Many of us might remember that very first viewing (for very few the only one, I assume) of that intriguing film by a relatively unknown pair of Directors, the Wachowskis, called The Matrix. I do recall that night extremely vividly and it constitutes a very special moments to me. Never before had a Science Fiction film grasped my attention and fired up my imagination as this magical SF flick did!
If there has been ever a breathtaking, jaw-dropping opening sequence in cinema history that stood out, the Matrix opening with Trinity being almost captured, fighting back whilst running up on a wall and then going on the run, chased down by cops and something that would later be introduced as an “agent” (of the system), dashing madly over the nightly city roofs, doing a surely impossible 30 meters jump right over the street to crash straight through a small window, tumbling down a narrow staircase just to crash-land in a ready-to-shoot position. What on Earth was going on here?, everyone must have been asking themselves and my mind started creating feeble explanation for this enigma. That girl surely must be an android, a beguilingly beautiful, somewhat androgyne cyborg created to cause havoc. My and others’ utter puzzlement rose to unimaginable levels, when that “borg” ran towards a phone booth despite clearly noticing the garbage truck on its course to run down that booth or herself. Why would she try to call for a second or so just to become herself killed? Next moment: three agents gather around the remains of that phone booth, smashed to Smithereens by said garbage truck, staring at a dust-covered phone mouth piece and uttering: “She got out” …!! At this moment I KNEW I was in for something exciting beyond the expected and too strange for further chancing any explanation attempts. The rest of the film saw me sitting on the very edge of my seat, barely breathing, no drinks, no talk, just pure bewilderment and gobsmackedness. When that first viewing ended, I myself shared Neo’s puzzlement and needed a two hours walk home through the cold night in order to find myself in front of my door not knowing how I had gotten there. I could have sworn I’d be able to kick that door open like the rebels did in Matrix while the soundtrack was still hammering in my brain (Leave You Far Behind by Lunatic Calm).
It’s fifteen years since that day and many more viewings of the Wachowski’s masterpiece followed for a simple reason: this film exercised a complete spell on me. Once it was over and the powerful credits score (Wake Up by Rage Against The Machine) started, I would feel sick, a real cold turkey was holding me in its grasp and made me want to return to the ticket queue to buy yet another ticket. And each viewing brought so many more revelations, so much more understanding of what a magnificent piece of SF art the Directors had created here: from the beguiling aesthetics over its intoxicating soundtrack to my personal main reasons for loving it: the smart script, the multiple references to real life matters somehow perfectly transported into and adapted for a digital world and reality. The dialogues were so incredibly compact and full of intelligent cross references, every word bearing a meaning, not just image-accompanying vacant babble and bons mots. Sure, the clothing was made for those who love stylish stuff and pulled a whole audience of latex fetishists into the theatre. Sure some acting was extremely geeky like Tank’s Operator performance. But overall every single aspect of this movie was brought to perfection: there was a harmonious interrelation between contents/ storyline and the performance of all actors, the visual means actually made those Science Fiction scenarios fully plausible, the film offered plenty of action & suspense that actually had a reason to be there in view of a sense-making storyline. There was Dystopian imagery in the real world, perfect digital visuals in the programmed reality, different colours of filters for the different realities and a just wonderful film cut that really took over some storytelling by itself through managing perfectly the sequence of scenes supported by superb sound editing and effects.
I truly marvelled at that interplay of cut and sound effects that guaranteed the strongest impact of each scene. Remember Neo’s being dragged to a Night Club, then being awoken by his alarm clock, whose noise mixes perfectly with the beats of that Night Club’s music (Clubbed to Death). Or the estranging noises of the metal cabin door when Neo awakes for the first time on board of the Nebuchadnezzar, the sound effects when he touches that strange neck plug for the very first time … All this creates such an intense feeling of alienation, which is precisely what he must have felt after being “unplugged”.
The Matrix as the first instalment of the later completed Trilogy represents a perfect Science Fiction film to me. A film where basic ideas for the plot, storytelling, visual means, specially created SFX like John Gaeta’s highly elaborate Bullet time camera, the highly effective wire-works for old fashioned kung fu of the real actors, the poetic allegories of trickling down matrix code resembling rain drops running down a window, the splendid and digitally crisp sound effects transporting us into this universe of programmed reality, the mystery of the search for “The One” and an Oracle whose provenience was not all that clear, created suspense and perfect means for the development of this captivating story.
Many later flicks have tried to learn from The Matrix, to copy its success by following similar ways or employing similar devices, but in my humble opinion, not a single one has lived up to that impact and perfect artistic creation which is The Matrix. Its sequels didn’t live up to the high expectation either, even if they have their merits, but more about those in my next instalment.
Do you think it’s air you are breathing now?