Ranting Time Reloaded

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.

Walrus out.

10 thoughts on “Ranting Time Reloaded”

  1. I enjoy reading your theory on this Wally, it’s much more justified than your last article, however not entirely accurate.

    He point about Bullet-Time for example…

    Slow-Motion action sequences have been used for years in films. The earliest film I can remember is Enter The Dragon in the 70’s, Bruce Lee was slow-mo’ed just so the audience could actually see what was going on, also John Woo made Slow-Mo a trademark of his Hong Kong action movies in the early 90’s in films such as ‘The Killer’ and ‘Hard Boiled’. The difference between convention slow motion and Bullet Time was the filming techique used to actually spin around the focus of the action by 360 degrees whilst paused on the same frame or in slow mo. That is bullet-time and unless anyone can prove me wrong that was the birth of the technique, in the Matrix.

    I do however like your comparison to Frankenstein’s Monster. As with the Matrix, this is classic tale of man playing god, creating an abomination (Frankenstein’s Monster/Machines) and then attempting to destroy them when they grow out of man’s control. That is a perfect comparison, however hardly a reason why you should slate the Wachowski’s for using it, this kind of control has gone on for years and only plays a small part in the overall message behind the Matrix.

    In essence, everything in the film is by defination, Unoriginal. Its got guns, Kung Fu, Philosophy, Religion and Spirituality, however how many films have brought these highly combustable elements together to make a great movie? I cannot think of any, and that is what made the Matrix Trilogy a ‘Visionary Achivement’

  2. Bullet time appeared in the Futurama episode mentioned in the article. The ship starts to take off, then freezes in midair as the camera swings around it, then continues on its way. That episode aired in 1999, which means it was written a year earlier because of the time it takes to actually animate the show.

    And Star Wars included pretty much everything mentioned in your last paragraph, except Kung Fu, although some of the Lightsaber battles in the newer films look Kung Fu-ish.

  3. The futurama episode first aired in april of 2000. That scene was a parody of the Matrix.

    The first time bullet time was done (and only time pre Matrix) was in a gap commercial. In the gap commercial however, they didn’t slow down the actors motion, they fully paused. That’s where the Matrix’s effects man got the idea on how to achieve the effect they wanted.

    The Wachowski brothers didn’t rip-off Frankestein or Zelda, they took a lot from Japanese anime, comic books, mythology(of the east and west), and of course the Bible, metaphorically threw it all in a blender and came out with some thing relatively new. I say relatively, because there is nothing new under the sun.

    ESPECIALLY STAR WARS. Don’t get me wrong on this. I’m a huge SW geek, but if you want to talk unoriginal, Lord Flannel himself is the man. Doesn’t mean the Star Wars movies aren’t good, or even in some cases great, but you’re talking about not liking undeserved accolades of genius, right? Lucas the Hutt is the undisputed master of those. At very least the Wachowski Brothers wrote and directed all the films for which they recieved the accolades.

  4. I stand corrected on the air date, but on the DVD commentary for the Futurama episode in question it’s stated(I think by David Cohen) that the shot was animated before the Matrix came out(because it takes about a year to animate an episode), so even though the episode aired after the Matrix it still used the effect before it, technically speaking.

    And I’m fully aware that George Lucas is ridiculously unoriginal, I was just saying that all of the things that Matt mentioned were in fact in Star Wars.

  5. Well, you have to take into account that if that shot was animated before the Matrix was released in theaters (which I don’t believe, not calling you a liar, as the episode was part of the second season which wasn’t ordered until late spring of ’99, a couple of months after the Matrix came out), then it’s a solid bet that the bullet time shots from the Matrix were shot a good deal of time before that. So I think the Matrix was still technically before futurama.

  6. Y’know, there’s no reason to keep rehashing this.

    You believe what you wanna believe, based on your input and information.

    As for me, visionary doesn’t mean “wholly and completely original”, nor does it mean “completely uninfluenced by that which has come before.”

    The visionary accomplishment of The Matrix was taking a toolbox that others had used, and making something that became a new standard for others to rip off.

    When EVERYONE started using the “bullet-time” effect, it cemented The Matrix as a standard bearer, and thus, in my mind, counted as a visionary achievement for the creators.

    Who then went on to milk the damn phenomenon for all it was worth, hosing their artistic merit in the process.

    Jeez, don’t we have anything better to talk about? 🙂

  7. Apparently we in fact don’t have anything better to talk about. John told me to write a follow-up because the last one sparked so much interest, so I did.

    On an unrelated note, Bryan’s articles are much more entertaining and have far more debate-sparking content than either of these Matrix articles, and yet nobody comments on them. What’s up with that?

  8. Because Bryan is intimidating in his intellect and his psychosis. 🙂

    I stand by my statements, you stand by yours, let’s go stand by the taco vendor and get something to eat, hah?

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