The Animatrix (2003)—A Matrix film better than the Sequels?
In 1999, The Matrix was released to theaters around the world to much critical appraise and left such an impression in pop culture that it is still being referenced to this day. Since the film was so successful, Warner Brothers allowed Lana and Lily Wachowski to do whatever they wanted to for the sequels. The sequels garnered a mixed to negative reception. While all seemed lost for The Matrix franchise, a small animated project known as The Animatrix (2003) was released on DVD. The film is composed of nine animated shorts that expand the world of The Matrix (1999) and detail the war between the machines and humans. So in honor of 2021’s The Matrix: Resurrections, I’m going to rank my least favorite to favorite short from The Animatrix (2003).
8. Final Flight of The Osiris
This short has to be my least favorite, not because it’s bad, but because it doesn’t hold a candle to the other shorts. The short centers around the crew of The Osiris escaping from a group of Sentinels. It has a lot of decent action, notably the strip-fight between Captain Thaddeus and crewmate Jue, and the CGI still holds up relatively well by today’s standards. However, Final Flight of The Osiris feels like a side quest you’d play in a video game, rather than an actual short film, since The Osiris is only briefly mentioned in the plot of the second film and you ride along with characters that you don’t care about nor undergo any significant change. Overall, this is an okay short, but nothing amazing.
7. Kid’s Story
Kid’s Story revolves around a kid named Michael Popper (nicknamed Kid), a high schooler who has been having dreams about falling from a building. He manages to contact both Neo and Trinity who convince him to “find the truth by risking everything”. When he’s at school the next day, several Agents attempt to arrest him. He dodges most of them and tries to escape to the school roof. However, the Agents beat him there, and Kid jumps off the building, seemingly committing suicide. He soon awakens and is greeted by both Neo and Trinity. I first watched it, I really enjoyed the short. However, the more I thought about it, the more uneasy it made me feel. I got a really cult-like feeling from the short, especially how Trinity and Neo tell the kid to “risk everything”. One of the saving graces of this short is the animation: while it’s both simplistic, the simplicity adds to the intensity of the action sequences. Every movement is drawn out and over-emphasized. It gives the film an almost hyper-realistic look.
6. The Second Renaissance (Part 1&2)
This short is split into two episodes to explain the war between the machines and humans. In the beginning, humans created machines to act as their slaves. However, when the machines gained sentience, they rebelled against their creators. The humans wage war against the machines, eventually destroying the sky, as they believed that the machines got their power from the sun. The machines, having learned the thoughts and strategies of humans, prevailed and they enslave the remainder of humanity to a hyper-realistic simulation of the world known as The Matrix. While this short doesn’t bring any new perspective to life in The Matrix, it does contain many heavy themes, such as human greed, increasing militarization, human rights issues, and our own mortality as a species. It combines both graphic imagery with social commentary. Overall, the short serves as a reminder of what is to come if we fly too close to the sun.
Beyond asks the question of what would happen if an ordinary person stumbled upon a glitch in The Matrix. A girl named Yoko is searching for her cat, Yukie. She encounters a couple of kids who claim that she went to a nearby “haunted house”. Yoko and the kids go there to find Yukie, only to discover a glitch in The Matrix that allows them to temporary float and levitate. As Yoko and the kids are having their fun, a group of Agents arrive to section off the place. The concept behind this short is interesting, as it asks what would happen if someone like yourself discovered an anomaly in the real world? One of my favorite scenes in the short is when Yoko cuts herself on a can from the haunted house to see if the blood will float, but it only ends up dripping on the ground. While the scene could have many meanings, I saw it as a loss of childhood innocence, where the kids are forced to grow up and accept the reality of the world.
Perhaps the most beautifully animated short, Program takes place between two lovers: Duo and Cis. The two duel within a training simulation, all the while debating their beliefs about whether to return to The Matrix or not. Duo wishes to return, while Cis doesn’t. As their debate gets more intense, so does their battle. Ultimately, Cis is forced to kill Duo and she’s allowed out of the simulation. When she awakes, it’s revealed that everything that transpired in the simulation—including Duo—was all just a test and that she passed. Program was animated by Madhouse Studios, the same studio that animated Redline (2009), so you know the animation is good. This short explores the question of what’s more important: accepting reality or living in an ignorant bliss? This short is what Final Flight of The Osiris should have been: a simple debate about a complex issue while keeping you engaged with astounding fight choreography and stellar animation.
These past shorts explored the humans in the world of The Matrix (1999). However, what about the machines? Do they feel any type of emotion? Can they learn human customs and practices? These questions are answered in this next short. Matriculated centers around a group of humans, led by a woman named Alexa, who capture machines and teach them the ways of the humans, including love, happiness, fear, entertainment, etc. They wish to reprogram the machines to fight over to the side of humanity to help them reclaim the world from the machines.
One night, Alexa and her team capture a machine known as a Runner. While teaching the Runner the ways of humanity, they are attacked. Alexa is seriously injured while the rest of her team is killed. The Runner, having developed a bond with Alexa, plugs her back in to The Matrix. Alexa, realizing that she is alone with the Runner, screams in horror before dying. Matriculated contains some of the most unique animation I’ve seen, combining traditional 2D animation with CGI. The best way to describe this short is “what if Guillermo Del Toro took a bunch of hard drugs, and turned his creative madness to the world of animation in the style of Aeon Flux.” Ultimately, an interesting short with heavy themes and a unique style to match.
2. World Record
Directed by Takeshi Koike, best known for his film Redline (2009), World Record revolves around the story of a world-class track athlete, Dan Davis, participating in what would be his final race. During the race, Dan runs so fast that he wakes up from The Matrix. This alerts several Agents to his position and they try to stop him from waking up. Dan ultimately wakes up, albeit shortly, wins the race, and sets up another world record. However, he is crippled for life. The final shot consist of Dan in a wheelchair in a hospital, being pushed by a nurse. He tries to get up, only to fall back on the ground.
World Record does what no other short does: it explores the physical boundaries of the human body. Additionally, it also explores the concept of freedom, something Dan says he feels when he runs. Even when he could no longer walk at the end, the idea of chasing after his freedom is enough for Dan to momentarily get out of his wheelchair. A beautifully animated feature, it contains a lot of character designs and animation details that would later be fully polished in Redline (2009). Overall, one of my favorite shorts.
1. A Detective Story
A case to end all cases, epic monologues, and the smell of stale cigarettes and whiskey. Who doesn’t love a good detective story? The short begins with an Agent calling a private investigator, Mr. Ash, with a job: to find the infamous hacker, Trinity. After much detective work, Mr. Ash finds her on a train. However, they are quickly pursued by Agents. A shootout ensues, and the two evade them for a short while. As the two escape, an Agent attempts to take over Mr. Ash’s body. Trinity and Mr. Ash share a couple of words, with Trinity saying that he (Ash) would’ve been able to handle the red pill. She leaps out of a window, as Mr. Ash stalls the Agents chasing after her by pointing his gun at them as he smokes one final cigarette. Just before the short ends, his lighter flame dies out.
While this may just be a simple detective story, I felt this was the most cinematic of all the shorts. Unlike the others on this list, A Detective Story is the only short on this list that is a film noir, and makes full use of its noir aesthetic, from lighting and shadow techniques, to camera angles, to its use of negative space. Despite it not having any deeper messages, the noir aesthetics and characters alone make me want a full feature-length film that explores The Matrix in a film noir aesthetic. It’s rare to see elements of noir in today’s films, and I wish that The Matrix: Resurrections (2021) will take a few elements from this short and bring to life a cyberpunk-inspired detective story.