the writing studio the art of writing and making films
sequels the matrix reloaded
In 1999, the Wachowski Brothers and producer Joel Silver unveiled The Matrix, a visionary fusion of staggeringly powerful action and densely-layered storytelling. Inspired by stylistic Japanese animé films like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, the questions posed at the intersection of philosophy, mythology, religion and mathematics, the hyper-kinetic illustrations of comic book artist Geof Darrow and the science fiction of authors such as William Gibson, Philip K. Dick and Lewis Carroll, the brothers conceived an epic story that explores themes of technological alienation, free will, the cost of ignorance and the price of knowledge.
Ultimately, the filmmakers not only electrified audiences with audacious visual innovations that have since been imitated in countless commercials, music videos and movies, they created a provocative action film that ponders the essence of reality and identity, illuminating the choices we must make and the strengths and weaknesses that compel us to make them.
The Wachowskis had always envisioned the sprawling saga they unleashed in The Matrix as a trilogy, and the success of that film allowed the writer-directors to tunnel deeper into a mythology that they had only begun to reveal. They approached the production of the trilogy's second and third instalments, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, as a single film that would be presented in two parts.
The result is a revolution in and of itself. The visual benchmarks set by the trilogy, such as the groundbreaking technique invented to capture the animé-inspired conceptual state of "Bullet Time" in The Matrix or the pioneering of the Universal Capture process to produce photo-realistic virtual humans for Reloaded and Revolutions, continue to redefine what is cinematically possible. A film trilogy that tells a story of the horrors that may happen if we push technology too far has pushed technology exponentially further in the telling of it.
The Matrix films also bulldoze boundaries in the physical construction of their furious action sequences. Simultaneously brutal and elegant, they combine elements of classic Kung Fu films with Western gun-slinging action, Eastern martial arts and wire work. In the Hong Kong cinematic tradition of directors such as John Woo and Yuen Wo Ping, the lead actors perform their own fight sequences. This method allows for greater storytelling through action - the fights propel the narrative, rather than serving as an entertaining detour from it. In this way, every minute of the film can offer something substantial and meaningful to the audience.
Perhaps part of what makes the Matrix films so intriguing is that their density inspires limitless interpretations - while most films endeavour to provide the audience with answers, The Matrix is one giant open-ended question. Casual references serve as conduits to entire forests of thought; interwoven themes of mythology, philosophy, emerging technology, evolutionary psychology, literature such as Alice in Wonderland, and theological references (Christianity and Gnosticism exist comfortably alongside Zen Buddhist and Taoist thought) all free the mind to consider a multiplicity of truths. The films' strength lies not in what they are capable of telling us, but rather in our own capacity to take the ideas they present and run with them.
The Wachowskis' cinematic synthesis of philosophy and technology has inspired several books (including The Philosophy of The Matrix, edited by William Irwin; Exploring the Matrix: Visions of the Cyber Present, edited by Karen Haber; and Taking the Red Pill: Science, Philosophy & Religion in The Matrix, edited by Glenn Yeffeth) and numerous college courses ranging in theme from philosophy to science fiction, computer-mediated communication, religion and contemporary culture. The vast amount of thought devoted to the examination of their work is evidence of the extent to which they have been able to hack into the collective consciousness with their provocative and challenging filmmaking.
"What Larry and Andrew are trying to achieve in their storytelling, the physical action they present, the elements of new cinema and technology they have invented to create images, is unparalleled," says Keanu Reeves, who, at the brothers' request, read such books as Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation and Kevin Kelly's Out of Control while preparing for his role of Neo, the computer hacker who assumes his destiny through his search for truth in The Matrix.
"The Wachowskis are incredibly well-versed in everything from philosophy to mythology to comic books, and the themes running through these films reflect their perception of the timeless questions that have driven man's quest for knowledge and understanding," says Joel Silver, producer of the Matrix trilogy. "They've created an epic story, told it in a visionary way that revolutionised entertainment, and created a thinking person's action picture. You can enjoy the films on a purely visceral level, and if you want to go deeper, there are some very profound ideas to consider."
Those fans who dare not seek the truth themselves can live vicariously through the choices made by Neo, Morpheus and Trinity; those who choose to explore the philosophical, literary, mythological, theological and technological themes that inform the Wachowskis' cinematic universe can go as deep into the rabbit hole as they dare.
"The truth is often terrifying, which I think is one of the motifs of Larry and Andrew's cinema," Reeves observes. "The cost of knowledge is an important theme. In the second and third films, they explore the consequences of Neo's choice to know the truth. They've made Reloaded and Revolutions even more dense and provocative and entertaining than the first film. It's a beautiful, beautiful story."
In The Matrix Reloaded, Neo continues the shocking journey he began when he chose the red pill in The Matrix. Having made the decision to believe in himself and accept his role as the One, Neo assumes greater command of his extraordinary powers. But being the One brings unexpected responsibilities, not only toward fulfilling what Morpheus believes to be Neo's destiny - to end the War with the Machines - but in living up to the expectations of those whose lives depend on the choices he has made.
preparing the actors
In preparation for The Matrix, Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving spent four solid months during the winter of 1997-98 training with master martial artist and wire work specialist Yuen Wo Ping to learn the Kung Fu and wire skills they would need to perform the film's complex and demanding fight scenes.
While the cast embraced this unprecedented approach to Western action filmmaking - in which they would execute fight scenes typically handled entirely by stunt performers - they were somewhat unprepared for the gruelling experience that lay ahead. Tenacity, perseverance and the desire to bring the Wachowski Brothers' vision to life inspired the cast and martial arts team to accomplish what had never been done before in an incredibly short period of time. "We wanted to be able to achieve the extraordinary," says Keanu Reeves.
