1999 by Ernest Lilley

Movies: The Matrix / Wing Commander  Video: Sawicki's Picks

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SFRevu @ the Movies:

Incredible stories from the world of The Matrix: Excellent short stories have been contributed by top names in the comic field for the Matrix website. They generally take place in the world of or related to the film, but don't require having seen the film to appreciate.

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Contributors include: Paul Chadwick (CONCRETE), Neil Gaiman (SANDMAN), Bill Sienkiewicz (ELECTRA ASSASIN), Adam Hughes (WONDERWOMAN), Steve Skroce (GAMBIT), Michael Kaluta (BOOKS OF MAGIC), Geof Darrow (HARD BOILED), Poppy Z. Brite (LOST SOULS) Aron Weisenfeld (DEATHBLOW/WOLVERINE), Ted McKeever (METROPOL), among others.

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"You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he expects to wake up. You're not far is a world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth."

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Photos and illustrations Warner Bros.

The Matrix (Warner Bros.)
Cast: Keanu Reeves (Neo), Laurence Fishburne (Morpheus), Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), Joe Pantoliano (Cypher) matrixcry.jpg (10300 bytes)
: Larry & Andy Wachowski (Writers/Directors), Joel Silver (Producer), Andrew (Executive Producer), Yuen Wo Ping (Hong Kong Fight Coordinator), John Gaeta (Visual Effects), Don Davis (Composer)

"You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he expects to wake up. You're not far wrong." - The Matrix

The Matrix has violence galore, a little spandex but no sex, romance, a high energy sound tack and lots of Kung Fu and Guns. It's lots of fun, and it's an extremely rare blend of Sci-Fi Action Adventure and  Serious Science Fiction. I'm afraid the older SF audience may be put off by the energy of the movie...some may think it's too loud...a sure sign of aging. The whole thing is pretty dark, but the hero does fight for something - the freedom of humanity from cyberslavery.

On the way into the theater I was discussing VR Noir films with friend and "B" Movie Producer/Director Ted Bohus (Vampire Virus From Venus, SPFX Magazine). We both agreed that the technology had yet to find a story equal to the effects.

matirxmoss.jpg (10885 bytes)The Matrix is that story.

The film spends its first few minutes maintaining the illusion that the 1999 reality it starts out in is real, and I worried that the whole thing would fall apart if the audience knew that Keanu Reeve's character (Neo) is living in an elaborate VR simulation. Not a chance. The film delivers that coup de gras almost immediately, and then the action really takes off.

Action? Mega-action. Guns, Kung Fu, chopper crashes, robot attacks, everything. The movie is jam packed with SFX-driven action and the sequences are beyond exciting into simply beautiful. Especially the VR martial arts sequences. Dance choreographers, eat your hearts out.

Somewhere in the future, mankind has lost the war against the AIs (artificial intelligences) he created. Almost all of humanity lives in cyberslavery, plugged into an artificial reality that looks like 1999. Finding a captive source of biological energy handy, they plugged humankind into a VR world without end. Since it's just like the world you live in, you can be your own judge of how cruel that is.

The AIs are represented by Men In Black types that move faster than anyone else in VR. They are bound by rule-based behaviors and can't see outside the box. Since they can do everything in the VR world far better than humans, it's not much of a limitation. Until Neo comes along.

Someday there will come a man, prophesy says, who will be able to interact with the system directly, without going through the limitations of the matrix. Lawrence Fishburne (Captain Morpheus) is part of a resistance looking for that man. He thinks it's Neo. Neo isn't so sure. Finding out is what it's all about.

The special effects work is simply fantastic, and John Gaeta deserves kudos and awards for it. I love SFX, but without a great story, they're just overgrown screensavers. Here they are exactly what they should be - equally indispensable and beautiful.

It's the story that does it for me, and The Matrix has no shortage of writing talent in the writing and directing team of brothers Larry & Andy Wachowski. Beyond the film itself, there is a whole world of Matrix projects opening up with some of the best writers and comic book talent in the business (see sidebar).

For fans of written SF, especially if you've read any of the Vernor Vinge pieces in this issue (Focus on Vernor Vinge) notice that the end of the film comes very near his ideas about the future of man and AI.

Keanu Reeves redeems himself from his Johnny Mnemonic fiasco, saving humanity from the clutches of Evil AIs and moviegoers from lame bubble-gum Sci-Fi.

