In a world of hackneyed rom coms, corny action franchises, and cynical independent dramas, one movie stood out among the usual marquee faire. It boasted slick visuals, a compelling storyline, a diverse cast of actors, and some of the most creative choreography in cinematic history. Steeped in cyberpunk mythology, philosophy, and neuroscientific mystery, it was an action film with depth. It made you question your reality. It made you want to take the blue pill. Enter The Matrix.
In many ways, there is only BTM (Before The Matrix) and ATM (After The Matrix). The Matrix was a game changer in so many ways that there are only the movies before it, and all the movies it influenced after its release. It moved beyond the natural disaster movie fatigue and the macho man action hero fatigue, and it most importantly, brought a cerebral element to a level of original world building that was in short supply. The Wachowskis are some of the only original world builders in cinema, where their vision is created for the big screen and not adapted from a book or the 13th sequel in a franchise. But the road to getting The Matrix greenlit was fraught with complications as numerous as its plot points.
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15. THE HELICOPTER SCENE FORCED LAW CHANGES
The helicopter scene at the end of The Matrix is the piece de resistance and the deus ex machina, aka fancy cinema and theater phrases that mean the OMG moment where the day is saved at the last minute. The helicopter itself was a giant to-scale prop that was ironically flown to Sydney because it had no propellers (those were added in post production using CG).
While the scene was epic and watching Neo and Trinity slow-mo run towards it amidst raining shards of glass and debris was gripping movie magic, the scene was almost not able to happen due to issues with Australian airspace. For long shots where a real helicopter was used (blades and all), actual laws had to be changed in New South Wales that permitted them to fly there.
14. CARRIE ANNE MOSS HID AN INJURY TO NOT BE RECAST
A lot of injuries happened on the set of The Matrix due to the insane stunt demands put on its actors and actresses. Not only did they have to train for months to become believable martial arts experts, the actual shots involving their stunt work took several days (or sometimes weeks to shoot) where injuries happened all the time while on-set and filming.
While training to perform the infamous scene where Trinity does her scorpion kick, Carrie Anne Moss twisted her ankle horribly but didn’t tell anyone because she was afraid of being recast. It was her first major motion picture, and she felt she was already lucky enough to get the female lead over other hot actresses of the time like Sandra Bullock and Gillian Anderson.
13. EVERY CHARACTER GOT UNIQUE HANDMADE SHADES
One of the most iconic visual cues The Matrix has is its sunglasses. They’re so eponymous with the film that most people today can’t wear shades and any article of black clothing without someone making a Matrix joke. Lots of big brands wanted in on making the signature shades, including Ray-Ban, but it was a small company called Blinde that got the contract due to the pre-emptive creativity of its owner.
He carefully handcrafted sunglasses customized to each character in the film: Neo, Trinity, Morpheus, Agent Smith, etc, then flew to Sydney to present them to the Wachowskis. They were so impressed that they hired him on the spot, and he worked out of a local optometry office cranking out dozens more for the supporting cast.
12. ALL RUN DOWN LOCATIONS HAD TO BE CREATED FROM SCRATCH
The Matrix was shot in Sydney, Australia on a budget of 60 million dollars. The price tag was what enticed studios to invest, considering if it had been shot in the States it would have cost a robust 180 million. It coincided with the newly built Fox Studios being built there, which the crew availed themselves of.
While Sydney (and Australia at large) boasted a great deal of diverse locations for the makers of the movie to choose from, run-down neighborhoods were not among them. Location scouts looking for “ghetto” neighborhoods to shoot the final few scenes involving apartment complexes and subways were sadly out of luck. This meant all of those run down locations had to be entirely constructed from scratch and then torn down almost immediately.
11. HUGO WEAVING WAS ALMOST RECAST DUE TO AN INJURY
While some cast members were getting injured trying to pull off the complex fight choreography they were instructed to do, Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith) discovered he had a polyp in his leg while production began. Surgery was his only option, which would potentially screw up the filming schedule. There were discussions about him being recast in favor of French actor Jean Reno.
Luckily, by pushing his more physically demanding scenes towards the end of the film, he could have time to recover. Coincidentally, Keanu Reeves was in a similar position, and because of a recent surgery had to have the filming of his more physically demanding scenes pushed back. They ended up filming their subway tunnel fight scene after they’d both had time to recover from their operations.
10. PRE-PRODUCTION WENT FOR MONTHS BEFORE STUDIOS GREENLIT
The Wachowskis had been thinking up the plot, characters, and ideas inherent to The Matrix for years before filming began. They had started to get the idea for the film almost a decade before it actually hit theaters. The studios were hesitant to let them direct the film as well as write it, and they had to prove themselves competent enough first. This led to them making the lesbian thriller Bound in 1996, which was successful enough to assuage the producers’ trepidation.
Pre production for The Matrix, from location scouting, to casting, to costuming happened for months before the studios greenlit anything. In some cases, as with the costumes, they were made by crew that didn’t yet know if the movie would ever be made.
9. HUGO WEAVING BASED AGENT SMITH ON ’50s NEWSCASTERS
One would think a JFK-era Secret Service looking G-Man in a boring suit would be the height of bureaucratic blowhardedness, yet Agent Smith remains a riveting character in The Matrix franchise that steals every scene he’s in. When developing the character, Hugo Weaving wanted him to have the sort of tone of voice that was commanding yet put you at ease, whose matter-of-fact candor lulled you into a false sense of security. He thought of the newscasters of the ’50s and echoed their reassuring frankness. Laurence Fishburne compared him to Walter Cronkite.
Weaving was elated to take on the role that would introduce him to American audiences in a way that was different from when he played a drag queen in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. It also got him noticed by the likes of Peter Jackson, who would cast him in The Fellowship of the Ring soon after.
