The Matrix is, by my estimation, one of our most perfect movies ever made, a startling blast of imagination and filmmaking ingenuity that stands the test of time and thensome. Its two sequels, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions… have a less sterling reputation. To this day, I will defend a lot about Reloaded, including some exquisite action sequences and fun world-building (Revolutions I simply just do not know what to say). But that might be more than Bill Pope, the trilogy’s revolutionary cinematographer, is willing to do. Pope appeared on Roger Deakins‘ podcast recently, and had some choice words (h/t IndieWire) about want went wrong with the back half of the Wachowski‘s trilogy.
Pope began his chat with the world’s nicest DP quite… bluntly.
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.
Wowie zowie! Not only is Pope alluding to some personal problems that happened on set — problems that spilled onto the frame — but he’s going after one of cinema’s most vaulted directors, Stanley Kubrick, for his idea that one must push an actor to the limit via many, many takes. Pope has, to this day, not worked with David Fincher — and it feels like that might be an intentional choice vis-a-vis his many, many takes.
Pope theorized that the sequels’ problems may have stemmed from their brutal, back-to-back shooting schedule, even pulling along Peter Jackson‘s disappointing Hobbit trilogy along for the ride:
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.
In the end, though, Pope has walked away with clarity and positive vibes regarding the Matrix trilogy: “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.” Hell yeah, Pope. Water under the stylishly shot bridge.