The Moon and The Matrix

I come out of Matrix Reloaded last night and head home, and as I’m driving home, I look up at the half moon that’s shining up there, and then I keep driving. Then some part of my brain says: That moon was full when you left home. For about a second I was seriously weirded out; Reloaded is a little long, but not, you know, seven days long. Then I remembered about the lunar eclipse last night, and felt two things: First, a rather embarrassed wave of relief, and second, a very small inkling of the holy terror lunar eclipses must have provided my pre-scientific ancestors, who didn’t know much but knew that the moon going through all of its phases in one night just wasn’t right.

Enough about that stupid moon, I hear you say. I can see that anytime. Tell me about Reloaded. Well, I enjoyed the hell out of it, while simultaneously agreeing with the snipes of the critics: It’s too long. Parts are w-a-a-a-y too talky. The scenes in Zion are kind of dopey. It doesn’t have the same shocking freshness of the original. However, absolutely none of that bothered me in the slightest. First, as I explained the other day, my baseline entertainment expectations are fairly manageable: I wanted Reloaded to amuse me, not tell me how to live my life. It lived up to the amusement level I require and then some.

Also, here’s the thing: Most of the (professional) critics who are slamming the film simply haven’t taken the red pill. Which is to say they’re experiencing Matrix Reloaded as just another flick rather than what it (also) is: A tour inside the Wachowski brothers’ fevered little heads. Experiencing the latter is most of the fun here — the idea that these two guys have built up a world that’s so complete that you could theoretically follow any part of it outside the context of the movie and have it keep on going.

One advantage I have over most of you is that I’ve seen the whole Animatrix DVD — the collection of animated shorts based on and in the Matrix universe — and a couple of elements in the movie are rather more deeply explored in those animated shorts. So when they pop up in the film, I knew that the rabbit hole on that particular thing went down even further. The video game Enter the Matrix likewise integrates with the current film (it features an hour of movie-quality cut scenes and effects) and fills out the character of Niobe, who is something of a side presence in the film. You won’t miss the context if you don’t have it; the film doesn’t force you to buy the Animatrix or Enter the Matrix to understand what’s going on. It’s just most film universes are as shallow as what’s on the screen; backstory is an acting trick, not a film production virtue. But it is a virtue here. Even if you’re not expecting the movie to change your life, it helps to make the experience more interesting.

I think a fair number of the professional critics who are banging on the film aren’t necessarily interested in the idea of the Matrix backstory the way someone who has watched The Matrix a number of times might be. Nothing wrong with that, of course — part of a working critic’s job is not to be a fan boy. But if you are a fan-boy, or just enjoyed the first film quite a bit, your tolerance for the film’s quirks and saggy spots, and your satisfaction level in a general sense, will both probably be higher.

I’ll be interested to see how it wears in the re-watching, since I’ll almost certainly be taking it in again (geek to the core, I went without Krissy last night, but that’s okay because she’s out with friends tonight while I’m at home. One secret to happy couples: They’re the ones who occasionally do stuff by themselves as well as the ones who do lots of stuff together). I expect I’ll continued to be amused.

One final comment: The one criticism complains that a couple of the fight scenes (particularly the “Burly Brawl” setpiece) look too computer animated. Given that these fight scenes take place inside the Matrix, I find this complaint interesting on several different levels.

28 Comments on “The Moon and The Matrix”

  1. You know, I never really thought about the Matrix in that sense. I mean, I got the whole computer virtual reality world and all that, but it never struck me that it was computers generating this kinda stuff. It makes me kind of sad to know that just when video games start looking realistic, we’ll get over taken by armies of darwinisticky robots who use us for batteries.

    Then they don’t even give us videogame consoles which match the graphical prowess of the fake world they created. Instead I gotta be some energy pod monkey chained to a Playstation 2 while THEY get to fool around with some of the most incredible bump-mapping ever concieved. I mean, look at the textures they used for everything.

    They could at least code a fuller head of hair for me. Bastards. But, then again, if some guy from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure can beat them, they weren’t all that sophisticated anyway. There is no spoon indeed.

  2. Burly Brawl… I don’t have a problem with the computer-animated-ness. It’s the futility of the scene. Once Neo repels Smith’s special attack in the beginning, it’s quite clear that Smith will not win. Period. Then we have a bunch of flying bodies for a few minutes. Only in the later fights do we get a reasonable degree of suspense.
    As for the wraiths — it’s very contradictory to suppose that our species is full of superstition, yet our superstitions are based in fact.

