the matrix sequels

It can’t be understated how hugely influential the Wachowski’s The Matrix was. Many a film after it tried (and often failed) to imitate its look, its tone, its groundbreaking visual effects. And the man responsible for the stylish look of the 1999 sci-fi film was cinematographer Bill Pope, who would go on to shoot the film’s much-maligned sequels The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions to less than satisfactory results. There are a lot of things that can singled out for the reasons of The Matrix sequels’ failures — bloated plots, convoluted narratives, what have you — but Pope knows the real reason. And that reason is…Stanley Kubrick?

Pope doesn’t have fond memories of shooting the Matrix sequels, which he relayed to fellow cinematographer Roger Deakins on the Team Deakins podcast. But given time to think about the reason for his poor experience on The Matrix sequels, Pope has come to a conclusion. It’s all thanks to a piece of advice from Stanley Kubrick that the Wachowskis took a little too seriously, Pope said (via IndieWire):

Everything that was good about the first experience was not good about the last two. We weren’t free anymore. People were looking at you. There was a lot of pressure. In my heart, I didn’t like them. I felt we should be going in another direction. There was a lot of friction and a lot of personal problems, and it showed up on screen to be honest with you. It was not my most elevated moment, nor was it anyone else’s. The Wachowskis had read this damn book by Stanley Kubrick that said, “Actors don’t do natural performances until you wear them out.” So let’s go to take 90! I want to dig Stanley Kubrick up and kill him.

Kubrick’s famously meticulous methods were controversial even back when the filmmaker was alive and shooting some of his most acclaimed classics. His emotional torment of Shelley Duvall on The Shining belongs in the annals of “asshole director” behavior, and is probably not the best method to imitate, even if the Wachowskis wanted to learn from the best. But it was the combination of Kubrick’s advice and the tiring back-to-back shooting schedule that created an environment that Pope hated, and which he believed made the films suffer. Pope even brought up Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy as an example of how a back-to-back shoot can take a toll both behind and in front of the cameras:

There is something about making a shoot that long, 276 shoot days, that is mind numbing and soul numbing and it numbs the movie. You think about The Hobbit, where they [shot] one, two, and three, and the movies are just numbing. In the books you don’t feel that because you pick it up and put it down. In a movie shoot it’s too long. There’s a limit from what you can take in.

Pope is still proud of his work, telling Deakins, “I just transferred them all to 4K for archive purposes at Warners, and I wrote the Wachowskis and Keanu [Reeves] and Carrie-Anne [Moss] that we did a good job, we should be proud of them,” but the grueling shoots of the Matrix sequels probably stuck in his mind – he won’t be returning for The Matrix 4.

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