When I watched The Animatrix, it was because my dad rented it; of course, this statement shouldn’t be taken as meaning that I didn’t want to see it – after all, I was planning on seeing it at SIFF, but it was pretty much immediately sold out. And I like The Matrix. And that includes the sequels. It doesn’t include the games, though, but only because I never played them. I’ve heard they were good, but I got burned before on the computer game adaptation of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Well, and the game adaptation of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, but not nearly as badly as on Bill and Ted), so, y’know, I learned my lesson.
Of course, my excitement to see The Animatrix was bolstered by everyone else talking about how Incredibly Mind-Blowingly Awesome it was. And, not to mention, I’m much of an animation geek, so, liking both animation and The Matrix, you’d think it’d be right up my alley. And I did as well.
But, well, I know I’m alone here, and I’m going to be railing against the wind, but aside from “Detective Story” and “Beyond”: The Animatrix sucked so much ass. For the most part, I thought they had decent stories, but were poorly executed. In the case of “World Record” — that was just an incredible piece of shit all around, and they shouldn’t have put it on DVD; they should have burned the footage.
I’m going to take a look at each of the shorts, and I’m going to make an attempt to do these more or less in order. I might get things a little swapped around, though, because I don’t have the case here. For the titles, I’m just snagging them off the IMDB listing, though that just lists the shorts in alphabetical order. Also, some spoilers follow, so take care when reading this. (Although, a case could be made that if you haven’t seen The Animatrix by now, you probably never wanted to in the first place, so, there you go!)
Final Flight of the Osiris: This one was done by Square. And, I fully admit: I have a beef with CG. Although I did see Final Fantasy and pretty much enjoyed it. The weird thing is, even though Final Fantasy was done a year or two earlier (I assume, I don’t think they were concurrent or anything), it was a lot better technically. Final Fantasy had a few glitches, some of the weird sort of motion kinds of things that would throw you out of the reality of the film, but “Final Flight of the Osiris” was full of them. There were a lot of just really weird and annoying glitchy things (whenever whasserface would move; the bits with the blindfolds; some other bits). As for the story, I thought the entire opening was a bit in the “Well, that’s gratuitous” file (both in aspects of “LOOKY WHAT WE CAN DO!!!” as well as showing lots and lots of computer-generated flesh), and should have been trimmed/cut. After that, the story sort of picked up, but it just ended without much of anything. It didn’t really have much hold on me.
Second Renaissance I and II: First off, I don’t get why they cut this into two. The break works all right, but it wasn’t really needed. I thought the back-story type stuff was interesting, but needed some fleshing out (for example, the bit when the robots made Zero-One leading into the war seemed a little bit irrational on the part of the humans; there seemed to be an intent to flesh this part out, but I don’t think they really went far enough. It seemed like too much time had passed between the initial “DEATH TO ALL ROBOTS!11” thing and the “GET OUT OF OUR UN ROBOTS!!1” bit, and it just seemed a little flat). This short also piled on the gratuity; are we supposed to laugh at the blatantness of the robot ripping the guy’s head open to show us his brain? Seriously, it just struck me as funny-bad. That, and the beating of the robo-hooker was also pretty funny-bad. I know the filmmaker’s desire to show these Horrible Things Happening, but I’ve found that you often get better results by letting the audience fill in the gaps. I know that my imagination’s version of “robot rips dude’s head in two” would be MUCH more unsettling than the silly thing they actually showed. It also struck me that the art/technique/etc got worse in the second part; maybe the studio was running out of money/time for that, so they just half-assed it? I don’t know. The bit at the end with the kid being all In The Snow No Wait He’s In The Pods Whoa was also pretty cheesy-bad, especially with the Slutty Librarian petting his head. I think people need to talk to these people about restraint.
Kid’s Story: At first I was open to the style, but as it wore on, it just started to grate on me. I didn’t like the way the characters moved (they have that tendency to be all “we are in a world of soup” that you sometimes get in bad animation). I initially was willing to write off – Kid’s talking about “why is it that when I’m awake, I feel like I’m in a dream” would lead to dreamlike motions, right? Except, in the Real-World-Outside-Of-The-Matrix-Bit, it’s STILL the SoupWorld Motion, which makes me think they’re just inept. (I’d buy some sort of explanation as “Well, when he ‘dies’, does he really go out of the Matrix, or is it just his afterlife” if “Kid’s Story” were its own self-contained short, but “Kid’s Story” is considered canon, and since the Kid shows up in Reloaded, we know that he Really Left The Matrix.) The story was actually pretty interesting, but the animation itself sucked, and I there were a few bits I objected to stylistically; the use of Letting The Cool Shot Get In The Way Of Telling The Story — mainly the bit where the Teachers/Agents put the Narrow Barricade of crap in the middle of the hallway which Kid runs over, showboating, rather than just, uh, y’know, going around it. After all, if I’m in a Life-Or-Death situation, I’m not going to go for the fancy moves that may end up failing, effectively killing me. I’m going to go for the straight utilitarian-type stuff that will have a better shot of Getting Me Out Alive. But I’m funny that way.
