It’s been 15 years since Morpheus took us along on Neo’s ride into the Matrix in the Wachowski brothers science fiction masterpiece. Since that time we’ve had two lesser sequels and countless knockoffs attempting to recapture some of the original movie’s cinematic wizardry and inventive storytelling.
From the secret of those bullet time sequences to the studio’s first choice for the role of Neo, getting The Matrix made was no easy process. So without further ado, let’s pop that red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.
1. The Wachowskis sold Warner Brothers on the project with the $10 million opening sequence. When the brothers first approached the studio about the project they had a projected budget of $60 million. The studio balked at the idea of giving them that much and instead offered them $10 million to shoot the film. The brothers spent the entire $10 million on the film’s opening sequence and impressed the studio enough that they were given the initial asking budget to finish the movie.
2. The altered studio logo was a dig at the system. According to Visual Effects Supervisor John Gaeta on the DVD commentary, the altered studio logo in the movie’s opening was done as a way of going against the system that stifles the creativity of writers and directors.
3. Keanu Reeves wasn’t the first choice for Neo. Will Smith was offered the part, but turned it down to film Wild Wild West. From there the role was offered to Nicolas Cage who had to refuse because of family commitments. Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, and Leonardo DiCaprio were also in consideration for the part that was finally sealed with Reeves.
4. Laurence Fishburne wasn’t the only choice for Morpheus. Last week, we learned that the role was passed on by Russell Crowe. In addition to Crowe, Sean Connery and Samuel L. Jackson were also considered for the famous part.
5. The cast and crew went to a real S&M club to shoot. The first scene with Trinity meeting Neo was shot at an actual fetish club in Sydney called The Hellfire Club. Extras in this scene were actual patrons of the club and were asked to come dressed in full costume.
6. The Matrix took half a decade to write. Not surprisingly, the movie went through a number of revisions before its finished form. The Wachowskis worked on the project over five years, writing 14 different drafts of the script and having over 500 storyboards for its final concepts.
7. Numerous sets of identical twins were cast. Producers casts numerous sets of identical twins for the scene with the woman in red to give the illusion of computer program repetition.
8. Different tints for different worlds. While in the Matrix everything has a slight green tint, as if the viewer is watching everything through a computer. The scenes in the real world have normal coloring, while the battle between Morpheus and Neo has a yellow tint because it is neither in the real world or the Matrix.
9. Neo’s belly bug was a combination of CGI and prosthetic. The scene where Neo is held down and the stomach bug enters his belly button was done with a mix of CGI and prosthetic devices. The bug that is pulled out of its case is the prosthetic while the the bug that burrows into him is CGI. The extracting device that is used to remove the bug from Neo’s gut took 12 weeks to make.
10. Stunt coordinator Woo-ping Yuen was reluctant to come aboard the project. Yuen initially wasn’t interested in the project and hoped that by asking for a ridiculous fee the Wachowskis would be turned off. They complied with his fee in full, but it was only after Yuen was given complete control of developing the fight scenes and training the actors that he agreed to the movie.
11. Training was especially difficult for Reeves. Yuen trained the actors on their fight scenes for between four and six months before shooting. At the time, Keanu Reeves was recovering from neck surgery and had to wear a neck brace for much of his training which made high kicks especially difficult.
12. Carrie-Anne Moss didn’t have it much easier. Moss’ screen test for the part of Trinity involved kung-fu fighting for three hours with a team from Hong Kong, followed by another six months of martial arts training. After finishing her final fight sequence the Wachowskis gave her a bottle of champagne as she was officially an “action hero” in their eyes.
13. The impressive government lobby shootout scene took 10 days to shoot. The three-minute machine gun shootout was done without CGI and filmed over the course of 10 days in a Sydney office building.
14. Neo’s needles were applied by a trained acupuncturist. The scene with Neo lying on a gurney and filled full of needles was done with acupuncture pins by a trained acupuncturist. Most of the needles were stuck into a prosthetic dummy, while some were also used on Reeves.
15. Bullet time was more than just a cool looking effect. The Matrix is largely credited for its popularizing of bullet time, but besides being just a cool looking effect, it was meant to be a visual analogy for the characters’ moments of consciousness and control over time within the Matrix. Creating the effect involved time-splice photography in which several cameras are simultaneously triggered around an object. It gets a bit more complicated of course, so it’s probably best to let the film’s VFX guru, John Gaeta explain it.