  3. Okay, so when I got The Matrix on DVD back in late ’99, it was more or less right on time for my New Years Eve party, which it turned out was a pretty extensive affair, and people kept showing up (in the way of parties that are scheduled to last 36-48 hours) over a duration of many hours. And as they did, they each decided to start “The Matrix” on the DVD player…
    Well, I’ve watched it exactly once since then, but I noticed that the first movie is REALLY talky for very long stretches. Maybe it’s more excuseable in the first one ’cause there’s a lot of explanation to do that really isn’t going to come out in some other, less forceful, way.
    But… it’s REALLY talky.

  4. Haven’t seen it yet. I have… some reservations. Which will probably be ignored this weekend.

    (Mostly it just bothers me that the humans are treated as batteries, instead of, like, additional CPU/memory or something the AI-civilization needs to thrive on–by making use of human creativity or lateral thinking or whatever the AIs might find useful. The battery/power source thing is just plain silly, since the AI civilization will expend far more energy just keeping humans alive than they’ll ever get out of them.)

  5. Heh, the “too computer animated” comment definitely got me thinking. I’ve described that scene to my friends as “the best video game cut scene ever.” Here’s food for thought: are the computers creating the images or are they merely pulling the puppet strings on impulses in our brain? If the brain then creates the images, I don’t know if I’d be ok with them looking like a video game. Yes, this is how the film got its geek fanbase…by urging discussions that are both compelling and completely useless…

  6. As for the whole humans as batteries thing. Since when does a fictional movie need to make sense? I mean, why didn’t the machines just move to another planet? Why didn’t they do something as simple as construct a giant space station and just kinda float ABOVE the clouds? Why don’t the machines kill whoever wakes up instead of flushing them down the tubes? You think THAT would have crossed their minds after a few hundred of the released folks kept popping up to give them headaches.

    Or hell, why not just skip the whole mess and reconfigure themselves to use, you know, gas or something?

    A lot of sci-fi movies use some rather silly plot devices to keep things moving along. No harm no foul if they don’t always make sense. I don’t really want a documentary called ‘Ten easy steps to use humans (and a form a fusion) to power your unstoppable robotic force.’ I just want crap blowing up, kung-fu and a spiffy-dressed black guy to wax philosophical nonsense for a while.

    Oh yeah, and a hot chick in skin tight PVC never hurts either.

  7. One question – I’d like to take my 12 year old son to it, if appropriate. I know it’s rated ‘R’, but I determined that the first Matrix was okay for him to watch on DVD. Would you say the level of sex and violence in the second is roughly equal to the first?

  8. Tripp:

    Violence intensity is about the same, although there is more of it, and a lot more hand-to-hand combat. There’s more blood and gore than in the first one, but not a huge amount. There’s one sex scene, with mild nudity (butts but no nipples) and it’s handled with mostly close-in shots, so while it’s clear what’s going on, you don’t see much detail. The Zion party scene has several dancers cavorting around in transparent tops — there be nipples there.

    So in brief: Slightly more “R” than the first Matrix movie but not aggressively more “R”.

  9. (Warning: spoiler for anyone who hasn’t gotten Reloaded yet.)

    Matt asks:

    “Why don’t the machines kill whoever wakes up instead of flushing them down the tubes? You think THAT would have crossed their minds after a few hundred of the released folks kept popping up to give them headaches.”

    [spoiler deleted by Scalzi]

    Scalzi says: Note that there was absolutely nothing offensive in this post, it’s just that in my editorial opinion, it’s too early to post spoilers here. Maybe after the weekend. Since Matt has posted his e-mail address, you can respond to him directly there. Hope you’re not offended or upset. Thanks.

  10. Or perhaps I should just see the movie before asking questions that have answers to them already, rhetorical or not.

    Man, that chick I saw in the commercial for ‘The Crying Game’ was hot though, wasn’t she?

    Anyway, yes, chances are I won’t see the movie for a couple days, as my plans for seeing it tonight have been shattered by movie-hating in-laws invading our home, so please e-mail me. I’ve never cared if a plot is spoiled for me, well… except for the Titanic, I really wanted to see that ending for myself. Whoda thought the ship would’ve sunk!

