The Animatrix

After Jason’s discussion of “bridging worlds,” I was inspired to check out The Animatrix, which is a collection of nine animated segments that provide us with more background into the world of the Matrix films (and provide another outlet for lining Warner Bros’ pockets). For the most part, I enjoyed The Animatrix and felt that it extended some of the “universe building” that Jason describes in his post. In general, I enjoyed most of the segments, even though they often resorted to generic Matrixian platitudes (some of which reminded me of TV shrink, Dr. Phil) about perception and reality. The animation was generally inventive, and each segment had its own “signature” animation style, which added considerably to the film.

I did find the CG representations of human faces in the opening segment, Final Flight of the Osiris, somewhat distracting. Like Final Fantasy and the “Burly Brawl” in Reloaded, faces appeared too clean, too perfect, even with the attempts to mask the clean lines with stubble and cast shadows.

Two of the segments (The Second Renaissance Parts I & II) focus on the backstory of the war between humans and machines, and those two sections tended to focus on the watered down master-slave dialectic that undergirds the first film. These segments are presented as if they were animated encyclopedia entires documenting the history of the conflict, and while these shorts lead us to further sympathy with the machines, they didn’t add a lot to my understanding or interpretation of the world, and some of the historical references (to 19th century slavery, Vietnam, and the Holocaust) seem a little cheap. In general, thse two segments felt somewhat constrained by the already existing narratives about this world.

Many of the segments involved near or partial awakenings, humans embedded in the matrix who begin to see or come close to the truth. My favorite segment was probably A Detective Story, in part because the animation stood in such stark contrast to most of the other segments. Detective is essentially a film noir in whcih a private detective is hired by a mysterious figure to track down Trinity (the jokes focusing on expectations about Trinity’s gender are revived, with some interesting results given the noir plot). The detective plot, of course, fits nicely onto some of the Matrix universe’s epistemological questions, specifically in terms of characters’ recognitions of the simulation unsettling the fabric of the matrix in ways similar to the amnesiac’s disruption of the social order in film noir. The animation draws from “art deco imagery,” and I enjoyed how it used noir’s tropes for a new set of philosophical questions.

I also enjoyed the way in which the character in World Record comes close to recognizing the existence of the matrix by nearly transcending the limitations of the human body (although most other reviewers tended to disagree). In general, The Animatrix is an interesting addition to the Matrix universe, and most of the animation was generally impressive, if not stunning. Neo and Morpheus are almost completely absent from this film, and Trinity only makes a brief, fleeting cameo, which feels about right. Most of the segments seemed to sustain the reality-simulation dichotomy that Reloaded discards, but in general, I think I agree with Onion reviewer Tasha Robinson when she appreciates the “bleakness and lethality” of the expanded world, outside the narrative arc of the safely ensconced central characters.


  1. mcb Said,

    July 10, 2003 @ 12:40 am

    I’ve really, really got to see it.

  2. chuck Said,

    July 10, 2003 @ 10:38 am

    It’s definitely worth seeing. The decision to focus on peripheral characters was a good one, and most of the animation was very good. It’s certainly inspired me to watch more anime.

  3. Jason Said,

    July 10, 2003 @ 10:53 am

    I’ve been itching to see it. I watched a few of the ones you can download, but I’ve really wanted to see Last Flight of the Osiris.

  4. chuck Said,

    July 10, 2003 @ 11:00 am

    I think my criticism of it may have been a little harsh. It certainly exposes some of the weaknesses of CG, but its use of shading and its visual style was compelling.

  5. Chris Said,

    July 10, 2003 @ 12:09 pm

    I saw it a while ago and wasn’t that impressed. I think the different pieces work best as visual meditations and explorations rather than as story (which is what interested me, and thus why I wasn’t that enthused by it). The two I liked the best were the Second Renaissance pieces, which I enjoyed for the exploration of the mythos behind the world of the matrix.

    Here’s what I find interesting about them, too — whose point of view is this that we’re seeing in those two pieces? Since it’s set up like an encyclopedia entry, it cries out for an examination of authorship. Is this man’s point of view of the events? Or the machine’s POV?

    It might seem to be objective — and for the most part it is. But things that you referred to, Chuck, like the cheap historical references, make me think that we’re seeing the machines liken their suffering to human suffering. Does that make sense? In other words, if the machines made this “documentary,” did they select footage to emphasize the connection between discrimination against them and discrimination among humans?

    You can’t deny that the scene of the thugs beating on a woman (who we realize is a robot) is still disturbing, even if it is a robot… I guess you can deny it, but it disturbed me nonetheless.