When the actors returned to training for Reloaded and Revolutions in November 2000, they were ready. "Training for these two films was probably three times harder than preparing for the first," Reeves admits. "Neo's Kung Fu elements and wire work are more sophisticated - there are more movements in one particular fight in Reloaded than there are in the whole of the first Matrix."
Daily training sessions were held in a Santa Monica airplane hangar during an exceptionally cold and rainy winter. "We'd arrive in the morning and they'd have to vacuum up the water from the rain that had fallen the night before," recalls Laurence Fishburne. The stunt team had almost tripled in size since The Matrix - in part to include twelve stunt men to play multiple Agent Smiths - and they shared the training space with the production's sizeable motion capture stage.
Reeves devoted at least seven hours a day to Kung Fu work. While training for and filming The Matrix, he was recovering from neck surgery, which restricted his movements, and Wo Ping accommodated his injury by choreographing routines that featured more hand-to-hand combat than kicking. This time around, Reeves had no such limitations. "The more I could do, the more they pushed me," recalls the dedicated actor. "So when I could do one thing well, that was the day they'd ask me if I could do two things. Then when we were shooting, the brothers would ask me if I could do seven things! It was all very good fun, but very hard work as well. And painful - ice is your friend." (During training, Reeves was known to sit in a bathtub full of ice.)
Reeves worked with twelve stunt men for nine weeks perfecting a five-and-a-half-minute routine comprised of over 500 moves. Such ambitious training was the only way to reach the level of technical acuity necessary to achieve the brothers' vision for the film's awe-inspiring action. "Wo Ping, Larry and Andy want the fights to be as spectacular as possible," he says. "They love spectacle and they want to entertain. They're interested in physical contact in both its positive and negative light, in the same way that fire can be destructive and it can also give warmth - that's what they want from an action sequence."
Joel Silver believes the master fight choreographer has been invaluable in achieving the Wachowskis' grand vision for the story arc of the Matrix trilogy. "Wo Ping's style meshes exceptionally well with the brothers' philosophy in terms of storytelling," says the producer. "Beyond the obvious antagonist and protagonist combating in a test of physical will, he illustrates the characters' development through the fights. It was in the Dojo Fight in The Matrix that Neo first began to explore his potential, and in Reloaded's Burly Brawl, he is so challenged by the onslaught that he has to elevate himself to a whole new level."
The exhilarating fight scenes result from a powerful synthesis between the choreographer, the filmmakers and the cast. "The concept for all the fight scenes originates with the brothers," Wo Ping explains. "I base the scenes on their ideas and then build on them. The Burly Brawl was difficult because Neo has to fight 100 Agent Smiths simultaneously, and Keanu had to learn an incredible series of dense, frequent moves. Then I had to ask each individual Smith stunt double to watch Hugo's movements and then imitate them exactly. The choreography was based on all these people being able to execute it perfectly."
Wo Ping's style of integrating myriad elements into his fights increases their intensity and makes them incredibly fascinating to watch. "The more you change the variables in a scene, the more interesting it becomes," he says. "In Reloaded's opening fight sequence, I improvised, using helmets as a kind of weapon, and Carrie-Anne uses those weapons very powerfully. I also designed an extremely fast, powerful kick for her, which we called the Scorpion Kick. I trained her for over six months just for that one kick. She performed it very, very powerfully, with great precision."
Although her performance doesn't betray it, not all went well for Carrie-Anne Moss during training. "I trained for six or seven weeks before we even officially began, to be in great shape so I could really, really, really kick some ass," she says. "And then I landed wrong during training, and basically, my thigh broke my knee. And I broke it right then and there, but I went into total shock and denial, and decided to drive myself home and then drive myself back to work the next day. It was brutal, because all I could think of at the time was, 'Oh my God, I'm not gonna be able to do the movie!'"
"Carrie-Anne and I escaped injury on the first film, so we were due," Fishburne muses. "We both got injured this time. She broke her leg and I severely hyperextended my wrist, which put me in a soft cast for about six weeks and slowed me down." But Fishburne's judicious training method helped him to stay on schedule despite his injury. "I approached training a little smarter this time, and since the trainers understood what we were capable of and we understood what was going to be required of us, we were able to pace ourselves a lot better. Because maintaining a particular kind of shape for two years is a lot harder than maintaining it for nine months."
In addition to training Fishburne and the other actors to use a cache of new weapons, Wo Ping also choreographed a daunting fight sequence that unfolds atop a racing eighteen-wheeler. "This was very difficult, because the truck is speeding so you have to focus on balance," explains Wo Ping. "The choreography in this scene shows how Morpheus experiences a moment of crisis and uses Kung Fu to regain his balance."
Like Fishburne, Hugo Weaving took a smarter approach to his training for Reloaded and Revolutions. "I basically looked after my body a lot better than I had done the first time round," explains Weaving, "and trained well but carefully, because I was mindful of what could happen - I tried not to push myself to achieve the physical perfection within too short a period of time."
Like his fellow actors, Fishburne has great appreciation for the master choreographer's powerful artistry. "I think Wo Ping and his crew have to be applauded for the way in which they entered into this whole enterprise, stayed away from home for years and made us look brilliant," says Fishburne. "You can't put a price on what their expertise, their experience and creativity has brought to these films. The Matrix would not be what it is without their influence."
The Visual Effect Process
The Innovative and Daring Stunt Work