Bladerunner, move over. The Matrix is SF Noir's new top dog.

amzn-crt.gif (3625 bytes)If you like The Matrix, take a look at these SFRevu
recommendations >>>>>>

Click title to go to

Click SFRevu Issue Number to go to review in a back issue

Circuit of Heaven by Dennis Davers Paperback (Jan 1999) -
The entire United States has uploaded itself into a perfect Virtual Reality. Why would anyone stay behind? SFRevu Pic!
SFrevu 2.2
Neuromancer by William Gibson Mass Paperback Reissue (May 1995)
Before Johnny Mnemonic was a bad movie, Neuromancer was a great book. Classic Cyberpunk.   SFRevu Pic!
Secret Realms by Tom Cool Paperback Apr 1999)
Tom Cool's top secret clearance didn't hurt him any when he wrote this thriller about warriors raised from birth in a VR simulation. After a lifetime of training they're about to take the final exam - and reality is a hard grader.
SFrevu 2.6
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson Paperback reissue (May 1993) -
Cool characters, cooler weapons, coolest concepts. Imagine a computer virus that works just as well on human brains as computers.  The action is nonstop, the ideas compelling,  the cyberworld is very well done.
SFRevu Pic!
SFrevu 2.3

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Photos 20th Century Fox

"They want the NavComp!" screams the Pegasus base commander as Kilrathi warships pound his starbase into space debris. Of course they do...

amzn-crt.gif (3625 bytes)It's a Game! It's a Movie! It's a Book! You can play, watch and read WC till you go blind...or just near sighted. (CLICK on the titles below to support SFRevu)
Wing Commander the Novel by Peter Telep (Paperback - 244 pages (March 1999))

Wing Commander : Junior Novelization by Peter Telep
Reading level: Ages 9-12 (Paperback - 154 pages (March 1999))

False Colors (Wing Commander) by William R. Forstchen, Andrew Keith
(Mass Market Paperback - 480 pages (January 1999))

Wing Commander Confederation Handbook by Chris McCubbin (Compiler)
(Paperback - 128 pages (March 1999)) 

The Price of Freedom (Wing Commander) by William R. Forstchen, Ben Ohlander
(Mass Market Paperback - 352 pages (November 1996))

Heart of the Tiger (Wing Commander) by William R. Forstchen, Andrew Keith
(Mass Market Paperback (April 1995))

Wing Commander : Freedom Flight by Mercedes Lackey, Ellen Guon
(Mass Market Paperback - 304 pages (January 1994))

Wing Commander (Twentieth Century Fox)
Cast: Freddie Prinze, Jr.(Chris Blair), Matthew Lillard ("Maniac" Marshall), Saffron Burrows (Deveraux), Jurgen Prochnow , David Warner (Tolwyn), David Suchet, and Tcheky Karyo (Paladin) Crew: Director/Story: Chris Roberts

wingcommander.jpg (53881 bytes)It's W.W.II in space again, and this time Earth is up against the killer cats from the Wing Commander computer game. I found a lot to like in this shoot-em-up game come to life, but then, I found a lot to like in the game. Grittier than Star Trek or even Star Wars, it owes more to Space Above and Beyond, Starship Troopers, and classic non-SF war movies like Battle For Battan and Run Silent, Run Deep.

If you like the game, you'll like the movie. You may gnash your teeth at the inevitable changes, but you'll like it. If you're are a fan of Military SF authors like David Weber (Honor Harrington) or of Larry Niven's The Man-Kzin War series, you'll love this.

By the year 2500, mankind has figured out how to cross intergalactic space using "jump" points. The earliest explorers, AKA "Pilgrims," are legendary for their skills as pilots as well as for their separation from the rest of humanity. Fortunately they were mostly killed off in the Pilgrim War. Now humanity's biggest problem is Killer Cats From Space…the Kilrathi. Think Klingons -- with tiger ancestry. Fortunately, the movie starts well after first contact and negotiation is only a bitter memory. The Kilrathi only do business one way…over our dead bodies.

"They want the NavComp!" screams the Pegasus base commander as Kilrathi warships pound his starbase into space debris. Of course they do. The NavComp is Earth's miracle of hyperspatial navigation. With it, you can pilot a fleet through jump points and be at humanity's front door in time for a quick bowl of milk. Without it, you could fly straight into a sun…and that would end your adventure real quick.

