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Restored my faith in SF cinema
on 24 February 2003
SF Movies have suffered from a lack of style in recent years. There's only so many times you can see Bladerunner or Alien ripped off cheaply before you start to get jaded. And it doesn't help that they keep casting muscular dolts with the intellect of a plank in violent revenge fantasies that do little more than ape the "Death Wish" movies.
So it's three cheers for The Matrix, the film that restored my faith in SF movies.
It starts with a bang, a chase across rooftops with some spectacular leaps that make you realise that wherever you are, it's not the world you live in.
Or is it?
Neo (or is that Neophyte?) is a programmer by day in a faceless corporation, and a hacker by night, searching for Morpheus, a shadowy figure who may hold the key to Neo's longings for a different world. Morpheus on the other hand is looking for a Saviour, someone who will come and lead the oppressed masses to a new Utopia.
Soon their paths cross, and Neo is shown the real world, a world that is not all he thought it to be. In this world everything is run by "The Matrix", a super computer that controls everything and everybody, body and soul. (Or, as the Oracle so succinctly puts it, "Balls to Bones")
Neo is removed from the system's influence, and is told he is "The One", the long-prophesised saviour who can remake the Matrix to his own will. He is trained in how to fight the Matrix defense programs (or "Agents".....software that takes the guise of super-powerful humans and can take control of anybody still hooked up to the Matrix)
To accomplish this he is given a crash course in martial arts in a manner that would be great if it were possible today (I can imagine the ads - "Learn Kung-Fu in thirty seconds....no philosophising necessary!") . Once he reintroduces himself to the Matrix's world the stage is set for some climactic fight scenes, among the best ever seen in cinema history.
To say more would be to give away too much of the plot, but suffice to say The Matrix is one of the biggest, most explosive, most stylish SF films ever.
It succeeds where lesser films fail by melding a hi-tech glossy look with martial arts battles familar to Hong-Kong film lovers, and overlaying the whole thing with a mythic plot of the Saviour who is slowly coming to realise his destiny.
Even the names hold a mythic quality to them, from Morpheus, the god of sleep who knows who is dreaming and who is awake, to Cipher who is not all he seems, to Trinity, the embodiment of child, mother and lover and finally Neo, the classic neophyte trying to find a path through the mysteries. The ancient Greeks would have had no trouble in following the basics of this story.
Reeves has never been better, portraying confusion and frailty one minute, strength and resolve the next. But it is Fishburne's movie....it is his presence that holds the whole thing together and keeps you rivetted to your seat.
All that and a shadowing of a peril coming to Zion, the last stronghold of the true believers, and we're all set up for a blockbuster of a sequel. I can't wait.
Couple that with an outstanding directors talk-over, and an ingenious "follow the white rabbit" extras feature that lets you cut in and view how any particular effect or stunt was achieved, and you have a DVD that's hard to ignore for quality, quantity and entertainment.
All that, loads of black leather gear, big boots and guns. What more do you want?
And any film that contains a clip of the cult classic "Night of the Lepus" is always going to be worth a look.