January 20, 2015
(We start off today's episode with lines of code raining down on the screen which not only has random Japanese hiragana, but also words like Bloated, Pretentious, Heavy Handed, Dated and Artsy, all of this being the Matrix Month card.)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. Well, seeing how The Matrix clearly ripped off some of Japan's most famous animes, Japan decided they wanted to steal some of that shit back, hence The Animatrix.
(The title of the film appears, then footage of the shorts follow)
NC (vo): After the success of the first Matrix movie and in-between filming the Matrix sequels, several animators and storytellers, including the Wachowskis, decided to get together and do a series of shorts based on the idea of The Matrix. The result is The Animatrix, an anthology that many claim is actually better than the Matrix films themselves. In many respects, they're kind of right. In others, well, let's just say the subtlety of The Matrix mixed with the subtlety of Japan is anything but...subtle.
NC: So let's take a quick glance at one source material stealing from another source material stealing from another source material. This is The Animatrix.
Final Flight of the Osiris
NC (vo): The first one is The Final Flight of the Osiris, a CG short written by the Wachowskis, and, boy, does it show. Aside from the CGI looking for the most part pretty damn impressive, especially when it comes to human textures, it has all the Wachowski trademarks.
(Several scenes about to be mentioned are shown as they're counted down on a caption of the scene's name and a mark)
NC (vo): Totally pointless action scene: Check. Good looking blands trying to sound important but instead sounding disinterested...
Thaddeus: Go. Go. Go!
NC (vo): Check. Horny sexual issues being explored under the guise of avart garde storytelling: Double check. The story is, the Osiris has discovered a drill that the Machines have built to break into Zion, and they have to get that information to Zion as fast as possible. The Matrix, for some reason, is the only way they can get that information to them...does this technological world hate phones for some reason?...and they all end up dying in the process.
NC: Um...sucks to be them?
NC (vo): It would be nice if they actually let us, oh, I don't know, get to know these people so it'd felt more important when they got axed off. But it's pretty obvious that's not the short's intention. The intention, like anything related to The Matrix, is to be an exercise in new technology and looking cool. And for a short, it does that fine. You don't give a shit about what happens to them, but they look so cool while you're not giving a shit about what happens to them. As a fun little demonstration of cool CGI effects and some neat visuals, it's totally passable.
The Second Renaissance
NC (vo): The next one, however, is anything but short. It's another one written by the Wachowskis, describing the history of how the Matrix came into being. And on the one hand, it looks amazing. Some of the imagery is downright inspired and dripping with beautiful animation. With that said, it still doesn't excuse the fact that it makes little to no sense and it's still deep-fried in pretentious batter. I mean, like, extra-crispy pretentious batter. The story is told through the Zion Archives...which looks like every religion was smashed into a hologram card...where they reveal a past where humanity relied too much on technology. Robots did all the work and mankind just leaned back and relaxed. An interesting idea, when suddenly, these machines with no emotions and thoughts of their own suddenly get emotions and thoughts of their own.
NC: It happens. I think my toaster's looking at me funny.
(He points to a toaster, which has angry eyes looking at him. Back to the short)
NC (vo): This apparently spawns from one of them murdering his owner because he didn't want to be deleted. Of course, if these things were supposed to be programmed with emotions before, it's pretty obvious this would happen a long time ago, but because two popular commentaries are "Life just happens" and "Man equals bad", they decide they do suddenly have feelings now. But mankind, being stupid evil us, decides to destroy them all and doesn't care for their...emotions that may or may not be there programmed in them originally. Oh, the confused-manity. The surviving machines create their own country and...even though they were banished from humanity, somehow still do humanity's work.
NC: You still following this? There's a test later. And I can assure you, I'm gonna fail it.
NC (vo): But, get this, the machines' economy does better, flinging the human economy out of whack. So, again, being big stupid evil us, we just decide to blow them all up, because...man like boom and evil and everything wrong. But the machines survived and decided they had enough, so they begin to enslave mankind. So our big, dumb idiot commentary selves go to the obvious logical conclusion: Destroy the sky. Yeah, because they're solar-operated, this would apparently destroy them all. But even that doesn't work...again, totally not explained why...as the machines finally enslave all of humanity and eventually form the Matrix to feed off of our energy. I guess we suck. Bye!
