One of the many arguably failed ambitions of The Matrix franchise was for it to have an expanded universe. The films would be the central aspect of the storytelling, while video games, comics and animated shorts would accompany it.
While commercial reasons were undoubtedly behind this desire, there were legitimate reasons for these expanded entries to exist. The Wachowski’s have always spoken upfront about how video games, anime and graphic novels have all played a role in inspiring the vision of The Matrix. Few can walk away from seeing any of the films without that being incredibly obvious; the expanded entries were tributes to mediums and other works that helped to create the films.
The Animatrix was a tribute to classic anime works. It remains, unlike the video games and even the sequels, as one of the few great things to have come out of The Matrix, I’d argue, since the first film.
I actually prefer these as expansions on the story more than the two sequels that follow the original film. For those who haven’t yet seen these, and bemoan the outcome of Reloaded and Revolutions, I highly recommend picking up a copy.
Final Flight of the Osiris
Watching this again for the first time in many years, it’s almost scary to realize that the visuals of this short have nearly been achieved by modern video games. Overall, “Final Flight of the Osiris” is probably the most directly connected to the films—especially since it chronicles a story that happens shortly before the second movie.
The animation itself is entertaining to watch, and that’s really all there is. This does make it one of the weaker entries in The Animatrix, though it’s still a well polished work.
The Second Renaissance Part I & II
This is where The Animatrix really begins to shine. “The Second Renaissance” not only tells the origin story of the matrix, but it does so with more flare than just saying “machines took over and enslaved humanity.”
With some impressive allegories to various historical events such as the building of the Egyptian pyramids, the Viet Nam War and even Tiananmen Square, it really helps to make the idea of a “machine revolution” feel that much more historical and rooted with the seemingly cyclical nature of humanity’s biggest flaws.
“The Second Renaissance” has some of the most powerfully resonant images within the collection: Skeletons clapping, a mechanical war-horse marching through fire and even some of the first humans to be connected to what would become the Matrix itself.
“Kid’s Story” is another short work that’s more or less directly connected to the films. It chronicles the origin story of the “kid.” It is a finer performance than the character’s role in the actual films.
Anyone who grew up feeling somewhat isolated as a teenager, especially generations that were more ostracized for being nerdy or geeky will undoubtedly relate to the character here—again, a million times more than the character was in the film.
The animation also has a unique, rough style that’s really beautiful to watch; and it features the incredibly addicting song “Who Am I?” by Peace Orchestra.
“Program” may be one of the weaker shorts in terms of content—it’s mostly two characters fighting while babbling on about what’s “real”–but there’s some really great art direction in this one.
If anything, it does help add to the whole of The Matrix in that you realize Cypher, from the first film, was more than likely not the only human to betray his own kind in favor of a more comfortable life in ignorance.
This is one of my favorites–and one of the most unique. Firstly, it’s nice to see a character who wasn’t a computer hacker or somebody wanted by the authorities to discover the truth about the Matrix—whether or not the main character actually arrives at any real conclusions about what he saw.
What was really great about “World Record,” however, was that it portrayed a great sense of the sense of reality that is in the Matrix itself. Characters talk about every day topics: Performance enhancing drugs, covering a sporting event, moral support from family and friends. It’s only through the extreme physical excursion of the race that the main character suddenly breaks his connection to the Matrix, realizing that there’s more to this world than one might believe.
Another great, almost surreal piece. “Beyond” captures the feeling of being a kid and believing in local urban myths. Though the real explanation behind the weird phenomenon that the characters experience is a rendering error within the Matrix, they come to believe it as some kind of mystical or haunted place.
Sneaking around places you’re not supposed to be, possibly seeing things you’re not supposed to—discovering a secret—all of these are the thrills of kids who are finally able to go out and explore the world together, without adult supervision. And this is an experience that many people in the actual real world share—whether a result of misguided memories, or a misunderstanding of something, many people believe that they’ve experienced ghosts, or haunted houses—especially in their youth—and probably come to reflect on it or talk about it when they’re adults.
“Beyond” and The Matrix take these unique urban myths that we all experience, and describe it in a way that rubs against the fourth wall—similar to what was done with the topic of Deja Vu in the first film.
A Detective Story
This is the last short that has a more direct connection to the movies itself. With a gritty film-noire style, a detective takes on a mysterious job to locate a hacker named none other than Trinity.
In today’s time with famous leakers and hackers such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, this piece really stands out. The ability for the “authorities” to convince the main character simply by injecting funds into his bank account is stark reminder of how easily government can use, and be used by, money.
A fun take on the theme of placing consciousness into a virtual reality. This appears as the final short in the collection, which it may have not been suited for since many others are significantly better.
Overall, it is a different take on the “war” between humans and machines. Instead of directly fighting them, “Matriculated” focuses on a group of humans who have taken to convert machines to their cause in order to hopefully turn the tide of war. There’s even no real hint that this group of humans is directly related to Zion—which is an interesting idea: Were there other humans in the world who escaped the Matrix but never fled to, or heard of the underground human city?
Since the original Matrix, the Wachowski’s films have been somewhat disappointing—with the exception of V for Vendetta (though not according to Alan Moore).
There could be a million reasons for this. But as far as The Matrix is concerned, I largely think the films began to whither away when they tried to encompass too much.
If you watch any of the commentary on the DVDs of the films, you will see the actors and other staff talk about how much is in the films: “its got kung-fu action, it’s a love story, it’s a war story, its got deep philosophic content, etc.” I believe there’s simply is not enough time in a two-and-a-half hour sitting to be able to do all of these justice—and that’s what made the films suffer. Everything seemed out of place, not enough attention was given to any of these aspects—except for the fighting.
But that’s why The Animatrix succeeds so well. This was a focused project: Animated shorts to complement the films. And, it was a collaborative effort that brought in different minds and artists—so unique visions could be brought to life without any stagnation.
Fans of The Matrix, anime and entertaining science fiction will love this collection—especially if they’ve been dying for a decent return to the digital realm that was portrayed, and then improperly portrayed, in the films.