Apparently slamming the Matrix for not being worthy of the title visionary has enraged the masses, so prepare yourselves. It’s clobberin’ time.
First off, if you haven’t already, check out the article mentioned above. You can find it here.
In that article I explain that the concept of the matrix itself is pretty much identical to the matrix from Shadowrun, so I won’t get into that any further in this article. Instead, I’ll be going into the other things that the Matrix stole from.
Before I begin, however, I must point out that I do not hate the Matrix. I like the movies, they’re entertaining. I do, however, hate undue accolades. The movies do not deserve to be called visionary, and neither do the creators.
Right then, first things first. Bullet time. When the first Matrix film came out the big thing that people talked about were the bullet time sequences, mainly the one where Neo does that limbo move to dodge bullets. While the sequences did in fact look cool, they weren’t original. The bullet time effect has appeared before the Matrix. In the first Blade film bullet time is used briefly during the sequence in which Deacon Frost asks Blade to join him whilst holding a young girl hostage. Blade was released before the Matrix. Second example. Futurama. That’s right, a cartoon did it before as well. In the episode entitled “A Clone Of My Own” the Planet Express crew rescues Professor Farnsworth from the Near Death Star(a space-bound retirement home). During their escape a bullet time sequence shows the Planet Express Ship freeze in mid-takeoff, then the environment spins around it in exactly the same manner as the scene from the first Matrix film where Trinity jumps up into the Karate Kid-esque pose, then kicks somebody in the head. That episode first aired in 1999, and was written a year in advance.
The next argument for the Wachowski brothers being geniuses is their blending of religion, philosophy, and science fiction. Nope, sorry, not going to do it. Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” in 1818. “Frankenstein” blends philosphy, religion, and science fiction into a much deeper story with better defined characters. The main themes of “Frankenstein” is the debate of nature against science, man against machine. Guess what the main theme of the Matrix is. Yep, you guessed it, man against machine. In “Frankenstein”, however, Victor creates the daemon who is, in the end, the death of him. In the Matrix, the human race creates the machines to help them, and in the end, the machines are the death of the human race(most of it, anyway). The Matrix takes the theme of “Frankenstein” and makes it literal, but in the process loses the character depth and substitutes it with wooden, cliched stock science fiction characters. Neo is the staple “reluctant chosen one”. Trinity is the love interest who really doesn’t have much to her character aside from being said love interest. Morpheus is the cryptic mentor whose main purpose is to wax philosophical and propel the plot. Agent Smith is the one-dimensional villain who has no character traits aside from wanting to take over the world and destroy the hero in the process. All of these are standard science fiction archetypes that have been seen many, many times before. So, to recap, the philosophical/religious context of the Matrix is essentially the same as “Frankenstein”, which was written nearly two hundred years beforehand.
The other main theme of the Matrix is “do we really exist?”. A good, thought-provoking theme. That’s been discussed for hundreds of years. And is also the theme of a Game Boy Legend of Zelda game, which came out in 1994. In the Zelda game, subtitled “Link’s Awakening”, Link finds himself shipwrecked on an island. Eight dungeon crawls and a big boss battle inside of an egg later, it turns out that the entire island was the mental construct of the big fish that lived inside of the egg and was not in fact real. Much like the Matrix is the construct of the machines and is not in fact real.
Arguments that have been put forth as to why the Matrix is in fact visionary can be broken into several main categories. The first two of these categories have been addressed already. Those categories are technological/special effects impressiveness and the combination of religion, philosophy, and science fiction. Another of those main categories is the argument that it was a mainstream hit, and that because of that it merits the title of visionary. That argument, however, is weak, and here’s why: the insipid and unorginal beast that is reality television is riding a huge wave of mainstream popularity. Just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s visionary, or even good, it just means that it was marketed well and/or pandered to the lowest common denominator.
The rest of the arguments put forth as to why the Matrix is visionary involve slamming other films, which isn’t particularly relevant to the discussion. The Lord of the Rings movies did very well, yes, but no, they’re not visionary films either. Star Wars falls into the same category. A visionary film is, at it’s core, a film that tears down preconceptions about the medium and innovates something new. The Matrix did not do that.
I know that there will be those of you who read this and still think I’m a crazy Matrix-hating Star Wars geek, and that’s fine. You can continue to line the Wachowski’s pockets and phellate their egos at your liesure.