World Record: My god, what did we do to deserve this? This is HORRIBLE. The character design was utterly goddawful. The animation was utterly goddawful. The story was useless and stupid. This made Klasky-Csupo look good. I am offended that this even exists. It had ABSOLUTELY NO POINT AND it was POORLY DONE TO BOOT. Christ, the Film Funnies Movie would be better than that. Anyway, it’s about a Olympian Runner who ends up breaking a world record, but then he sort of blows out his muscles, causing him to wake up in the Real World. He sees that he’s plugged in, a robot monitor comes and is all “what’s all this then”, then the Agents decide that they should make it so he can’t walk or run again (I don’t really know why. It’s not like he could DO ANYTHING…) by strapping him down with bolts and pins and stuff to a wheelchair, and then he gets up and says “AH’M FREE!” and starts walking while the Agents are all Gobsmacked.
This was just so poorly done. It wasn’t well written and it wasn’t pretty, so you could at least have something to look at while the idiocy was going on.
“World Record”: You Get GUN.
Program: Hey, at least it was pretty. It was kind-of-sort-of interesting, but pretty much designed to be the Forgettable One. But hey, it was pretty, and the story in it was kind of neat if not really essential or anything. And it was pretty. Oh yeah, and it wasn’t “World Record”.
Beyond: This one I really liked except for the ending. It’s probably about the closest to something I would have done with the project (assuming they told me I had to be serious). It’s also well made, too! Yay! The story is a bunch of people in the Matrix discover a “Haunted House”, where there’s a bunch of glitches in the Matrix. The short is mostly a bunch of kids playing with them. It’s a REALLY cool aspect of the overall Matrix story, since you don’t have any of the Waking Up To The Truth; it’s just how people would probably react to that sort of thing if they came across it in real life. The problem with the ending is that the Agents come in and tear it down and fix it so the glitches aren’t there anymore. I wouldn’t have had the Agents in there at all; I would have just ended it with them deciding to go home and proba
bly come back later and stuff. What with them thinking it’s just a Haunted House (what with the whole “Hey, we’re caught in a false world called the Matrix created by robots and computers to harvest our precious, precious energy!” thing not really being an intuitive leap) — which would have the added bonus of giving a bit of tension to the end; will the characters ever wake up and understand, will the glitches go away, will they be sought out, will Agents carry them off, will they just forget about it in time? The ending they used is too concrete, and less interesting. It’s too much “HEY REMEMBER THE MATRIX IS BAD BECAUSE THE AGENTS ARE HERE TO SCREW UP YOUR FUN!!!11”. Well, DUH. I know they mention in the films that the Agents can’t stand imperfection and that’s why they bothered to fix it, but that doesn’t mean the short has to show that part of the story.
A Detective Story: This one was brilliant. Beautifully made, good story, just perfect. The stippling of the backgrounds was just perfect; the writing was excellent and really captured the 1940s pulp novel feel in a way that was a loving homage without being over the top parody, nor too serious, and it was just incredible. This one is worth getting the DVD for, pretty much. I’m waiting for the inevitable Matrix-Box-Set with all the Matrix movies and Animatrix With Loads of Bonus Features, and I’ll be glad to have this short. I could leave the rest of them, but this is what’s exciting me about owning that, once they put it out (probably for the Christmas Market). I can’t really put into words how good this one is, so I’m just going to stop here.
Matriculated: Perhaps it’s partly because it followed the Best One Ever, and was two away from The Second Best One Ever. Perhaps it’s just because it sucked. I didn’t like this one at all. Which surprised me, because it was written and directed by Peter Chung, creator of Aeon Flux, which I really enjoyed. In this one, we follow a ship that’s job is to convert Sentinels to fight for the Human Side. The main character, a woman who is the “fisher” traps them inside the ship, where the crew disables them, rebuilds them and tries to convert by jacking them in (y’know, through the Brain-Stem-Port). Also, there’s a lemur. A fuckin’ lemur. Even though I watched this alone, I cheered when the lemur died. And Ilike lemurs! (When will people learn? Annoying animal mascots ARE NOT BELOVED BY ALL.) Plot-wise, instead of going for the obvious twist (Main Character Chick Is Really A Robot WHOA), they decide to go for no twist at all. This one isn’t so much Blatantly Awful as it is just Boring As Hell. The characters are all irritating (even the non-lemur ones), and the climax comes too quickly to really feel attached or anything. It’s too much like “Welp, we ran out of time, time to kill everyone!”. Even though it’s great, the Mr. Mike method doesn’t work for everything.
