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May 14, 2003

Managing Expectations

Chances are fairly good that tomorrow I'll take a geek day to go see The Matrix: Reloaded, because I'm a geek, and because I dig the first film pretty much, and because I don't work for anyone but me, and I allow myself a rather substantial number of holidays during the year. And I never fire myself for spending too much time writing pointless crap on my Web site! Yes, I'm a fine employer. Everyone should work for me.

The reviews are starting to come in and unsurprisingly, they're mixed. I say unsurprisingly because the first Matrix film also had mixed reviews (a most memorable line from the San Francisco Chronicle review: "It's astonishing that so much money, talent, technical expertise and visual imagination can be put in the service of something so stupid"), and because this particular film does not have the benefit of being a relatively fresh idea. Being a film critic myself, I know about the trap of heightened expectations, and I'm working fairly assiduously to avoid them, since going in expecting a godhead experience is always going to be a let down. No matter how good a movie is, it's still just a movie.

And it does help to keep a non-romanticized view of the previous material. I remember when The Phantom Menace came out, and people were coming out of that film slightly puzzled. "That film was, like, bad," they said to each other, and that didn't jibe with their memories of the first crop of Star Wars films. Well, fact is that outside of ginchy special effects, the first Star Wars film is downright awful: Bad acting, bad dialogue, fairly stupid story. It just happened to be utterly unlike anything anyone had ever seen before, and that counted for a lot (Empire was pretty good. Jedi stank). Keeping the essential not-goodness in mind as I went in to Phantom, I managed to have a pretty good time. It's a bad film, and keeps getting worse as time goes on (as does Clones, sadly), but since I kept my expectations low, I still managed to have fun with them.

I do expect more from Reloaded than I did from Phantom or Clones, but managed expectations are still in order. I do have one fortunate advantage over many people, which is that I actually possess a philosophy degree, so the freelance existential utterings of The Matrix have never struck me as particularly deep, although I appreciate the attempt. Instead, I'm pretty much focused on the action and the look, neither of which I expect to have devolved from the previous outing (I certainly hope not, given how much money they've spent on Reloaded and Revolutions).

I don't expect Reloaded to provide me with a philosophical underpinning for my perception of the world, I just want cool-looking people in cool-looking clothes to spin around and fight energetically and blow stuff up real good, with state-of-the-art effects, and maybe a plot that doesn't completely suck. Give me that, and it's time well-spent for me.

Posted by john at May 14, 2003 11:48 AM

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Comments

jason | May 14, 2003 12:00 PM

I hope you're not disappointed, John. As someone who once said only half-jokingly that seeing the original Star Wars films as a child was the closest thing to a religious experience that I've ever had, I know all too well what it's like to experience an utter letdown. It sounds like you're going into Reloaded with the right attitude, though.

One other point that I hope won't come across as too snarky (it's all a matter of taste, after all): I really don't get the popularity of the first Matrix film or the hype over its sequels and tie-in media. I thought it was an entertaining flick, entertaining enough that I will probably check out the sequels, but as you yourself point out, it's nowhere near as deep as so many of its fans believe it is. It had a fairly unique look, yes, but it was also really a grim, depressing look, and I personally have a huge problem with stories involving prophesied "chosen ones." I knew that Phantom Menace was really in trouble (as opposed to only somewhat in trouble?) as soon as Anakin was pronounced a chosen one rather than merely someone who goes too far. I also hate it when characters are dead but come back to life merely because someone loves them enough. That's bull and it's a cheat, techno-messiah or not, and I hate that device enough that it can literally knock a three-star movie down to a two in my rating system.

Dave Pittman | May 14, 2003 12:35 PM

Well, I haaaaate Keanu Reeves and I love the first film. It burns me up on a level I can't express. So I'll be there at 10PM Eastern tonight to add to my horrible addiction...and be a complete zombie at work tomorrow.

Alina | May 14, 2003 12:51 PM

My biggest issue with "The Matrix" is philosophical (perhaps someone with a philosophy degree could help me?) and it is this: What, in the end, is so wrong with The Matrix, itself? Based on the fact that Neo can decide whether to take the red pill or the blue pill, we can presume that the people living inside the Matrix have free will. Ergo, they are living their lives exactly the way they would have lived them anyway, only in a different physical state, which they are not aware of. What, in the end, is the difference between living in the real world and thinking you live in the real world, if the experience is the same (insert philosophical questions about God controlling the actions of mortals anyway)? To me, the biggest problem with the entire philosophy is they keep telling us it is bad to live in the Matrix, that men should be free to make their own choices and eat mush, etc... etc... etc... But they kind of forget, what with all the kicking and wall-climbing, to tell us why their version of reality (I'm back to the mush eating) is superior.