  6. chuck Said,

    July 10, 2003 @ 2:11 pm

    Really interesting reading, Chris. You’re right about the beating; it *is* certainly disturbing, and I think the question of authorship is interesting, and ascribing authorship to the machines (so that they identify as “the oppressed”) makes sense, and given that the “Encyclopedia” would have been a document produced during the riegn of the machines, it makes sense for them to “write” history from their own point of view. In fact, since the film critiques the feigned “objectivity” of the “Encyclopedia” through cues such as the voice-over, I’d agree that we’re supposed to be a little suspicious of it. Interesting re-interpretation. That gives those sequences a complexity that I think I’d missed in my first viewing.

  7. Chris Said,

    July 10, 2003 @ 2:26 pm

    I missed it too, to be honest, and as I was writing those comments to you, I was trying to think of why those historical references seemed cheap. And if those pieces are from humanity’s point of view, I think they are cheap and can’t think of a good reason for them other than that the images are so iconic.

    But it does become more interesting if you think that the machines made these movies — and I agree with you that it would seem that they would have to have made them. While humanity is certainly rebuilding, there’s not likely to be access to non-linear editing technology and effects.

    What’s also interesting, building on the notion of machine authorship, is questioning how much of those clips are intended to be taken at face value. Does the disturbing nature of the man-on-robot violence hint that machines have fabricated any of this footage? It sounds outlandish, but given the nature of the “reality” they created in the matrix, I don’t think it’s totally implausible that the documentaries are embellished to support their version of events. And, how does the saying go — “history is written by the winners.”

    Also, given what we’re told in RELOADED, I think it’s wise to question reality at every turn with this franchise.

  8. chuck Said,

    July 10, 2003 @ 3:11 pm

    I’d definitely agree that the documentaries are potentially fabricated, at least to the extent that cetain details might be included at the expense of others, that events might have been “staged,” what have you.

    Certainly the machines would also recognize the iconic status of these powerful images and re-use them to their own purposes, and I can’t find the right quotation, but the role of the victor is producing historical narratives is important here, too.

    In fact, looking back, it is interesting how they [the machines?] characterized humans–as lazy, corrupt, and decadent, and yep, I think the second film has taught us to consistently question our previous perceptions and interpretations.

  9. kenrufo Said,

    July 15, 2003 @ 11:15 am

    Being a huge anime fan, and having a rather freakish interest in the Matrix films, I have to say that I enjoyed the Animatrix – all except Matriculation, the final short. I just did not care for that one at all; I found its style somewhat awkward and its narrative progression rather tortured – I mean the humans are unaware that the scout will be tracked? No wonder they lose the war.

    If anyone does go out and there and let the anime inspiration take control, let me know. I’ve watched a fair amount of anime (most of it’s crap, just like any other medium) but some of it is gorgeous and provocative. If you haven’t come across it yet, anyone interested in questions emerging from cyberspace and who don’t mind a slower pace than the Matrix should run and find a copy of the 13 episode series Serial Experiment Lain. Delicious.

  10. chuck Said,

    July 15, 2003 @ 11:27 am

    I agree with you about Matriculation. Its narrative did seem a bit tortured, and I wasn’t a big fan of the animation, either. Several other critics (mostly mainstream) seemed to like it for reasons that I don’t quite understand.

    I have a limited background in anime–the video store in Champaign, IL (where I lived for two years), had an incredible collection, but it was so large, I could never quite figure out where to start. I absolutely loved Metropolis when I had a chance to see it at Ebert’s annual film festival (also in Champaign, where he grew up). Stunning visuals and an engaging narrative. I’ll have to check out Serial Experiment Lain.

  11. Mithras Said,

    April 26, 2004 @ 2:05 pm

    This is a pretty interesting site, and I’d enjoy posting my few ideas here.

    As for your views of the Second Renaissance, I hadn’t really thought of the Authorship issue. If I’d have to guess, I’d say it’s mixed filming, but finalized by the Robots. Partially because no human would have access to some of those shots and also the introduction: It’s inside a sort of computer. Also the shots chosen to add to it are quite indicative of being Robot-chosen.
    Such as portraying the hundreds of robots dragging a huge block up a pyramid pharaoh-style.

    However, it also brings up the subject of human (or in this case, robot, nature) If the Robots at first, fought back to obtain their freedom. If humans always give in to the maxim “Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It appears as though the robots did so as well. They could have struck out in a defensive offence (Sun Tzu’s art of war) but they continued. Possibly because humans persisted, but there is a point in all wars when both sides would agree to a ceasefire. The robots, however, push forth…

    Just an opinion, hope you all still post here.


  12. chuck Said,

    April 28, 2004 @ 12:23 am

    Interesting suggestions about “Second Rennaisance.” I have to admit, though, that I haven’t seen “Animatrix” in almost a year, so my memory’s not terribly fresh, but the suggestion of “mixed filming” makes sense.

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