(The words "The End" is shown as "wah-wah" music plays. We are shown various footage of the short)
NC (vo): So, I'm just gonna come out and say it: The shock value in this is beyond exploited. There's some damn gritty acknowledgements of Nam, the Holocaust, street riots, real crime scenes, and they try to make them as disturbing and gory as possible, desperate to get some sort of emotional reaction. Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against intense imagery. If it's fit and it's deserving, I say go for it. Take us out of our comfort zone. But for a science fiction story, it doesn't really explain the science nor the fiction in any logical sense. We can't get behind the emotion of it, because on top of there being no one to connect with, there's just no rational progression to what's going on. Commentary is supposed to explain why or how something is the way it is, where this seems more focused on getting an emotional response with disturbing imagery, but no reason why. But with that said, it is still something to admire just on its visual ambition. I can totally see someone getting ideas for a stronger project just based on this dramatic layout. But in terms of making any sense or becoming emotionally invested, this is definitely not the place to look.
NC (vo): Kid's Story is the last of the Wachowski-written shorts, and give it credit that it at least attempts to make an emotional connection this time, or at least, feel something resembling an emotional experience. Most of it focuses on a high school boy who spends his time on the computer, trying to follow the path Neo and Trinity left behind. Eventually, Neo gets in contact and Agents try to capture him. We have a long chase scene, and in the end, he literally makes a leap of faith and somehow gets broken out of the Matrix.
NC: Again, explaining is just for people who want to make sense of things.
NC (vo): And we see that Neo and Trinity are there to greet him.
Kid: [I knew] you'd save me.
Neo: You saved yourself.
NC (vo): On the one hand, this could very easily be a recruitment video for a cult. Trust our faith, drink the Kool-Aid, and off yourself. Trust me, you'll be okay! But I think the idea behind it is more dedicating everything you have to something of value that you truly believe in. And don't get me wrong. It is a little sketchy, especially seeing how the Kid commits suicide and gets rewarded for it at the end. I think it's pretty obvious that's gonna press some buttons for some people.
(Footage mostly showing off the short's animation is shown)
NC (vo): But I'm gonna make the assumption that's not the short's intention. The intention is to create an experience of a rush, a rush of the world around you speeding up, slowing down, looking detailed, looking sloppy, and all of it building up to this great big moment of truth. It still makes no sense, but it does manage to capture a true experience. You feel the panic, you feel the intrigue, you feel the fear, you feel like the adrenaline itself is putting you in another world. And as that goes, it's pretty well-directed. You can see every sketch and pencil line in every second, giving a sense of life and action, knowing that every drawing is done frame by frame. It's not just a CGI puppet that they're moving, every motion is done from scratch, and you can feel the energy off of all of it. That alone makes it really worth watching. If not taken the wrong way, it is pretty impressive to check out.
NC (vo): The next one is my absolute favorite. It starts off with a couple sparring in a training program, when one of them offers the other a way out, a way to return to the Matrix and live a normal life again.
(We see a scene showing Duo attempting to search for Cis in a moving maze)
Duo: What's real doesn't matter. What's important is how we live our lives.
Cis: But we can't go back, Duo. We know the truth now.
Duo: We can forget all of this.
NC (vo): Confused and not knowing what to do, they partake in both a verbal and physical fight, debating what's the right choice and what isn't.
(A scene showing Cis running through the rooftops is shown)
Duo (off-screen): Running away won't change anything!
Cis: You're the one that's running away!
Duo (off-screen): Stop pretending!
NC (vo): This takes up the majority of the short, all leading to a twist ending that I won't give away here, but I personally thought was a great way to finish. This, in my opinion, is what The Matrix should be: Quickly understand these characters, feel their relationship, identify with both sides of their struggle, and both the fighting and visuals match the emotional impact of what they're going through. There's no shock value or forced commentary, it's just watching these two people you sympathize with duke it out through hardship and sacrifice. It's all you need, and it's done to the best of its ability. The artwork compliments it great, the imagination is strong, the fighting's cool, and you're with them every step of the way. What can I say? It's, hands down, my personal favorite.