8. SETS FROM DARK CITY WERE USED
The Matrix gets a lot of comparing to Dark City, another cyber-noir movie that came out in 1998 where a man similar to Thomas Anderson (in this case, John Murdoch) learns that the reality he perceives around him is not what it seems. Dark City was also shot in Australia, on a budget about half of what The Matrix had. Its themes around memory and thought control are similar to The Matrix in many ways, though it diverges in themes of machine overlords in favor of some creeps that look like Hellraiser happened aboard a Borg cube.
Many of the sets for Dark City hadn’t been destroyed, allowing them to be used in a few key scenes in The Matrix. Exterior shots of buildings were used, and most notably the rooftops that Trinity runs across are the same rooftops that John Murdoch runs across in Dark City.
7. THE CAST HAD TO STUDY PHILOSOPHY AND NEUROSCIENCE
The screenplay developed by the Wachowskis was by all accounts a dense read. Mired with philosophical and neuroscientific references, it echoed such authors as Marx, Nietzsche, and Dostoevsky, while blending them with sci-fi elements from William Gibson and Philip K. Dick. In order for the cast to be able to comprehend the material, the Wachowskis gave them a reading list of books pertinent to the subject matter.
Not only did they need to be able to understand the script, they needed to be able to communicate it effectively to each other and to potential interviewers. One of the “bibles” the Wachowskis insisted they read was Simulacra and Simulation by Jean Baudrillard, which explored the postmodern concept of hyperreality and nihilism. A copy of it is seen in Neo’s apartment when he first communicates with Morpheus.
6. KEANU PUSHED THROUGH SPINAL SURGERY TO TRAIN HARDER
Before shooting began, Keanu was experiencing the beginnings of paralysis in his legs. This was traced to a spinal issue that ultimately originated in a neck injury. He had surgery that required him to subsequenty wear a neck brace throughout the intense training regimen that the stunt choreographer had assigned each member of the principle cast.
For two of the four months of martial arts training, he couldn’t perform any kicks. This is why he does comparatively few in comparison to the rest of the cast. The few he does he saved for scenes shot at the end. Since Hugo Weaving was also recovering from surgery on his leg, their fight scenes were some of the last scenes shot in order to allow time for them to fully recover.
5. IT BEGAN AS A COMIC BOOK
The Wachowskis had been developing the concepts that would eventually become The Matrix for almost a decade before it hit the theaters. Drawn to the works of William Gibson (author of Necronomicon), the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, and the neo-noir works of Philip K. Dick (author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that became the movie Blade Runner), they imagined a cyberpunk noir that explored the collective human consciousness.
The Wachowskis were writers for Marvel Comics’ Razorline imprint, and had originally conceived of The Matrix as a series of comic books. They were working on Clive Barker’s Hellraiser and Nightbreed series for Epic Comics when they came up with the idea for their own. They originally thought it should include some horror elements, like the idea of humans being harvested by machines for their life force.
4. LAURENCE FISHBURNE WAS INSPIRED BY THE SANDMAN
When Laurence Fishburne finally saw himself on film as Morpheus, he said that the character scared him. Perhaps he had spent way too long pouring over the pages of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series from DC Comics’ mature imprint line Vertigo, as he was basing his character off of the series’ Morpheus, who is one of many extremely powerful beings that controls people’s dreams.
When Fishburne was approached with the script, he thought it was very easy to comprehend, but had a feeling it would never be popular because it was “too smart”. He felt like Morpheus should be a mentor but have a dangerous side, making him a teacher to be wary of his intentions. He viewed himself as “Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in the same person”.
3. EACH ACTOR’S FIGHTING STYLE WAS BASED OFF THEIR STRENGTHS
Famed Hong Kong stunt choreographer Woo Ping Yuen worked with each principle actor or actresses to create a unique fighting style that played to their strengths. This way, even though they only had four months to become believable fighters, their expertise would not be questioned on film. Having worked with the likes of Jackie Chan, he wary of their ability to get in shape. The Wachowskis paid him an exorbitant amount to get him to agree to overcome his apprehension.
He capitalized on Laurence Fishburne’s resilience and ability to take massive amounts of damage, Carrie Anne Moss’s natural grace and lightness of foot, Keanu Reeves’ diligence and commitment to training even on his days off and with a neck brace, and Hugo Weaving’s precision when landing hits.
2. LANA ALMOST STREAMED HER GENDER REASSIGNMENT SURGERY
Between filming The Matrix and Matrix: Revolutions, Larry Wachowski would slowly present herself as female and become known as Lana Wachowski. At first it was only in small ways, such as styles of dress, or the addition of makeup when she appeared in public. Most rumors of the surgery were denied. But then as she became comfortable with people addressing her as Lana, she discussed live streaming her eventual gender reassignment surgery.
This was at a time when such an event would have been revolutionary, but also incredibly difficult. While it’s much more common now, live streaming gender reassignment surgery still hasn’t been done and no doubt couldn’t due to legal issues. But that’s the Wachowski sisters for you, constantly pushing the boundaries of the real.
1. IT WAS ACCUSED OF RIPPING OFF THE INVISIBLES
The Matrix has been accused of ripping off a lot of properties, from Dark City to Ghost in the Shell, but in all of those cases, the ideas inherent for the film can be traced back years to the early drafts of the comic book that the Wachowskis were in the midst of making when they worked as writers for Marvel.
One of the most compared properties to The Matrix is The Invisibles, where a group of “terrorists” in the comic series are part of a larger group of people in another reality, and some of the members can “warp” themselves out of reality by using the “real world” as a sort of shortcut. The Invisibles work to recruit a new member who they believe will be extremely powerful, that has no idea of their existence, and exists in trite mundanity.
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