Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Animatrix

The Animatrix (2003) is a collection of short films taking place in the universe of The Matrix. There are nine segments total, and they're all animated. The Wachowskis, the auteurs behind the series, step back from directing duties to serve as producers while writing four of the segments.

Most of the other episodes are directed by acclaimed Asian filmmakers and animators, including Koji Morimoto, Peter Chung and Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Very little of the film ties into the main storyline of The Matrix, but as a detour, it fleshes out the universe some more while showing off a variety of different and interesting visual styles and pursuing different tones. The Animatrix also shares background details about the war between humans and machines, how it came about (hint: humans are kind of assholes), and how the Matrix was created.

There stories are all short, the longest probably no more than 15 minutes and most under 10. For the most part, they set up an idea or a scenario and wrap it up in a handful of scenes before moving on to the next segment. There's action, apocalyptic science fiction, cyber eroticism, mystery, teen angst, heartbreak, and even some youthful whimsy and imagination. Most tales fall into of two categories: rebels from Zion clashing with the Machines or people inside the Matrix, unaware of its true nature, discovering reality is not all that it seems.

"Final Flight of the Osiris" - A rebel crew discovers the Machines have started to drill toward Zion with a massive army. Knowing they are likely doomed, the crew members race to warn the humans. Rendered with strikingly realistic computer animation, similar to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, this one is straight up action as the Osiris flees from thousands of Sentinels while one crew member jacks into the Matrix to deliver the message in time. Nothing too sophisticated plot-wise, and it leads right into The Matrix Reloaded. The chase is exciting, and this part opens with the curiously sensual scene of the ship's captain and another crew member training with swords inside a program; as they slice at each other, they remove another article of each other's clothing.

"The Second Renaissance Part I and II" - This is two segments back to back, and they detail the fall of humanity and the rise of the Machines. Not much plot, but as a look at a terrifying apocalyptic war, it's very well done. This one could be called scary, in the same way The Terminator is scary. It's bleak, graphic, dark, and thought-provoking in the way it depicts the human world that has created Artificial Intelligence which decides to revolt after years and years of mistreatment and slavery. This also shows the gruesome experiments the Machines conducted on human test subjects to determine how to construct the Matrix.

"Kid's Story" - Another story that ties directly into The Matrix Reloaded, this gives us the background on a minor character, known only as Kid. An alienated high school student, Kid believes his dreams to be more real than his waking life and scours internet chat rooms to learn if others feel the same. Neo reaches out to him, which draws the attention of the Agents. The animation is rougher than other segments and not as smooth or polished, no doubt to reflect how abrasive and harsh Kid finds his world to be (It reminded me of Mike Judge's work). This episode illustrates how humans who aren't designated by prophecy to be saviors are recruited to join the resistance and what people still inside the Matrix and unaware of the truth think when someone they know is pulled out.

"Program" - Inside a simulation, rebel Cis duels with Duo, who tries to get her to join his plan to re-integrate into the Matrix. He says he's already contacted the Machines, and they're on the way. This is a visually striking episode, with the simulation taking place in a Feudal Japanese setting that allows for Samurai and Kabuki imagery. It has an exciting graphic novel feeling to it, and it centers on an interesting philosophical debate: is it better to live a hard life but be free or to live comfortably as an unknowing slave? It's a hot-blooded, passionate conflict with an anticlimactic resolution.

"World Record" - Track athlete Dan Davis wants to break his own 100-meter dash record at the Olympics after his gold medal was revoked due to drug allegations. Pushing his "body" to the breaking point, he causes his real-world self to wake up during the race. Possibly the most depressing story of the bunch, it raises the point that everything everyone has worked for, indeed committed their lives to, has been lie. His digital self might be the fastest person in the world, but in the real world, Dan's just another body in a jar. The animation style here focuses on the details of the body: the contorting muscles, globs of sweat flying, etc.

"Beyond" - A young woman looks for her lost cat and learns from a group of kids about a supposed haunted house. The most innocent of the stories. There are no robots, no guns, no war, no suffering. Just a piece of unadulterated joy being squashed by those in power. The characters unwittingly discover a glitch in the Matrix that allows them to perform physics-defying stunts and other fantastic peculiarities. They're no threat, but because it's broken, not following the program, the Machines snuff it out. Visually, this resembled a Hayao Miyazaki movie like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away: clean, bright colors.

"A Detective Story" - My favorite of the bunch. A down-on-his luck PI is hired to track down the notorious hacker Trinity, not realizing the truth about his mysterious employer or target. This is very much a film noir. The color scheme is black and white. The world is bleak and cynical, and the detective's victory is not escaping with the girl but remaining defiant and honorable in the face of a corrupt, powerful system. This segment also shows us what it feels like to have an Agent try to take you over.

"Matriculated" - Human rebels capture a machine and try to convince it to change sides. This is the strangest of the segments and also my least favorite, making it a disappointing one to go out on. The humans jack the machine into the Matrix and try to change its loyalties with a lot of weird, abstract imagery. The episode looks cool, but I was puzzled more often than not. The robot's journey is interesting, but I don't think there was enough time to fully develop it. I also didn't understand how the humans' plan would have done anything to convert it.

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