I really wanted this to be good. I so totally did. I was on its side. I wasn’t watching it, hoping it’d fail, and I could go “ha ha! I am so superior to this!” I really thought it was going to be great, and I wanted it to be. And watching it was just so disappointing (other than “A Detective Story”, which was the only one that lived up to the expectations I had for the entire thing. “Beyond” did too, almost.), I just felt sort of cheated, even though I didn’t spend a dime to see it.
I think the most successful shorts were the ones that didn’t actually deal with the Story As Such, the ones that just took the universe and played around with it. (“Detective” actually did use Trinity, but the thing is, I don’t really count it, because while it was a bit of back-story, it was Irrelevant Back-story, in the same way as if we found out that when Neo was 12, he lost a game of jacks. Yeah, it tells us a little bit about the character, but not much. Anyway, “Detective” was less about Trinity as about the Detective, anyway; Trinity was more of just an aspect of his universe.) Part of that is just because with the ones that are Part Of The Story (These things are all considered canon) is that you’ve got to deal with the stuff that comes before and after, and so you’ve got a bit of a higher standard and you’re more locked in; if you’re just playing around with the universe, you can do whatever you want. I think it did help that in the case of most of these, they were written (story, not script, though) by the Wachowski Brothers, so at least you didn’t get shorts where Trinity asks Neo if he remembers when she totally did that thing where she ran on the ceiling and kicked that guy in the head. The problem is just that the directors and scriptwriters didn’t really know HOW to tell the stories the Wachowskis gave to them.
Also, a lot of the animation seemed to me to be not technically great. “Detective” and “Beyond” were incredibly well done, “Program” was very good, but “World Record” was sub-TV, “Osiris” was Iffy, “Second Renaissance” was pretty much TV Level Of Animation, “Matriculated” was pretty well done, “Kid” was Excusable If Only Like One Or Two People Was Animating It (was it rotoscoped? It had a bit of a rotoscopey feel, but I couldn’t tell if it was faux or real. If it was, at least it was the more interesting kind of rotoscoping where they actually ATTEMPT to make it look like a cartoon, rather than just “HEY IT’S FILM, ONLY IT’S LIKE GOT PHOTOREALISTIC LINE DRAWINGS WHERE THE LINES MOVE AROUND AND WHOA IT’S FREAKY MAN”). A lot of press seemed to be about how good the animation was, so that was another thing that surprised me, since it didn’t strike me as that great at all. Perhaps the reviewers were just so blown away by “Detective” and “Beyond” that they forgot the rest of the program wasn’t like that.
My father actually said to my mother, when he saw it, that it was better than Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. She said that even without seeing Animatrix, she knew that that was total bullshit, because Spirited Away was the most beautiful film she’d seen. I would have called bullshit on that too without having seen Animatrix, but now that I have, I should make him sit down and write Miyazaki a letter of apology because that is an incredible insult. That’s like saying that I paint better than Rene Magritte.
Even though everyone disagrees with me, and I think I’m pretty much the last person to see it and write a review anyway, I would recommend staying away from this, and maybe finding rips of Beyond and Detective. Or maybe borrowing the DVD from someone to watch those two shorts.
But yeah, everyone disagrees with me, and it seems that a lot of people think this is the best anything ever, so, whatever, I accept that and that’s cool.
Although, if you think “World Record” was anything but a waste of film, you are WRONG.
 My main idea for this sort of thing would be them tracking down someone, i.e. Neo in the first one, only to have them be totally non-caring. For example, responding something along the lines of “Wait, why should I take any pill? What would happen if I just took nothing? You say the blue one will put things back to normal, but how do I know you’re not going to trick me?” And then when the Agents show up (like in the interrogation scene in the first one) just be blasé about it. “So, do you want to co-operate.” “Sure, whatever, I don’t care.” I figure the climax of the short would be when the Morpheus-stand-in-type would get exasperated and just explain point blank what the Matrix is, and the guy would just be all “Oh, hm.” At which points the Agents would show up, and be all “YOU KNOW THE SECRET!!” and the guy’d be all “Yeah, so? I don’t really care.” Yeah, I know, it’s not actually very good or funny. That’s probably why they didn’t ask me to do a short.<br
 World Record was a total exception, because while it helps to not actually deal with the Story, it also helps to not be completely terrible.