Ranting Time with Walrus

“The Wachowski brothers are visionaries”. That’s a paraphrased quote from the ad for the Matrix 10 disc set, and I call bullshit.

The Wachowski brothers aren’t visionaries. They didn’t create the Matrix.

Yeah, they wrote and directed the movies, and came up with all the philosophical crap and the machines and junk, but they didn’t create the Matrix.

In the 1980s a pen and paper RPG called Shadowrun was published by a company called FASA. It’s a game set in a cyberpunk-ish setting, but magic has been reborn into the world and so there are orks, elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons, and other such beasties roaming around the planet along with the humans. That’s not particularly important to this article, though, so I’ll get back on my ranting track. Anyhow, inside the Shadowrun rulebook is a section about using a decker(a hacker-type character) to navigate the matrix. That’s right, the Matrix appeared in Shadowrun in the 1980’s, many years before the film hit the silver screen.

The Shadowrun matrix is a virtual world inside of computers that characters with the appropriate skills are able to navigate. The matrix can look like nearly anything, as can the decker inside of it. In one example from a Shadowrun novel called “Wolf and Raven” by Michael A. Stackpole(which is really good, by the way), a decker enters the matrix to steal information from a corporation. The decker is incredibly skilled and can warp the matrix to her will(Neo flying, anyone?). She’s also a baseball nut. She warps the matrix into a baseball diamond, and battles the programs sent out by corporate security to get her out of their system by putting them out in the virtual baseball game.

A virtual world that people can warp to their advantage if they have the skills, and which is populated by programs and drones just going about their business. Sound familiar? That’s because the Wachowski brothers pretty much mashed a philosophy lecture and some Hong Kong action movie scenes together, put them in a setting taken from a fairly obscure(to the non-gamer, at least) game, and called it their own.

So next time you hear somebody call the Wachowski brothers visionaries, think nice and hard. Would you call somebody a visionary if they ripped off the Matrix films? No, I didn’t think so. So don’t call these guys visionaries for ripping off an RPG from the ’80s.

27 thoughts on “Ranting Time with Walrus”

  1. The Wachowski brothers are geniuses.

    They are visionaries.

    The reason that they are visionary is not that they use the concept of the Matrix itself… That concept can be traced back through Star Trek’s holodecks, through the X-Men’s Danger Room, back to Heinlein, the originator of tons of concepts.

    Walrus, my brother, you forgot one thing…

    The Shadowrun example is just another real people in the real world making a false reality…

    THE MATRIX IS FALSE PEOPLE IN A FALSE WORLD WHO *THINK* THAT IT IS REALITY.

    They’re not controlling the computers, the computers are controlling them.

    The reason the Wachowski’s are visionary is that they took a concept that many others have used, and put a new spin on it. They completely REVERSED the idiom.

    Just my two cents…

  2. The false people in a false world example isn’t orignal either. Alan Moore did it in a Superman Annual(I forget which one). Mongul uses some crazy plant thing to lock Superman in Superman’s ideal reality, where Krypton hasn’t exploded and he has a wife and children. He believes that the world is real until Batman and Wonder Woman figure out how to get the plant off of him.

    In the Matrix the people are in a fake world until somebody gets them out. Except the machines they fight once they’re out aren’t nearly as cool as Mongul.

  3. But again, the point is, we KNOW what the real world is with Superman. When the Matrix begins, we KNOW what the real world is, and we know what the fantasy world is…

    And we ARE WRONG!

    The whole conceit is turned on its head.

    We start in the “Real World” and then find out that nothing is as it seems. In fact, the underlying assumption of The Matrix, taken to it’s logical extreme, implies that you and I aren’t real either, and that we’re powering Cleveland with our ass.

    As for ideas being done, it’s all been done.

    Every idea I’ve ever had has probably been done somewhere else, first… It’s about the approach, and in this case, with familiar TOOLS, the Wachowski’s created a Not-So-Familiar angle on a good story.

