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Entries in Film (9)

Monday
Dec152003

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Week!

Hey, this is a great week if you're a Lord of the Rings fan -- the final installment in the Lord of the Rings stories/movie trilogy, Return of the King (ROTK), will be released on Wednesday! I'm looking forward to this third film in the series and unlike the Matrix final episode, I'm very certain I won't be disappointed. Here's the trailer.

In case you wonder what the deal is about The Lord of the Rings, here's a brief overview:

Lord of the Rings is a story by J.R.R. Tolkein that takes place in the world he created, called Middle Earth, which existed before our time. The "Lord of the Rings" is actually Sauron, who created an evil ring which he forged and then lost during a battle thousands of years before the story takes place. The ring is wholly evil and though some think it can be used to destroy Sauron, in reality it would only setup a new evil master. Sauron is now rising again and seeks his ring of power in order to take control of Middle-Earth.

So, the ring must be destroyed rather than used before it corrupts someone powerful or falls into the hands of Sauron himself. For several reasons, Frodo, a Hobbit (a race of small people from a quiet backwater in Middle-Earth) has been charged with carrying the ring to Sauron's kingdom to toss the ring into the fires of Mount Doom, where it was originally forged.

It's an amazing book to read, with quite a bit of interesting character development. Its one of those books which suck you in and make you feel as if you were along for the journey (my favorite aspect of good writing). Peter Jackson's movie renditions do the story justice, though as a longtime LOTR fan with multiple reads under my belt, a few of Peter Jackson's film modifications to the story were a little disappointing, but they were fortunately mostly minor. I am by no means an LOTR purist, so overall I feel that the films have done a great job of capturing the story and presenting them in 3-3.5 hour sections.

As I've said to friends -- a film cannot completely capture a book because the detail just isn't there (unless you want a 30 hour movie). That's why there's a book! :-)

I am excited, but I may wait until the weekend to see this last film in the series. I'm doing this because our youth group going to be doing something special on Friday evening and Saturday. As a group we'll be watching the extended DVD versions of Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers via projector in our Church's office garage on Friday. On Saturday we'll all have brunch, then head to the local theatre to see Return of the King. Should be a great way to see the entire story connect together.

Now I just have to finish reading ROTK... I'm nearly there now, but I must complete the story before this weekend. If you've not yet read Lord of the Rings, I highly recommend it. The book is available all over and is of course free to check out of the library.

Monday
Nov102003

What Is The Matrix?

NeoWell, I've finally gone to see the Matrix Revolutions on Sunday afternoon and I thought it only fair after posting about the second film Matrix Reloaded, that I share my thoughts on the third film in the trilogy.

I loved the original film, and have always said that it for me was enough. I didn't need any follow-ups, because I thought that The Matrix was done pretty well.

I was a bit worried after seeing Reloaded for many reasons, mentioned in my review of that film. I had concerns with the direction it took in a few areas (all mentioned in that review) and while I felt it was a decent sequel, it wasn't something that could easily stand alone.

Still, I decided to give the Wachowski brothers the benefit of the doubt and see the final installment before coming to judgment on the entire trilogy. In this post I'll tell you my impressions of the last film and the trilogy as a whole.

Spoiler Warning: Since I imagine there are those of you who have not yet seen the film, I will invoke Moveable Type's extended entry option. Enter into further comments at your own peril. :-)
Matrix revolutions, ah well, sorry, as much as I want to love it, didn't cut it for me. I think while much better than Reloaded, it still felt empty, like everyone was just going through the motions, sticking to their scripts, acting in character to the last dotted i. Revolutions didn't feel as if it were 'alive' the way the first Matrix film was. Maybe that's because the Matrix was such a departure that it shocked me, while the sequels were always fighting against familiarity, trying to live up to the first film.

The computer graphics were stunning to say the least. Technical limits were certainly pushed forward in this film. But effects do not a movie make. In fact, while the effects were stunning, I felt as if the directors were just throwing gratuitous effects at me, but the effects didn't particularly forward the story.

The end result was, I didn't feel as if I should really care what would happen to Neo, Trinity, Morpheous, Zion, the machines or anyone else... which is kind of the point of the film, right? I was surprised by my feelings after the credits rolled.

After further reflection, I think I now know what bothered me about Revolutions and Reloaded: In my opinion they were "overshare".

Let me try and describe what I mean:
As far as I'm concerned, Matrix was the best of the 3 films. I would have lived happily just having the good ol' Matrix and no other sequels, because the Matrix captured the story so well and ended with the idea that a fight was coming and Neo & Co. were on the attack.

But then the news of sequels surfaced. I was worried that success went to the heads of the Wachowski brothers and they were just cashing in on the success of the Matrix. Now that I've seen Reloaded and Revolutions, I'm pretty sure caching in was not the primary reason for doing films 2 and 3. But I do think that in their attempt to share their excitement and vision of the Matrix world, the Wachowski brothers have over-explained the story.

