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The Matrix Reloaded

Seen: 2003.05.16   ¶   Reviewed: 2003.05.17

It was a disastrously adverse period of my life when The Matrix came out. I distinctly recall visiting the Uptown Cinema, the grand, 2,000-seat cavern that will now be closed or at least sold, with the first and only intent of escape ever encountered in a lifetime of moviegoing. (I go to movies; I don’t escape something else.)

Barely finding a seat, it was easy to be wowed by the audacity of the picture. Its philosophy lessons are so old hat the movie needed to spell them out almost in duplicate. (Compare that with Dark City.) But it’s a great premise for science fiction, and the image of white/Hawaiian Keanu Reeves doing kung fu with black negro of colour Laurence Fishburne was a cultural touchpoint of the late 20th century. Martial arts: Not just for the Chinese anymore.

It will not surprise readers to hear that, whilst watching the fight and bullet-time “sequences” (they’re no longer even considered “scenes”: Only real films have “scenes”), I specifically wondered how they could be rendered in audio description. I heard Joel Snyder’s version on TV once, and could presumably buy the DVS Home Video, and still think nice conventional sentences don’t do the job.

The Matrix Reloaded, however, is a flat-out action movie when it is not soft-core porn or a risible Lucas-style setup for yet another movie that will appear months hence. (In the Lucas example, he’ll encase Harrison Ford in metal and make you wait two years to find out whether he comes out of it still having his full head of hair. To their credit, the Wachowskis are only making us wait till November.) The film thudded with disappointment.

We already know that the characters and the actors are kung-fu experts. We also know that reality is an illusion that can be bent to one’s will, though it has never been explained why we can’t bend it totally to our will as, for example, by simply wishing the Matrix to be shut off, or at least by causing Agents on our trail to disappear. There are no impossible acts in the Matrix, hence the unending fight and chase sequences are pointless: Their ship runs aground on the philosophical impasse of an immovable object up against an irresistible force.

Every impossible offense lobbed by an Agent can be countered with an impossible defense by Morpheus, Trinity, Neo, or anyone else. I’m just not sure how it is even theoretically possible that harm could come to anyone fighting an agent, and even if it starts to look that way, you can spin like a top, cause the asphalt at your feet to ripple radially like an H-bomb blast, and fly away. (Adam Gopnik, whose mom taught me linguistics at McGill: “He fights the identical agents for fifteen minutes, practically yawning while he does, and then flies away, and you wonder – why didn’t he fly away to start with?”)

We hear no elaboration whatsoever of the Matrix philosophy until much too very late, as a Donald Sutherland manqué spouts endless dependent clauses about humans as a recurring bug in the Matrix’s system. Save for a single BMW and a clearly-emblazoned Ducati motorcycle and a raft of 18-wheelers, every vehicle in the highway chase sequence, whose visuals blur like second-rate computer graphics, is by GM, no doubt shipped to Oz at enormous expense. Even the Matrix is available for product placement.

(Also on import were hundreds of black actors, exceeding the entire black population of Australia. The city of Zion has almost no white people, except of course on the ruling Council. I thought this was supposed to be fiction.)

A crushingly-disappointing assemblage of predictable elements. Whereas so very much about The Matrix was a surprise.

At times like these, you just want to sit down with the Oracle and ask her: Why?

Theatre experience

Anxiety-anxiety-anxiety. There was much gnashing of teeth over whether I could wait for our usual Movie Night. I explained to Mr. X and Mr. Y that I’d probably see the movie on the weekend. Friday was a day of continual rain and led into the Victoria Day weekend, so I figured a matinée would give me the best chance of getting the best seat in the house – the one seat dead centre four rows away from the caption display at the Paramount.

But my friend Ms Q decided to come along. “Door to door from my place to the Paramount is 25 minutes,” she exaggerated, promising to meet me there at 3:00 for the 3:20 show.

When I got there at 2:45:

So what do I do now?

I march right up to my seat and tell the people seated there that I need to sit right in front of the display (in a Freudian twist, I keep calling the “the reflector”). They’re a posse of eight Chinese-Canadian kids. They turn around and, as is always the case with the kids today, understand immediately what’s going on. A chick negotiates with several other people to find me two spaces, and everyone on both sides moves over!

Far be it from me to be anything but profuse with thanks. Some people unrelated to the group were annoyed at my walking back and forth in front of them, but this was fine Toronto multicultural cooperation.

Downstairs I go. My guy is still busy with this other fellow, who appears to be a salesman. My guy disappears to find me my gear and doesn’t even bother to sign me in. “No, Joe, you’re almost part of the family now,” he says. I think back to my own family and instantly blurt “That bad, huh?”

I stand at the top of the vertiginous flight of stairs and escalators (which Lisa Gibson could not get over en route up to X-Men) anxiously looking for Ms Q. No dice.

I return to my seat, dial in, and in fact hand the reflector to the guy next to me. “Here. You try it.” “Welcome to the Rear Window,” he reads. “Please adjust your reflectors.” He does so, planting a nice thumbprint.

I kibbitz with the kids about how, after all that trouble, my friend hasn’t shown up. I annoy the unrelated people by passing by again to check for her. There she is at the door being escorted in, VIP-style, by another manager. Apparently my guy at the desk had recognized her and set up the escort! I handed her a ticket and in we went. I brought her up to the row, sat her down, spokesmodeled to my right, and got a good laugh and neighbourly nods as I stage-declared “These are all the people I made move.”

