“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
Do you take the blue pill or the red pill? It is a question that has tantalised movie-goers since the Wachowski’s The Matrix burst onto screens in 1999. Would we want to discover the truth behind our reality should we suddenly become faced with the notion that all that we see may not be what we perceive it to be? Or would we rather remain in blissful ignorance?
Thankfully, the hardest choice I had to make on the night was whether I wanted a blue raspberry or Vimto slushie to go with my nachos. Nothing too existentially taxing plagued me, as I went to experience The Matrix back on the big screen in all its glory to celebrate its 20th birthday. And to make that occasion even more special, the film has been given the 4DX treatment, giving fans of this groundbreaking piece of cinema a chance to experience it in a whole new fashion, one that will make you feel like you’re dodging bullets with the best of them.
Any opportunity to plug back in to The Matrix is always a welcome one, but to revisit it in the context of celebrating its birthday deserves all the trimmings, and 4DX certainly offers those trimmings for fans looking to revisit a classic. It is a joy to be able to say that time has been very kind to the Wachowski’s breakout hit. We are far beyond the point of seeing endless copies, pastiches and imitations of The Matrix (thank God), so watching the film almost feels like taking a big breath and sighing with sweet relief as you discover just how exciting and fresh the film still feels.
As we follow Keanu Reeves’s Neo down the rabbit hole, coming face-to-face with the true reality that the world he has been living in is a fabrication created by a race of machines who have enslaved the human race as an energy source, it is amazing to experience how much of a thrill the world building remains.
The reality-bending concept at the heart of The Matrix is as fascinating today as it was back in ’99, expressing complex theories of philosophy within the structure and stylings of a kick-ass action movie. There’s a reason it is still widely taught at colleges and universities when it comes to finding films that express ideas of postmodernism, namely Baudelaire’s Simulacra and Simulation.
Speaking of the action, The Matrix as one of the first American blockbusters to draw inspiration from the highly stylised choreography found within Hong Kong cinema and martial arts movies, has a flavour unique to itself, combining these elements with that of noir, comic-books and steampunk fiction to startling effect. The ‘wire-fu’ tricks and flips, the slick anime esque aesthetic, and of course slow-motion bullet time, the action allows the film to deftly balance its themes with exciting and jaw-dropping spectacle, a balance that so many Hollywood blockbusters struggle to achieve.
All of this kinetic energy is translated into the 4DX experience. Now, I don’t know how familiar you all with what the experience offers, but essential it makes whatever film you’re watching a ride (think of those half-hour Disneyland 4D experiences, but designed to fit a two hour movie). So there’s water shooting out at you, air shooting past through ears from the back of the seats replicating gun shots, a back massager simulating punches, lightning and wind effects, and the seats move either in tandem with the camera movements or matching the experience of the character on screen.
For me, this was my first 4DX experience (I once went to watch Daddy’s Home 2 in the precursor D-Box format, to find the film was not actually designed to fit it, more fool me I suppose), and I must say I was quite glad to be watching a film I know from the inside out for my first time experiencing the format. There’s no denying the appeal of the fairground attraction element of the format, but there is also no denying that it can often prove to be a distracting means of watching a movie. For something like a re-release, its an interesting means of finding a new way to watch a film you love, but I would find it difficult to justify watching a film for the very first time in such a format.
Yet, as I said before any excuse to see The Matrix on the big screen cannot be missed, and for the 20th Anniversary, you’re spoilt for choice with both the 4DX experience and a new 4K restoration to pick from. It’s a choice simpler than the blue or red pill, and probably simpler than my slushie conundrum; enter The Matrix and wish it a very happy birthday.
Dir: The Wachowskis
Scr: The Wachowskis
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano
Prd: Joel Silver
DOP: Bill Pope
Music: Don Davis
Country: United States/Australia
Runtime: 136 minutes
The Matrix is out now in select cinemas.