Best way I can describe it is in the form of an analogy. Let's say I have a friend who takes 30 minutes to tell me an incredible story. I hang on every word and turn of phrase. By the time the story is finished I'm very pleased because the story was compelling, exciting, thought-provoking and utterly catches me by surprise. Wow!

Now, a few days later I run into that same friend again, and they seem unsatisfied with the initial telling of their story, insisting that there is more to tell. I'm not convinced, but since this is a friend, I give them the benefit of the doubt. My friend then spends another hour describing the rest of the story in vivid, technical detail, including the ending. Except by then, my initial excitement and the story's soul and surprise have been diluted by over-explanation and too much detail.
For me, the Matrix was like the well-told and satisfying 30 minute story, while the two final installments of the Matrix are like the second, over-explanation of the story. The Matrix had everything necessary to setup and tell the story, so why go into minute technical detail in two following films? I dunno.

All I can say is this: Matrix Reloaded and Revolutions didn't add anything significant to the first classic Matrix for me. Yeah, there were lots of really cool scenes, wild CGI animation and visually interesting shots. Technically those two movies have quite alot going for them. But as expansion of the core story, they fail to do it for me. In my view, these sequels are merely over-explanation of a well told story.

I could go on and pick apart scenes, but there seems to be no point in that. There were certainly some minor surprises here and there, and some very pat plot devices being used as well (Neo's follower-dood saving the day for instance). But in the end, Revolutions is a decent action flick with lots of cool effects and some love scenes that try to wrap up what Reloaded began... but for me it just wasn't compelling. I just kept thinking "So, exactly what did this do to add to the first film?"

Sorry Matrix trilogy fans. Maybe you disagree with me, and that's fine. Me, I'm happy with my copy of the classic Matrix and am not going to buy copies of the others. Maybe at some future point I'll order them from the library and watch again.

Oh well, at least I do know that the Lord of the Rings, Return of the King won't disappoint... :-)

Saturday
May172003

Matrix Reloaded: Review

NeoI saw Matrix Reloaded on Thursday and have some definite thoughts about it, along with some still-to-be-determined thoughts. Overall, I thought Matrix Reloaded was a very good sequel film. For me, the strong need to see the film yet again, to figure out a few bits and pieces is a very good sign.

If you are going to see Matrix Reloaded, make sure you sit through the credits (about 5 minutes) as there's a little surprise at the end of the film. Trust me. :-)

Spoiler Warning! I realize that my non-US readers may have not yet seen the film, so I've activated the Moveable Type excerpt feature on this post to avoid spoiling the film for anyone who has not seen it. You're now forewarned that following the link below will share film details.
Ok, first off, I should say that I would have been perfectly happy with only the original Matrix movie. I felt it stood well on its own, sharing the story and leaving the viewer with a nice wrap-up at the end. It worked for me quite well as a single film and what a film it was!

However, I also liked the idea of a sequel, as long as any Matrix trilogy were designed originally as a three-film series. I didn't want to see the Wachowski brothers spin off two more films because the money was good, with no clear idea where they were going with Neo, Morpheus and Trinity. I was pleased to learn that the Wachowskis had always intended three films. This set my mind a little at ease, as I reasoned that a clear intention to tell a story with three parts (e.g. Lord of the Rings) had a greater chance of being good, than the "thanks for all the cash -- now lets make up two more films as we go" approach.

Still, even if the Matrix parts two and three were created with the best intentions in mind, I had a feeling that we Matrix fans had a pretty high standard set for these films, because The Matrix. was so well done. Even if the Wachowski brothers managed to create an excellent second movie, I was concerned that so much new ground was taken with Matrix that any movie to follow it might be somehow seen as less than the original. In fact, I was pretty certain of this.

I came to May 15th slightly mixed in my feelings: one the one hand I was excited about seeing Matrix Reloaded, finding out how the main characters deal with the machines and what new areas of the Matrix world I'd get to see. On the other hand I knew that this could very well not meet my own expectations compared to the feelings I have for the first Matrix film.

I felt the film was a success as a sequel. There many things I enjoyed about the film and a few details that I disliked. Let me start with what I enjoyed about Matrix Reloaded, as I felt that the majority of the film was perfectly suited to its task. I'll follow that with some of my criticisms of the film, things I'm unsure of (until I see it again) and my overall conclusions.

The Good Stuff
I'm very pleased with the visual appearance of the film overall. The greenish color shift of the Matrix seems very consistent with the original Matrix film. Cinematogprahy was excellent, with some very beautiful scenes to liteally drink in with your eyes and your mind. I was also pleased with the extreme comic-book-like camera angles, continued from The Matrix. I also appreciated the extension of the "classic" sense in the Matrix itself, with great classic and new cars, big, square trucks and the fashion blend of 1950s CIA agent clothing, shiny plastic coats and Morpheus' custom made, Italian shoes. Well done!

