It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since The Matrix came out. Fifteen years since we swallowed the red pill and went down the rabbit hole with Neo and Morpheus and Trinity. Fifteen years since bullet time and kung-fu and no spoon.
In the words of the great philosopher Keanu Reeves: Whoa.
For a movie that marks its 15th anniversary in just over a week, The Matrix has aged remarkably well. In part because it was so far ahead of its time to begin with, but also because it’s had such a profound influence on moviemaking ever since.
As we spin up our Blu-ray players for our annual viewing of The Matrix, here are six ways this cyberpunk classic changed films forever.
The birth of bullet time
Having a camera pan around characters who are nearly frozen in super slo-mo wasn’t something The Matrix invented – if nothing else, the hypderdrive scenes in Lost in Space did it a year earlier. But The Matrix did popularize the special effects phenomenon dubbed “bullet time” when Neo (Keanu Reeves) dodged an enemy’s gunfire and made our collective jaws drop. The effect was immediately copied everywhere in movies and on TV – hell, even dog food commercials were doing it – and was eventually absorbed into the standard language of special effects.
The marriage of action and philosophy
From Terminator 2 to Con Air to Keanu Reeves’ own Speed, the ’90s had a ton of great action films. But to paraphrase the popular (if not entirely accurate) Internet meme featuring Morpheus: What if I told you a movie could have incredible action scenes yet also make you question the very nature of reality? The Matrix was a valuable reminder that brawn and brains don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
A new way of doing stunt work
Bullet time was a neat effect, but The Matrix is arguably just as famous for its carefully choreographed fight scenes. Producer Joel Silver was so determined to hire Chinese stunt choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping that he gave into Yuen’s unusual demands, including six months of training with the actors and stunt performers – virtually unheard of for an American film. This ignited a trend of lengthy rehearsal periods for stuntmen (and in some cases, actors) that changed the way we look at fight scenes in movies.
The success of DVDs
DVD players were still pretty exotic back in 1999, but when The Matrix came out on home video six months after its release in theatres, it singlehandedly helped propel adoption of the new video format, with the movie becoming the first to sell 1 million copies on DVD. Without The Matrix, DVDs might have been much slower to take off. Although porn certainly helped, too.
One story, multiple mediums
Before transmedia became the buzzword it is today – or the buzzword it was three years ago – The Matrix famously linked its universe with ancillary materials that crossed over into the films themselves. The Animatrix was a 2003 anthology of animated shorts that filled in some of the backstory of the Matrix, for instance, while Enter the Matrix was a video game that paralleled the events of The Matrix Reloaded, including game-exclusive scenes of Jada Pinkett Smith as her character, Niobe. There was also a comic book anthology set inside the world of The Matrix, which featured a contribution from author Neil Gaiman. At the time, that was pretty heady stuff.
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix
Lowered expectations for sequels
When the Wachowski broth… err, siblings announced they were shooting a pair of Matrix sequels back-to-back for release in 2003, fans rejoiced. But The Matrix Reloaded was not great, and The Matrix Revolutions… no, let’s not even start. Maybe an amazing film spawning bad sequels wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon, but this was a spectacularly painful example. And we won’t be so easily fooled again.
Why ‘Matrix’ prequels might not be a bad idea
Is it time to take another trip down the rabbit hole?
When everything from Batman to Bond has been successfully and lucratively rebooted, reimagined and sequeled/prequeled within an inch of its life, it’s kind of astonishing that a property like The Matrix hasn’t been touched in more than a decade.
That could be about to change, though. With the 15th anniversary of The Matrix upon us, the simmering speculation about the possibility of new movies is suddenly heating up.
An item earlier this month on the frequently scoopy fansite LatinoReview.com claimed insider knowledge that Andy and Lana Wachowski have begun writing outlines and treatments for new Matrix films, fueling speculation that a prequel trilogy is in the works.
This makes a lot of sense, for various reasons. For starters, Warner Bros. would surely like to have a huge franchise to help fend off the Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm juggernaut (not to mention Fox’s upcoming Avatar and X-Men sequels) until they can get their DC Comics film future sorted out. And if the Man of Steel sequel with Ben Affleck as Batman isn’t a hit, it could prove hard to get the likes of a Justice League flick off the ground at all.
Also, the Wachowskis need a hit, and they need it badly. Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas were commercial duds, and this summer’s Jupiter Ascending, starring Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis, is generating very mixed buzz. When you follow a great movie with a string of turkeys, people eventually stop calling. And then they stop caring.
Just ask M. Night Shyamalan.
But most significantly, prequels would actually fit perfectly within the fiction of the Matrix universe. If you didn’t fall asleep during the ramblings of the Architect in 2003’s The Matrix Reloaded, you’ll recall that the Matrix as Neo knows it, as well as the real-world human city of Zion, are the sixth iterations of each. They’re part of a process that’s destroyed and rebooted again and again, until Neo breaks the cycle by choosing a different path.
Which means there could be a whole slew of fully canon Matrix prequels, each set in its own version of the virtual and real worlds, none of which would necessarily need to involve previous castmembers.
Done correctly, it could be a license to print money, and make fans’ heads to explode with joy. Done poorly, it could be George Lucas’s Star Wars prequels all over again.
But then again, after 15 years of being immersed in everything The Matrix helped influence, could revisiting that world even have the same impact that it did before? Or would we tumble down the rabbit hole, only to discover it didn’t go as deep as we thought?
Whoa, Dude…Keanu’s due for a comeback
He may know kung fu – not to mention that nifty trick where he stops bullets in mid-flight – but for Keanu Reeves, life after The Matrix has been more red-pill reality than blue-pill bliss.
Keanu Reeves and bullet time
In the 15 years since the release of the 1999 sci-fi classic, Reeves hasn’t headlined a movie that’s come anywhere near the success of The Matrix (and that includes its less-than-beloved 2003 sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions.) Unless you count a supporting role in the Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton comedy Something’s Gotta Give, his biggest post-Matrix box office haul has been 2008’s The Day the Earth Stood Still remake, which earned a so-so $79 million in U.S. ticket sales.
And while ringing cash registers don’t necessarily indicate quality films, Reeves’ post-Neo resume contains mostly critical duds of various intensities, including the likes of The Replacements, Constantine and the recent and quite awful 47 Ronin, with only 2006’s odd but interesting Philip K. Dick adaptation A Scanner Darkly offering a blip of brightness. His upcoming space romance, Passengers, recently lost its female lead (Rachel McAdams) and has been taken off the Weinstein Co.’s sked.
For what it’s worth, though, Reeves is due for a comeback that silences all his naysayers, and he remains the kind of guy we’d love to chill and have a beer with. You can’t put a price tag on that.