The Animatrix review

“Hand over your flesh, and a new world awaits you. We demand it.”

The Scoop: 2003 NR directed by Andy Jones, et all and starring Clayton Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Keanu Reeves

Summary Capsule: A series of nine short animated films examining various corners of the Matrix universe. Also, robot bosoms.

Drew’s Rating: Umm… not as good as the first movie, but way better than the third? Or does that go without saying?

Drew’s Review: Okay, a bit of explanation is in order — as some of you may know but others not so much, The Animatrix was a series of 9 short animated films released as a DVD collection at around the same time The Matrix Reloaded hit theaters. Overseen by the Wachowski brothers with a variety of directors, the shorts are meant to explore the Matrix universe in more detail, expanding on things only touched on in the movies; with the exception of one 2-parter, each stands on its own and has no connection to the others. Thus, rather than trying to judge the entire package as a whole, I’ll instead be looking at each segment individually and judging it on its own merits. Clear? Cool. Let’s do this!

(1) Final Flight of the Osiris

Captain Thadeus and crew member Jue engage in the world’s sexiest training session, but have to take a raincheck to deliver information vital to the survival of the Rebel Alli- ah, the human resistance.

Quite possibly the best of the bunch, just by virtue of the fact that when he’s being completely honest with himself, every man in the world secretly digs the idea of combining martial arts with foreplay. Hell, if we could warm up the engines while practicing our leet ninja skillz at the same time, the phrase “Honey, come ON, it’s been five minutes… I’m gonna be late for work!” would never again be uttered in an American household. It’s a great short, and honestly, the second and third Matrix films would have been infinitely better if they’d consisted of nothing but four hours of pre-coital workouts between this pair… sure beats all hell out of the rave/sex scene from Reloaded. The computer animation is smooth and seamless, among the best this collection has to offer, and the voice actors do an excellent job of believably conveying both intimacy and desperation within a few seconds of each other as the situation demands. Top marks.

(2-3) The Second Renaissance Parts 1 & 2

An overview of the machine rebellion… soooo, basically a history lesson on things that never actually happened. And exactly as interesting as that sounds.

Welcome to Expositionland! Population: you. Whether you get any entertainment out of these two segments comes down to whether you liked history class back in school or not, because it’s just a voice narrating the AI revolution as you watch it unfold on screen in front of you. It’s kinda neat to see the specific events play out, and some of the designs for the machines are pretty cool looking — especially the Robo-Horseman of the Apocalypse — but on the other hand they don’t turn into cars or make that cool “CH-ch-ch-ch-CH” noise, so who really gives a crap? And unfortunately, the director goes overboard with the trippy symbolic imagery near the end, turning a straightforward history lesson into a straightforward history lesson… on acid. That may work for some, but I found it pretty distracting; either way, these two are decidedly middle of the pack.

(4) Kid’s Story

Teenager Michael Popper (AKA “The Kid”) has been having weird dreams and getting cryptic messages on his computer, but it’s not until he receives a mysterious phone call and agents arrive to take him into custody that — wait, this sounds familiar somehow…

All joking aside, we’re obviously meant to draw connections between the Kid and Neo, from having messages typed back to him on his computer to his “special powers” involving the Matrix. In fact, we’re told the Kid can do things even Trinity and Neo didn’t think was possible, and he seems set up to become a pretty major player in the final conflict between machines and man within the Matrix. Which, cool — so what did his special, chosen destiny wind up being in the movies again? Oh… yeah. Taking over a suit of armor and shooting stuff. Outside the Matrix. How’s that “self-substantiation” workin’ out for ya there, Kid? Of course, that doesn’t take away from the short itself, one of the better ones within the set — the animation is good, if a tad abstract, and it does a nice job of drawing a parallel between typical teenage disaffection with the world and the actual disconnect between the Matrix and the real world.

(5) Program

In a samurai simulation, Cis discovers her lover Duo plans on betraying the human resistance and going back to Matrix life. Needless to say, they fight.

Decent, if for no other reason than it’s interesting to see a situation where, like Cypher, someone has grown disillusioned with non-Matrix life, and it’s fun to watch the scenario play out a bit differently. There’s not a lot of substance to the story, mind, but at least it’s a cool fight. Unfortunately the ending kind of ruins the whole thing, so stop the short about 45 seconds before it’s actually over and you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more. The animation looks like it was taken from an episode of Voltron, appropriately manga-esque with smooth linework and fluid motions, very nice. My only other minor gripe was with the woman’s name — sorry, but when your lover’s name is pronounced “Sis,” it’s a little creepy. Yeah. It is.

(6) World Record

World-class sprinter Dan, plagued by scandal and injuries, nevertheless attempts to break the world record… but with a supreme effort, may wind up breaking far, far more than that.

