When cinema took the red pill: How The Matrix’s ‘bullet-time’ special effects, martial arts and heavy dose of philosophy changed film and culture forever – as trailer for FOURTH movie is released today
- The film made stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving hot property
- It is set in a nightmare future around the year 2199, where super-intelligent machines rule over humans
- Men and women are kept in a comatose state and fed a simulation – The Matrix – which they believe to be real
- The ‘wire-fu’ fight scenes and ‘bullet-time’ special effects heavily influenced future blockbusters
- Woven into the script were references to Alice in Wonderland, The Bible, Greek mythology and Buddhism
With its revolutionary action sequences and philosophy-laden plot about a dystopian world where machines are in charge, the cinematic and cultural impact of The Matrix still endures to this day.
Released to critical and popular acclaim in 1999, the film made stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving hot property in Hollywood.
It is set in a nightmare future around the year 2199, where super-intelligent machines keep humans in a comatose state in womb-like pods. They are fed a simulation – The Matrix – which they believe to be real.
A group led by Fishburne’s character Morpheus and Moss’s Trinity work to turn computer programmer Thomas Anderson into Neo – who they believe to be ‘The One’ – by offering him a choice: take the ‘red pill’ and join the resistance or opt for the ‘blue pill’ and remain in The Matrix.
Their enemies – the AI gatekeepers of The Matrix – are led by Hugo Weaving’s disturbing Agent Smith.
The film, created and directed by the Wachowski twins – won four Oscars, thanks in part to the incredible ‘wire-fu’ fight scenes and ‘bullet-time’ special effects which heavily influenced future blockbusters including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the first X-Men.
And woven into the script and scenes were influences from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, The Bible, Greek mythology, and eastern religions, whilst Reeves was ordered to read weighty philosophical textbooks before filming began.
Whilst two follow-up films were made – The Matrix Revolutions and Reloaded – it was the original which has endured in the popular memory.
Now, after a lengthy wait of nearly 20 years, a fourth film – The Matrix Resurrections – has been made, with Reeves and Moss reprising their roles.
In a nostalgia-inducing trailer that was released at 2pm this afternoon, both Neo and Trinity are seen back in The Matrix, apparently unaware of their pasts.
It opens with Neo telling a man who appears to be a therapist, ‘I’ve had dreams that weren’t just dreams’, before a series of scenes from the original series flash across the screen.
With its revolutionary action sequences and philosophy-laden plot about a dystopian world where machines are in charge, the cinematic and cultural impact of The Matrix still endures to this day. Released to critical and popular acclaim in 1999, the film made stars Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving hot property in Hollywood
Whilst Reeves, Fishburne and Weaving were already established actors before The Matrix was released, Moss said that she had ‘no career’ beforehand.
Speaking to the New York Daily News, she said: ‘The Matrix gave me so many opportunities. Everything I’ve done since then has been because of that experience. It gave me so much.’
Fishburne, who is not in the upcoming fourth film, said in a previous interview that the original was the first to ‘deliver on what comic books always promised.’
‘They took the best elements of all the things they liked and used them in such a way that it’s not disrespectful. They’re taking all of the old stuff and trying to present it in a modern context,’ he added.
However, The Matrix could have been very different if production company Warner Brothers’ original approaches to other actors had succeeded.
Hollywood superstar Will Smith turned down the role of Neo in favour of making the Western comedy Wild Wild West, which was hated by critics.
A group led by Fishburne’s character Morpheus and Moss’s Trinity (right) work to turn computer programmer Thomas Anderson into Neo – who they believe to be ‘The One’ – by offering him a choice: take the ‘red pill’ and join the resistance or opt for the ‘blue pill’ and remain in The Matrix
The film, created and directed by the Wachowski twins won four Oscars, thanks in part to the incredible ‘wire-fu’ fight scenes and ‘bullet-time’ special effects which heavily influenced future blockbusters including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the first X-Men. Above: The famous scene where Neo dodges bullets fired by an agent
The famous pill scene (above) has been subsumed into popular culture and was recently referred to by billionaire Elon Musk
The film is set in a nightmare future around the year 2199, where super-intelligent machines keep humans in a comatose state in womb-like pods (above). They are fed a simulation – The Matrix – which they believe to be real
Their enemies – the AI gatekeepers of The Matrix – are led by Hugo Weaving’s disturbing Agent Smith (above)
To create the equally legendary fight scenes, the Wachowskis enlisted the help of respected martial arts choreographer and director Yuen Woo-ping. Above: Trinity attacking a policeman in an early scene from the film
The ‘Wire Fu’ nickname – a play on Kung Fu – stemmed from the fact that the real actors – rather than stunt doubles – were often suspended from wires in fight scenes. Above: The famous combat scene between Neo and Agent Smith, where they both fired guns at each others heads whilst dodging bullets in the process
In one of the most famous scenes in The Matrix, Neo – whose ‘powers’ are steadily growing – is seen in slow-motion flinging himself backwards and downwards to avoid bullets fired from the gun of an agent. The sequence was filmed using hundreds of cameras to create a stunning slow-motion three-dimensional effect
Woo-ping went on to work on films including Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (pictured), which again made us of his expert martial arts choreography
Nicolas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio were also approached to play the central role, whilst Val Kilmer was considered both for the Neo and Morpheus parts.
