Monday, April 13, 2009

Time flies when you're plugged in

It was ten years ago this month when The Matrix came out.

As a Gen-Xer who measures time by cultural milestones, this is yet another moment where I sit back and realize that DAMN I'm getting old. My 20-year high school reunion kinda worked the same way.

How can I describe 1999 (or 1985 for God's sake) to those who weren't there? That was a crazy-ass year. Everyone, well every geek, was waiting for Star Wars I - The Phantom Menace to come out that summer: a brand-new website called Countingdown.com was practically created to flash a timer waiting for the day we'd see Anakin Skywalker start on his destiny. The only summer film that looked to compete with the Force was this Austin Powers sequel. There was this buzz about a small indy project called the Blair Witch Project that had this weird-ass website of background info. Meanwhile in the real world, politics was getting all screwy with the Clinton Impeachment over Blowjobs fiasco that was wiping out Republican leadership instead of the Clintons themselves. Bush and Gore were lining themselves up as the de-facto party choices for 2000. There were Melissa Worms and Napster and everyone waiting for Y2K to erupt on New Year's. Stephen King nearly dies in a hit-and-run accident. Enron starts messing with California's energy supply. And on April 20, 1999... that was a bad day all around.

Into all of this came The Matrix. For all we knew or heard about this film, it had something to do with computer hackers figuring out something, not sure what, about the universe and reality in general. Nobody I knew who were into films had much information on what this was about. Warner Bros. was kinda releasing this film with almost little fanfare, in early April of all times rather than the more lucrative summer months as though they wanted it done and out of the way before Star Wars cleaned up the market.

For meself... Two hours after going in, for myself, every geek I know, and every geek I knew existed out there on the planet, had to have exited that film with OUR FREAKING MINDS BLOWN!

It had hackers saving the world (nice ego-stroking there). It had questions about reality, about our senses, our perceptions. It had proto-goth culture mixed with techno-shoot-em-up culture mixed with Far Eastern mysticism and every form of kung-fu (Jedi, wire-fu, gun-fu, hack-fu, wtf-fu) you had ever seen. It had Christian parables and messanic overtones. It had Keanu Reeves saying "Whoa" and actually SELLING THAT LINE! It had Hugo Weaving owning the title of "Badass" (even in good-guy roles like Elrond!) for the next decade (would half the people who even moderately tolerated V For Vendetta even been that way if it didn't have Hugo Weaving's near-perfect dark voice as the anti-hero?). It had Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, out-mentoring Yoda in some of the best kung-fu sparring you'll ever see. It had Joey Pants as the one sensible jerk in the whole universe ("Why didn't I take the Blue Pill?"), who of course turns out to be a total -ssh-l- because in a war against the Machine you need to accept the Red Pill and accept the reality that we are all brains in batteries.

Those who came after this movie came out can't begin to understand how the Matrix warped our geekhood. We came to quote from Morpheus and the Oracle more than Yoda. It also hurt that when the Phantom Menace finally came out - Jar-Jar??? Mitichlor-whats? Anakin crushing on Padme even though he's clearly 8 years away from hitting puberty? What??? - that a lot of geeks felt betrayed (ten years later, IT STILL HURTS) by Lucas' lack of understanding his own vision (the geeky response of The Phantom Edit tells you all you needed to know: if only Lucas had the supporting staff he had back during the 70s-80s trilogy, people like Gary Kurtz at producer and Lawrence Kasdan at screenplay who could have pulled back on Lucas' worst indulgences, the prequel trilogy could have been SO AWESOME).

So here we are, 10 years later. I'm getting to 39 years old, plugged into a computer messing with blogging and Facebook and a bunch of other things other than having an actual, you know, social life, pretty much like the USENET threads and emailing of days past. Has anything really changed?

Oh, and there's a rebooted Star Trek movie coming out. Gasp drool worship. Some things definitely never change...

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