  4. Once again, see my point above:

    The difference between Matrix and Dark City is: Matrix didn’t alienate 80% of the audience.

  5. Some really interesting points there but one major point that you’ve all missed is the religious context that the Matrix films contain.

    The Matrix movies are a modern day re-write of the greatest literature ever, The Bible.

    In basic terms, ‘one’ man is born with the ability to perform miracles and ultimately be sacraficed for the future of man. This is no different than Jesus dying for the sin of all men, than Neo dying to rescue men from the machines, as it was humanity’s sin to create and enslave machines.

    There is of course the subliminal messages contained also such as the names of characters and little background information that further relates to thee bible, such as Trinity (The Holy Trinity) who keeps Neo alive, and of course as the Matix plot tells us that ‘The One’ will be ressurected (ala Jesus and the ressurection) and the prophecy will be complete, this of course makes Morpheus a diciple.

    The Matrix succeeds on it’s mission in so many ways, as a Sci-Fi epic, a Kung Fu masterpiece and even as a philosophical message for mankind. Everything begins with choice afterall.

    Although I can appreciate Walrus’ comparison to the Shadowrun novels and it’s vague similarities if the Matrix was to go by any other name would you still be making that comparison?

    Personally I feel that future generations may appreciate the Matrix more so than otherselves who are taking it at face value in the present. The Matrix trilogy is rich with content and talking points which make it such an excellent piece of work and one that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

  6. While I agree that there are a lot of positive things about the Matrix, the Wachowski’s still aren’t visionaries.

    The movies are done well, but biblical context and a bait-and-switch don’t qualify anything as genius work.

    And implying that we’re not real has been done. A lot.

  7. Cobra, any university level Philosophy class talks about the idea that we’re not real. It’s been around forever.

    And it was also a main point in the plot for Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening(it was one of the Game Boy ones).

    And I haven’t read Neuromancer yet, but I want to.

  8. Sorry, ya can’t change the venue once you set the stakes, Wally. ๐Ÿ™‚

    You said that the idea that we’re not real has been done, a lot, in a context of popular media. Once could then imply that you meant IN the popular media… MVD hit one right outta the park. Where’s yer example? ๐Ÿ™‚

    The thing that made the Matrix great was not the parts. It’s pretty much by the book comic book fantasy, origin 101 by Stan Lee as shot by Terry Gilliam. It’s the WAY the pieces are put together that makes it sing.

    In fact, MVD’s example is a hell of a lot closer to the Matrix’s underlying ideal than Shadowrun…

  9. Damn, Matt beat me to Gibson and the Bible. You can credit just about anything dealing with virtual reality or cyberspace with a “Neuromancer” influence.

    But the Matrix was already written and in visual storyboard stages before “Dark City” (which I like very much). Remember The W brothers pitched the Matrix even before they made “Bound”.

    As far as the Biblical aspect, The Matrix is a Christian allegory, but it screws with a couple of the roles and if you follow it, questions the very concept of God, something not commonly done (although it was recently in “A.I.”). My personal favorite parallel is Agent Smith as Lucifer. The former head Angel who infects and possesses mankind, plus they illustrate my favorite Bible quote; Jesus: “What is your name?” Possessed man: “Legion, for we are many”

    Coolness.

    Speaking of comic books, Grant Morrison wanted to sue because he thought the Matrix was a direct rip of “The Invisibles”. Found out he couldn’t because Warner Brothers owns both. I myself, having read the Invisibles, don’t think he had a case, but see the thematic similarities.

    Also… “Ghost in The Shell” was very influential on the boys, which they themselves have pointed out.

    Another important influence; “Simulacra and Simulation (The Body, In Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism)” by Jean 0 Baudrillard. This an extremely insightful book on postmodernist thought. There is a direct homage made in the first movie as Neo stashes his money and illegal disks inside a copy of this book(a symbolic act in itself).