  11. I found Reloaded to be a dissapointment. The first one was sooo cool. The second one isn’t even as good as the first never mind being better. A lack of character devolpment, a rushed plot, and a corny phrase made me want to cry. Because this could have, no should have been the coolest movie ever. People need to realize that plot always comes first, then everything else revoles around the plot. Don’t make cool fight scenes and characters and then try to squeez in a plot.

  12. For those of you who have never participated on a message board regarding entertainment, it’s common courtesy to WARN other people when you’re discussing plot points or details that they not have not seen yet.

    **SPOILER AHEAD** followed by 2-3 blank lines generally suffice.

    I understand the enthusiasm, but please be considerate to others.

    You’re welcome.

  13. Someone I saw it with remarked that it seemed to them that the W bros. wrote the first one, had a long spell of no-sex, and then wrote the second one.

    Man, that was hot.

    (And for the record? I find it incredibly interesting when parents don’t censor violence as much as they censor sex in movies and the like. My parents told me once that they suspect I will grow up and have sex but that they assumed I’d never grow up and shoot someone in the head, hence they sort of did the reverse.)

  14. I’m going to have to disagree with you on the rushed plot, Brian, if only because it felt like (again, trying to avoid spoilers) they set up quite a bit that’ll be resolved in Revolution.

    Besides, I enjoy walking out of a movie discussing what happened and what this might imply for what happens next.

  15. A rushed plot after four years of being in the works? I think not. Reloaded isn’t really a movie in itself; it’s the first half of what Revolutions will finish.

  16. “People need to realize that plot always comes first, then everything else revoles around the plot. Don’t make cool fight scenes and characters and then try to squeez in a plot.”

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with you on this one. YOU need to have a plot cme first, please don’t say that the rest of us are sick in the head because we don’t see your point of view. I find nothing wrong with having a cheeseball plot wrapped around some cool action. It’s what allows me to enjoy movies like Hard Boiled with my brain switched to ‘off’.

    Why CAN’T a movie be made that’s just meant to have a wow factor? Why must every movie have some deep seeded symbolism and excellent character development? There are plenty of movies like that.

    ** Spoilers.. Sorta **

    After seeing Reloaded twice this weekend, with one viewing of the revolutions trailer, I have only one comment. God, I can not WAIT to see those huge F’ing metal armor tank suit things in action. Did you see it twirl it’s massive guns before walking away from the gate? Did you? I WANT one!

  17. Thanks for the info about S&V and whether to bring my son.

    Regarding spoilers, they usually don’t bother me, except, like Matthew W., “The Titanic”. Oh, and Gilligan’s Island. I thought for sure they were getting off that island.

  18. Hmm, well the “Why don’t the machines kill whomever wakes up” question was answered with a spoiler so I’m assumnig there’s some kind of information on this in the new flick. In any event it’s not out here yet and I haven’t seen it but the answer seems rather obvious. Surely the ‘pill’ procedure executes a program which misdirects the pod control to believe the pod occupant IS dead, said occupant is then disconnected and the ‘body’ flushed to make room for the next lucky candidate. A more accurate question might then be “if the machines know some corpses aren’t really corpses, why not systematically shoot all ‘corpses’ prior to flushing, just to be on the safe side?” That being said of course any machine civilization advanced enough to build some of the bits we’ve seen in Matrix ought to have been able to build a series of solar energy collectors in orbit transmitting energy back through microwave beams or similar. So… *shrug*.

  19. Posted by Matthew Wierzbicki at May 16, 2003 01:50 PM:
    “Since when does a fictional movie need to make sense?”

    Because I’m not stupid. And I don’t really care for movies that ask me to pretend that I am.

    “Oh yeah, and a hot chick in skin tight PVC never hurts either.”

    Yeah, but I don’t need to spend $8.00 to see that, when I can see it for free.


    Posted by John Scalzi at May 16, 2003 01:39 PM:
    “That’s why their energy is “combined with a form of fusion”!”


    So, do they also leave the lights on and run the microwave, tv, heater and air conditioning 24/7?

  20. Posted by Matthew Wierzbicki at May 19, 2003 09:11 AM:
    “Why CAN’T a movie be made that’s just meant to have a wow factor? Why must every movie have some deep seeded symbolism and excellent character development? There are plenty of movies like that.”

