Throughout the past few years, movies have seen a steady increase in the amount of special effects that are used; whether they are in the form of chase scenes, epic battles or just plain animation, these elements are now so common that they have become almost invisible to the average movie going audience. However, that was not always the case. If you go back and watch a movie that is 15 years old, it is pretty obvious where the special effects are used, mainly because the technology back then was not as advanced as it is today. However, there is one old movie that I watched recently that did not have these obvious errors- The Matrix. Of course I know that there are special effects used in the movie, but they are used so well and so seamlessly that they do not distract from the story of the movie. That’s a pretty impressive feat seeing as the movie is going on 15 years old (it was released in March of 1999). So what is it that makes these special effects so good? That is what I will be analyzing in this short essay.
To me the most important part of the special effects of this movie was that they didn’t get in the way of the plot. It is still very easy to follow the story and why the characters are doing what they are doing as the movie progresses. To me this is one of the most important aspects of special effects. After all, we are watching the movie for the story, not just to see what kind of cool action scenes the producers were able to make on some computer. The author of Understanding Movies, Louis Giannetti , is very outspoken about this issue: “The worlds screens are dominated by soulless movies full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (35). The Matrix is a clear departure from this type of movie making and in many ways was a catalyst to show that movies could be made that had a lot of animation and special effects as well as a deep and enticing plot. While we do know that Keanu Reeves cannot bend over backwards and dodge bullets in the blink of an eye, the special effects crew on the movie made it so that his character could, while still maintaining a sense of reality and believability.
Other than simply going along with the movie and not being in the way, the special effects did a lot for the movie and really enhanced the overall meaning of the film. For example, when Neo takes the pill and wakes up in the tub of goo, it is a jaw dropping experience to see all of the people around him who are living in their little pods. Without this image, the idea that humans are grown by the machines would have been very difficult to grasp. By simply showing us an example, the movie did not need to go into detail about how the humans are made and then eaten, etc. instead, the plot is free to move on to more important things. Another very good use of the animation to explain the plot was when Neo jumps off of the building and the ground becomes instantly bouncy. It happens so quickly that we don’t almost don’t recognize it, but if we didn’t see that experience then it would be harder for the audience to believe that the whole world was just a computer program that you could change in any way that you want. Together these, and several other scenes from the movie, add a sense of logos to the movie. While at the beginning the audience is skeptical of the idea of living in a world that is a lie while their actual body is being stored somewhere else, once they are shown these images they can see logically that this is in fact the truth. These facts are hard to deny. In Everything’s an Argument, Lunsford and Ruskiewicz argue about the power of factual arguments: “We’ll even listen to people that we don’t agree with if they can overwhelm us with evidence” (76). This is very clearly how the movie supports its claim: at the beginning of the movie we have no reason to believe Morpheus that the world that Neo is living in is a lie, we just have to go with it. However, once we see all of the robots and humans in goo pods five minutes later, we are much more agreeable to his position.
In summary, the special effects in The Matrix are very good, especially for the time period in which they were made. They help add credibility and understanding to the movie without getting in the way of the very complicated plot line. Given all of these things, I am confident in saying that The Matrix should be an example to all movie makers on how to properly use special effects.