A message drone makes it back to Admiral Tolwyn (David Warner), who realizes that the cats will be scratching on Earth's screen door two hours before he can bring the fleet into position. Only the deep space carrier Tigerclaw is in a position to intercept the hostiles and it's out of communications range. Tolwyn manages to get a message onto the Diligent, a supply vessel en route to the Tigerclaw, and the game is afoot.

The Diligent is carrying two fighter pilots: Chris Blair (Freddie Prinze, Jr., She's All That, I Know What You Did Last Summer) and his best friend, "Maniac" Marshall (Scream, She's All That) – both fresh out of the Academy. Tolwyn trusts the captain of the Diligent, an enigmatic man named Paladin. However, the spit-and-polish First Officer of the Tigerclaw is not inclined to find a scruffy looking nerf herder like Paladin endearing – or reliable.

Along the way, Blair discovers that he has a talent for jump navigation that exceeds the NavComp's own, thanks to his "Pilgrim" heritage. Marshall is relatively normal - for a fighter pilot. He has an ego the size of the flight deck and the skill to back it up.

Once on board the Tigerclaw, Blair has to deal with anti-Pilgrim prejudice and a Wing Commander (squadron leader) who has just been promoted to fill the boots of the recently deceased "Bossman." Marshal just has to deal with his ego. They all have to deal with finding a way to slow down the Kilrathi fleet and give Earth time to mount a defense.

I liked the movie's attitude. The Tigerclaw doesn't expect to stop the fleet, or even to survive. Friends get sacrificed for the mission, something Star Trek could never stomach, and the interior of the military ships look like the interior of military ships: gray, crowded, and nothing like a Holiday Inn in space. What's more, Marshal and a superior officer (female, black) cavort around in bed, something you rarely see in a genre where it's ok to have aliens burst out of your chest, but not to expose anything that might be sexy.

Yes, the science is lame. Either the science is lame, or the movie puts most moviegoers to sleep. That's Sci-Fi, folks. There is actually a fair amount of good Science Fiction in there. They show the force fields holding in the air on the flight deck as a shimmering blue curtain, rather than pretend it was something they had in mind after the fact. The writers remember the effects of faster-than-light travel on subjective time; characters talk about coming home long after all their friends are dead. Not that that actually makes sense considering the two hour time table for beating the Kilrathi to Earth, but it was nice of them to try.

The cast is anything but lame. David Warner (sort of a poor man's Alec Guinness) and David Suchet (well known as Hercule Poroit) play the senior male roles as Admiral Tolwyn and the commander of the Tigerclaw, respectively, with wonderful panache. Tcheky Karyo (Addicted To Love, Goldeneye) plays Paladin, the roguish freighter captain, and Saffron Burrows (Celebrity) plays Wing Commander Deveraux. It’s a pity that Saffron isn't quite the central character, since she is the Wing Commander of the title.

The level of SFX is stunning, no small feat in today's CGI-heavy films. Nary a model was used for the exterior space sequences. They look extraordinarily good. Hyperspace jumps, ship explosions and wormhole vortexes are all at or beyond the current state of the art. The score, by Kevin Kiner, is good, though a bit heavy-handed in a "Victory at Sea" sort of way.

Chris Roberts directed and created the story for the project. He also created the original game for Origin, and directed Mark Hammill, Malcom McDowell, and John Rhys-Davies in the cinematic wraparound for the Wing Commander III: Heart Of The Tiger game sequel. Each project he turns his hand to raises the state of the art another notch. If a space-navy shoot-em-up is your idea of fun, here it is.

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Maybe it’s the tail end of the winter or some kind of seasonal affective disorder or maybe just an inherent crankiness...

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...This film has its moments. Sure, most of them are bad, but they do exist...

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Video: Sawicki's Picks John Carpenter’s Vampires What Dreams May Come Space Truckers

...but I haven't found a genre video that made me happy this month. Sure some come close and sure, some have their moments, and sure this is, after all, merely entertainment and therefor should not be judged too harshly, but I still want some semblance of logic and honesty in story telling. Contrary to what many of my editors may tell you I truly want to like every single video I rent and every single movie I see and every book I read. That I am so often faced with material that meets even my low standards is no fault of my own. Let me give you some examples and perhaps some reasons to go to the movies instead of renting videos this month. - Steve Sawicki

John Carpenter’s Vampires (Sony Pictures) Rated R, 107 Minutes,

Staring James (Over the tree top) Woods as Jack Crow, Daniel (Yikes there’s more of ‘em) Baldwin as Montoya, Sheryl (Strip me naked and stake me to that bed) Lee as Katrina, Maximillian (finally back from that Black Hole trip) Schell as Cardinal Alba, plus more other cast than you can shake a stake at. Directed by John Carpenter, Music by John Carpenter, Written by (From John Steaky’s novel) Don Jakoby, Don Mazur.

