When it first hit theaters in 1999, audiences had never seen anything like The Matrix before. A complete breath of fresh air for blockbuster cinema, the sci-fi action epic instantly became one of the most influential movies released at the turn of the millennium, spawning countless pale imitations and finding itself parodied on a regular basis.
Back-to-back sequels Reloaded and Revolutions were two of the most highly-anticipated movies in history when they were released six months apart in 2003, but neither installment managed to recapture the lightning in the bottle that made the original such a success. Audiences were so disappointed that box office takings for the trilogy-closing chapter dropped by over $300 million as the Wachowskis’ weaknesses as storytellers came to the fore in the muddled, disjointed and massively underwhelming Revolutions.
Proving that no franchise with any sort of name value is ever truly over though, The Matrix 4 is currently in the midst of production with Lana Wachowski flying solo this time, and while plot details remain virtually nonexistent, longtime fans will be hoping that it marks a major return to form.
In a recent interview, original trilogy cinematographer Bill Pope, who isn’t involved in The Matrix 4, went into detail about just where the sequels went wrong, and it sounds as though the pressure of the follow-ups caused some on-set problems that ultimately hurt the final product.
“I have a complicated relationship with the last two. Everything that was good about the first experience was not good about the last two. We weren’t free anymore. People were looking at you. There was a lot of pressure. In my heart, I just didn’t like them. I felt we should be going in another direction. There was a lot of friction, there was a lot of personal problems which showed up on screen to be honest with you. It was not my most elevated moment, nor anybody else’s. The Wachowskis had read this damn book by Stanley Kubrick that said, ‘Actors don’t do natural performances until you wear them out’. So let’s go to take 90! I want to dig Stanley Kubrick up and kill him. There is something about making a shoot that long, 276 shoot days, that is mind numbing and soul numbing and it numbs the movie. Their imagination required me to be cleverer than I had been. I loved that combination, I loved working with them.’
Stanley Kubrick may be one of the greatest directors that ever lived, but he was also a notorious tyrant that ruled his sets with an iron fist, so maybe he wasn’t the best person to take inspiration from. However, it appears that Pope bears no ill-will towards the Wachowskis, and perhaps spending close to two decades away from The Matrix will have recharged Lana’s creative batteries, with everyone crossing their fingers that Neo’s fourth outing remains much closer to his first in terms of quality.