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Review by Brad Green:
So the yellow brick road has become a stream of luminous green algorithms, and we’ve been walking down it all our lives. Big deal. All the people who hailed the original Matrix movie as mind-thumpingly original must be plugged into an entirely different world than me. The nature of “reality” has been a philosophical poser down the ages. The medieval Cathars believed the material world to be an illusion created by Satan; Descarte took us to a turning point with “I think therefore I am” (and the implied corollary that all else is speculation); and in more recent times the inhuman entities behind “Reality TV” have done their best to prove the Cathars right with Big Brother and its relatives. 

But The Matrix franchise has two things going for it -- CGI so stunning you suspect the designers could have got jobs working for The Machine Sentience, and the leviathan charisma of Laurence Fishburne. Instead of investing it with iconic, pop mythology status we should categorise it where it belongs, as perfectly good, lightweight, cyberpunk entertainment alongside the likes of Total Recall or a Star Trek “holodeck” episode. The latter two have something else in common. Jerry Goldsmith. The Matrix should have taken the hint and gone where such cyberpunk has gone before, but alas its music has fallen slave to the machines. 

Prima facie there’s bang for your bucks here. If you like your bang of the monotonous variety. Over two discs (for the price of one) we get electronica excursions, techno beats, industrial rhythms, a grunge travesty, some heavy but melodic metal, an orchestral score, a blend of the orchestra and the electronica and a whole brace of multimedia ads… er “enhancements”. After all the low rent philosophy, the speculation will of course succumb to spectacle and morph into a popular video game.

The atmosphere puffed out by the soundtrack varies from an appropriately dank, industrial evocation of dystopia to an unintentionally parodistic evocation of an environment only suitable for comic book superheroes. The ostensible generosity of two-discs-for-one no doubt stems from the fact that few customers interested in Don Davis’ symphonic score will have much time for the electronica and vice versa. As such, Davis’ cues are entirely absent from the first disc and the second includes cues that mesh orchestra and electronica, a lengthy, purely symphonic suite and all the multimedia extras. 

Considering the banality of most of the techno-driven tracks Davis had a lot of making up to do. Relying heavily on swirling strings and a restrained brass motif his compositions are highly competent but lacking in spark and originality, leaving us in total with a plethora of uninspiring techno rhythms and some technically proficient but uninspiring action scoring. 

On the cues that bring the samples and strings together, the arrangements sound admirably unforced and do work in terms of expanded tonality. However, it’s no compensation for the fact that nothing in their rhythms, melodies or combined timbre engages the emotions.

The best track from both discs is a thundering metal song by P.O.D., which manages to marry chunky, metal guitar chords to a winning melody. The human voice also helps the best of the electronica, with an intriguing song by Deftones not quite succeeding, but at least coming across as a brave attempt. 

Even during the periods when the ambience is right, it’s a long time to sit through music with little emotive flare. Perhaps it could make suitable background music if you’re inclined to hit the underlying ideas head-on and tackle the pages of John Baudrillard, Robert Nozick, Daniel Dennet or Hilary Putnam. Look up the latter’s “Reason, Truth and History” for a semantic argument on why we can’t be “brains in vats”, which I don’t buy, but which outlines a scenario of a “collective hallucination” so close to the Matrix premise that I suspect there’s a copy on the Wachowski Brothers’ shelves.

Meanwhile, as my own consciousness drifted in and out of attention to the ominous, industrial sounds I had a sudden epiphany. For those of you who’d like to save a few pennies on the third installment, I’m convinced there’s only one possible outcome. Neo progresses from red pill to purple pill to tartan pill and discovers a seemingly infinite nest of matrices, each an artificial world inside another, then finally he gobs the ROYGBIV pill and sees the light. He awakes to find that he’s really a small girl named Dorothy living on a farm in Texas, who’s simply spent a long night under the spell of Morpheus. 

Published August 7, 2003

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TITLE: The Matrix Reloaded
ID: 325583019173
ARTISTS: Linkin Park; Marilyn Manson; Rob Zombie; Rob Dougan; Deftones; Team Sleep; P.O.D.; Unloco; Rage Against The Machine; Oakenfold; Fluke; Dave Matthews Band; Juno Reactor
SCORE: Don Davis
TRACKS (disc 1): 12
TRACKS (disc 2): 7 plus multimedia enhancements


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