It’s weird to think now, that a film as singular and downright weird as The Matrix could have dominated pop culture for as long as it did. I was only a kid when The Matrix was released in 1999, and even then I was well aware of the film thanks to references in The Simpsons, Shrek and countless other films, TV and video games (a medium into which the Matrix mythos would itself move, with the fine if underwhelming Enter the Matrix and The Path of Neo.)
Over the years, my experience with The Matrix and its two sequels has been entirely from watching – and rewatching – the films on the small screen. When the opportunity arose to catch the original on the big screen, in 4D no less, I was thrilled. Not only would I get to see one of the best action films of the last two decades in a cinema for the first time, but the added excitement of my first viewing of a feature-length film in 4D left me counting down the days to sitting down in the auditorium, and taking in the Wachowski’s action sci-fi masterpiece once again, in an all-new way.
All too often, 4K restorations can end up doing few favours for a film’s visuals, especially when said film is reliant on special effects and computer generated graphics which are at least 2 decades old. It’s testament therefore to the deservedly award-winning visual work by The Matrix‘s visual effects team, the production design overseen by Owen Paterson, and Bill Pope’s cinematography, that after 20 years the film still looks as fresh and new as ever.
As a piece of storytelling, the Wachowskis never bettered what they achieved in The Matrix, and I was pleasantly surprised that, after having not seen the film for some time, it had me gripped all over again. Neo’s journey from small-time hacker to cyberpunk Jesus has taken references from countless other films, anime, literature and philosophy, but The Matrix continues to stand apart from anything else made before or since. Keanu Reeves is still effortlessly cool (both in this film and in real life), Carrie-Anne Moss’s Trinity continues to be a joy to watch in all her butt-kicking glory, and Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving’s respective performances as mentor Morpheus and antagonist Agent Smith have, and will always stand the test of time.
So, what about this 4D addition that I mentioned earlier? Well, anyone who’s been to a Cineworld in the last year or so will have grown accustomed to those annoying adverts, which if not for the near universal praise I’ve heard from those who had experienced it prior to my visit, would have put me off altogether.
The lengthy list of warnings which popped up on screen just after the trailers wrapped up filled me with a little bit of worry, and I began to wonder if the initial excitement of 4D cinema – with its moving seats, wind, water and a plethora of other effects – could even be sustained for a 2 hour feature. As something that I had only ever encountered before as a theme park sideshow, and certainly not for as long as that, what if the experience ended up taking away from my enjoyment of the film?
Now, I’ll be honest: I really enjoyed watching The Matrix in 4D. Whether it was my familiarity with the film before going in, or simply excitement at the thought of experiencing a new way of watching movies, despite the aforementioned growing doubts, I was quickly won over.
The overly enthusiastic flashing lights at the start notwithstanding, I could feel myself grinning with childlike glee as the auditorium began to move with the camera as the action slowed down to “bullet time”, and when my seat blasted jets of air past my head, to coincide with the Agents’ gunshots as Trinity made her escape during the film’s cold opening.
Make no mistake, 4DX is a total gimmick; I’m no cinema purist but I honestly can’t see this becoming the true future of moviegoing, as cinemas and multiplexes search for ways to recover dwindling audiences. However, the success of experiential cinema outings like Secret Cinema, Screen X and others have shown that there is a growing demand for audiences to watch these films in ways beyond the traditional dark auditorium.
While 4DX is certainly the most intrusive of these experiences that I’ve encountered so far, at no point did I feel like this was ever detracting from my overall enjoyment, although I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t watch The Matrix again without those additional elements. The Wachowskis had already created something completely immersive with this film, but maybe it was fitting that something as visually innovative as The Matrix would be the thing that got me on board with 4D cinema; in any case, I doubt any other rerelease could have worked as well in the format.
That said, sign me up for My Dinner with Andre in 4D, when that film turns 40 in a couple of years.