Maybe because the Matrix Reloaded was so [fill in pejorative], you could be forgiven for not picking up the Animatrix tie-in DVD. The first short in the collection, Final Flight of the Osiris, ran briefly in theatres; this Final Fantasy-style synthespian adventure made me want to run screaming for the exits (something about seeing texture-mapped gooseflesh on a human butt projected two stories tall...). The Animatrix includes 8 more films, mostly in the straight anime style and by Japanese directors, which fill in back story and sidebar details to the main movies. Quick report: the next two shorts after Osiris, depicting the Rise of the Machines, the desperate blacking out of the sky by humans, and the conversion of people into batteries, are pompous and ridiculously violent, although there's one sequence of a factory with machines building other machines that's rather, er, riveting.

The two best shorts are "Beyond" and "Matriculated." In the former, set in the weedy back streets of Tokyo in the summer, a young woman searching for her cat discovers a disturbance in the Matrix that neighborhood kids call "the haunted house." In this abandoned building, the laws of space and time break down; the kids amuse themselves by jumping face first from the second floor and entering slow-mo "bullet time" right before they hit the ground--a kind of invisible safety net. The inside of the building, where doors lead into black voids, dogs change colors, and inexplicable rain pours from the ceiling, has the look and mood of "the Zone" from Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. While the children explore the house, Agents are dispatched in a futuristic exterminator truck to seal off the area and repair the "error" in the Machine's simulated city.

In "Matriculated," by Aeon Flux's visionary director Peter Chung, an outpost of humans captures a robot and forces it to "jack in" with it their little group, coaxing the befuddled Machine into a weird, Aeon-like world of digital hallucinations. By doing this, they hope to create conditions where it will bond with its captors and reprogram itself voluntarily to do their bidding; whether this is for ethical or practical reasons isn't entirely clear. Some amazing tripped-out stuff here, featuring Chung's trademark queasy psycho-sexual imagery. A classic Aeon moment: the robot sticks its head into a sort of bio-mechanoid glory hole and gets trapped; our POV is looking at its back but then the camera swings around to the other side of the hole and shows the creature's head and neck protruding from a Looney Tunes logo inside a miniature movie theatre. The robot's skin peels off, rolls into a ball, and drops into another hole of brushed aluminum resembling a dentist's spittoon. Frantically trying to recover its skin, the scalped robot...anyway, you gotta see it.

Postscript: The Wachowskis owed Chung big time for the scene in The Matrix where spyware is inserted into Neo through his navel. This is a more or less direct cop of Trevor Goodchild's "custodian"--a spindly robot also inserted navelly--in the AF episode "The Purge." The spyware's later removal as a disgusting squidlike glob sucked into a vacuum container is also pure Chung.

- tom moody 8-07-2003 9:06 am

Aeon Flux was one of the best toons of all time. The Maxx was impressive as well. I'm curious about what Alan Moore you're reading. I'm a huge Moore fan and god if there was ever a comics guy who deserved serious criticism...
- Steelydan (guest) 8-11-2003 10:57 pm

I'm gradually working my way through the whole Moore canon; eventually I'll do a big post on him. I just finished the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, Supreme: The Return, and Across the Universe: the DC Universe Stories. All great. I've decided there are two Alan Moores: the early dark one and the late funny one. V and From Hell are almost unrelentingly bleak, while Supreme is just one laugh after another. One of my favorites is Miracleman, which kind of combines both tendencies. It's a hilarious goof on those slightly square British superheroes but also a twisted story of government manipulation and experimentation. I still crack up thinking about the hero's implanted memories of "the Miracleman Family," "Young Nastyman," and Dr....GARGUUUNZA!!!!

As for serious criticism, he's gradually starting to get his due. The Summer 2001 Bookforum had an appreciative interview with novelist Steve Erickson, and in the same issue, writer Jonathan Lethem called From Hell "as impressive a historical novel as I've read." Erickson, and others too (I wish I could recall who--I just read it recently) have said that Watchmen was a much more substantial '80s zeitgeist-definer than the talked about books of the day, such as Bright Lights Big City and Less than Zero.

Here's a discussion we had here a couple of years ago, right after the Bookforum pieces came out. Also, in case you missed it, here's a good Village Voice piece on Supreme: The Return.

- tom moody 8-13-2003 7:59 am

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