    Another Homage; in Revolutions General named Mifune. Obvious Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Hidden Fortress,ect., reference.

    So, yeah, I’m something of a fanboy of the movies, but I don’t think they’re perfect. I thought the end of Reloaded felt condensed, and reminded me that the brothers were still inexperienced directors. I thought Revolutions felt anti-climatic, mainly because for me the final Neo/Smith clash didn’t live up to the standards set by the action sequences of Reloaded.

    Anyway, like it or don’t, I don’t think Shadowrun (which was a major disapointment as a video game by the way) is really much of a measuring stick either way.

  10. Ahhhh… Ghost In The Shell, now there is a movie! Good call Rex, i feel ashamed that I forgot to mention that, one of my all time fave Anime’s

  11. all im going to say here is that the wakhowski brothers are neither geniuses or visionaries in that the second and third movie were awful, now i know thats my opinion (i didnt even think that the first one was all that great either) Basically, from my take on things, nothing new was brought to the table in either the second or third film, u knew where they were headed, u knew how the films would work themselves out, u knew that it would come to a final battle between neo and smith, and if u had any intelligence u knew neo would sacrifice himself to save humanity. also, they didnt even come up with the idea, i cant find the link now but there is a woman (with a pretty good case) sueing them for alot of money because she pitched the idea, was turned down, and then the movies came out, and there were on set crew members who say the script was actually referenced numerous times… yea real visionaries… they recognized a good script and stole it. oh and genius in the fact that they gave us the now overdone bullet time action sequence… those are the only two things i will give them credit for. otherwise the movies weren’t anything special nor will they leave an impact on history

  12. Cobra, no matter what example I use, my point is the same: the Wachowski’s didn’t do anything visionary with the Matrix. Everything involved in the story was seen somewhere else before.

    I used Shadowrun in the piece because the matrix itself, a false world full of false people, is the most obvious rip-off in the film(in my opinion anyway, it wouldn’t be if somebody isn’t familiar with Shadowrun).

    If I made a movie which had a computer system called the matrix in it I’d be shit on as ripping off the Wachowski brothers. They deserve to be shit on for ripping off Shadowrun’s matrix, which is essentially the same thing.

  13. Actually I believe the concept the Matrix explores existed long long long before Shadowrun or even video games existed, as Cobra suggested. It generates to the writings of philosopher Emmanuel Descartes, who deduced the famous phrase “I think, therefore I am.” It was in his musings that he offered the suggestion of an invisible “demon” entity that would go around deceiving people that the reality they perceive is the real one, when the truth is it is all an illusion created by the demon, who is hiding them from the truth. So really the concept of the entire trilogy has been around for a very very long time, the Wachowskis simply implemented into their universe and added a science fiction element to it. I think the Matrix is seen not so much as innovative for its creative endeavors or even quality filmmaking, but more for its impact on the culture and on movie special effects in general. How many spoofs/copy cats of it have you seen in mainstream entertainment since it came out? A whole lot i’ll bet. I believe that’s where the general misconception comes from. The Matrix isn’t necessarily original, but you have to admit it has been impactful on American entertainment.

  14. See, the problem is your use of the term “rip-off”. I’ve played a LOT of Shadowrun, Wally, and I don’t see anything more than a tonal resemblance. I think what we’re seeing here, (and I don’t deny many of your points) is people inspired by similar antecedents…

    I stand by my point.

    The Matrix is visionary simply because it took a viewpoint that, while similar to what was done with Shadowrun, et al., WAS A DIFFERENT VIEWPOINT, and quite frankly, a hell of a lot more mainstream compatible that many of the things we’ve mentioned, MVD’s King James notwithstanding.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Chaos, who seems to agree with both of us.

    And, Revelations was crap. ๐Ÿ™‚

    The end.

