Is this the Matrix?

Last week I rewatched The Matrix, keenly aware that this film is now 19 years old. The once-revolutionary special effects aren’t so special anymore, although they hold up surprisingly well. The plot is as silly as ever, with holes big enough to drive a subway train through. But overall it holds up well as an example of fairly well-crafted summer entertainment. It’s become a touchstone for our culture in two decades, and I got to thinking about why.

We still have millennial paranoia

In 1999 when this film came out, there were a lot of people who sincerely worried that the world was about to end. It wasn’t a biblical prediction that would do us in, but our own stupidity. Short-sighted computer coders who didn’t give their programs the ability to work in any year starting with a “20” were the big fear back then. Here came The Matrix, a film where computers had taken control all due to longtime short-sightedness by humans. It seemed tailor made for at era.

Things aren’t terribly different now. We have smarter artificial assistants now, ones who do a fairly good job of providing us the information they think we want. We often exist in virtual rooms where we hear the stories we want to hear. The Matrix has its dated beats, but the message still works.

Good filmmaking is timeless

The visuals of The Matrix aren’t as novel as they once were, and they’re a lot easier to achieve. Back in 1999, CGI was a very new thing and the movie’s trademark effects were actually achieved with 35mm still cameras loaded with real actual film. That’s how long ago this was. But despite the fact that we’ve all seen kung fu and CGI and time dilation a zillion times before, despite most of the cast’s wooden acting, this is a well-crafted film. Today’s special-effects rollercoaster rides are often shoddily produced by lowest-bidder CGI houses. This leads to a very generic look. The Matrix looks like nothing made today. The filmmakers were aware they were making something new. They spared no opportunity to make things look as good as their late-1990s technology would allow. That level of craftsmanship is rare in any era. I sadly would say it’s even more rare in theatrical releases now.

The world is an even more unreal place now

I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said “I feel like I’m in The Matrix” in the last 18 months. The twenty first century sure hasn’t worked out the way we all expected when we were kids. It’s not a place of peace and flying cars and robot maids, I’ll tell you that. The Matrix has become shorthand for an experience that does not quite measure up to our expectations of reality, an experience that we might choose deliberately to leave if we could. But that’s really not the point of this slightly paranoid “Fun Friday…”

The Matrix is real (kinda.)

What would you call a computer server that holds all pertinent information about not only the film but all the other ancillary Matrix-oriented material? It might as well be the Matrix itself. It’s The Matrix Wiki, a fan-operated resource for information. It’s not a virtual-reality experience… yet… but it seems like the closest we have at this point to actually living in the movie. Sure you say, it’s just a wiki. It’s not going to hurt you. To which I say, that’s just what they want you to think.