The Matrix: The Uneducation

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Matrix Reloaded Review

If asked would I recommend this film to someone to see, yes I would. Which surprises me, since it is no masterpiece of cinema.

I would primarily because it portrays a field of study I am concerned with and, to my knowledge, this is the first time Hollywood has really covered it. I'm talking about Artificial Intelligence or AI for short. There have been other films about AI. For instance, 2001 was ostensibly about it. However, I don't consider 2001 a real AI film. I don't because in 1968 the necessary technology wasn't in hand. A.C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Oydessey was creating amazing sci-fi on an age yet to come. In this respect he was visionary. He portrayed a made-man artificial being with near omnipotent control of an interplanetary vessel. The film sets up a future reality for late 60's moviegoers that was exciting and hypnotic, but then shows the spaceship's 'AI' going insane. And that was only a subplot. It lacked depth and knowledge to be truly classified as a film about AI. In fact, this film diverges into confusion. I still don't know what it was about. Every film since then has dealt with peripheral subjects: the processing power of an AI, the physical attributes of an AI, etc. Then there are outpourings of what an AI might create, or how an artificial being would be Godlike. This is what Hollywood has offered. For example, the 1970's film Colossus is an example of an AI which would take over the human race and subjugates us. The Matrix is probably closest to this cold-war period movie. As in Colossus, this film has an vile machine seeking to enslave us. Or, take Terminator II, would anybody seriously call that an AI film? It has the pretext of living beings made by an AI that do battle to save, of course the planet and human race. But I don't think it fits the AI genre either, if any such genre yet exists. No, film-goers, this one is really the first to take on the concept at length. So what is AI? Well it ain't what this film portrays, for starters.

Hollwood would explain AI like this: It's the idea that sentient beings can be made through computer technology. Beings that actually think and maybe eventually emote like us. Presumably they would do whatever we do with far superior capabilities. End conjecture here. This is a gross oversimplification of the idea, but this is the notion of AI this film utilizes. Unfortunately, what they do with it, to put it mildly, is disappointing. Nonetheless, AI is so misunderstood by most people in this country, not to mention non-scientific world, and actively popularized by so few, that if Hollywood can give it some currency with a blockbuster movie, I say: SEE IT!

Lets look at the pros and cons of this film.

Pros and Cons

It was produced by a group, calling themselves the Wachowski Brothers. Never heard of them, but whoever they are, their screenwriter seemed have had trouble making up his mind on what this film is really about.

The theme is based on the AI concept, yet the plot is peppered with various religious overtones. These fellows want to give us a lesson in every world religion, (with the exception of Islam) that has ever been believed. Even, the names are a hodgepodge of Biblical icons, Greek mythology, Buddhist aphorisms, and Jewish mysticism. The characters are trying to reach some place called Zion (Biblical reference, here). The fortune teller is called the Oracle. I guess styled on the Delphi Oracle of the play 'Oedipus the King', by Sophocles. An oracle which fortold a coming destruction of the reign of Oedipus. The sage guide is named Morpheus (Greek mythological God of dreams, I mean come on!). But that's not enough for them, the plot develops with a notion that 'The One' is coming. If that ain't the Jewish Messiah image, I don't know what is. This hasn't confused you enough? Get this, the first 20 minutes of the film has you wondering if this Neo character (Kneanu Reeves) is dreaming or awake. On the one hand, the film wants to philosophize about a variety of issues: Man vs Machine, Reality vs Fantasy and the human spirit's desire to overcome impossible odds, and on the other hand, it wants to just lay down a simple Evil against Good theme, then get on with all the nice special effects stuff to dazzle us. Still, out of all this, a theme and plot does finally emerge and its cliché. What really made me irked was the fact, that they introduced a concept that more people should know, then tells us that an AI would be an evil intelligence, bent on using, and exploiting flesh and blood. It's the same aliens are gonna kill people sci-fi theme in a new context. Now instead of appleheaded, bug-eyed aliens a la X files style, it's some machine doing the enslaving of humanity. Can't they ever get a new tale going? Why the hell does every form of life in this big ol' universe wanna enslave us? You'd think they would go enslave the appleheaded, bug-eyed inhabitants living on planets going around Alpha Centauri? Now, it's AI entities out to destroy humanity. What are we the ass-whips of the universe? Comets, volcanos, dinosaurs, you name it they're all gonna wipe us out. Everything and everybody but us, are gonna snuff us, according to Hollywood. (By Hollywood, I mean the producers that own the studios which turn out these very uncreative films). We all know that if anything is going to destroy humanity, it will be us. You think I'm being sarcastic? Well look at The Stars Wars saga,and The Terminators I & II not to mention almost all of those Star Trek movies and of course all of the Aliens films. These are just a few of the big budget ones from the last 30 years. In every one, total human annihilation was the principal theme. And now there comes the The Matrix . Anyway, here's the story in summation.