  15. I was browsing around some of the old E-federation sites I havent seen in a few years (wow it really has been a while, and I assume the now almost desolate e-federation world has forgotton about NAW’s “The Golden God”)… and I stumble upon a little thread that catches my interest, because it talks about my favorite science-fiction story ever… The Matrix. Which in my opinion is the best science-fiction story ever, suprasing even Star Wars (And you cant count Lord of the Rings, since its more “fantasy” then sci-fi) and c’mon… have you actually payed attention to the dialogue in the Star Wars movies?!!?

    One thing I thought was completely stupid as I read through this thread was someone saying “The Wachowski brothers wrote and directed the Matrix, but they arent visionaries.” (pardon me if its not the direct quote) Do you understand how stupid that was? Thats like saying Bill Gates built and designed Microsoft but he doesnt know anything about computers… C’mon people, think before you speak please.

    Next… the commercials for the Matrix DVD Set doesnt refur to just The Wachowski’s as visionary, it also refurs to all of the other factors that made The Matrix Trilogy such a great thing, like its special effects.

    And sure everybody can point to other things and say “They got their ideas from this or that”… but you can do the same about any other story in any movie, book, or video game. So trying to say The Matrix “stole” parts from other things is completely pointless. The Wachowski Brothers basically took philosophy, religion, and threw in the enslavement of the human race and out popped The Matrix. And its storyline, despite its similarities it may have to past concepts, was still very original and good.

    Next, since I’m on a Matrix rant… I hate people ripping on Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions calling them plotless pieces of crap. The common mistake so many people make about the sequels, is that they view Reloaded and Revolutions as two separate entities… two movies. Reloaded and Revolutions need to be viewed as one movie, because that’s how they were written! They were originally written as one movie, they just had to be split in two otherwise they’d be making one 4+ hour long movie.

    But I will say the last 10 minutes of Matrix Revolutions were completely vomit-enducing, and with that I refur to the scene with the Oracle and Architect in the park during sunrise… The movie should have ended with Morpheus looking upwards with his teary eyed face.

    *Takes a deep breath*

    There I have concluded my rant… for now.

  16. Which came first, doesn’t really matter. Pretty much every idea has been done before, something you think is new and original, more than likely has been played out before. The fact of the matter here is, the Wachowski’s are “visionaries” for the simple fact that they took a concept, regardless of whether or not it had been done before, and they launched it to the mainstream. I guarantee over 80% of the world has never heard of Shadowrun, or The Invisibles, or any other thing mentioned (with the obvious exception of the Bible), but over 80% of the world HAS heard of The Matrix, and it’s trilogy. They took a concept they found intriguing, built upon it, brought it to the forefront and made a load of money off of it, that’s why they are “visionaires”. With that being said, the trilogy got worse at it progressed.

  17. Making something mainstream doesn’t make it visionary. It just means that they pandered to the lowest common denominator enough to make money off of it.

    And I’m aware that there are few ideas that haven’t been done before. Using an old idea and making it your own is one thing, stealing from a bunch of other stuff is not.

  18. Crap, I hit post accidentally before I noticed that the last bit doesn’t make sense. It’s supposed to say:

    Using an old idea and making it your own is one thing, stealing from a bunch of other stuff is another.

  19. All i’m saying, is you have to respect the way they marketed their product and made money off of it. They had a vision, they went out, and they pulled it off. In the grand scheme of things, years down the road, people are more likely to remember The Matrix, it’s trilogy, and the Wachowski brothers than Shadowrun or any of it’s counterparts. Also, I do realize my “80%” comment early was probably a tad exaggerated.

  20. “Using an old idea and making it your own is one thing, stealing from a bunch of other stuff is another.”

    You have no proof that the Wachowski brothers stole anything. I never have even heard of Shadowrun before wandering into this post.

    Essentially, in entertainment or any other medium, everything has been done before… so nothing is original. Spinning stuff into its “lowest common demoninator” traditionally brings us crappy movies… like Sky Captain and the World Of Tomarrow or the last 2 Batman movies.