    And, of course, vice-versa.

    So why can’t I ask that a movie have those things? Mind you, when I go to the movies, I don’t necessarily ask that it does. I enjoyed X2 right proper when I saw it Sunday. I’ll probably see it again sometime.

    But the Matrix practically begged me to think about it when I saw it. So I did. And since I don’t think perpetual-motion machines work, that part of the film didn’t work for me (other parts also didn’t work, but there’s no real point in my getting into it, I think).

    I will admit I don’t care as much for action films (which expect me to be passively sit through them). I like video games better than I like movies.

    If you prefer, I took the blue pill. I’ll probably see M:R sometime, however. It just has a lower priority than, say, Ratchet and Clank.

  21. My husband and I saw Matrix Reloaded on Friday and I thought it was FABULOUS! – the one exception for me was the fight scene with all the Smiths. I agree with whomever said that it wasn’t really necessary to go on and on in that scene but the music REALLY bothered me in that scene. I like a movie soundtrack that adds to the mood but stays in t he background – creating a psychological effect but not interfering with the experience. I thought the music during that scene was cheesy – almost cartoon-like at times and that distracted me (I swear I actually heard a Batman-ish “Boing” or “Bonk” in there!!). That’s my only complaint. I will see the movie again! Love your review John!

  22. Posted by Scott Elyard at May 19, 2003 02:16 PM

    “I will admit I don’t care as much for action films (which expect me to be passively sit through them). I like video games better than I like movies.

    If you prefer, I took the blue pill. I’ll probably see M:R sometime, however. It just has a lower priority than, say, Ratchet and Clank.”

    There’s some really good, stupid action movies around. Terminator 2, for example, is nothing but silly. But damn it gets my blood going. Aliens, too, for that matter. As for the Matrix begging you to think, eh, if you want. There’s plenty of pointless violence and chop-socky going on in between the inane chatter that some people want to take too seriously. Hell, you can even watch it for it’s low-brow comedy if you want. “I’m Home! Where’s my Puss…-Hey!” comedy goldmine.

    As for the video game thing. I agree to a point. Real time graphics still can’t do even T2 type stuff. It’s close, but it’s still more difficult to suspend disbelief in a videogame world than in a movie world. I love my Zelda and my Ico. I also love my John Woo flicks for entirely different reasons.

    Maybe I’m blessed because I can shut down my brain and just watch silly action movies and not get pissed off that an army of human sized, bipedal robots send ONE robot at a go back in time to try to kill a boy.. with no nuclear weaponry of any sort. I just accept it and smile at the loud booms.

    Oh yeah, and Jak could kick Ratchet’s ass any day.

  23. Matt, there’s a difference between movies that don’t require thought, and movies for which you *must* shut down your brain in order to enjoy them. (FWIW, I don’t think /Matrix/ is one of them: that is, M1… haven’t seem M:R yet).

    Terminator 2 is one of the latter. Terminator 1, and ALIENS (unless there’s a reall stupid scene in the first half-hour of ALIENS, which I’ve never seen) are the former.

  24. I think there’s a difference between speculating better ways to solve problems in the story than attempted by the characters and something which is presented as true but is obviously impossible, like perpetual motion machines and other contrivances presented for convenience when, in the case of the Matrix, only a little extra thought on the part of the filmmakers (minimal effort, really) could have made the problem disappear entirely.

    That bothers me. It bothers me when Spielberg calls his movie monsters dinosaurs, when, in fact, they aren’t even _close_ to the real thing. It doesn’t bother me when movie magic [aka lack of continuity] turns a Glock into a butter knife, because that’s a forgivably trivial detail.

    Spielberg’s dragons and the Matrix’s perpetual motion machines are rather significant points of plot in comparison.

    Now, I could pretend I’ve really high standards for films, but that would probably be a lie; guess which movie I liked better: Scorpion King or The Matrix.

    I am perfectly capable of turning my brain off to enjoy a movie. But–at least in the case of The Scorpion King–I’m just as glad I didn’t have to.

  25. “Oh yeah, and Jak could kick Ratchet’s ass any day.”

    Glove of doom + Decoy glove + mines, mines, mines sez otherwise.

    (Haven’t played Jak and Daxter yet. Someday, maybe…)

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