Last weekend, I purchased “The Complete Matrix Collection” DVD box set. I will at some point in the future address the sequels and whether or not they stand up to the test of time, particularly now that we have some distance between their release and the release of the original. But one item of the set was astounding. This was the DVD for “The Animatrix.”
For those that have never heard, you aren’t really missing a whole lot. This was a collection of nine animated short films meant to expand upon the universe of the Matrix. Many of the short films fill in plot points with the films. For example, we discover the origin of “the kid” as well as stories of several other ships and their captains.
In theory, this could be an interesting idea. After all, if a universe is deep enough, all sorts of stories and ideas can be examined. Star Wars has been doing this for decades.
But with The Animatrix, a problem becomes readily apparent. You see, these ideas were meant to be the sort of item that the film needed to make sense. This is a drastic mistake. Films need to stand alone in order to be counted as a film. It is impossible to say that “a film only makes sense if you have seen or done x.” People have long been giving this excuse with books. That may be the case…but that means the film has absolutely failed.
But this sort of thing is no longer the exception. It is quickly becoming the norm. Video games fill in plot holes (at great expense) and the sheer number of tie in novelizations and others are becoming quite a chore to find. In order to truly “see” a film, one has to spend close to $100 to get the entire plot.
It should not work this way. A film is a film. That is all. If a film cannot stand up on its own, then it cannot stand up on its own. No amount of excuses will correct this. Some day, someone may use this correctly. But it is still a long way off.
Besides, why should it be tried anyway? Sometimes it strikes more as studios trying to capitalize on a popular franchise rather than there being a desperate need to expand the universe. Has anyone in history read the Southland Tales graphic novels? I didn’t think so. The film failed in its own right to explain it’s world. Why bother going out and doing the director’s work for them?
One item that has succeeded is, yes, Star Wars. Some stories are written to take thousands of years before the story. I have always admired the Knights of the Old Republic series of video games. Everything that made the original films classic is there, but it does not depend on the preexisting mythology. Nor does the preexisting mythology depend on it. Watch the original Star Wars and you will get a complete film that does not leave any questions open. Both items can stand up on their own.
The Matrix sequels never quite learned that. Oh sure, they do an adequate enough job that, if the filmmakers really wanted to expand the mythology but keep it separate, that one will not feel completely ripped off at the movies themselves. But, they were still trying to hard. Work on getting the film correct before you expand upon it. Otherwise…well, compare the IMDB scores of the original Matrix and the sequels. That is what happens.
I will be giving a more in depth overview of the box set later.