Welcome to The Animatrix, a visionary fusion of CG-animation and Japanese anime from the world’s most revered anime directors. Experience the prequel to The Matrix and learn about the last cities of mankind, the war with the machines and humanity’s ultimate downfall. Witness the Final Flight of the Osiris, which sets the stage for The Matrix Reloaded movie and Enter the Matrix video game. Grasp a more complete understanding of The Matrix available nowhere else. Expand your mind even further as you unlock a dazzling arsenal of Bonus Materials. It’s time to plug in.
The Animatrix 7.5
eyelights: the variety of animation styles. the diversity of the plotlines.
eyesores: the simple-mindedness of some of the plotlines. the voice-acting.
“May there be mercy on man and machine for their sins.”
‘The Animatrix’ is a collection of animated shorts based on the ‘Matrix’ universe created by The Wachowskis. Although some of the shorts had already been released on the series’ official website, the full collection was shown in select cinemas in the weeks leading to the release of the first sequel to ‘The Matrix‘, ‘The Matrix Reloaded‘.
Although the film is rooted in the universe of ‘The Matrix’, not many of the shorts pertain to the original film. In fact, only a few involve the series’ characters: most of the shorts are unrelated. But The Wachowskis were involved, writing four of the nine shorts, picking the directors who contributed to the piece, and co-producing it.
What’s striking is the variety of the set, stylistically and plot-wise: some stay very close to the ‘Matrix’ mythos (and/or develop it even further), while others stray a little bit to explore more abstract concepts. The type of animation also changes dramatically from one to the next, using both traditional 2D animation and CGI to varying degrees.
Each short is introduced with an intertitle reminiscent of the ‘Matrix’ credits: all black with green coding streaming across the screen vertically. The names of the directors and other credits are all relegated to the end of the picture: only the shorts’ titles are listed in these intertitles.
1. Final Flight of the Osiris: This one was shown before ‘The Matrix Reloaded’ to provide more background to film-goers. Naturally, it begins with a fight scene that’s essentially foreplay for its male and female characters (!). Then it goes into a chase scene and battle between the sentinels and resistance fighters – exciting, but vacant stuff. The animation is CGI and has a 3D effect, but it’s old-school CGI and it doesn’t look great – the movements and facial expressions aren’t quite right. 7.5
2 + 3. The Second Renaissance, Part I + II: This two-part prequel to ‘The Matrix’, providing the whole backstory to the war between humans and machines, was written by The Wachowskis themselves. There are interesting ideas in here, and it’s engaging enough, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. The problem is that they jump the shark when humanity agrees to blot out the sky permanently to stop the machines – which use the sun for energy. There’s no logic in doing that seeing as machines can get their energy from many other sources. Like potatoes. However, humanity needs the sun desperately. So really, it’s dumb-@$$ logic. No one would agree to this. There would be other ways to corrupt the machines, with viruses or infiltration. To resort to this act is moronic at best. The animation for this one is decent 2D fodder. 7.5
4. Kid’s Story: Also written by The Wachowskis, this is the story of an angsty teenager who is contacted by Neo in much the same way that Neo was in ‘The Matrix’ – just before the Agents arrive. The kid tries to escape, but falls to his death, choosing to die over being caught. It feels rather empty to me and I was left quizzical by its intention. Add to it some lackluster animation and I could do without it. It feels déjà-vu and meaningless. 6.0
5. Program: Although I love the idea that someone might want to return to the matrix because it’s more peaceful (in an “ignorance is bliss” fashion), and betrays his colleagues in exchange for reintegration, this was already explored in ‘The Matrix’. It’s also somewhat contrived to fit into a feudal Japan fantasy context, even though there wouldn’t be any phones there – so screaming for an operator is silly. It looks stunning, but it’s not nearly as satisfying as it should be – particularly since it’s only an excuse for non-stop combat. And stupidly presented, at that: the guy is trying to kill the woman he loves because she won’t join him. Seeing as she will be killed by the Sentinels anyway (due to his betrayal), trying to murder her is pointless and out-of-character for someone supposedly in love. 6.75
6. World Record: I always found this one intriguing because it doesn’t neatly fit into the whole ‘Matrix’ world. It’s about an Olympic athlete who tries to beat his own record and, in the process, awakens himself from the matrix – before agents can prevent him. It suggests that people with a certain unusual ability can become aware of the matrix, but it’s too short to explore this concept. It’s more of a teaser. I like the animation style, too, but I wish there was more to it. 6.75
7. Beyond: This is one of my favourites of the collection. The animation style is sleek and polished, and the story is whimsical. Instead of immersing us in action sequences and/or dystopia, it takes a look at what happens when a part of the matrix becomes glitchy, when there’s a flaw in the programming. It takes us to a shack where a handful of kids discover that the laws of physics don’t apply: when they break glass, it reassembles, when they dive towards the ground, they stop an inch from hitting pavement. Naturally they have a lot of fun in this secret space of theirs. Until Agents show up, that is. This was a breath of fresh air, in light of how heavy the rest of this world is. 8.5
8. A Detective Story: This one needed some serious fleshing out for it to make sense. It’s supposed to look like a gritty film noir (it’s in grainy monochrome, for instance), and it follows a private dick who has been hired to find a hacker named “Trinity”. Problem is that his detective work is conveniently wrapped up in minutes and it turns into an action sequence. And the dialogues between him and Trinity are absolutely non-sensical – it assumes that viewers know about ‘The Matrix’, because the characters make all sorts of leaps they wouldn’t normally. It’s a simple-minded approach to a great idea. 6.0
9. Matriculated: This one is from Peter Chung, the brilliant, twisted genius behind the Aeon Flux series of cartoons. As a fan of the latter, I love the look of the piece and the distinctive character designs of ‘Matriculated’. But I wasn’t so sure about the story, which turned into a psychedelic mind-bender for its own sake. The basic plot is that some pacifist rebels are trying to convert some of the machines, but want to do this without reprogramming them. So they plug them into a matrix-like construct and interact with them there. As much as I like abstract, weird and wacky stuff, I didn’t think that this lengthy virtual reality segment contributed anything to the plot, served its intended purpose or made any sense – the rebels all acted like they were on LSD and/or E. So I like the idea, and it’s a cool short, but I’m not sure it was done particularly well, contextually-speaking. 7.0
If ‘The Animatrix’ works at all it’s because it’s so varied that you either don’t have time to be heavily critical or your mind is reset fast enough that it ends up being okay. Unlike the two sequels to ‘The Matrix’, it doesn’t fail at being wholly coherent. But this is because its ambition is different: to offer croquis instead of large scale tapestries.
It has its share of problems, such as the extremely artificial voice-acting that bogs down most of the shorts, lapses in logic and a dependence on action over substance, but it’s the second best of the series (thus far, as there are more coming down the pipes). And I have to give it props for its diversity and style, even if its execution isn’t entirely satisfying.
Date of viewing: December 3, 2014