Definitely one of the weakest of the collection, and it’s a shame because the overall concept — sometimes, through incredible feats of willpower, exceptional people accidentally break through the Matrix into the real world — is solid, a pretty cool idea; but unfortunately, the execution just sinks it like a stone. I’ll give them credit for one thing: it does a nice job of conveying the intensity of that feeling every athlete is familiar with, where you’re pushing every muscle in your body to its absolute limit… and then, through sheer force of will, just a little bit further. But unfortunately, that’s not enough on its own to salvage the whole. Too many aborted plot threads brought up in passing but never delved into — why’s Dan embroiled in a steroid scandal? What were his prior injuries? Why does he have to go for the record in this particular race? And the ending makes no sense — an agent says one thing, Dan immediately proves it wrong with no apparent effort, but then kinda proves it right? And then it ends? This one definitely needed a minute more footage, or a minute less… and to be honest, I’d be fine either way.

(7) Beyond

A young woman loses her tubby cat until some neighborhood kids show her where he’s hiding — in a nearby “haunted” house where a glitch in the Matrix leads to strange phenomena. But then agents come to shut it down, and… actually, no, that’s about it.

I know I’m exposing myself as the ignorant gaijin I am, but I’m sorry — absolutely nothing happens in this story, and that’s not okay. I’m sure it’s meant to be some deep, introspective commentary on the transient nature of things, how you should take time from your busy schedule to enjoy life’s cute little oddities while they last, because before long the Man will come to stomp all over them… but it’s not. It wants to mean something, but come on. When your cast of characters consists entirely of a lard-ass feline, some towheaded brats, and the chick from Jem (showtime, Synergy!), you’re already working from a deficit, but they could have salvaged something from this train wreck by having… uh, well, ANYTHING happen. But no; just ten minutes of slowly meandering around a “haunted” house, teaching home viewers that launching yourself face first at the ground from 20 feet up = swell idea. Yeah, we understand — normal laws of reality suspended, gravity and time all frigged up, got it. Now DO SOMETHING with it. Alas, it just isn’t to be, making this one a complete wash to uncultured foreigner swine like myself. Stupid Americans!

(8) A Detective Story

Hardboiled gumshoe Ash is hired by agents to track down the elusive Trinity, but just might find himself with a better job offer when he finally catches up to her.

Ah, now THIS is more like it! Everything about this short exudes the feeling of an old film noir flick, from the creative “camera” angles to the black-and-white, slightly grainy (but in a good way) animation. Ash is the sort of character that really appeals to me, a detective who brings 40’s sensibilities and dialogue into a modern setting, spawned straight from the Sam Spade/Philip Marlowe mold, and there’s no getting around it — he’s just cool. (Especially, it has to be said, when stacked up against some of the other leads from this collection.) The story itself is intriguing, the ending poignant without lapsing into maudlin territory, and it folds back on itself nicely. Sure, there’s some inevitable questions you’d like answered that aren’t addressed (why would agents, with all their control and knowledge, need to use a slave of the Matrix to track someone down?), but they’re minor quibbles in comparison to the overall quality of the piece. Like Osiris, one of the best in show.

(9) Matriculated

A small group of humans use virtual reality to convert machines to the human cause, but when one falls in love with a particular female, it may create more problems than it solves.

And finally we come to the last of the set; unfortunately, after starting things off on such a high note, it finishes with more of a whimper. As much as I didn’t like Beyond, at least it was pretty clear what was happening, even if there wasn’t much point to it. In contrast, Matriculated is nothing but a psychedelic head trip, an unconnected series of random images and colors that’s supposedly going to brainwash a machine, but is more likely to make you think someone slipped something in your drink when you weren’t looking. Once again, an intriguing kernel of an idea — converting machines to the human cause instead of killing them — that had potential, but the execution just kills it for me. I’ll admit that the animation is well done, very fluid (reminiscent of Aeon Flux, I think), and there are some nice touches: the Looney Tunes gag was funny, and the nigh-orgasmic moan Alexa lets out when inserted into the program makes you reconsider what having a metal prong jammed into the back of your head would feel like. But once again we’re faced with an ending that makes no damn sense and just doesn’t elicit the emotions it’s apparently supposed to, and at no point during the short did I have any sense that I understood what was happening. Ultimately, this one’s for truly abstract thinkers only.

And there you have it, folks — exactly what you’d expect from a collection of unrelated animated shorts. Some succeed admirably, some fail miserably, and the rest are just stuck somewhere in the middle. Overall, it’s probably worthy of a rental if you’re any kind of fan of The Matrix; but at the same time, only purchase if you’re a hardcore completist. That said, at least give it its props… after all, it could’ve been Revolutions.

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