The Computer Overlords Are Causing Technical Issues

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from IBM’s Watson supercomputer’s appearance on Jeopardy, it’s that the machines are only a few microseconds away from being smarter than us and enslaving us.  If there’s anything I’ve learned from my laptop, it’s that they have more in common with us than we know.  Much like humans, computers can become victim to viruses intent on making them very sick, and possibly dead. 

So now the computer’s fixed and happy and operating like it’s healthy again, so the posts scheduled for last week will be online today.  But rather than just apologize for the malicious machinations of a fifteen year old Russian hacker negatively affecting your literary beguilement, I’ve decided to continue with this theme of mechanical overlords by presenting a FLASHBACK of Jim Koteles’ review of “The Matrix Reloaded: The IMAX Experience,” first published in the July/August 2003 issue of The SFC Review.

Every so many years, sci-fi geeks need a new film to debate about in their internet chat rooms.  They require the latest cinematic cult to follow, such as Star Trek, Star Wars, and Blade Runner.  In 1999, the geek gods answered their prayers with The Matrix. With a domestic gross of nearly $200 million, and a pop culture religion springing up around the film, sequels were inevitable.  Now, in 2003, those sequels that Matrix devotees have been begging for have materialized, the first one being The Matrix Reloaded.

Originally released on May 15 in 35 mm, the film opened to mixed reviews. Anyone reading this review has almost certainly seen the film. Furthermore, anyone reading this review has a strong opinion of the movie. And even furthermore, anyone reading this review has almost certainly engaged in a heated debate with someone of a differing opinion. Well, you can all quit your squabbling and forget what you know, because The Matrix Reloaded has been re-released in the gargantuan IMAX format and this may very well alter your perception of this movie. Now the question is posed: Is bigger actually better? Read on.

With each successive Hollywood blockbuster transferred to IMAX, the ensuing results are more and more impressive. The Matrix Reloaded must be the most gorgeous of all the transfers ever made. Lighting of the image is neither too dark nor too bright. Colors, thus, do not become washed out in grays or made too brilliant. The image on screen itself is like a Goldilocks version of any movie, “just right”. Further kudos can be given to the film for its success in not making the viewer run for their bottle of Dramamine. Whether it was the camera movement or the chosen aspect ratio for the IMAX transfer, I never felt my head spinning or my stomach turning, which is not always the case when viewing an IMAX picture. This is a bigger plus for all the fans that insist on indulging in certain head changing activities before seeing a movie. (Let’s face it, they’re out there)

Clarity of picture does not of course guarantee that all things in the picture will be pleasant to the eye. For example, by being able to see even the minutest details, the viewer can easily see all the flaws on the actor’s faces that Hollywood, the stars, and their agents usually try to hide from us. Did you know that Laurence Fishburne has acne scars? Or that Carrie-Anne Moss has a few wrinkles on her otherwise perfect face? These “flaws” only add to the story. Given the fact that the people of Zion live miles beneath the Earth’s surface in an extremely imperfect world, and given the fact that the crew of the Nebekenezer is away for weeks at a time on mission, they will not always look like they are ready for a photo shoot for Vanity Fair.

I know what some of you are thinking. “I don’t care about how the image looks. If I hated aspects of the story the first time I saw it, what’s changed?” Before I viewed the IMAX version, I was certain that I would not enjoy it. So much for journalistic integrity. But it turns out my opinion of the story was changed.

In the 35 mm version, there were three things that really bugged me: the rave scene, the fight scenes (minus the car chase), and the conversation with the Architect. As for the rave scene, I still feel it goes on too long. It still reeks of a Lenny Kravitz video. So what’s changed? Many of the shots on this sequence are actually of Link and his wife, Zee. Before, I thought that Zion was having one big orgy before the battle, which I think is stupid. Now I see that most everyone else is dancing and that Link and Zee are engaging in foreplay before they are parted for an indefinite amount of time. This makes far more sense. Allow me to reiterate that the scene plays out for too long still, but I am willing to forgive this indiscretion after seeing what’s really going on in the sequence.

On to the fight scenes, namely the first scene with the fifty something Agent Smiths fighting Neo and the battle with the Merovingian’s rogue programs. With regards to Neo’s first fight with several dozen Agent Smiths, the first time I saw the movie on 35 mm, I felt the scene dragged. I also thought that Neo deciding to fly away was a bit silly. Why did he wait so long to fly away?  By virtue of having had more time to ponder Neo’s retreat, I understand that he did not realize at the onset of the skirmish that Smith would have so many bodies. Therefore, he has to fight, and he has to run. Pieces of the Matrix puzzle are constantly being revealed to Neo and this is one such piece. The enormity of the image in IMAX made the scene more exciting to watch. Rather than wondering when the scene was going to end, I was awed again by the clarity of the picture. Plus, I got to see if all the Agent Smiths were actually Hugo Weaving. You’ll have to see for yourself how special those effects were. As for the fight with the Frenchman’s toadies, I may sound like a broken record, but vividness and magnitude completely changes the experience.

Finally we come to Neo’s meeting with the Architect. Was this scene better the second time around? I answer with a “Yes, but…” Originally, the only thing that bugged me about the scene was the fact that what seemed like a thousand two-bit words crammed into a three-minute scene was too much for a working class kid like me to digest all at once. So upon second viewing the meaning of the conversation was made a bit clearer. If a second viewing does not help you comprehend the Architect’s banter then I have three words for you: stay in school. What does a second screening have to do with the IMAX version then? Remember what I said about clarity?  The Architect is a much uglier person in IMAX. With scabs, skin spurs, and wrinkles all over his face I’m left wondering why this would-be Wizard of OZ would present himself with so many imperfections. He is a program with ultimate control, right? I guess his haggard face was the inevitable anomaly of having such a perfect voice for the role. Ultimately, IMAX did not make this scene better, but seeing it a second time did. And what better way to see it a second time?

It is my hope that after reading this column you are at least intrigued enough to spend your money again to see the IMAX release of The Matrix Reloaded. After all, if you enjoyed it 35 mm, there exists no doubt that you will double your pleasure in this mammoth presentation. If you hated it the first time, you may be swayed by size. If you still must remain a naysayer, I am forced to recall the exchange between Morpheus and Commander Lock.

Lock: Not everyone believes as you believe.

Morpheus: My beliefs do not require that they do.

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