NC (vo): The next one is pretty well done, too. Once again focusing more on an experience than a detailed story, World Record shows an athlete who's about to break exactly that, the world record. But literally, in being so fast, he breaks the chains of the Matrix and actually starts to wake up and see the truth, based only on his physical abilities. It's actually a very interesting idea. The majority of the short is simply focusing on this experience, but once again, it's all you need. You feel the limit this guy is pushing himself to, and you worry both that he'll either wake up and be destroyed by Agents, or that he'll fail and not break the record at all, or even a third option, that he might push himself so far that he might not even survive. Again, it's the simplest things that can be the most effective, and both the pacing and the animation style totally pull it off. It's also an intriguing idea that you can see another plane, simply based on physical attributes. It's been discussed before by many, but this one is smart enough to know it's a visual medium and it's better to show it rather than talk about it. And it does a great job in doing so. Definitely worth the time to check out.
NC (vo): Which brings us to Beyond, which is probably my second-favorite out of the series, again, taking a very simple idea and simply focusing on the experience of it. A young woman and some kids she stumbles across discover what is simply defined as a glitch in the Matrix. I imagine there's a lot of those with all the plotholes these movies make. But once again, the majority of the short is just them interacting with the glitch. They can make time go backwards, change the weather in small areas, and even slow down the world to see it in all its beauty. Again, the focus is on the experience, and it's done with very simple yet connectable characters. It does go a little abstract near the end by hinting at...something...bad, I'm not sure what it is...but honestly, because it's mostly a visual experience and it's obvious there's parts left open to interpretation, I don't mind it. It's kind of like knowing through all these incredible things that you may go through in life, there's always a dark, troubling side waiting on the other end. That's what I got out of it, but maybe it doesn't mean that at all. Maybe it means something totally different. I don't know. I'm just glad they're leaving it up for us to decide instead of jamming in so much plot detail that it actually makes less sense the more you describe it. Good animation, good experience, good short.
A Detective's Story
NC (vo): Next is A Detective's Story, a film noir about, what else, a detective trying to find the infamous Trinity. And...that's really about it. Not much really happens outside of the search for her, but if you're a fan of dark shadows, shady blinds, and alcoholic men in trench coats, it's a fun little story. The style, once again, is great, grainy, dark, and dripping in classic film noir style. Probably a "style over substance" short, but the style is so nice and the subject is so...not pretentious and annoying...that I think it works out okay. If you like film noir, you'll be glad to check this out.
NC (vo): And the last one is definitely a weird one to say the least. It starts out on the surface of the real world still as apocalyptic as ever, as a rebel is chased down by machines. But it turns out she's part of a team that captures machines and reprograms them to think their inner reality where they need, they want, to serve mankind. Sounds familiar, right? Turning the tables a little bit? They show it things like games, entertainment, lust, identity, trust, and all in probably the strangest but still creatively entertaining way possible. You might be spending half the time asking yourself why they look like Aeon Flux, and that's because the same designer worked on both. The other half, you'll be wondering what you're even looking at, but still kind of sucked in as to how they're winning over this machine using entirely visual means, with no dialogue whatsoever. This actually kind of makes sense. All the computer knows is words and numbers, so getting it to understand emotions would be more of a visual experience rather than a verbal one. It's a clever idea with a unique layout and a different way of telling its story, and its ending is something right out of a Gothic tale or a Frankenstein movie, tortured, dark, and wondering if the right thing was ever done. It could've benefited from a bit more character, but for what it is and the time frame it has, it's pretty slick and fun to watch. It's out there, but it's definitely a short that brings you along for the ride and makes you glad that you're out there.
NC: And that's The Animatrix, and is it truly better than the Matrix movies?
(Clips of The Animatrix are shown as NC gives his final thought)
NC (vo): Personally, I think it is. True, it does have some several bloated moments of self-importance, but I think you've kind of come to expect that from The Matrix anyway. The shorts that work really work, and even the ones that don't still have so much artistic ambition and technical wonder that I still recommend checking them out anyway. Visually spectacular with some interesting ideas, if you're looking for a bit more substance for your ani-money, this is not a bad item to spend it on.
NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it because...
NC: You will never live that down.