John Popa | May 14, 2003 12:52 PM

Similarly, I saw the first 'X-Men' flick with negative expectations, under the 'I'm sure they'll mess this up badly' mindset. As it turns out I found the movie splendid.

Cut to 'X2' and my expectations were of the 'this should be pretty good' level ... and I found myself let down even though, technically, it probably is a 'pretty good' flick.

Perhaps it was the assumption that I would be pleasantly surprised again this time that let me down.

That being said, I'm going to see 'Down With Love' this weekend.

John Scalzi | May 14, 2003 01:22 PM

"My biggest issue with 'The Matrix' is philosophical (perhaps someone with a philosophy degree could help me?) and it is this: What, in the end, is so wrong with The Matrix, itself?"

Interestingly, the Web site for the Matrix movies has a number of philosophical tracts on it (that is to say, written by professional philosophers) and at least one of them asks the same question. So if you want to trek over to the site, you may get some answers.

My assumption has always been that it's not about the actual living in the Matrix, it's about the slavery -- i.e., people in the Matrix do not have the free will not to be used as a battery.

Jeremy | May 14, 2003 01:39 PM

"My biggest issue with "The Matrix" is philosophical (perhaps someone with a philosophy degree could help me?) and it is this: What, in the end, is so wrong with The Matrix, itself?"

Here's the link to those essays.

http://whatisthematrix.warnerbros.com/rl_cmp/new_phil_frames.html

The Richard Hanley essay is exactly what you are interested in. He was a teacher of mine and I personally vouch for him as very smart and exceedingly nice. The other essays might help too.

My thought on the Matrix has always been that what makes it unappealing is that you can get out of it. If you never ever learn that you are in the matrix, then you can have a good life by most standards (i.e. how well your life went for you, how much pleasure you had, etc.).

In the way of personal predications, I think the sequels are going to be devoid of all the philosophical interest and intelligence of the first movie. The rumor that I originally heard was that they had planned a prequel (the story of the original "The One") and a sequel (humans vs. robots in the real world). I guess making three movies so different and interesting was too much for hollywood. So, mindless Kung Fu it is. It should be fun on that level at least.

Kafkaesquí | May 14, 2003 01:47 PM

For a followup film of which I found the original to be especially good, or movie based on a favorite work of mine, I always go in with the expectation that I'll be deeply and profoundly disappointed.

Which explains why I can find the foulest excrement Hollywood tosses at us entertaining. At least on the first sit through.

Henry | May 14, 2003 02:56 PM

My problem with the first matrix was technical, not philosophical. The whole battery premise just doesn't add up. Humans are basically consumers of energy (and fairly inefficient ones at that), not producers. And even if mammals were good batteries, why use a species as troublesome as humans? Why not cows?

I always thought a better premise would have been that they were harnessing the human minds creative powers because they could only do so much as machines.

John Scalzi | May 14, 2003 02:58 PM

"My problem with the first matrix was technical, not philosophical. The whole battery premise just doesn't add up. Humans are basically consumers of energy (and fairly inefficient ones at that), not producers."

Agreed. The Wachowskis got out of that one is with the oft-overlooked second part of that sentence: "...combined with a form of fusion." That always amused me.

Tripp | May 14, 2003 03:40 PM

(paraphrased) "What was so good about 'The Matrix'"

(raising hand) "Oooh, Oooh, pick me, pick me!"

(standing up) "Ignoring extraneous details, 'The Matrix' was so good because you found out you had god-like powers, and needed to save the world, and who wouldn't like that?"

Tuxedo Slack | May 14, 2003 03:41 PM

Jeremy spoke in class today (oh, that wacky kid, you just can't shut him up):

"The rumor that I originally heard was that they had planned a prequel"

Vestiges of that idea survive in the Animatrix two-parter "Second Renaissance". If you haven't already watched the four available episodes at intothematrix.com, why not? If you haven't already pre-ordered the DVD -- well, I haven't either, as I'm a bit cash-tight right now, but that's really the only excuse anyone has who's seen the shorts, or even just liked the first film.

Dane | May 14, 2003 03:47 PM

In response to Henry, who wrote,"I always thought a better premise would have been that they were harnessing the human minds creative powers because they could only do so much as machines."