I love the way the film opens, with Trinity kicking things off -- from the outrageous motorcycle jump to the use of her helmet as a kung-fu weapon. Trinity opened The Matrix as well, so it should be interesting to see if she also opens Revolutions.

The big rebel pow-wow at the start of the film was quite interesting -- great background environments there! However, I wondered why about 10% of the Zion leaders didn't wear sunglasses -- maybe their residual self-image didn't include black shades?

I was a little surprised to find that Agent Smith had been freed -- I found it a funny little slieght of hand by the Wachowski brothers, who know you'll assume Smith is still an agent, when actually, he's become a rouge virus of sorts. Tricky. I actually have a gut feeling that Agent Smith may end up being a character much like Gollum was in Lord of the Rings -- mostly bad but there to serve some kind of purpose in the end. I could be collossaly wrong... but we'll see when Revolutions arrives.

Zion was well done, particularly the landing pad and views of the huge machinery that keeps Zion running. I loved the "lived in" feel that Zion had -- it was slightly industrial (like the dwellings with submarine doors) but very human and organic at the same time.

I also found it very interesting to learn about Morpheus being much more of a small faction leader, very much like a John the Baptist character in the Gospels. In Matrix you figure he's a big leader in Zion, but in Reloaded you find he's much more the exception than the rule.

Fight scenes were again very well done. I can't say that they were groundbreaking in comparison to the original Matrix, but this comes back to the idea that Matrix was so revolutionary, it would be hard to top. Some reviewers complained about the length of the staircase fight -- I didn't mind and found it an interesting take, with much more flying and floating -- it seemed almost like dance.

My favorite fight scene of the film was the Burly Brawl, where Neo and hundreds of cloned Agent Smiths battle to a draw in a playground. Just the idea of a single guy (Neo) taking on this many combatants was a sight to see. In one scene I laughed out lout when I saw one Agent Smith clone thrown against the wall of a building about 4 stories up and in another, where Neo was using one Smith for a bowling ball against twenty Smith clones, I had to smile. Even in the fight scenes the Wachowski brothers have a sense of humor. I found it particularly interesting that Neo comes to realize he cannot win the battle against all the the Smiths and flies away -- Neo is tempered a bit.

Of course, I love the freeway chase scene. For me, that was 18 minutes of pure fun. I switched between asking "how did they do that" to "WOW" several times. I loved that Niobe cruises up in a purple 1967 Pontiac Firebird. And the finale was pretty amazing too. All in all the freeway scene for me was alone worth admission.

I liked the albino twins: their phasing tricks and how they completed each others' sentances. Should be interesting to learn if Morpheus knocked them off, or if they will reappear in the next film.

I really enjoyed the Keymaster, though his name did bring back memories of Ghostbusters and Rick Moranis. Scary, eh? It was great to see this little guy and his necklaces full of keys, darting around. I especially liked the scene where the Keymaster pulls out a key to access a door and gets Trinity to remark "you do come in handy!".

The Not So Good Stuff
The Rave scene. If you've read any reviews or comments, you'll know this is one of the least favorite things mentioned. I'm squarely in the anti-rave camp. I thought it was too long for starters, which added to the dragginess of the first 45 minutes of the film. But the rave was also kinda cheesey -- while it dragged on I kept thinking of the Ewok dance in Star Wars Return of the Jedi. It was also cheesy in that these people are all dancing next to pools of molten lava -- come on now! Those dancers woulda had 3rd degree burns! So, I say trim this 8-10 minute sequence to 2 or 3 minutes tops, with much less emphasis on the rave.

Morpheus came off a bit too full of himself and over-serious. I suppose this is the idea, since he's a believer in Neo as The One while most everyone else thinks he's a nutter. Still, I wished Morpheus' lines were not always so serious and dire.

The Burly Brawl CGI. I thought this section was pretty good, but I suppose as a picky graphics guy I see all of the imperfections. While this was not enough to ruin the scene (which I really enjoyed) I was much more aware of the too-perfectness of Neo's coat as he fought and the too-smooth draping of his clothing. There were other little clues that made it feel like CGI, but as I mentioned in a previous post, I don't mind this "perfectness" too much because after all, the Matrix is supposed to be a stylized, computer generated environment.

Trinity's car getting shot on the freeway with no bullets entering the cabin. I was a bit surprised that Trinity didn't find 8 bullets lodged in her arm from all the shots in the Caddilac on the driver-side door. I mean, come on... is this thing armor plated? It didn't seem so in other scenes where bullets penetrate the car. I know... suspend belief. :-)

The John Woo-ization of Trinity jumping off the semi trailer on the Ducati. I about gagged when I saw this scene unfolding for what seemed like five minutes while the woo-ing choir swelled. Just jump the bike off the semi already! Maybe this was the Wachowski's tribute to John Woo (whos overdone style of cinematography I'm not terribly fond of).

