The Matrix (1999)

(In theaters, March 1999) Oh! That’s probably one of the few things left to say right after seeing this film. Oh cool; a mixture of Hong Kong-style action, far-out existentialist Science-Fiction, straight-out over-the-top theatrics and pure imagination. Oh sharp; the direction is simply wonderful, bringing stylistic excess to mesh with the carefree hyperkinetic action. Oh yeah; this is the best action movie since Face/Off, the best SF film since Dark City and the best comic book visualization since The Fifth Element. Whatever your “Oh!” means, The Matrix is one heck of a ride. Despite the numerous logical flaws in the script (don’t get me started on that…), some juvenile pop-philosophy and uneven pacing (not to mention the criminal underusage of Carrie-Anne Moss), The Matrix gets top marks as a superlatively put-together blockbuster. See it on the biggest screen you can.

(Second viewing, In theaters, April 1999) I very seldom go twice to the same movie, but The Matrix is definitely cool enough to make me do so. (Okay, granted, I was going with someone else, but still…) Though I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s as good the second time around, it’s still so technically well-done that even another viewing is worthwhile. The Wachowski brother’s direction is very visually exciting and makes even the slow moments (of which there are quite a few, all things reconsidered) interesting. The stoopid science, plot holes and juvenile philosophy are still sore spots, though. Now a surefire choice for my top-ten list of 1999, The Matrix almost compensate for all the other awful SF movies released by Hollywood lately. Almost.

(Third viewing, On DVD, September 1999) At a time where most SF films tend to be brief flash-in-the-pan visual delights, it’s a relief to see that The Matrix still holds up pretty well to a third viewing. The special effects are still as good, the pop philosophy is still as unsubtle and the bad science still as grating, but the direction, art design and acting each do a lot to maintain interest. The DVD is exceedingly well-done, packed with a “Making of…” feature, two short special effects documentaries and a rather tepid commentary track by Carrie-Anne “Trinity” Moss, Special Effects supervisor John Geta and Editor Zach Straenberg. (Unfortunately, the commentary is badly edited, often redundant and with lengthy pauses.) The DVD-ROM content is promising, but will have to wait until I get an adequate player.

(Fourth viewing, On DVD, May 2003) Four years later, I’m still jazzed up about this film, which holds up admirably well to yet another repeat viewing. The direction is still as good as ever and shores up a film that suffers a lot from structural problems both in the first half (where all is explained and nothing happens) and the second (where a lot of stuff blows up but nothing is explained). It’s a shame, in retrospect, that the heavy noir influence of the first five minutes is seldom seen afterwards. Well worth another look in light of the last two volumes of the trilogy, as the meanly focused nature of the story expands into something much bigger later on, and given that two or three throw-away images of this original film end up taking quite another significance after even only The Matrix Reloaded

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