    Walrus think about what your saying… two writers and directors were sitting around one day and they say “Hey! Lets make a movie based off of part of an old 80’s video game nobody has heard of!” … Get a clue Walrus… common sense prevails here. The Wachowski’s unified concepts from religion, science fiction, philosophy, anime, and their own creativity and turned it into one of the greatest and most recognized trilogies of all time and blended it with state of the art special effects. How can you not call that visionary? And what other movies in the industry honestly have anything close to what the Matrix has? The only thing close that I can find is Tron… and thats a slight long shot.

    (And no the Trilogy was going great until the last 10 minutes of Revolutions.)

    Since Walrus is going to debate the Matrix issue, how about I use this as a counterpoint… Peter Jackson is less visionary than the Wachowski Brothers. First off, Jackson had a storyline he didnt even write to go off of that the public has had access to for a long time, unlike the Wachowski brothers. Secondly, all it truly had special effects wise was tons of CG animation and given today’s technology if LOTR didnt do it, someone else obviously would have. And Jackson had very little to do with that department outside of say “that looks good”. Third, all Jackson had to do was direct and edit the movie into something that wasnt a 4+ hour long movie.

    So right there The Matrix Trilogy on a ‘visionary’ level already top the other biggest trilogy of this decade in Lord of the Rings.

  21. Thing is, I’ve never said that Peter Jackson is a visionary. He isn’t. He’s a good director, as are the Wachowski’s, but he’s not a visionary, and neither are they. Combining religion, philosophy, and science fiction isn’t anything visionary. Go read “Frankenstein”. Mary Shelley did that in 1818.

  22. *Shrugs*

    You just dont get it do you…

    The Matrix movies are what’s credited with being visionary, not the directors themselves. Dont argue with me on that either, because I make The Matrix movies as much of a religion as Trekkies and Star Trek.

    My comparison with Lord of the Rings was because of this. Everybody fricken jizzes themselves over Lord of the Ring, when there’s truly nothing stand-out original and amazing about besides its ungodly long ending. And its credited as probably the greatest trilogy ever… I intended to show that The Matrix Trilogy deserves to stand out more then its competition, and it pisses me off that everybody jumps at the chance to rip on The Matrix movies.

    Trying to bridge The Matrix Trilogy with Frankenstein was weak, and pathetic. Frankenstein deals with trying to play God while in The Matrix Trilogy the machines are literally God. The Wachowski’s took the “Frankenstein concept” to the next level, when our creations take over.

    Walrus (this is NOT intended as “flaming” im just stating what I see) judging by your arguements and weak supporting information, you just look like another one of the many Star Wars geeks I’ve encountered that hate The Matrix movies because they’re good and have an all-around storyline that frankly is better than Star Wars. And honestly believe me when I say that I’ve seriously met people like that, I understand being dedicated to what you like but thats just taking it too far. And Walrus I’m not saying you ARE one of them, its just how it seems.

    The ways you’ve intended you degrade the Wachowski Brother’s credibility, you’re basically saying that you or any other Tom, Dick, or Harry could have written The Matrix movies… Once again referencing towards your weak supporting arguements, I find it hard to believe.

    Walrus, I respect your opinion about all this I honestly do. I respect those who arent afraid of their own opinions.

    But just give the Wachowski’s the credit they deserve, they created something unique, intriguing, and borderline breakthrough in the sci-fi movie industry.

  23. You call my arguments weak but provide no substantial evidence as to why I’m wrong, aside from ripping on the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars movies, then proceed to continually question my understanding of the situation.

    I liked the Matrix movies. They were entertaining. They were not visionary. They provided no significant innovation that would classify them as such. Woo, special effects, way to go. Bullet time appeared in Blade and Futurama before it did in the Matrix, and the dialogue is wooden and sounds like it came from a philosophy professor.

    The Matrix has done nothing to deserve being called visionary, and you will not convince me otherwise.

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