The Revolution Will Not be Digitised

Issue section: 
(280)

Review of 'Matrix Revolutions', directors Larry and Andy Wachowski

After watching the final instalment of the Matrix franchise (called Revolutions) it is difficult not to conclude that the writers and directors, the Wachowski brothers, should never have succumbed to the commercial pressures to produce two sequels. Compared to most of the expensive rubbish that Hollywood churns out, this is still a superior science fiction movie. However, the problem for both of the sequels is that startling action sequences and dazzling special effects are not enough to make a good film.

In the original Matrix, the action was closely bound up with the ideas and concepts that the Wachowski brothers wanted to convey. The fight scenes were not ends in themselves, a spectacle to be marvelled at, incidental to the development of the characters. Kung fu was a metaphor for the way in which the hero, Neo, comes to understand the Matrix (a virtual reality controlled by machines), as well as learning how he can beat the system. Consequently, the fight scenes are infused with dramatic tension, drawing the audience into the conflict between humans and machines. As soon as Neo masters the Matrix this tension is lost.

Much has been made of the so called groundbreaking special effects in the films, but although more money was spent on the sequels, it seems that in this case, more is definitely less. Take the now much-used technique called bullet time photography. In the first film, this effect, which gives the impression that a subject is almost frozen in time, was used to suddenly switch the perspective of the audience from 'normal' reality to the reality perceived by the human rebels who understand what the Matrix really is. By retaining a photographic realism the technique has the startling impact of convincing us that the rebels can see and move at super-fast speeds.

However, in the sequels, the realism of bullet time is compromised, as it is merged very obviously with computer animation, in an effort to come up with ever more spectacular action sequences. In doing this we also lose something of the coherence of the original idea that the Matrix itself is just like the real world.

There is, in all of this, a familiar sense that the filmmakers feel they have hit upon a formula for a successful movie, which can just be repeated again and again. Ironically, it turns out that one of the things the humans are fighting against in the trilogy is the constant repetition of a formulaic world!

Yet the ingredients of sexy actors in designer gear, kung fu fighting and a great deal of postmodernist gobbledegook are not enough to fool most of us that the main inspiration behind the sequels is anything other than box-office profits - more remuneration than revolution.