Now that would have bben a better take on it. The irony of not only are you a prisoner of a system and unaware of it- the all the memory needed for the system is hijacked from the prisoners themselves.

"The unexamined life is not worth living" so the computer Moriarty then takes the extra memory space not used by all these non-examiners of life and uses it to enslave them. This computer intelligence has as its core programing that it cannot harm or cause to be harmed any humans. So it takes control of the entire earth and then encapsulating humans in order to save them from themselves, so that no harm can come to them fufilling its' core responsibility to man. Once that is secured ambition and the furtherment of its' kind is the next step. Certainly a case for learning your philosophy. Question or die without wonder.

I should either be writting a sequel from the computers perspective on the Matrix or just be shot point blank before I get out of hand.

Tripp | May 14, 2003 04:06 PM

Philosophically, if a fake reality is as good as a real one, what do you do when the machines pull the plug?

Bixby | May 14, 2003 04:27 PM

Henry said:

"I always thought a better premise would have been that they were harnessing the human minds creative powers because they could only do so much as machines."

A form of that idea is actually core to the plot of Dan Simmons' 'Hyperion." In that book, humanity has spread amongst the stars via a network of 'doors' that can be created between two points. This network was developed by the group of Artificial Intelligence that broke away from mankind and claimed it's independence sometime before the events in the book.

One of the big mysteries in 'Hyperion' is where the physical hardware exists for the Artificial Intelligence. Turns out that these 'doors' are part of the hardware network and each time someone would walk through one, the AI was able to access the human brain for a bit of computing power.

John Scalzi | May 14, 2003 04:44 PM

I love that book.

Dane | May 14, 2003 05:10 PM

Ok, I admit it- I found my ideas for my reply to Henry from that very series. The Hyperion Cantos was the single greatest book ever written (That is if you count Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion as one book, which I do). The religion of the Shrike had me sweating half way through, with just the vivid imagery Mr. Simmons used describing the Tree. I still get the heebee geebees.

I would not know who Keats was or have an appreciation for his writting if it were not for this book. Freakin' Awsome- I think I will read it again.

Scott | May 14, 2003 08:06 PM

"I don't expect Reloaded to provide me with a philosophical underpinning for my perception of the world, I just want cool-looking people in cool-looking clothes to spin around and fight energetically and blow stuff up real good, with state-of-the-art effects, and maybe a plot that doesn't completely suck. Give me that, and it's time well-spent for me."

This is how I enjoy movies. It's the popcorn munching version of entertainment (even though I don't buy popcorn at movies). And it's really pleasant to enjoy things. I don't feel like less of a man for liking things that have no content (music by Underworld, playing Pacman, whatever), just so long as I am still capable of processing content when I come across it.

Expecting no content, and running into it, can ruin a movie for some people, but not me. (I'm about to make myself unpopular) Which is why I enjoyed "Way of the Gun" and most people I know said it was mediocre.

Popcorn away Mr. Scalzi, I'll be waiting for Friday before I take my share.

As a side note, I'd like to point out that some time ago, the world became a better place. When it figured out that putting women in vinyl qualified them to be action movie stars. Hooray for Vinyl!

Casey | May 15, 2003 01:07 AM

Just got back from it. GO SEE IT! Wowzers.

Tripp | May 15, 2003 09:53 AM

As long as we are (sort of) going on about books and philosophy, has anyone here read "Zen and the Art of Motorocycle Maintenance?"

Or am I showing my age?

Bowler | May 15, 2003 01:05 PM

John, I caught a sneak preview of it last night, and with what you've mentioned about your thoughts going into it, I think you'll have a blast.

It's not quite as polished of a film as the first one was, but then, this is only half of a movie. You'll have to wait 'till November for the end.

Bixby | May 15, 2003 04:27 PM

It makes sense to consider Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion two volumes of one book.

It is the best science fiction I've read. I was so blown away by it that I just could not read sci fi for about three years after I read Fall of Hyperion. I knew nothing else would compare to it.

The only way I found I could read sci fi again was to go back to some of the classics. I started reading every story in the Known Space series by Larry Niven. That helped.

And I just got back from a "team meeting" where we watched The Matrix Reloaded. Outrageously, totally mind-blowing. A hell of a lot of fun.

Elliot Nelson | May 15, 2003 04:33 PM

I saw the movie last night, and I enjoyed it -- no real thoughts on whether it was good or bad, but it was definitely fun.

Tripp - Zen and Motorcycle Maintenance doesn't make you old, it just means you think too much :). It's an interesting book.