Saturday, December 15, 2007

Pointless rambling, with backache

So here I am, sprawling half crippled in what passes for my easy chair because a bout of seasonal cleaning and decorating has put my lower back into continual spasms. Did my Creator design my spine badly, or is it an appropriate punishment for the lack of religious motivation in my decorations, or did evil enter my sacral vertebrae when some ancestor nicked an apple, or am I just an ape not totally evolved for the postures involved in mopping floors? I have my suspicions that it's the latter, so rather than begging for forgiveness or whatever I'm just carefully lying as comfortably as possible and slurping down rum and eggnog while I watch Matrix Revolutions.

Could the best question of all be why am I watching that particular waste of celluloid? Doubtful, but it's probably the best one I currently have the concentration to answer with anything approaching coherence. That's amusing, in a small way, since a certain lack of coherence is one of the primary defining characteristics of this category of film. That, in turn, is because I'm the one who is categorizing the films, and I chose that as a defining characteristic of Fetish SF (tm) films.

The reason I'm watching this turd third Matrix movie is more or less the same reason I forced myself through the sickened second one: I need the references. My primary cultural milieu is techno-geek, and for better or worse this trash is a primary source; I don't have to like it, but not having seen it is a bit like being a cultured upper-class Englishman of the Great War era who didn't know his Ovid or Homer. (Those guys wouldn't have had to look up the meaning of the "Temet Nosce" sign in the Oracle's house for example, and I'm glad my old Latin master wasn't anywhere near my ear just now.)

Ow ow ow ow... that's it, it's Mr. Cousins tormenting me from beyond the grave because I never could translate my Cicero, non gradus anus rodentum .

The rot set in right from the farced first one in the series. The initial concept, that all we see is a computer simulation and we're actually slaves to a machine civilization, was cool. It's a schtick that in its roots goes back millennia (with illusionist gods like Mara or Lucifer providing the simulation rather than machines, obviously). Philip K. Dick based his entire oeuvre on the question "How do you know what's real?"

It's a great question and can lead to all kinds of wonderful plot devices, plus it lets you pull iin the echoes from all the similar stories where heroes discover strange worlds behind the everyday one - down the rabbit hole we go, you're not in Kansas any more. Young man aided by an older Mentor travels to a strange world outside the known, braves dangers, comes back to save his home from the previously unseen danger. Classic Joseph Campell stuff, like much good science fiction, and giving it a plausible mechanism makes it compelling.

So why, oh why, oh why, did they have to give the machines such an utterly boneheadedly wrong motivation? Humans are being used as batteries, power supplies for the machines? What retarded dipstick somewhere in the process failed to understand basic physics? The damn people are consuming food, organic fuel administered via tubes; it would have been much more efficient for the machines just to burn the fuel to generate electricity. Besides, it fails even to provide a motivation for what the machines essentially do; why would they have to provide the elaborate artificial environment of the Matrix if that's all the humans are supplying?

What would have made more sense, and been just as ironic, would be if the machines were using the people in the vats as information processing units, taking advantage of our brains having evolved to recognize patterns even in incomplete data. That's a difficult thing to simulate in a computer, it would explain why the machines needed to maintain (and constantly modify) such a computationally expensive illusion, and there could be endless fun building analogies between what is happening in the real war and how the machines represent it in the Matrix.

Machine vulnerabilities could be mapped to problems facing the vat people in their eternal dreams. Hackers messing with the Matrix model could subvert the machine strategies, perhaps by making the machines overlook their own vulnerabilities by taking the pain out of the vat people's simulated backaches...

Ah, but that would have involved trusting the audience to understand a subtlety or two; I'd almost be willing to bet that something along those lines was in the original plot, but when it got Hollywood-ized some producer lost the nerve to do it that way. Maybe the same one who got all excited when the idea of tapping universal mythic structures partially penetrated, and felt compelled to throw in the utterly unnecessary and deeply boring prophecy subplot.

I should give style points, I suppose, for the powerful oracle being portrayed as a frumpy middle-aged housewife, but hell, style is the one thing these movies do have in abundance. In the Matrix everybody's obliged to wear designer sunglasses and fetishistic leather coats, and there's always a lovely shine on the rain of brass casings that fall from the guns which can't actually hit anyone if their choreography skilz are strong enough to overpower the local physics simulation. Be sure to pinwheel across the open space, and don't forget to hover for a second before that big kick! Fashions are pretty sizzlin' in Zion too, and great care is taken with the presentation of the huge variety of tasty treats our heroes are presented with there. It's downright odd how it's only on board the ships everyone wears threadbare rags and eats undifferentiated gruel.

I suppose in the end that's what so deeply disappoints me about this series of movies, and about the love my fellow technogeeks shower on it; it's the unworthy veneration of style over substance, and of emotion over reason, and the way my techie brothers and sisters eat that sad and threadbare techno-woo crap up as avidly as they do, just as long as you dress it up a bit. I always hope for a bit more skepticism; I don't know why, I so rarely get it. I just want the fanboys to wonder for a moment why the software program Agent Smith has such intense emotions. (Is it a simulation routine gone bad?)

At least they mostly do know it's fiction, unlike the morons who read that "Left Behind" shite.

And there goes the end of the movie, with the Oracle responding to the the Last Exile Child:

"Did you always know?"
"No, no I didn't. But I believed."

Oh, yeah, chalk one up for foundationless belief, that's a good moral for the story. Much better than "No, but great ends require taking great risks" or something like that. Ow.

Great, now I have a backache and a headache. I definitely require a reboot, if I can get my futon unfurled without deeper injury.

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