Ronald Brak

Because not everyone can be normal.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Movie Review – The Matrix. This Machina is a big pile of Deus.

I recently rewatched a movie that was made way back in 1999. You may have heard of it. It was called The Matrix and it was fairly popular at the time. Just why it was popular I'm not sure because my second watching reinforced my original opinion that it's not a very good movie.

The Matrix started off with a very strong premise for an action movie. The world we see around us is not the real one but a computer simulation made to keep humanity enslaved to artificial intelligences in dark dystopian future. So, not too different from the situation we have today with many humans willingly enslaved to World of Warcraft servers and facebook.

This was all well and good. I was even willing to spot them the ridiculous reason the machines had for keeping humans plugged into artificial reality – they served as some sort of thermodynamically impossible energy source. Not long after the movie came out I vaguely remember hearing a rumour, or possibly a hallucination, that in the original script the humans were meant to be part of some sort of parallel processing computer system that used human brains. While this is highly implausible, highly implausible is, mathematically speaking, infinitely better than completely impossible. But they decided to go for the completely impossible option anyway, possibly because audiences were deemed too dumb to understand a concept more complex than batteries is people. If one takes both The Matrix and the laws of physics at face value, then one is forced to conclude that the explanation given is bogus and the machines probably simply enjoy having humans plugged into virtual reality. Maybe we're their version of tamagotchi or something.

But where The Matrix really falls down is when we're told that there is an oracle that can see the future and has foretold that Keanu Reeves is the Messiah and not just a very naughty boy. What the hell? You baited me with science fiction and then switched it for the sort of crappy fantasy movie they used to show at Easter time! Once we learn this, and are introduced to the Oracle as a character, all real drama leaves the film. Once fate has been made the central pillar of the movie then none of the characters' actions matter. We know that no matter what they do the situation will be resolved via deus ex machina. In fact, the best we can hope for is that the characters will learn that they were wrong to put their faith in the Oracle and die, or at least suffer. If we learned that the Oracle was just the machines dicking with humans, that might have redeemed this blunder. Then the sequels could have been about the characters making their own fate, but it was not to be.

And the worse thing was, the whole fate and Oracle situation was completely unnecessary. The whole search for 'the one' could have been based on the mathematical probability that eventually there would be a human with the mental ability to learn to reprogram the Matrix on the fly. Keanu Reeves may not be the most versatile actor on the planet, but I think we would have been perfect for portraying this sort of semi-autistic idiot savant. In fact, I think that might have been the role he was actually playing. And why did they bother to make his character a computer programmer at all if that had nothing to do with his ability to affect the matrix? I think this might have been a left over from a much better script that existed before someone decided to turn it into an Easter special.

So why was this movie so popular? Probably because most people are not dour pedantic misanthropes like me. Most people don't give a poop for the details of narrative structure and are happier for it. And the effects were certainly top notch for the time. I know it seems hard to believe now, but back then people actually went to movies for the spectacle instead of just going 'meh' five seconds into a movie that already contains more special effects awesomeness then the first twenty-six years of Doctor Who. Also, many people were probably feeling alienated in 1999 and enjoyed identifying with a cypher who turned out to be a kick arse version of Jesus Christ. You have to remember that back in 1999 technology was advanced enough to drain all the humanity out of life, but not yet advanced enough to compensate for the loss of real human interaction with World of Warcraft and facebook.

So how many stars will I give this movie? None. But I will give it a large brown dwarf, and all the hydrogen in it represents potential that failed to undergo fusion. And it's a population II brown dwarf with its characteristic lack of heavier elements representing the lack of chemistry between the male and female leads. But I will give it a smattering of asteroids simply for the shear joy of watching Hugo Weaving debase himself for money.

The sequels were all critically judged to be worse than the original, particularly the terrible third movie that did a Boba Fett with the mystery that was presented at the end of the second movie. (Looked really cool for a long time and then just died.) However, I actually enjoyed the second movie. It was clear from the start with Keanu Reeves doing a Superman impersonation, that they had given up on any attempt to get real drama from the actual story, so I just sat back and enjoyed the cartoon like action sequences and settled for the superficial drama of, how will they escape this set of explosions? How will they get to the next action scene? How many kilograms has Laurence Fishburne gained? Will Monica Bellucci fall out of her dress? And since I wasn't disappointed by the lack of real drama, I was satisfied with a wonderful feast of superficiality.

And then the best thing the third movie had to offer was men in bondage gear running around on the ceiling. Now if they'd had a group of Monica Belluccis running around on the ceiling that might have been worth a heads up.

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