Updated: Sep 10, 2021
Things from 10 years ago feel lame. But things from 20 years ago feel cool. Circa 1989, Star Wars was passé. (It was actually kind of dead.) By the late 1990s, it had peaked.
Now, for some reason, people feel warm and fuzzy about the Star Wars prequels—which we ridiculed—and the sequels have become the embarrassing stepchild. (Also, Game of Thrones is so over right now. For years, it was the coolest thing ever. The wonky ending didn’t help.)
The Matrix 4 trailer looks super cool—I had almost forgotten this was being made—and brings up my mixed feelings about the franchise and the Wachowskis.
The first Matrix is one of my favorite films. It’s almost perfect. At the time (spring 1999) I was hanging out a lot at screenwriter Shane Black’s house (a long story for another time). Shane was invited to the premiere, and he came back to his house and we asked, “How was it?” Shane was almost at a loss for words (a rare occasion—Shane is soft-spoken, but hyper articulate). He said, “I just saw things I never thought I’d see in a movie.” We were understandably curious what he meant. He tried to describe a woman running up the side of a wall, freezing in mid-air, and he used a lot of gestures to explain the camera movement. Shane is, by the way, hardly a slouch when it comes to inventive action-scene writing. When I saw the movie myself—in Philadelphia while visiting grandparents, if memory serves—I loved it. (And it had the Phantom Menace trailer running before it.)
Then...the sequels. WTF.
The great thing about the first movie was that, wow, these guys aren’t just nerds—they’re storytellers! Then, the sequels—uh-oh...they’re just nerds.
Not to pile on, but they forgot their own story! What made Matrix no. 1 resonate on a subterranean, emotional level was the fact that you could be in the Matrix, and know it was fake, but still choose it anyway (as Cypher did). The sequels should have had a revolution within the Matrix world, as well as in the boring caves with the ravers and the terrible Star Trek dialogue. It needed ordinary people “waking up” in the Matrix, with real stakes of their families and loved ones who could never be told of the truth of the Matrix because they wouldn’t accept it. But it became just an empty videogame with the bloated mythology and the keymaster needs the thing from the guy to go the hallway to look for the architect—oy! So frustrating.
By the time of movie no. 3...my brother Tyler and I saw it in Boca while visiting our ill grandma, and attending our cousin’s bar mitzvah (a very Boca trip). We went to a mall and saw it, and halfway through, Ty turns to me: “This is terrible.”
Maybe no. 4 will be the no. 2 that they should have done in the first place. It looks like the first half, at least, is more or less a remake of film no. 1. Other than that, it’s amazing how VFX have progressed—I thought the first was cutting-edge, but this makes it look like an old screen saver. Great casting with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as young Morpheus. I love the sweetened version of “White Rabbit” in the trailer. Great to see Neo and Trinity again, and the actors look great...but it seldom works as well as you hope revisiting famous characters decades later. It’s the curse of the sequel: do the same thing, and it’s boring. Do something different, and it’s disappointing.
Also, all these sequels are deflating in that the originals had resolved (if not happy) endings, and then, we learn it all went to hell and the bad guys just conquered everything again. It’s like, why did we watch the last three movies? It may be truthful to reality—nothing ever really gets better, does it?—but it’s a bummer.
I have made a decision writing this blog to imagine that everything will be seen by the person I’m writing about. So I am trying not to be unduly negative, and certainly not to be unkind. The Wachowskis are so incredibly talented...and I just don’t understand what they were going for in projects like Jupiter Ascending. (I know that Matrix no. 4 is solely Lana.) They have such incredible ability, not only visually and narratively, but as field generals to run these major, nine-figure-budget movie productions—you and I can’t imagine the pressure those things must bring.
About the music—I was not surprised that Don Davis is not returning. It’s a shame, because Don’s Matrix scores really are brilliant, and so well informed by classical literature (and literature literature). I hope his thematic material is properly referenced in the new film, by people who actually understand its inner workings. Maybe they can buy a copy of THIS.
I knew Don a bit in the 1990s, haven’t seen him in years. It was apparent from the Wachowskis’ subsequent productions that they and Don had gone in other directions. It takes a certain personality to stay atop the studio composing field—you really have to love movies, love filmmakers, and love the hustle. Don is a really smart guy, who did very well for himself...and my impression is that he does not love the hustle. Don took time off following the Matrix sequels to pursue his opera, Rio de Sangre, as I would assume that is where his true passion lies. Alas, you can’t leave “the life” of those highly competitive, big studio scoring gigs and then jump back into it without elite credits and longstanding relationships...if at all.
Anyway, looking forward to Matrix 4!
UPDATE: Here’s the trailer remix of “White Rabbit.”