Jul 4, 2014

[Movies] The Animatrix (2003)

One of the best things that ever came out of The Matrix franchise of movies has to be The Animatrix - a direct-to-video release that consists of various animated short films set in the world of the Matrix. What at first seemed like more fluff material was in fact a genuine attempt to expand the storytelling behind The Matrix into new avenues.

It has often been said that The Matrix owes a lot to various influences including different Hong Kong kung-fu movies and of course the ever diverse world of anime. So it was interesting how the Wachowskis eventually tapped some of those very influences to come up with this visually brilliant collection of short films.

I rarely take the time to rewatch the Matrix movies apart from them just happening to be showing on cable TV. But I do make a bit more of an effort to re-watch The Animatrix when time allows, only because I truly enjoyed them so much. And whether or not you're invested in the whole Matrix back story, this is a great standalone piece that does a lot better than all of the movie sequels.

Synopsis: The Animatrix is a collection of 9 animated short films released directly to video. The stories within the collection take place at different points of time with respect to the first movie, although some aren't too clear about precisely when. Four of the stories were written by the Wachowskis themselves while the others were the results of working with different Japanese talents and other key influencers.

If we look at this collection strictly in terms of its connections to the live-action movies, then there are four key films that one needs to cover. "The Second Renaissance" (parts I and II) is a full history of the human-machine war from its early origins to the current status quo. It's quite a rich story and one that fits right in with any other post-apocalyptic style of back story. And it certainly paints a honest picture of what human nature is certainly capable of. "Kid's Story" introduces a character who actually appears in the movies later on. And then of course there's "Final Flight of the Osiris," which is a beautifully animated piece that sets up the story for the Enter the Matrix game and ultimately to The Matrix Reloaded.

But beyond concrete ties to the movies, all of the stories are able to stand on their own quite well and are done in the kind of high quality anime-style that we've come to love and respect over the years. Only "Final Flight of the Osiris" was presented as a completely CGI-film. The others features a good mix of more traditional animation, but often mixed with CGI elements.

It's hard to pick a favorite. I naturally appreciated the background provided by "The Second Renaissance" most of all. The somewhat documentary style of discussing the future history of humanity with respect to The Matrix was certainly interesting to me. This goes beyond wanting to know more about The Matrix - it was more because it felt like a genuinely good story to me.

"Matriculated" was another thought-provoking piece that was written and directed by Peter Chung of Aeon Flux fame. He we have humans struggling to live on the inhospitable surface of Earth with a unique project of trying to sway machines to the human cause. In classic Chung style, the film had little dialog and some trippy visuals that really drove the story home in a distinct way.

And then there's "Beyond" by Kōji Morimoto. It's a simple enough story about a girl looking for her lost cat. But when she encounters a glitch in the Matrix that allows for some impossible feats of physics, then things get really interesting. This short almost felt like a Studio Ghibli piece (save for the CGI enhancements of course). I say this since it was really a story of curiosity, discovery and then wonder. And on its own it was just a great piece of storytelling.

The Animatrix is a great collection that only really needs the first movie to setup the premise. It's a wonderful creative effort that more people need to see, even more than the actual live-action sequels themselves. Thus I'm happy to rate this collection as 5 brilliantly animated sequences out of a possible 5.

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