Released 20 years ago, the Wachowskis’ THE MATRIX created a revolution in sci-fi action and visual effects that reshaped blockbusters for the 21st century.
The Matrix was a sleeper hit that became a cultural phenomenon. Written and directed by the Wackowskis – sisters Lana and Lilly – whose debut feature, the lesbian neo-noir Bound, had them down as the next Coen brothers, The Matrix was released in March 1999 with little fanfare but went on to redefine sci-fi cinema in the same way that Metropolis, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and Blade Runner had before it.
Released a month and a half before George Lucas’s much-hyped Episode I – The Phantom Menace, The Matrix made the Star Wars prequel look decidedly pedestrian and prosaic. It starred Keanu Reeves as Thomas Anderson aka Neo, a software programmer by day/hacker by night who discovers he’s living in a computer-generated construct known as the matrix, designed by sentient machines to enslave mankind in order to generate energy from them. Neo is given a choice: take the red pill to wake up in Wonderland and join the human resistance; or the blue pill to remain in blissful ignorance.
With their dense, action-packed script, the Wachowskis plugged into a variety of subcultures – gamers, hackers, slackers – and weaved in the climate of paranoia sparked by the impending millennium as well as fears of a technological future. Ironically, they also took full advantage of the advances in computers to create a series of highly stylised action sequences, gravity-defying stunts and the then-revolutionary ‘bullet time’ visual effect – all of which raised the bar on what action movies could and should be. The results were extraordinary, but the Wachowskis were interested in much more than cool-looking surface thrills, choosing to imbue their film with deeper meaning – the script raining down biblical, literary, mythological and philosophical references much like the matrix’s dripping digital code.
The Matrix premiered to stellar reviews and the kind of word-of-mouth studio marketing departments can only dream about, going on to win four Oscars — editing, sound, sound effects editing and visual effects. As for the Wachowskis, The Matrix positioned them as visionary geniuses. Twenty years on, Hollywood and the cinematic landscape is a very different place to when The Matrix was released, one dominated by giant superhero movies and remakes of past hits, and with fewer original movies. But with Hollywood studios intent on mining their back catalogues for brand potential, rather than take a risk on anything new, it won’t be too long before The Matrix is rebooted. Whatever the future holds for the franchise, The Matrix remains one of most celebrated, imaginative and influential sci-fi/action films ever made.
BBFC Advice: Contains strong fantasy violence
Running Time: 2hrs 16mins
BBFC Advice: 15
Director(s): Lilly Wachowski, Lana Wachowski
Country of Origin: USA
Year of release: 1999
This is part of the Women and Genre: Sci-Fi seasonSee all