Matrix Schmatrix

As many of you know, I wasn’t all that impressed with the first matrix installment. While I was stunned by the visual effects, enjoyed the action, and recognize the new genre of moviemaking it legitimized, it failed miserably in the realm of cohesive story telling. I was pretty annoyed that most of the story was based on a ridiculous premise. The idea that the machines would need to use human beings as a power source is just retarded. Entropy dictates that the energy that the machines spent keeping us alive would be far greater than the energy they could get out of us. It would be far more efficient to just burn whatever they were feeding us with rather than push it through a system that is wasting energy heating us up and maintaining our bodily functions. Having this as a premise really tainted my ability to enjoy the movie, and made me roll my eyes at the mobs of people claiming it was an amazing story.

The original was well enough done, that you could excuse the shortcomings of it’s story and enjoy it for it’s other strong points. When reloaded came out, I was completely convinced that the W brothers were totally incapable of understanding or communicating the philosophical and moral/ethical issues they seemed to want to deal with. Their ham handed bungling of a variety of concepts from free agency, to our concepts of self-hood, brought Reloaded to a snail’s pace, and opened gaping plot holes that were promised to be resolved in the final chapter. So now Revolutions has come and gone, and it’s clear that the W’s collapsed under the weight of their lopsided and ill-formed mythos. I’m sure they had good intentions and grand plans, but they lacked the vision, or story telling ability to bring it all together.

I don’t blame them for this. Even the best directors and writers can fall short of their original vision. Lucas is a great example of this. The first Star Wars was an excellent film, and it’s all been downhill from there. But I digress. The original point of all of this is that there is no reason to base a science fiction film on weak premises. A lot of scientific and philosophical groundwork has already been laid. One thing that has always bothered me in science fiction is the depiction of computers, machines and artificial intelligence.

I was thinking the other day about when Neo is talking to the councilman in the machine section of Zion. The councilman starts waxing philosophical about how the machines need the humans, but how the humans need machines to live as well. Neo just accepts this in stride instead of saying “uhh, no we don’t need machines. Humans have lived for hundreds of thousands of years without machines” or “uhh, how exactly are we powering all of these machines again? Do we have some humans plugged into generators somewhere? If not, how are we powering these things? And why can’t the machines just use the same power source” No, we just take this all in stride. But it brings up a subject that is never dealt with in the movies, and very rarely in science fiction of this genre. There is a distinction between computers, machines and artificial intelligence.

When the councilman is yammering about how the machines need us, what he really means is that all of the intellegences in the matrix need us to preserve their power source so that the machines they reside in can continue to function. When Neo says that what makes these machines different is that we control these machines, he’s not dealing with the real issue, which is, these machines are not intelligent. We can control them because of that lack of intelligence. This is an important point to make, although it is never made in the movies. This is however emphasized in a number of ways. Within the Matrix are thousands of programs, all with seemingly independent wills and identities. It’s never clear if the Matrix is contained within one machine or made up of a network, but it’s never really important. That is, until you wonder whether or not the sentinels are intelligent. Are they just machines under the control of programs in the Matix? Or do they have within them their own programs which are intelligent? When Smith infects a human, you are confronted with the idea of an intelligence that does not rely on a machine to exist. Is smith then a machine? Of course not. He is a form of intelligence. It doesn’t essentially matter if that intelligence resides in a machine or in a human. Therefore the idea that humans are battling machines for dominance is somewhat misleading. What you essentially have is 2 forms of intelligence battling for dominance of the world. The fact they are machines is not really important. This could have been an interesting tack to take with the story, the question of what self-awareness really is, what the true nature of self-hood is. I personally would have found this more interesting.

Okay, enough ranting.