Roger M. Wilcox's review of

The Matrix

(First posted to Bad Movie Night in 2000 or so.)

"Matrix," as we all know, is Latin for "mother." And, well, this movie is quite a mother, to be sure.

Keanu Reeves stars as the wooden-acting Savior Of Humanity, against a backdrop of Laurence Fishburne as the Token Mentor Figure and a host of other minor stock characters. (For instance, we have The Love Interest, The Traitor, The Subhuman Bad Guys, and of course The Red-Shirted Security Guards Who Die As Soon As Captain Kirk Beams Down To The Planet With Them.)

The story is set in 1999. Only it's not 1999. It's a computer simulation of 1999, running in everybody's brains some time in the 2100s. And only a few people (including, amazingly enough, Keanu "I Have Meat Between My Ears" Reeves) are aware of the true nature of reality.

Now, this premise actually has a lot of potential. When I asked myself, "What would cause the whole human species to plug themselves into a simulated reality and never emerge?", I thought, "Aha! We made virtual reality so much better than the real thing that, by the mid 21st century, everybody chose to live only in this dream world. Wow! What a social statement! What a wonderfully dark area of the human potential this film is exploring!"

But of course, that would have made this film WAY too interesting. Instead, Laurence Fishburne reveals that humanity is being tricked into living a lie by evil machines that live off of human bioelectricity. (The machines used to be powered by solar panels, until the last free humans covered the Earth in clouds in a vain attempt to destroy them. So of COURSE they turn to human bioelectricity as their power source. They wouldn't THINK of using, say, steam turbines or hydroelectric dams. Noooooo. Not when a human being is capable of producing ALMOST enough electricity to register on a pocket voltmeter.)

To keep people from thinking about unplugging themselves, their conscious minds are plugged into a vast computer simulation called "The Matrix." Not only does the Matrix look and feel like real life, but if you get injured in the matrix, your real life body will bleed out of sympathy. If you die in the Matrix, you die in real life, because "The body cannot exist without the mind." Oh, and you can't just "pop out" of the Matrix at any old time, the simulated you has to find a special "exit telephone" from which they can receive real-world wakeup calls. So, we've got: telephone data links (because modems are all that a 1999 audience will understand), simulated death causes real death, and an inability to unplug whenever you want to. That's 3 glaring symptoms of the "cyberpunk screenwriter who doesn't know the first thing about computers", and counting.

Now of course, just because our heroes are seasonsed hackers who know the Matrix is a computer simulation doesn't mean they can just eradicate the program or cause anything to happen within the Matrix that they want to. That would make too much sense, in addition to making the movie as short as it deserves to be. Within the Matrix, our hacker heroes can only "bend the rules" a little bit. They can run up walls, jump long distances, move and react more quickly than normal, withstand an impressive amount of physical abuse — in essence, they're movie ninjas. With guns. And big raincoats.

This movie is, in many ways, a showcase for a new special effects technology I've dubbed "rotational interpolation". You film something from the north, and you film the same scene from the west, and then use a computer to "interpolate" what each frame would look like when viewed at some angle BETWEEN north and west. You then interpolate enough between-angle shots of a single frame to last, say, a second or two of real time, and then play them back in order from northmost to westmost. The result is a single still shot that looks like everything in it is frozen in place and yet still rotating. The effect is pretty awesome when your shot features, say, a cup of water being hurled at somebody. The droplets look like they're suspended in midair. As it turns out, The Matrix actually uses a more primitive version of this technology: Instead of interpolating the intervening frames using software, they photograph each frame manually by surrounding their subject with a whole bunch of cameras. They use this technique a LOT, with our movie-ninja heroes doing, say, a crane-leap at a bad guy, and just hanging there in front of their target while we get to see them from different angles.

The movie also features an unbelievable over-the-top gun battle, and a big ol' inspirational message about going beyond your own limits or the strength of the human spirit or beating the odds or picking your toys up off the floor or something. It was nice and inspiring, but to "feel" thus inspired I had to willingly suspend my disbelief like there's no tomorrow. Scientific inaccuracies aside, this movie has so many plain old LOGIC holes in it you could use it to drain pasta.

Oh, and did I mention that the heroine brings Keanu Reeves back from the dead by telling him she loves him? No? Good.

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