This is one of my favorite movies ever. It’s such a masterpiece to me, so I’m sorry if I went obsessively so into little details. Every element is so well made that actually deserves to be examined. Also, I am sorry if I spent some time going through the images analysis as well but in my opinion, doesn’t make sense to me speaking about sound and music in a movie without taking into account the little details happening in the shot. So, let’s dive into it!
The Matrix (1999), Opening scene
The Matrix is an action Sci-fi film and this idea formed through the fact that in the opening sequence they use a variety of genre codes to help the viewers understand what they are watching. Orchestral music and the simplest of sound effects can be heard, and they both combine to create the scene increasingly visually pleasing. With any other action/adventure film the music builds up during a scene to imply action and suspense, The Matrix is no different. In the fourth minute exactly, this happens. During the chase scene sequence, the music is fast and relentless until it reaches its climax. As Trinity leaps the audience is caught on the edge of their seat. The chase reinforces her super-human abilities and the excitement of the opening scene.
An example of a sound effect which helps to create a ‘believable world’ is the police radios and cars. The audience already knows that there is police, so these sound effects reinforce this. Not only music, but the dialogue could be noticed between the agents and policemen. One of the agents say to the ‘Lieutenant’:
“No Lieutenant, your men are already dead.”
This tells the audience that Trinity is deadly and can defeat the policemen who are inside the building. The agents have experience of chasing her and, therefore, the suspense is created.
Quieter, less recognizable sounds throughout the opening clip can be heard for example guns being cocked and the subtle sounds of footsteps. These sounds urge the audience to listen carefully and this adds to the overall tension.
Falling in the rabbit hole
The first scene in the opening of the film shows an establishing shot of the area1. The blurred and wavy scene showing something is not right which then foreshadows the following scenes later in the film. The green tinge filter also connotes aliens. Therefore there is a meaning of the unknown and not knowing what is going to happen. The waves and blur also suggest the director did not want us to clearly see where the central protagonist is, which gives us the idea of the protagonist is being secretive and on the run. This is then shown later in the film opening. Because the shot has a very dark, this helps to show another aspect of secrecy.
The sound is used very effectively in the scene, as the idents and the establishing shot progresses, there are non-diegetic sounds effects added on for dramatic effect. The sounds are wobbly and suggest mystery and the unknown.
The shot then leads onto and forms to an altered green indent to show the production company2. This helps to give the indent mote relativity toward the film.
The clouds in the background also denote a gloomy day, they are inevitable. This then symbolizes that the clouds are trying to hide and block out something. They also have a green tinge which relates the whole idea of the green theme of the unknown.
The use of font and color the titles in the first section of the opening tells all about the film. by using a pale lime green color connotes secret code, hacking, etc. Also, the font of the text suggests this idea of hacking.
The title screen3 is faded into from a ‘matrix’. This then helps to give the title more relativity towards the film.
The sounds in this clip have glitchy and computeristic identification to them. Because they are part of the scene they are diegetic. The combination of the visuals and the sound help to give the film extra meaning, as the sound helps to emphasize the meaning of what is onscreen.
The next shot shows another matrix4, this then symbolizes that something has been hacked and leaves the viewer to wonder what is going on. At the same time this scene is being shown, a phone call is ongoing.
During the phone call, the protagonist (we assume this) starts to believe that their phone call is hacked and they are being listened to. This then relates back to the visuals on screen, therefore the viewer can relate to the things together.
In this part of the clip there is a phone conversation, which is diegetic, but also the addition of the glitchy and computerized sounds help to show and foreshadow to the viewer that the call has been hacked. The viewer can assume that the glitchy sounds and the ‘matrix’ visuals makeup the hacking, as these glitchy sounds and the visuals have connotations of this.
This extreme closeup5 (ECU) helps to keep the viewer contained and gives the viewer a minimal view of the surroundings which makes them feel on the edge of their seat. The shot also shows a lot of detail of the person. Their expressions and feelings can be read from the ECU. The director of photography (DOP) or the cinematographer has decided not to include the whole face but just the eyes. This helps to show some of their expression, but the viewer cannot be sure what they are exactly feeling.
The shot has a very shallow depth of field (SDOF) as the character is sharp and in focus to help us concentrate on him which is what the director wants us to do. But also the background is very blurred which helps us to not concentrate on the other things in the background as they are not important at this time. Also, the light held by the other officer (we see this as the film progresses) helps to keep the character we see backlit. This helps to highlight his eyelashes and parts of his nose so we can see some of his expression without it being too dark. The color of the torch has a very cold blue color to it. This connotes coldness, darkness and also keeps the viewer in suspense. This then relates back to the film and the plot, where the protagonist is on the run and it keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat.
The sound in this extract is very minimal, because of the stealth and silence of the police. This helps to build tension in the film opening, therefore creating a build-up before the first fight encounter. This helps to intensify the whole scene.
As the shot before cuts to this one, the character becomes focused gradually6, to help us as a viewer to concentrate on his face. As the character starts to look away from the camera pans and moves across his face to show the viewer more of the setting they are in and the other police officers (we can assume this now). The focus then changes tho focus on the other police officers in the background, because of the SDOP, the first character we see is very blurred and the others in the background are sharp and in focus.
The lighting in the shot is very specific. Because there is no lighting on the face of the character and it being completely dark, it helps us to focus on the surroundings rather than the blurred dark face in the foreground. The lighting, due to it being blue, makes it look misty, therefore having connotations of darkness and blocking and disrupting vision. Because of the backlit environment, the blurred gun is highlighted. This helps to give the scene a gloomy feel as there is only an outline of the prop.
The gun has connotations of protection, therefore making the viewer think that the protagonist is uncontrollable, as they have to use life-threatening weapons. Also, the torches in the scene give an aspect of darkness, therefore having connotations that anything can happen.
This closeup7 of the central protagonist makes them look vulnerable therefore making the viewer think they are in trouble. Because of the light from the torches shining down on her verifies this. Also, the use of the hands rising helps to suggest this as well.
The black dark background also connotes the unknown therefore questioning the reader what is going to happen. Because of the backlighting, the outline of the protagonist’s face is light up, this helps to contrast the dark background.
Step-by-step Scene Analysis
If that was not nerdy enough, I made for you a complete shot list and soundtrack description for the whole scene. For each shot, I provided:
- A shot-description, which should include the characters in (or object of) the shot, the framing (LS, MS, CU, etc.), any significant camera movements, and any image transition other than a cut (dissolve, wipe, etc.). A brief description of the action can also sometimes be useful.
- A complete transcription of the dialogue in the shot. (A version of the script is located here)
- A listing and description of the sound effects. (In an action sequence from recent films, it is unlikely that the list will be completely exhaustive, but I tried to be as complete as possible.)
- A listing and description of the music.
- General remarks, which contain more detailed comments about aspects of the soundtrack, including interactions among the components and how they interact with the images/narrative.