Remarkably, Janet Jackson only rejected the role of Trinity because of scheduling conflicts prevented her from taking it on.
A major part of The Matrix’s appeal was due to the fact that its makers were able to take advantage of huge advances in computer technology to create stunning visual effects.
How The Matrix’s ‘bullet-time’ special effects were done
In one of the most famous scenes in The Matrix, Neo – whose ‘powers’ are steadily growing – is seen in slow-motion flinging himself backwards and downwards to avoid bullets fired from the gun of an agent.
The sequence was filmed using hundreds of cameras to create a stunning slow-motion three-dimensional effect.
Taking advantage of the advance in computer technology, the Wachowskis first mapped out the shots with digital models.
Each camera was mounted on a specialised rig and was set up using a motion-controlled laser-pointing system to find the best shooting angle.
Each frame from the different cameras then had to be merged with the next through a technique called ‘interpolation’. This allowed for the motion and different elements in the scene – such as Trinity’s legs – to move smoothly.
The cameras were also placed at varying distances between each other, allowing for the final image to appear to accelerate and decelerate at certain points.
As for the background, the scene had to be shot using a green screen to avoid the individual cameras being visible to the rest.
Reeves was also held in place by wires, allowing him to move so acrobatically. The bullets, which were of course computer-generated, had to also be made to look convincing.
Now, technology has advanced to the point where similar scenes in Hollywood blockbusters can be made to look even more realistic whilst using fewer cameras.
In one of the most famous scenes, Neo – whose ‘powers’ are steadily growing – is seen in slow-motion flinging himself backwards and downwards to avoid bullets fired from the gun of an agent.
The ‘bullet time’ sequence – which required the use of hundreds of cameras to create the stunning three-dimensional effect that the viewer is treated to – went on to become an over-used cliché when similar versions appeared in films ranging from Superman to Kung Fu Panda.
To create the equally legendary fight scenes, including where Neo first shocks Morpheus with his ability when the pair square up in a dojo, the Wachowskis enlisted the help of respected martial arts choreographer and director Yuen Woo-ping.
Reeves worked with him for months, enabling him to feature in the intricate physical duels rather than rely on stunt doubles.
Similar scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, which was released in 2003, where choreographed by Woo-Ping.
And the film’s distinctive black leather and PVC costumes, as well as the characters’ dark sunglasses, went on to be copied in the likes of X-Men and fantasy horror Underworld.
Producer Joel Silver, whose previous work includes action classics Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, said that while he had been involved in several films which had ‘helped redefine the genre’, they all ‘pale compared to The Matrix. The Matrix changed the way we see things.’
As for its philosophical and literary influences, there are repeated references to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, including in one of the film’s earliest scenes, where Neo is told by Trinity to ‘follow the white rabbit’ before his first meeting with Morpheus.
Philosophical work Simulacra and Simulation, by Jean Baudrillard, is one of the books which Reeves was told to read and absorb before he had even looked at the script.
The book also features at the beginning of the film, where Neo uses it in hollowed-out form to hide cash and computer discs.
Later on, Morpheus refers to the real world outside The Matrix as the ‘desert of the real’ – another reference to Baudrillard’s work.
When Neo is on his path to becoming The One, Neo meets a boy who closely resembles a Buddhist monk.
Holding a spoon which he bends using only his mind, he then tells a confused Neo: ‘Do not try and bend the spoon, that’s impossible. Instead, only try to realize the truth… there is no spoon.
Another famous scene (above) in the film saw Neo and Trinity engage in a huge gun fight with scores of police, leaving the all of the officers floored
The bullet-time scene was filmed using hundreds of cameras to create a stunning slow-motion three-dimensional effect
After the release of The Matrix, Andy and Larry Wachowski came out as transgender women and changed their names to Lana and Lilly (right)
The pair, pictured during filming, filled The Matrix’s script and scenes with philosophical and literary references
The Matrix also modernised the film franchise by going cross-platform too. In addition to existing on-screen, there were book, graphic novels, games (above) and animated features
Action figures were also produced, showing The Matrix’s main characters in a variety of costumes and poses. Above: Neo
This Morpheus action figure showed the character in a costume from the original film. Other versions showed him in The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions
Along with the two sequels – The Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions – which were released back-to-back in 2003, spin-off video games including Enter The Matrix and the Path of Neo ensured that the film’s cult following remained alive
‘Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.’ Neo is then able to very briefly carry out the same trick.
The film’s green graphic compositions of unintelligible code have also been subsumed into popular culture, as have numerous pithy sentences uttered by Morpheus.
What fans said about The Matrix the first time they saw it
Writing on Q&A website Quora, fans of The Matrix told how it ‘floored’ them when they first saw it.
