We at THN collectively love Keanu Reeves and have been immensely excited about his return this year in JOHN WICK. Although not released in UK cinemas until April, THN have been lucky enough to have already seen it and we can tell you that it is all kinds of awesome.
JOHN WICK was so brilliant that it has awoken my long-forgotten admiration for Mr Reeves and compelled me to revisit his extensive back catalogue immediately. Having spent my evening post screening ordering an alarming amount of Keanu Reeves films, both good and bad – HENRY’S CRIME anyone? I realised that my schoolgirl crush was far from over. Reeves is exceptionally handsome yes, but he also seems like such a nice, genuine guy. Recent interview appearances for JOHN WICK revealed that he has a very down-to-Earth nature and that he doesn’t take himself, or life to seriously. He has also managed to be both an instantly recognisable star and also incredibly enigmatic. Unlike other prominent actors of the nineties like Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise, and Brad Pitt, we hardly know anything about Reeves’ personal life. For some reason the tabloids don’t seem bothered about what he gets up, potentially because he’s never really dated a high profile female celebrity. As we all know its news like that that sells papers.
Every Friday between now and the release of JOHN WICK on 10th April, I’ll be taking a look at a different Keanu classic. So far we’ve looked BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE, Gus Van Sant’s MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO; the bromantic POINT BREAK and SPEED. Today’s penultimate entry is THE MATRIX.
What is THE MATRIX? You cannot be told what THE MATRIX is, you have to discover that for yourself. If you really pushed me though I’d relent and tell you that THE MATRIX is a seminal work of film fiction that changed the movie landscape forever. Written by the Wachowski’s, the story follows computer hacker Thomas ‘Neo’ Anderson as he discovers that his reality is a lie. Machine’s have taken over the planet and have constructed a virtual reality prison to house mankind whilst they farm our bodies for energy. A rogue few have managed to escape and dedicate their existence fighting the machines, living in a dark, desolate fire-scorched world. Neo joins one such group, headed by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who believes that Neo is the incarnation of a prophesied saviour. Not your average blockbuster, and that’s exactly what happened when the film was released, amassing a phenomenal $463,517,383, making it’s budget of £60 million look like small change.
It could have been a different tale however, as studio Warner Bros originally said no to the requested $60 million, granting only $10 million. The Wachowski’s then went and spent all of that budget, which was meant for a full feature, on creating the opening sequence between Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss) and the agents. As soon as Warner Bros saw the footage they opened up their wallets and extended the budget to the original requested amount. When you think about how expensive films can be to make these days (the Wachowski’s most recent venture JUPITER ASCENDING cost an estimated $176 million) it’s incredible what they produced on such a comparatively small budget. Their hard work was rewarded in 2012 when THE MATRIX was selected by the U.S. Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry archives.
Reeves was perfectly cast in the role of Neo. Given the Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan persona that has followed him around since
the Eighties’ his role of Neo could very well be that of a more mature Ted. He nails the ‘Alice down the rabbit-hole’ nature of the part, acting as a conduit between the film and the audience. During the opening 45 minutes Neo has a total of 80 lines, 44 of these are questions. The same questions that we, the audience, were asking. Further still, it isn’t until the final monologue that Neo speaks more than five sentences in a row. Neo also had to have a flair of cool about him or else he would have just irritated the audience with all his incessant questioning. Keanu excludes cool from every pore in his body, and in Neo he started his own fashion revolution. Much like women with Jennifer Anniston’s Friends character Rachel, men everywhere were entering the barbers and asking for the ‘Neo/Keanu’. He also brought back the wrap-around sunglasses and long leather jackets.