Not bad, huh?

I could not, however, get over the fact that at 3:00 on a rainy schoolday the place was packed to the walls. Ms Q pointed out the current Catholic school strike. Just wait till the monsignor finds out what heathen rubbish they’ve been watching.

Caption quality

Two four-dot ellipses. By convention, we do not follow that rule in captioning, limiting ourselves to three. Arguably that could be changed; we need excellent reasons to rewrite English orthographic rules.

On several occasions, awkward caption breaks, like one word before or after a comma in a dependent clause, were seen. Just make the captions longer, or give up on placement. Of course, GBH wouldn’t have to give up on placement if they bothered with right justification.

I mentioned the soft-core porn. The non-white citizens of Zion partake of a rave-cum-orgy that is artlessly intercut with a banal sex scene between Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss. As such, a caption reading (music climaxes and sustains) handy to the moment Trinity has an orgasm was perhaps in poor taste. Neo is truly the One: He can make a woman come vaginally.

I gotta react to what they give me, people. And I’d never seen a computer-graphics version of the Basic Instinct crotch shot (the number-one-most-queried scene by journalists just finding out about audio description) until I watched The Matrix Reloaded. Subtle this ain’t. The Onion: “Trinity makes three-point landing on top of speeding sports car, then jumps off in slow motion, landing in bedroom of 300-pound comic-book collector.”

What matters is that, whatever happened, happened for a reason: What is this, 26-year-old poli-sci girls at the controls again? No commas are necessary no matter what you think: What matters is that whatever happened happened for a reason. Same with No, what happened, happened.

I believe I spotted a caption/dialogue mismatch:

With non-speech information, you have to describe what actually happens even if it comes up once in a thousand hours: (replaces cap on lipstick).

This picture contains another rarity, a multi-caption quote interrupted by a sound-effect caption. Here they just pretended it didn’t happen and kept the quote routine unchanged.

A lot of quick French was used as the brunt of a joke, but there was one error: C'est rien de tout is actually du tout, and again we see that the MoPix character set lacks accents. When will these Americans, who have some nerve picking on the French, ever learn?

And yet again with countless additions of (voice-over): to speaker IDs. They’re not narrators! Just caption what they damned well say.

MAUSER: is IDed near the very end, but I do not recall his name having come up before.

Description quality

Much more to talk about here.

“The rider removes her shiny black helmet. It’s Trinity!” Indeed it is. We can identify characters by name if the audience already is familiar.

“Back at the underground rave”: I suppose that’s what it is, yes.

I was wondering why there was no mention of the many ports installed on the surfaces of Trinity, Morpheus, and Neo (way more numerous than the base-of-the-neck port in The Matrix), then suddenly, in the tedious love scene: “revealing a row of dark spinal sockets.” It was a column and they’re ports.

The term “intertwined” came up twice within five minutes.

If we are told “an elderly Asian man sits at a workdesk,” why are we not told that nearly everyone but Trinity and Neo are black?

“He extends his hands from his sides. Scies fly into his hands!” Here we go again with that word, which, you will note, follows the near-rhyme sides. After rather too much looking, I finally found the correct word: sai, defined as a “Far Eastern–style eight-sided sword used for martial-arts practice.” (Pictures.)

“To a black Ducati motorcycle”: Gotta get that product placement in there. (The label DUCATI was admittedly enormous.)

Here’s a tricky one. Trinity falls out of an office tower (a visibly fake office tower) in slow motion, then takes a bullet, which “enters her [shiny black?] suit below her left breast.” When the scene happens all over again later, we are told the bullet “enters Trinity just below her left breast.” Not identical, from what my notes tell me, and also too soft-core-suggestive.

“Trinity’s monitor reads LOST CONTROL SIGNAL”: No, LOST CARRIER SIGNAL, I believe, which would make sense as it is ancient modem terminology.

The end credits were a bit of a trial. Miles Neff, our narrator, tells us the film was directed by the “Wakawski” brothers. In fact, as The Matrix Revisited confirms, their name is pronounced exactly as it looks, with the word “chow” in the middle. I specifically listened for the unpredictable ways in which Neff would mangle Chinese names, and was not disappointed: Yuen Wo Ping (pronounced Yoon Woo Ping in Revisited), was articulated phonetically: Yoo-en Whoa Ping. Another Yuen also had his name mispronounced. If it were written Yün (actually, it pretty much is), would the correct vowel be obvious? And it’s one syllable per Chinese name.


Exit interview

None. Thanked the kids again, handed the gear to the desk, and buggered off.

The return of MC May Techno Dance Remix!

Matt May (op. cit.) schlepped out to see The Matrix Reloaded, too, and claims:

Naturally, I had the Descriptive Video Service headset and the Rear Window Captioning visor [reflector – Ed.], like any good accessibility evangelist. It's always worth trying these things out at least once, and it's especially entertaining to hear fight scenes described.

“At least once”? Maid in Manhattan was itself his second time!

But let’s leave the last word to Bret Easton Ellis

He of the ambiguous sexualism, writing in the first issue of Radar:

Don’t ask me what my feelings are about the Matrix thing in its entirety. I could never get over the fact that if you took the blue pill you got chased by a killer robotic squid, and if you took the red pill you’d have a nice steak dinner with Joe Pantoliano. Where’s the dilemma?

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