‘It was a game changer’
One said: ‘When I saw the Matrix for the first time. I was floored – the story, the martial arts, the super cool special effects with the new ‘Bullet Speed’ 360 degree 3D virtual camera technology was a game changer for action Sci-Fi movie making. I swear I must have watched this movie over 50 times. I now incorporate the phrase ‘i am having a Matrix moment’ when I speak about stuff I think is really cool.’
‘It took my breath away’
Another wrote: ‘The opening scene with Trinity just takes our breath away. Good build and good tension, but then all of a sudden she explodes with non-human agility and the entire audience just starts screaming. I watch the scene now and I can’t really recapture the feeling. It was just so unexpected.’
‘It opened my mind to other schools of thought’
A third said: When Morpheus was asking Neo ‘what is real? How do you define real?’ It opened my mind more to other schools of thought. After an almost 15 year exploration of other religious world views and increase of scientific knowledge I finally shed all my religious thinking and became an atheist. The first time I saw the film it challenged me intellectually while keeping my interest with the action sequences that started me on my own path.’
In one early scene, he tells Neo, ‘I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it,’ while in another he says prophetically: ‘There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.’
Thanks in part to this philosophical depth and its bonanza of game-changing action sequences, The Matrix – which was released a month and a half before Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, went on to gross $465million at the box office.
It also won Oscars in the editing, sound and visual effects categories.
Along with the two sequels which were released back-to-back in 2003, spin-off video games including Enter The Matrix and the Path of Neo ensured that the film’s cult following remained alive.
Whilst the Wachowskis had had no plans to continue the franchise beyond the initial three films, rumours about a fourth film began to circulate nearly a decade ago.
In today’s trailer, Neo is seen shaking Trinity’s hand as he says hello to her and she asks: ‘Have we met?’, before a subsequent scene shows Neo taking blue pills and then throwing dozens of them into a sink.
Then, in further nods to the original film, the cover of Alice in Wonderland appears on screen, as does a woman with a tattoo of the ‘White Rabbit’ on her arm.
A similar scene featured near the beginning of the 1999 film.
A man dressed in a long coat, shirt and pince-nez glasses is an apparent nod to Fishburne’s Morpheus.
He gives Neo a red pill before the star appears to regain his memory and abilities.
Neo is also seen walking through a mirror. A famous scene from the first film shows him touching a mirror before its silver surface becomes liquid and travels up his arm and into his mouth.
And, in case fans were worried that the new film will be light on fight scenes, they don’t need to worry.
Neo is seen telling a combat opponent in a dojo that ‘you don’t know me’ before he thrusts at his chest, sending a shockwave which flattens the building.
The evil Agents also make a return, as do the womb-like pods in which most humans lie comatose.
Then, giving a further hint that Neo’s god-like powers still remain despite his earlier memory lapse, he is seen stopping bullets and even diverting a missile into a helicopter before the trailer closes out with a man telling Neo: ‘After all these years, to be going back to where it all started. Back to the Matrix.’
The full trailer comes after a teaser released on Tuesday for the new film – which is written and directed by Lana – invited fans to go to WhatIsTheMatrix.com, where they could choose to ‘take’ the red or blue pill.
He’s back! The Matrix Resurrections released its much-anticipated first trailer on Thursday, offering fans a tantalising glimpse at the sci-fi sequel after years of being shrouded in secrecy
Reunited! The preview showed Keanu Reeves’ long-awaited return to the alternate reality of years of dire existence after crossing paths with his old flame Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss) in the real world
What’s going on? The preview begins with a down beaten Thomas Anderson, Neo’s real name before he entered The Matrix, in the midst of a therapy session, with his psychologist (Neil Patrick Harris) questioning some of the hacker’s unusual dreams
Barren: While Thomas is reassured that he’s not ‘crazy,’ it’s clear his mind has struggled to escape the Matrix, as he’s seen taking a myriad of blue pills, which keep him in a state of contented ignorance
At odds: Neo is seen telling a combat opponent (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) in a dojo that ‘you don’t know me’ before he thrusts at his chest and sends a shockwave which flattens the building
Those who opted for red were taken down a rabbit hole and told: ‘This is the moment for you to show us what’s real’.
Scenes from the new film then flashed across the screen before the narrator said: ‘This could be the first day of the rest of your life, but if you want it, you gotta fight for it.’
Those who picked the blue pill were told: ‘Do you remember how you got here?’
‘You’ve lost your capacity to discern reality from fiction,’ the narrator says before several surreal scenes flash by.
‘What’s real is here and now… Anything else is just your mind playing tricks on you.’ ‘It becomes a problem when fantasies endanger us,’ they warn as someone is seen pouring out a bottle of blue pills.
Then, ending on a sinister note, it showed someone touching the familiar metal port at the back of their head before the narrator asked: ‘We don’t want anyone to get hurt, do we?’
The film is expected to be released on December 22.
The teaser released on Tuesday for the new film – which is written and directed by Lana – shows Reeves in his return as Neo
The teaser invites fans to go to WhatIsTheMatrix.com, where they can choose to ‘take’ the red or blue pill
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