Openly hating the Matrix sequels is the glue that keeps Gen X together. After the revolutionary experience of The Matrix, The Matrix: Reloaded and, especially, The Matrix: Revolutions, were a gigantic letdown hampered by weird plot choices, wooden performances and the kind of gravity-defying CGI that pulled you out of the scenes with the awkward alacrity of a thousand Agent Smith clones. And with millions still wondering what went wrong, insiders agree that the fault lies squarely on the shoulder of the writer-director -- specifically, the writer-director of The Shining.
On the cinematography podcast Team Deakins, the premier listening hour for people who insist their names end with A.S.C., cinematographer Bill Pope spoke candidly about his experience on the Matrix trilogy. Specifically, how shooting the sequels was both "mind-numbing and soul-numbing." Comparing the grueling 272 day back-to-back sequels production to The Hobbit trilogy (never a compliment) Pope claims the Wachowski Sisters' newfound perfectionism made the experience "sort of torture." "There was a lot of friction and a lot of personal problems, and it showed up on screen, to be honest with you," said the man who had to miss a year's worth of his kid's recitals just to make the cave rave look as sweaty as possible.
For this stressful experience, Pope points the finger of blame at not just the Wachowskis, but also the meddling of Stanley Kubrick. A weird twist, especially since the visionary filmmaker had died the same year of the original Matrix was released. (Too perfect an alibi, some might say). But it wasn't the mind-bending director himself but his mind-bending method of doing endless takes that brought ruin to the Reloaded and Revolutions. Pope claims that "The Wachowskis had read this damn book by Stanley Kubrick that said, 'Actors don't do natural performances until you wear them out.'" And so the cast and crew had to do take after take in the search for verisimilitude ...
... and natural responses ...
... in the Matrix. Instead, it seems that trying to bring such an over-perfectionist vibe to two movies about goths downloading kung-fu into their noggins only soured the "free" creative approach that made the original stand out, grumbles Pope. And it is indeed hard to name a Wachowski character from their later projects that also doesn't possess the dull, weary gaze of an actor forced to say the dumbest sci-fi lines two hundred times in a row -- with a few notable exceptions.
Pope had already announced that he won't be working with the Wachowskis on the upcoming Matrix 4, instead lending his talents to the not-so-serious upcoming Marvel franchise, likely fearing yet another Kubrickian nightmare on set. But maybe now, with their cinematographer no longer holding them back, the Wachowskis will finally be able to make a Matrix movie with truly great naturalistic performances from their handpicked crop of hardcore method actors like Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Neil Patrick Harris.
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Top Image: Warner Bros. Pictures