Neo, the protagonist is living in a virtual world created by a super-intelligence of machines, the other protagonists, rescue him from this virtual world, in which he is dreaming, and Lawrence Fishburne, Morpheus explains that he's actually in 2187 (or thereabouts). Fishburne is far and away the best actor in this shallow tale. He almost gives the piece a shred of scientific respectability, with his Jedi Knight-like training sequences with Kneanu Reeves. Sequences in which he instructs Reeves on the nature of his reality. A war of catastrophic proportions has occurred between Men and machines. Sometime, in the 21st century men created intelligent machines, but they eventually took over our physical world and captured men, replicated them thru some sophisticated techniques, and altered their physical beings to live in what seems like, like...well our 1999 world of cars, high-risers, and computers. This is the Matrix, the dream world in which humanity resides. What else would you expect it to be in a film made in 1999? But, the truth is the planet is in ruin. And people are being used to fuel the artificial life that controls them through the Matrix. A few during the war with the machines escaped the Matrix and have been able to rescue others. They have a starship and a ragtag band of conspirators that are fighting an army of machine agents (the antagonists) that maintain the virtual dream world. They also hunt down and kill the rebels. Does this all kind of sound like previous pictures?

You bet it does! That's another flaw with this picture, the writer cut and pasted every other sci-fi flick he could remember into this one. Elements of the plots of Terminator II, Total Recall, and Aliens are all used in The Matrix.

That really didn't tighten my jaw so much, it's common practice in Hollywood to do this. But, why O' why must the first time they take on AI, the artificial intelligence have to be Evil? Here they had a chance to educate people on this fascinating field in its infancy and they turn it into another trite aliens against humans flick.

There is maritial arts combat galore. This action however was riveting, and executed with precision. The dropping rounds from the high-powered minutions gave a surreal element to the blood-letting. The fast-to-super-slow-motion cycles during the fighting, sets a whole new perspective on maritial arts combat.

But, that couldn't sustain this film. A film that attempts to philosophize should have a serious point to make. This one doesn't. It's got a shallow point to make: that devices of our own making will eventually begin to destroy us. Hell, any environmentalist will tell you that, and he'll bend your ear on the subject. Plus try to get you go on a march or give money to saving something or other. We don't need a blockbuster movie with a confusing Bhuddist-Jewish-Greco-Christian mysticism theme to tell us that. For Christ-Bhudda-The Messiah-Zeus sakes! Did I get all of 'em?

I ask you now, is this what well-educated Americans need for intellectual stimulation? As an afterthought, I couldn't help but chuckle every time the antagonist AI Agent Smith character spoke. Why? Because he had all the inflections and speaking style of the late Carl Sagan. Carl, glad you're not alive to witness this.

Lastly, with this groundwork laid, the unfolding of the plot was predictable. It followed from story-board to final production the classic Hollywood techniques. 1.) Must have at least two sub-climaxes. 2.) These climaxes must build up to an ending crescendo. And needless to say, it did. It's always beat the clock time in films of this nature. One day, just one fine day somebody's not going to beat the clock. Now that will be groundbreaking cinema.

Definite Pros

This is simple the special effects were dazzling as I said above. For all its melodramatic pseudo-religious overtones, amateur philosophizing, and inane reflecting on mankind against automata, the action was breathtaking at points.

Also, the principal female character was HOT!!!! That alone kept me in my seat lusting after her. Talk about a lady in black...what was her name?... anyway back to serious criticism.....

I was struck with an irony to this picture, while this film would have us believe that the end product of intelligent computers will be a dispassionate, cold, subjugating authority, they use the latest computer technology to bring us this image. Now that supercomputers can perform more than 3 teraflops with ease, stop-action, 360 degree surround imaging was used with precision to give that out-of-this-world effect to combat scenes. The mirror mats on aerial shots lent realism to the sky views of the city below, and the cuts from real action were seamless. Those insect-like computer scout ships, though familiar by now, still caught my eye. In short, the pros to this picture are just what I expected: great special effects.

Ken Wais Spring 1999

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