It's a 'Matrix' kind of world

'The Matrix' sequel doesn't come out until May, but the marketing machine has begun.

The year of "The Matrix" has already begun, as filmmakers reveal sneak peeks of the sequels and the first video game based on the franchise. This is joyful news for fans who have worn out the three-year-old DVD from too much viewing.

For the rest of world, it is a wake-up call. The methods of the "Matrix" mythology are the future of cross-medium entertainment.

Directors Larry and Andy Wachowski and the creative team from "The Matrix" movie machinery feel that they have formed an entire universe, "not merely a revolution, but a revelation," says video-game developer Dave Perry.

The original 1999 film whetted the appetites of millions for more of Neo and Morpheus, but with nothing new, fans have had to be content with Hollywood's endless imitation of the Matrix-style wall-walking and bullet time.

That all changed this past week. A Hollywood-style première, complete with all the original film's stars - Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Laurence Fishburne - unveiled a gaggle of goodies for the material-starved "Matrix" maniacs: tantalizing peeks at the coming sequels, "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions," as well as "Enter the Matrix," the first video game based on the franchise, which will debut May 15 along with the first sequel. All that and some Matrix material that's available right now: a group of free short films at www.theanimatrix.com.

As with everything Matrix, these six- to nine-minute anime-style clips are the brainchild of the Matrix creators, the Wachowski brothers. They explore the origins of the Matrix as well as introduce new characters in fresh stories that interweave with the feature films. On March 21, a nine-minute film, "The Final Flight of the Osiris," will debut before the feature film, "Dreamcatcher."

The klieg-light extravaganza, held in a barn-like soundstage on the Warner Brothers lot, allowed guests to play unfinished versions of the video game on all four of the major hardware platforms, PS2, GameCube, X-box, and a PC.

The reason all of the above is something more than just mondo Matrix-moneymaking is that each of the above reveals a different part of the Matrix universe. The short films streaming online reveal prequel information, and the video game features two smaller characters from the second and third films, Ghost and Niobe, the latter played by Jada Smith.

Story lines in the game don't come directly from the movie. They explore the known universe of all the "Matrix" characters. In fact, you can't even play the game as the film's central character, Neo. "That wouldn't work," says Soren Hannibal, Shiny Entertainment game programmer, "because Neo knows everything and he would just beat everybody."

Game developer Mr. Perry says he was hoping for nothing more than a film clip or two that he could integrate into the game. Little did he realize that the game universe was as important to the "Matrix" mythology as the films themselves.

"The actors had to do hundreds of scenes for the game," Perry says.

One minor character who has just three lines in the film worked for 14 months on the "Matrix" game. "The Wachowski brothers have not just touched our industry," says Perry, "they've changed it."

This appears to be the consensus around the film industry as well. Will Smith, husband of "Matrix" co-star Jada Pinkett, was at the event, toting their child. The whole "Matrix" world is a knock upside the head, he said. "These guys didn't copy anybody, they tried to reinvent something and make it brand new," he added. "Anytime someone does that is great energy for the entire industry."

The film's star, Keanu Reeves, was circumspect about his own role. "I'm just an actor taking part in their vision," he said. But the vision is big, he added.

"This is a groundbreaking endeavor," the whole thing, he said, and then turned around to take in a vast Warner Brothers soundstage awash in Matrix moments being played out on screens across the floor. "Any time you break ground, you get new things coming from it."

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