The Matrix

Year: 1999
Production Co: Silver Pictures
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Larry Wachowski/Andy Wachowski
Producer: Joel Silver
Writer: Larry Wachowski/Andy Wachowski
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster

The biggest thing to happen to the movies in a long time came from nowhere and conquered the world. Single-handedly making anime, martial arts and philosophy as cool as Tarantino had made cult movies before them, the Wachowskis bought their love of very disparate cultures (everything from Simulacra and Simulacrum to Akira) together for this modern update of Brave New World via virtual reality.

They also answered a very palpable cultural crisis in the late 1990s. With technology, surveillance and mistrust of authority running rampant, many of us wanted to stop the world and get off, and here was the perfect fantasy to allow us.

Young computer programmer Thomas Anderson (Reeves, after a long stall in his career) receives messages from nascent networks asking him enigmatic questions. When both sinister agents of some unnamed law agency (led by an overacting Weaving) and a gang of self-styled hackers led by the Obi Wan-like Morpheus (Fishburne) close in on him, it's up to the gang to swipe Anderson from the clutches of the agents after they subject him to some really mind bending stuff that couldn't happen in reality.

Because as Morpheus, the beautiful Trinity (Moss) and their gang of rogues explain when they spring Anderson, it isn't reality. He's part of a giant computer simulation the entire human race is plugged into, their imagined lives mere electrochemistry in their brains to power a huge machine civilisations of the far future.

The gang brings Anderson into the real world softly, rechristening him Neo and recruiting him to their war against the machines who've enslaved humanity. The budget didn't allow for the overbaked, grandiose scenes of the real world that would form part of the sequels, so The Matrix had to be nimble, quick-witted, and sell itself on kung fu fighting and gunplay in filthy back alleys of a big city.

So many other elements come into the melting pot, like the technical innovations (the much-copied bullet time) and the subtext about Neo being Christ (that could be – and has been – the subject of much more involved analysis). But the mysterious Wachowski brothers managed something nobody else in Hollywood had in a long time; they gave us something we'd never seen before.

It was this film as much as any other that convinced Hollywood and the world that Sydney was a good place to film blockbusters, and it remains the peak of the franchise. Four years later, the brothers took the goodwill (and tens of millions) Hollywood placed in their hands and blew it on two overblown sequels.

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