This film has its moments. Sure, most of them are bad, but they do exist. The book upon which this film is based is great so definitely go read that. The script upon which this film was shot, should have been shot itself. It’s terrible and Wood’s way over the top portrayal of vampire hunter Crow drives the final coffin nail in. Add to this the gratuitous nudity, the sloppy addition of information scenes (scenes which serve the sole function of providing information to the audience), and the two or three impossible things we are expected to ignore and you’ve got a formula for instant failure, which might explain the box office. I suppose it would be good to say how much I enjoyed some parts of this flick. I suppose I shouldn’t mention the dozen or so major plot problems though.

Ah, though, what dreams may come of what could have been.

What Dreams May Come (Polygram) Rated PG-13, 113 minutes (116 in Spain), Starring Robin (I can be serious, honest) Williams as Chris Nielsen, Annabella (Boy do I pout good) Sciorra as Annie Nielsen, Cuba (next flick I get two names) Gooding, Jr. as Albert, Max (here?) Von (or here?) Sydow as The Tracker, Jessica Brooks (Too damn cute) Grant as Marie Nielsen, Josh (If I only had a good line) Paddock as Ian Nielsen. Directed by Vincent Ward, Music by Michael Kamen, Written by (book by Richard Matheson) Ron Bass.

Okay, here’s the deal. Chris Nielsen has an idyllic life (or does he?) until his kids die in a car accident. He then dies in a car accident upon which time his wife goes nuts then kills herself. Frankly, this is not the family one would want to be born into. Okay, so we pretty much have nowhere to go but up from here. Nielsen (Chris) ends up in heaven with Cuba Gooding as his guide. Heaven it seems, is a place which we can individualize to our heart’s content. Since we can do anything we want and get anything we need, Nielsen (Chris) decides he wants his wife. The only problem here is that she’s on the downside of Heaven (some would call it Hell.) And, so, it’s off to hell we go, with Max as our guide. Since I never give away endings I will go no further other than to say that the story does drag a bit. This is a film that looks way better than it works. It is a visually stunning picture. Unfortunately, the director focused too much on the CGI and not enough on the story. The acting is pretty good and the plot is quite workable, if only someone had cared to see that it developed properly. There is one very awkward scene where Nielsen is teased by his daughter in adult guise and this scene has very incestual overtones. It is also obvious that everyone was so absorbed with the effects in the background; angels flying, people doing odd things, animals morphing, that no one paid it any heed.

It’s quite jarring. This is a great example of a good idea gone bad due to too narrow a focus.

Space Truckers (Sterling) Rated PG-13, 97 minutes, Starring Dennis (Line stumbler) Hopper as John Canyon, Stephen (eye candy for the girls) Dorff as Mike Pucci, Debi (eye candy for the boys) Mazar as Cindy. Directed by Stuart Gordon, Music by Colin Towns, Written by Stuart Gordon and Ted Mann.

This is a flick that can’t decide what it wants to be, Star Wars clone or indy outsider. This is best exemplified by the music which sometimes sounds like a military march and other times more like Oklahoma. The idea here is that Hopper is a space trucker, driving a shuttle that looks just like a truck. He hauls anything and is a loner/outsider. He gets in a bind and has to haul a nasty load and gets overtaken by pirates and then saves the Earth. That’s it. Hopper’s acting is stiff and unconvincing, Pucci and Mazar struggle to show us they can act at all, and the basic plot is so full of holes and oddities that defies comprehension. There are some good visual effects and you have to like the pirate and the menace. Not enough to carry a film though.

Stuart Gordon has given us some good stuff-Reanimator is a best example. It’s been all pretty much low budget stuff though and I think that here is another example of money ruining a picture. Hopper needed direction, the script needed re-writing, the plot needed, well, plotting and the whole thing needed some better decision making.