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Tue, 07 Dec 1999 What is The Matrix?

The Matrix is Everything. The Matrix is Nothing. No one can be told what the matrix is - they have to see it for themselves. The Matrix Has You. The Matrix Has Me. The Matrix Has My $7.75.

What is the Matrix?

THE MATRIX AS LIGHT-HEARTED BUDDY PICTURE A LA BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID

Lawrence Fishburne is the reclusive but respected and admired master crime lord. Keanu Reeves is the confused but talented petty offender looking for a father figure. They find each other, save each other's lives, and save all of humanity in the process. There are some other minor characters involved such as a love interest for Keanu, but the real bond is between the gruff Fishburne and confused Reeves. Traditional family values win out over evil virtual-reality soul-stealing purple-people-eating giant bug machine aliens, of course. My heart, she is warmed.

THE MATRIX AS A COLLECTION OF COMFORTINGLY FAMILIAR SCIENCE FICTION CLICHES

There are evil probe-things that burrow into your body, just like in Star Trek, the Wrath of Kahn. There are millions of human beings with wires stuck into them and tubes down their throats in mile after mile of vats, just like in V and X-Files: the Motion Picture.

There is a band of renegade human survivors piloting a lovably decrepit spaceship held together with duct tape and hope, just like in Star Wars. There are human combatants who battle it out in virtual reality, as foretold by William Gibson and many others. There are GREAT men in black - the first version of the men in black I've seen that truly resemble their alien-abduction-anecdote origin. There are giant robotic bug-creatures that harken all the way back to H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds. There's nothing here that will startle you and spill your popcorn. Don't worry your pretty little head.

THE MATRIX AS BULLET-DODGING ARNOLD SCHWARTZENEGGER MEETS JACKIE CHAN MEETS MORTAL KOMBAT SLUG-FEST

We know kung-fu, and the names of several other martial arts. We can flip each other around like poker chips. However, this simply isn't causing enough damage to keep our interest. How about a little more power?

We need guns. Lots of guns.

We are highly selective about what kind of violence actually hurts us. A good punch in the gut can hurt far more than an entire clip of armor-piercing ammunition. We've got a pretty amazing aerobic capacity too. No, it will take a pretty specific kind of blow to do any damage at all, and we'll recover from it pretty much completely in about ten seconds.

Sometimes guns shoot out complete, intact bullets, not slugs and shell casings. We're not sure why.

We will heavily damage nearly every piece of scenery that gets in our way. Don't worry about it. Those extras that die like flies? Don't worry about them, either. Any problem can be solved with sufficient extra firepower. Remember the Harrier jump-jet in True Lies? We've got an Apache gunship helicopter. It's very cool. Just relax. Wouldn't you like to do this much damage to your apartment and not have to pay for it?

THE MATRIX AS ADVERTISEMENT FOR HIGH SPEED DIGITAL CAMERAS

We're going to go reality one better. Let's call it "hyper-reality." Our movie has a far higher resolution than real life. Real life is so - well, it's icky. It's more fun to be digitized and uploaded. The fun is funner, the women are sexier, the violence is violenter, and we shoot from multiple angles with a very wide depth of field and an extremely high frame rate. In the future, everything will be a one or a zero. (You'll probably be a zero; Keanu Reeves will be a one. The one, as a matter of fact... what? He doesn't really know what is going on? Of course not. It's called irony. Or maybe it's called something else.)

THE MATRIX AS A POORLY INTEGRATED BUNDLE OF METAPHORS

The remains of God's chosen people live in Zion at the center of the planet. Moses is black. Jesus is a scrawny white guy. Morpheus is the god of sleep in charge of waking people up from their virtual-reality dream into the nightmare of reality. He's also a kind of Captain Benjamin Cisco-Router of our brave new world here, running some sort of Routing Protocols of the Elders of Zion, perhaps? Keanu = Eon = One. There's an Oracle who seems to be stage-managing a lot of this. We're in a Greek tragedy now. The evil alien bug-machines swim through the planet's fallopian tubes like giant sperm attempting to fertilize the fleeing egg full of the last vestige of rebellious human genetic material. It's all very complex. Or is it just a stupid mess of incoherent references? I can never keep those two straight.

THE MATRIX PRESENTS THE ONLY POSSIBLE BELIEVABLE ROMANTIC SUBPLOT INVOLVING KEANU REEVES

He barely interacts with the heroine throughout the entire film, but she is in love with him.

There's a touching kiss and her love saves him, but he's in a coma at the time.

There are homilies about the power of love.

Wait a minute - wasn't this a dark and edgy film? Maybe that didn't test well with focus groups.

THE MATRIX AS FULFILLMENT OF TED'S ULTIMATE ADVENTURE

Whoaaa! Duuuuuude!

Why, oh why, did he have to be the one? She could have been the one. He could have just been a one. It would have made more sense. The Oracle's plans would have been better integrated, and she would have lied to everyone to manipulate the whole preordained destiny thing perfectly.

Or, as the Oracle puts it, "he's got talent, but he's not very bright."

Perhaps making her the one was just too feminist for the focus groups.

THE MATRIX AS ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE MATRIX: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT

Surely, they could have saved some of the special effects budget for the end?

Oh, wait, maybe they did, but the movie just got too long so they had to lop that part off.

SO TELL ME PAUL, WHAT DID YOU REALLY THINK OF THE MOVIE?

I have no idea. It was really fun at the time. It is visually stunning. The fight sequences are astounding. The back-story is somewhat better than your typical science fiction movie (which brings it about halfway up to the worst of William Gibson, Stanislaw Lem, or Philip K. Dick). I bought the soundtrack album. Don't wait for it to come out on video. Without the surround sound and enormous visual overload, half of the movie's appeal would be lost.

I'd recommend it quite highly. Just try not to think about it too hard while it is happening. The directors didn't.

RATING: 8/10 (4/10 on video)

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