Here we are on Fishing in the Discount Bin once again. Not quite done with The Matrix franchise yet, as we still have to tackle it's universe-expanding anime spinoff The Animatrix. This pops up in my notes at May 10, 2014.
Well, before I box up the Ultimate Matrix Collection and put it away until I feel like watching it again, we must take a look at the final piece of the franchise, The Animatrix.
The Wachowskis have made no secret that one of their biggest influences on The Matrix was anime. As the urban legend goes, the Wachowskis sold Hollywood producer Joel Silver on the look of The Matrix by showing him the anime classic Ghost in the Shell and saying, "We want to do that...in live action." And back when it first came out in 1999, I remember some of my friends at the time -- the founders of Augustana's anime club -- looking down their nose at the Matrix and saying with derision, "People who like The Matrix just haven't watched any anime."
So, an anime tie-in to The Matrix just made sense. When the Wachowskis got to tour the world promoting The Matrix, they finally got to go to Japan and meet some of the animators that inspired them. They began hatching the idea to collaborate, and the end result was The Animatrix, a collection of animated short films that expand the universe of The Matrix.
The Animatrix hit video and DVD a month after The Matrix Reloaded hit theatres, and it really was considered to be an intrinsic part of the franchise. There's really nothing in it that's vital to understand the movies, but still, it's nice to see the universe fleshed out a little more.
Let's run though the shorts, shall we?
Final Flight of the Osiris - This one was actually shown in theatres in the spring of 2003, in front of the Stephen King adaptation Dreamcatcher. As mentioned in conversation in The Matrix Reloaded, the Osiris was the ship that discovered the machines were tunneling towards Zion to wipe out all the free humans. This short chronicles how the Osiris made the discovery, and how they made the ultimate sacrifice to warn Zion. This is notable in that it's the second, and last, product from Square Pictures, the Japanese computer animation studio that made Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and hoped to be on the cutting edge of photo-realistic computer animation. Of course, Final Fantasy tanked big time, and Square Pictures went out of business soon after. Because of it's photorealistic animation, and how it directly ties in to The Matrix Reloaded, this is the most Matrix-like of the bunch, and really does look and feel like a deleted scene from the movies. Good stuff.
The Second Renaissance Parts I and II - I don't know why this one had to be split into two parts, but it is. This one chronicles how the world of the Matrix came to be. The rise of the machines, the world war between man and machine, the scorching of the sky, and how humanity eventually fell and became enslaved in the Matrix. Watching this one always sparks flashbacks to my junior high days, and watching reruns of Heavy Metal and Vampire Hunter D late at night on TBS. Like those films, this one seems to have incredibly graphic and violent imagery, set to a driving soundtrack. Mildly disturbing.
Kid's Story - Telling us the back story of Kid, one of the characters we meet in The Matrix Reloaded, who's a gushing Neo fanboy. We see Kid was a teenage hacker, just like Neo at the start of The Matrix, and just like Neo, he spends a lot of time online, questioning reality, and searching for the truth. Kid keeps looking for the hacker named Neo, thinking Neo will have the answers. Eventually, Agents descend on Kid's school, seeking to bring him in, but Kid escapes them be being the first ever to "self-substantiate." He didn't need a Red Pill to get out of the Matrix...Kid was able to do it just through his overwhelming faith in Neo. Watching this again, it almost seems like a do-over of Neo's escape from the office building at the start of the Matrix. And this also highlighted the disappointment that people had with the Matrix Reloaded. We Kid's origin story here, there's a lot of time devoted to him in Reloaded, but there's never any payoff.
Program - Two humans are sparring in a training program resembling the days of the samurai, when one offers the other a chance to escape from reality and reenter the Matrix. Meh. Pretty much just an excuse for awesome samurai fight scenes.
World Record - A track and field runner, seeking to break the world record, pushes himself and his limits so far that he actually briefly awakens in his pod and catches a quick glimpse of the real world. It's kind of interesting, with a twist that almost makes it a Twilight Zone episode. And watching his fellow competitors turn into Agents as the Matrix begins to figure out what's going in is a good and creepy scene.
Beyond - I remember, at the time, many considered this to be the best of the bunch. And it is pretty good, showing what day-to-day life in the Matrix is like. A young woman goes in search of her missing cat, and following a tip from some kids in her neighbourhood, they stumble upon a haunted house. A place where the laws of physics no longer apply as falling objects freeze mere inches from hitting the ground, rain falls out of a clear blue sky, and smashed objects quickly re-assemble themselves. Of course, we the audience know that these things are happening because this house is a glitch in the Matrix. Agents soon descend on the house to correct the glitch. The next morning, the haunted house is now a parking lot, and the young woman and the kids, sad that the magic is gone, go back about their lives. It's quaint. It's simple. It's perfect.
A Detective Story - Many others considered this to be the best as well. Film noir conventions come to the fore, as a private investigator named Ash is contacted by the Agents for a very difficult task...track down the hacker and cyber-terrorist known as Trinity. Ash finds that he wasn't the only one who'd been given the job, and soon finds that all others who tried to find Trinity are either dead or were driven insane. Ash manages to find Trinity, and quickly discovers that he's a pawn in a much bigger war he doesn't understand. Very good. Very entertaining, and a great look to Ash's computer equipment. It's got a great, 1950s, old-timey look to it.
Matriculated - The final one, from the guy who did Aeon Flux. A group of humans are actually trying to convince machines to defect, and we see how they do this. Essentially, they pull the robots into a simulated reality to demonstrate what freedom of choice is all about. And the simulated reality looks a lot like a 1970s prog rock album cover. It's mostly bright lights and shimmering colours that will make you go, "Wha?" Although the ending is kinda sad.
And that's The Animatrix. As with all short film collections, it's a real mixed bag. Final Flight of the Osiris would have to be my favourite, just because it is the most like the movies. But there's good stuff to be found in all of them, and really helps to flesh out the world of the Matrix.