The headline of Dan Ackman’s consideration of The Matrix Reloaded in Forbes screams, “How The Matrix Ruined Movies.” As far as I can tell, he hasn’t seen it yet – that’s backlash, after only four days:
- The Matrix Reloaded generated $93.3 million at U.S. box offices over the weekend. That’s not a record total, but it’s close. The Matrix phenomenon hasn’t quite ruined movies–but it’s close on that score, too.
….The Matrix Reloaded represents a trend where movies are opened on more and more screens, with more and more hype, where more of that hype is linked to product tie-ins, and where more releases are based on sequels, remakes or comic books. To see what’s happening, it’s only necessary to compare the The Matrix Reloaded to the original Matrix.
The first movie was released by Warner Bothers, a unit of AOL Time Warner (nyse: AOL – news – people ), in 1999, written and directed by the then little-known Larry and Andy Wachowski. (They had made Bound, another noir thriller–but with lesbians–three years earlier.) It wasn’t exactly a sleeper, but nine other movies took in more in their opening weekends that year, including Tarzan, The Mummy, and Pokemon: The First Movie, according to Boxofficemojo.com. But the movie had staying power and proved mightily popular as well as a cult favorite. It grossed $171.5 million in the U.S., the fifth-highest that year.
The first Matrix movie itself was hailed for its inventiveness. Its plot melded cyberspace, fear of authority, state-of-the-art Hong Kong-style fight scenes and, of course, a leather-clad heroine. Roger Ebert, for instance, called it “visually dazzling cyberadventure, full of kinetic excitement.” This time the special effects are, by most accounts, even more special, but the movie itself is much worse. David Edelstein, the movie critic for Slate, was a big fan of the original. But he calls Reloaded “as messy and flat-footed as its predecessor is nimble and shapely. It’s an ugly, bloated, repetitive movie that builds to a punch line that should have come an hour earlier (at least).”
….Reloaded is not the first production to rely on over-the-top publicity, but it accelerates the trend where more and more of the major releases are based on comic books or old television shows or movies already made–whether sequels or remakes. In 1993, just one of the top ten grossing movies, The Fugitive, was based on an old television show. In 1998, there were two remakes among the top ten, Doctor Doolittle and Godzilla.
Last year, the top ten included five sequels and one comic book.
Hollywood, of course, has long been about giving the people what they want. If there wasn’t a huge demand for The Matrix Reloaded, it wouldn’t be in 8,500-plus screens. But even a short time ago, Hollywood was better at selling what was new. Now it is repackaging the old, and with no end in sight. The third Matrix is already slated for November.
I’m not sure what Ackman is objecting to here: sequels and serials and material derived from other sources (that’s what a book is, by the way) have been Hollywood staples since it was a one-horse town. And hype? Sure there’s hype, but based upon the interest expressed here, there is a genuine groundswell of interest in the film, the new video game, the whole Matrix oeuvre.
As far as the film itself goes, I haven’t seen it yet either, but we have as many positive as negative reviews, and that’s about the best you should expect from the sequel to a film with a fanatical cult following. Methinks Mr. Ackman doth protest too much.