found doing his day job of traveling the word at his client’s expense. Often, to their horror, at their very considerable expense.
We reviewed his current book ‘Tales from the Edge of Forever’ earlier in the year and even had the pleasure of an interview. You can connect with Alexander Hammond through Facebook, Twitter or his Blog.
One afternoon back in 1999, I received a phone call from Australia. An excited voice, talking at breakneck speed, urged me to stop what I was doing right now and get myself over to the nearest movie house to check out a film I’d never heard of.
The voice belonged to Julian Parry, a good friend and someone who’s view on cinema I very much respected. This after all was the man who, amongst other things, puppeteered the Alien Queen in Cameron’s masterful ‘Aliens’ and had helmed the visual effects in ‘Nightbreed’. Oh, and he’d worked on the Bond movies, ‘Farscape’ and, well, it’s a long list and I’m sure you get my drift. This guy knew what he was talking about.
Beguilingly, he refused to tell me anything about the movie, save for the fact that I needed to see it ASAP. I did just that.
There are some movies that go beyond entertainment. They have a “specialness” which is almost impossible to quantify without writing a dissertation length eulogy. Originality, superb direction, stunning production design, ground breaking SFX, jaw droppingly good characters and a numbingly creative storyline.
Oh, and of course great martial arts, explosions, guns and very stylish costumes.
I can now still vividly recall thinking as the movie unfolded, “Where is this going? What is the Matrix?, Who are these people? Who is this enigmatic Morpheus?” As the plot developed, I sat in a haze of utter pleasure, totally enthralled by what I was seeing. Yes, I liked it. I LOVED it.
So then, a true “movie moment”. An experience that underlined my love of SF and cinema. A validation if you like, of my obsession with originality and creativity.
And the questions it posed…the concepts it explored…the conversations it stimulated with friends…these all ensured the ‘Matrix’ stayed with me for a long time.
I revisited it time and again, eagerly drinking in the minutia of a production that was evidently a labor of love. A labor of love the studio had apparently tried to close down in mid production because they didn’t “get it”. The Wachowski Brothers “got it” and made a masterpiece.
Inevitably, with its enormous success, ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ was announced. I was both enthused and wary at the same time.
While running Disney, Michael Eisner once said:
“We have no obligation to make history.
We have no obligation to make art.
We have no obligation to make a statement.
To make money is our only objective.”
OK, so the Matrix wasn’t a Disney movie but his views were mirrored by all studio heads. And you know what? I get it. I understand. It’s a business. But creating a quality follow up product that makes money or just milking an idea, are two very different things.
The initial ‘Matrix’ movie was, to me, a perfect stand-alone piece. Nonetheless I was prepared to give the Wachowskis the benefit of the doubt. Surely they wouldn’t sully the original? Whilst I’m sure their decision making would have been influenced by the sound of money trucks backing up outside their houses, from what little I knew of them, they had integrity.
What really concerned me was that two sequels were announced to be filmed back to back. That’s an awful lot of time to fill.
So then, the day came and I settled down to watch ‘Reloaded’.
A well produced work with some excellent set pieces and some intriguing concepts thrown into the mix. No, it wasn’t as gripping as the first movie but it wasn’t a total disaster. But, unlike its predecessor, this work was…unsatisfying.
I loved the intellectual sneering of the Merovingian, the concept of the Keymaker, the conversations with the Oracle and the brain stretching narrative of the Architect. Yup, the action was good (though strangely antiseptic) and the costumes rocked yet…
The enigmatic Morpheus was diluted, the sense of mystery from the first movie was gone, the fear of the power of the Agents was missing and don’t get me started on that facile scene in which Neo fights a million Smiths.
Also, suddenly, Zion became important.
Zion, a place I cared about not one bit. These were Matrix movies not Zion movies. Zion, a place populated by badly dressed humorless totalitarians whom I wouldn’t have raised a finger to save. I wanted to see stuff happening in the Matrix, not Zion. I liked the intellectual and philosophical conundrums of what went on in the Matrix, not the grinding boredom of subterranean dwelling flawed humans. Characters who seemed to spend most of their time sniping at each other and not washing.
A short while later, the unmitigated disaster of ‘Matrix Revolutions’ came to pass, a movie that all but destroyed the legacy of the two previous endeavors.
Gone was the magic of the first movie and some of the intriguing concepts explored in the second. ‘Revolutions’ was simply a special effects extravaganza, with Morpheus relegated to almost a bit part, and any attempt at genuinely resolving the philosophical issues sidestepped for the sake of grindingly dull battles.
It was clear, that beyond the unsatisfactory (and uninteresting) story arc about Zion, the Wachowski’s had no idea where to go after the first movie. Money obviously talks very loud indeed when it’s offered in such large quantities, and when it was talking they were obviously listening. The Studio, with an unexpected hit on their hands, wanted to squeeze as much as they could out of it, as quickly as possible…and it showed.
If I was a shareholder in the Studio I’d applaud the decision, but I’m not, and I won’t.
‘Revolutions’ left a bad taste in my mouth. I confess to being unusually small minded when the Wachowski’s next movie ‘Speed Racer’ dramatically tanked. I took pleasure in the critical and financial mauling it took.
It’s been twelve years since I first saw the ‘Matrix’. I watched it again last night.
In a darkened room I once again heard Morpheus say…
“Have you ever had a dream Neo?”
It still gives me a shiver…