What I'm Unsure About
I would really like to see Reloaded once again to clear up some details in my mind with the movie. This is a good thing for me -- I'm the type of person who really enjoys getting more detail from a second or third viewing. Sometimes (like with Lord of the Rings) I'll see the movie to hear the music and then go again later to look at background details. Through this process, I gain a fuller sense of the film.

A few things of note: I want to see exactly who the guy was intending to kill Neo before he gets on the elevator. I've read this is the physical representation of Agent Smith, but I could only remember the goatee.

I'd also like a chance to hear the discussion between Neo and the Architect again. Information was moving so quickly and so deeply at that point, I feel I've missed something. I'd love to process through that sequence once more.

I'd also like to see the portion with Merovingian and Persephone -- I was again pleased with the Wachowski's humor in Merovingian and would like to absorb the dialogue there once more to see how it fits in with the rest of the film.

Of course I want to see the freeway chase scene again and take its details in bit by bit. The action is so quick there, that I feel it deserves a second viewing to really get a feeling for what's going on on the freeway.

I'm not sure what happened to Neo that he was able to stop the sentinels at the end of the film with a telepathic thought. I'm not sure what this meant -- did Neo's powers extend to the physical world or is Zion also a Matrix? Hmmm.

I want to see Reloaded again for these reasons and more -- mostly that I enjoyed the film thoroughly and would love to see it again.

Final Impressions
My overall impression of Reloaded was that the Wachowskis are trying to throw viewers off balance. We're challenged by the conversion of Agent Smith to a virus, Morpheus' beliefs in Neo as the One are challenged and Neo's idea of free will and choice are being challenged. About halfway through the movie I had the distinct feeling that the Wachowski brothers were intentionally puling the rug out from under us... to prepare us all for their conclusion in Revolutions.

I think Reloaded is a great sequel movie but really couldn't stand on its own. But I believe that's exactly what was intended -- the Matrix is a story designed to be told in three parts, so the second film depends greatly on the first. And the third film will depend greatly on the first two. But in the end, we will have a whole film, much like Lord of the Rings will be whole this year. Because I believe this, I'm not bothered that The Marix or Reloaded have some imperfections, because the story is moved forward and will be unified in the third part -- Revolutions.

Finally, I'm pleased to see that the Wachowskis are having fun with a multi-faceted film. They're offering something for everyone and having a great time experimenting with all the ideas they've had bottled up in their brains for years and years. Philosphy, action, religious thought, software concepts, exploring choice vs. destiny and of course visual explorations. I think it's great to see these guys offered the chance to explore things nobody else has until now. Yes, maybe parts were explored but not all of these aspects in a single film. I applaud them for this daring approach.

I guess this review was more geared toward those who have already seen the film, because I'm curious to hear your impressions in the comments section.

I hope you enjoyed Reloaded as much as I have. Yes, it's not perfect, but overall a great bit of fun that I look forward to seeing again soon.

Thursday
May012003

Matrix Reloaded

NeoI'm a big fan of The Matrix, the 1999 sci-fi movie from the Wachowski brothers which depicts the life in a computer generated world called The Matrix. This movie showcased extreme comic-book like camera angles, strangely shifted color hues and groundbreaking special effects like Bullet Time which allowed the film makers to stop action at any point and rotate around an object, then resume full speed action. Now it seems every new sci-fi movie has copied this effect.

The latest issue of Wired magazine has an excellent 5 page article about John Gaeta, the special effects wiz behind other effects in the first Matrix film. It's very interesting because it chronicles Gaeta's path from apprentice effects man to his work as effects director for The Matrix. It also discusses the new techniques and approaches Gaeta is taking in Reloaded, like using bits of actors faces grafted onto computer generated, body-mapped digital actors to create physically impossible action scenes.

One of the problems a special effects innovators face, is the challenge of topping your last miracle. In the Matrix Reloaded, Gaeta has his hands full, since Matrix fans will expect the effects of the film to top those of the original Matrix. So the question is, can the effects of the original Matrix be topped?

I think it can and will be done, judging by Matrix Reloaded trailers, and scenes like the affectionately named "Burly Brawl" where hundreds of Agent Smith clones attack Neo (armed with only a playground sign post). When I looked critically at this scene on a 23" Apple HD Cinema Display on the weekend, there were only the smallest tidbits and artifacts that looked even slightly unreal or computer generated. Even this stylized computer-generated look works for me, since The Matrix is intended to be a computer generated environment.

So, we'll all have to wait until May 15th to see what the Wachowski brothers and John Gaeta have in store for us with Matrix Reloaded. I can't wait!

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