Before production started, the cast were sent to an intensive martial arts camp. The team spent four months learning a variety of fighting styles, the Wachowski’s wanting them to master the moves so that it would look more authentic on film. Interestingly, before he undertook his training, Keanu had just had neck surgery meaning that all of his training was completed with him in a neck brace. Reeves relished the chance to learn a disciplined fighting style and has carried what he learnt on THE MATRIX ever since, it coming in especially handy in new film JOHN WICK. Did you also know that the nose scratch and beckon, one of the coolest moments in the film, was ad-libbed by Reeves’? A homage to legendary Bruce Lee who used to do something similar. As with previous films POINT BREAK and SPEED Keanu was very up for doing his own stunts and THE MATRIX is obviously crammed full of them. The scene where Neo steps out of the his office window whilst talking to Morpheus on the phone was performed by Reeves. No small feat when you realise that that window is 34 floors up.
THE MATRIX is the first chapter in a trilogy of films, and though the sequels took A LOT of money (MATRIX RELOADED, the second film, grossed $742.1 million) they were quite disappointing. Long monologues and chunky exposition became the norm, and don’t even get me started on the weird cave rave scene. Too many characters were added, cluttering up the plot and pace. It also felt a little too rushed with THE MATRIX RELOADED and THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS filmed back-to-back, a trait that is common now.
Being filmed less than five years after the first, and both being filmed simultaneously, it meant that there just wasn’t sufficient time to finesse the stories. The first draft of THE MATRIX was shown to Joel Silver in 1995, a year before their debut movie BOUND was filmed, and the duo continued to work on it right up until production started in 1998. That’s along time to be working on a script for just one. The sequels by comparison, released in 2003, but shot in 2002, were exceptionally rushed. Who knows, maybe if they’d taken a little more time and released them further apart, the results might have been better. Don’t get me wrong, they are still an enjoyable watch, but don’t encourage the same repeat viewing as THE MATRIX.
As well as big screen sequels THE MATRIX also got it’s own series of short anime stories in THE ANIMATRIX. This focussed on many different characters including some from the first film. It also spawned several video games, some of which had events that ran alongside the events in the sequel. In Enter the Matrix you chose to playy as either Ghost or Niobe, both secondary characters from RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS, giving the audience a glimpse into what they were getting up to when they weren’t on screen.
Whilst POINT BREAK and SPEED have been spoofed a couple of times, THE MATRIX has had countless spoofs and clones over the years. In fact by 2002 alone, only three years after it’s release, it had been spoofed in more than twenty films. My favourite though has to be from that 2000’s MTV movie awards where Jimmy Fallon undertook the part of Neo, and merged THE MATRIX with Sex and the City. If you didn’t see it check out the below:
Sadly, although old enough, I was not lucky enough to see THE MATRIX in the cinema. I could have/should have done though. You see, myself and a friend made plans to go to the cinema during the school holidays, the plan being to maybe see THE MATRIX. On the day we turned up at the cinema, and as I was about to get a ticket for THE MATRIX, she confessed that she didn’t want to watch it. She’d been to the pictures the day before with her brother and had already seen it. She stated she wasn’t in the mood to watch it again so soon, so instead of basking in Keanu and all his big screen glory I instead had to endure (and I mean endure) Will Smith’s WILD WILD WEST. I’m still not sure I’ve fully forgiven that friend. Tragically being a poor teenager I missed my window at the box office and had to wait until the video release (yes readers I’m that old) which was a happily received Christmas gift. I spent Christmas afternoon 1999 learning all about THE MATRIX.
Being a big TERMINATOR fan, another film that sees humans overthrown by machines, I was instantly smitten. THE MATRIX also has a very special place in my heart as it was the favourite film of my best friend Michael. He brought himself some knock off Neo style glasses, got a long coat, and had his hair styled to look like Neo. He even tried to teach himself Kung-Fu. The pair of us spent many happy hours over-watching the Wachowski masterpiece to the point where I still know most of the lines now. These memories are even more precious due to the fact that Michael passed away during my last year of school. Whenever I watch THE MATRIX now memories of all the fun we had come flooding back and somehow, for me, as long as THE MATRIX is around, so is he.
Next week sees the Keanu Classic series reach it’s dramatic conclusion as I delve into the criminal world of what will become a Keanu Classic, JOHN WICK.
If you’ve missed any of the previous Keanu Classics you can find them all here.