Matrix: The 'trix of the trade

It's a film franchise, a computer game, a series of animated shorts - and even a philosophy for life, or so the producers of 'The Matrix' would have us believe. Fiona Morrow remains unconvinced
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The Independent Online

The Matrix has been Revisited, it's about to be Reloaded and, later this year, it'll go through Revolutions. And if you don't understand a word of this, you're the kind of person for whom marketing is just so much good money flushed down the pan.

The Matrix has been Revisited, it's about to be Reloaded and, later this year, it'll go through Revolutions. And if you don't understand a word of this, you're the kind of person for whom marketing is just so much good money flushed down the pan.

But for every mortal inured to the beating drums of hype, thousands are seduced, lapping up each piece of merchandise and franchise offshoot that rates a mention on the internet. And for sheer depth and breadth of convoluted temptation, The Matrix is right up there at the top of the list; a marketing phenomenon that has fashioned a nirvana for nerds and a cash cow for its creators and producers.

The great selling point for all things spun from The Matrix is the notion that its creators/writers/directors, the Wachowski brothers, have originated such a complicated, multifaceted piece of work that it justifies endless extrapolations. Thus, we are soon to be rewarded with The Animatrix – a collection of nine animated shorts, four of them actually written by the fraternal pairing, designed to both illuminate and deepen our understanding of the original concept – and the video game extraordinaire Enter The Matrix.

Joel Silver, a man not exactly new to movie branding ( Lethal Weapon, Die Hard) and producer in one form or another on all The Matrix products, is quick to stress that none of this is essential, but it really, really helps. "It enhances the watching experience," he explains. "Those who have played the game, or seen the shorts will see so much more of what has happened."

"The Wachowski brothers are dynamos," he enthuses. "They just don't stop – they've written all of this. The video game is a very complicated story that they wrote about 600 pages of material and directed about an hour of footage for."

The fun on Planet Matrix, it seems, never ends: "All of the actors in the movie have scenes in the video game, and the game scenes connect back to the movie itself.

"There are scenes in the movie that will end with the movie but will continue with the video game." His explanation is already starting to make my brain ache. "Two supporting players in the movie are the leads in the video game – it tells the story of how Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) has to go to the mail sorting facility and find the package and get it back to Zion."

Clear? Well apparently, if you choose to avoid the hours of enlightenment the game offers, you will start The Matrix Reloaded at the point at which she makes it back to Zion with the post. I think that'll probably do for me.

If I sound cynical, then let's be clear: I enjoyed The Matrix as much as the next film fan, always happy for a couple of hours of well-made, technically ferocious, whizz-bang action. But did it change my world view? No. Have I been frantic with the expectation of the sequels? No. Is my memory of the movie diminished by the ongoing assault and battery of all the extras? Yes, I'm afraid it is.

Why? Because – and you can call me old-fashioned – what matters to me is the film, and only the film. I don't want to have to "enhance" the cinematic experience by overloading on souped-up flimflam. To me, this overpackaged, pricey nonsense is nothing more than a 21st-century version of Dungeons and Dragons. They may be selling life in The Matrix as cool, but it's really just another hiding place for spotty geeks who find the real world a little too, well, real.

Unfortunately, such obsession can have dire consequences: the high-school killers at Columbine took the cult of The Matrix deadly seriously.

There's no denying the profits being made here: the original film grossed almost $172m (£110m) in the US alone; the DVD has sold more than 15m copies worldwide. (Even enfant terrible Gaspar Noé pointed out that the release of his infamous rape-revenge movie Irréversible on DVD will be bound to enjoy some fallout from The Matrix Reloaded hype: those completists just won't be able to resist buying it for Monica Bellucci.)

It's hardly surprising that all concerned should want to capitalise on their product, but if only they could stop themselves from encouraging the idea that this is some great intellectual treatise and that somewhere, in the midst of the great special effects and whipping cameras, there's a philosophical core just waiting to be unravelled.

Take The Final Flight of the Osiris, one of the nine shorts that makes up The Animatrix. It is to be released theatrically with Lawrence Kasdan's feature, Dreamcatcher, also a Warner Bros film and, word has it, a disappointment. One can only assume that Warners are hoping to shore up the possibility of a box-office flop, safe in the knowledge that Matrix devotees will pay the ticket simply for the nine-minute add-on.

Silver describes it as " The Matrix 1.5", presumably because it ends with the package being posted. But although it's an undoubtedly impressive, exciting nine minutes of CGI celluloid, it begins with a sexy sword fight between a man and a woman apparently determined only to slice off each others' clothing. As the characters are stripped bare, we are drawn up close and personal to their skin, his muscles, her buttocks. Especially her buttocks. (Remember that the Wachowski's were also responsible for the erotic lesbian thriller Bound.)

As the flesh of this nubile fantasy flexes her considerable assets millimetres from the camera, we are entreated to notice how realistic the texture, how detailed, right down to the pores. Granted, animation wunderkind and director Andy Jones has pushed the technology to extraordinary lengths, but though the landscape of the CGI human body has never looked better, facial expression remains elusive.

Then again, when you can have physical perfection, why would you bother with the emotional depth a – necessarily flawed – actor can bring? And isn't it rather neat, that in the apocalyptic scenario of The Matrix itself, where humans have been replaced by machines, the scenario might be paralleled in the movie's very make-up?

"It's sort of even more than that," responds an excited Silver. "The fact is we take the whole idea to another plane where things really blur. With Final Flight, we have a film about the notion of what is reality and in Reloaded we're making a movie where you will have the same notion of what is reality. There are images in Reloaded that are not real, but you will not know that they are not real. The essence of Final Flight is that you realise you are watching CG characters, but there are elements in The Matrix Reloaded when you will not be able to figure it out."

My mind is, as they say, boggled – and I have my doubts about Silver's, too.

"You will not be able to figure it out," he insists. "So the parallel is completely," he pauses to be sure he nails the point... "the parallel is completely... full circle."

Silver may be a little overheated, but he knows he's backed a winner. With the world in uproar, it's guaranteed we'll flock to something that offers us fantasy time in the dark. Silver's dream is that this autumn the third instalment, The Matrix Revolutions, will open in every city around the globe at exactly the same time. One can't help thinking that he's stepped a little too far out of reality himself: it may take a little more than The Matrix to unify the world.

'Dreamcatcher' is released on 25 April; 'The Matrix Reloaded' is released on 23 May

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