Viewers who endured last winter's dismal Dreamcatcher were fortunate to see one of the nine short films from The Animatrix -- the collection of Japanese animation (anim & eacute;) set in the world of The Matrix. Named Final Flight of the Osiris, it is an entirely computer-generated film that giddily ranges from poetic fighting to a tense storyline that enhances the plot of The Matrix Reloaded. You won't need to see Osiris, or any of the other films in The Animatrix to understand Reloaded, but in just a few minutes, the Japanese animators, working from a script by the Wachowski brothers, made a better film.
One of The Animatrix's strengths is its fulfillment of the expectations of The Matrix that were not met by Reloaded. Where that movie was an excellent action film that lacked the surprise and narrative playfulness of the first film, The Animatrix delivers heady doses of both style and substance. In many ways, it makes the first film seem stolid and tame.
Osiris, having been screened in U.S. theaters, is the only short in the collection to receive a rating (PG-13) from the MPAA. Some of the other films would undoubtedly earn R ratings, at least for simulated violence. But some of the best shorts in the collection illustrate less-combative aspects of The Matrix. One named Beyond, in particular, is a brilliant work of hand-drawn anim & eacute; that rests securely on other merits. It tells the story of a local haunted house, caused by glitches in the Matrix. After a group of kids playfully explore it, they begin to question the reliability of their senses. It's visually poetic, and it captures a different aspect of the discovery and mystery that were most enjoyable about the first film. It's also profoundly human, which is something Reloaded, laden with special effects, isn't.
The other shorts in the collection range from the expository The Second Renaissance Parts I and II (historical prequels to The Matrix) to Matriculated. This short, which takes place on the surface of the planet, shows what happens when a machine is plugged in -- Matrix-style -- to the human subconscious. It's both a welcome throwback to the psychedelic films of the 1970s, and a thrilling new perspective on Matrix philosophy. In short, The Animatrix has the ammunition that was missing from Reloaded. If you like The Matrix, don't miss it.