‘Matrix’-inspired moves may fatigue moviegoers

By Paul Martin August 1st, 2001, in Miscellaneous

USA Today also added this story as a follow up:
Where do action movies go, when all The Matrix moves are maxed out? Some go back to the basics.

“I felt it was already passé,” says Simon West, director of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. “I deliberately chose a style of fighting that is not martial arts. It’s street fighting. I thought it was more interesting for a woman to be a down-and-dirty street fighter and not balletic.”

No one will deny that The Matrix, the 1999 Oscar-winning sci-fi action blockbuster starring Keanu Reeves, broke ground.

Written and directed by the Wachowski brothers, its cutting-edge special effects set the standard for action films, and the innovative style made its way into comedies (Scary Movie 2) and kids’ films (Spy Kids, Shrek).

“It took people somewhere they had never been before,” says Paul Dergarabedian of box office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations.

And the timing was right.

“The Matrix was the first movie that actually used martial arts plus advanced technology,” says Corey Yuen, choreographer of The One, a sci-fi thriller, out Nov. 2, that pits martial arts expert Jet Li against a clone of himself.

“Matrix was basically a sci-fi action film, but it defied characterization because of its innovative images,” Dergarabedian says. “The genre was taken to a new level, and that excited audiences.”

It excited audiences to the tune of $171.4 million, which in turn excited Hollywood studio executives.

“Movies must provide a new visual experience because there’s so much competition with video games, television and computers,” says Tom Rothman, president of 20th Century Fox. “There’s a search for that ‘Wow!’ And The Matrix showed the audience was ready for new visual excitement.”

Ultimately, dazzling martial-arts moves and high-tech wizardry are simply modes of transporting viewers into a fantasy world.

“It’s another way of showing Superman without the cape and the costume,” says The One director James Wong. “And without having to explain kryptonite. It’s a different superhero that’s more grounded and with-it. Superman wasn’t cool, he was earnest. This has a cool sensibility. Kids watch these movies and say, ‘Wow! It would be great to move like that!’ ”

But even those directly involved in staging martial-arts scenes emphasize that kicks, leaps and karate chops have their limits.

“The drama comes first,” says Yuen, who also directs films in his native Hong Kong. “If you just want to watch action for action’s sake, watch a martial-arts tournament.”

But the style could easily become overused.

“It’s a total compliment to the filmmakers of The Matrix that it’s been so widely emulated,” Dergarabedian says. “But if every movie starts using those type of images to portray a kung fu fight, they better be careful, because it can wear out its welcome.”

By Claudia Puig, USA TODAY
Contributing: Andy Seiler

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