By slowing the film down later they could create the effect of extreme slow motion while simultaneously whizzing around the subject at high speed without so much as a blur. After all, every frame was snapped as a still photo. If the cameras went off simultaneously, you could freeze the frame and then pan around the frozen scene as was done for the famous cat like jump kick by Trinity in the first film. It was pure genius, but rendered obsolete several years later when human actors could be realistically modeled inside the computer and directors now had complete camera control in virtual space. The latter method was used on the sequels.
But enough on the originators, let's talk about the movie. It still amazes me when an original concept hits the sci-fi world this late in the game. Although wars between man and machine is a old theme (Terminator, I Robot, etc.), ending up using and harvesting man as a physical power source was a little more original. Of course, it's a dubious premise because you'd think the machines would get a better yield from hydro, geothermal, or even wind power (humans are rather inefficient energy conduits). But that was all just an excuse to create the real new concept after which the title was dubbed - the matrix. Perhaps the timing was right because, given the then current popularity of massive online virtual reality games like WOW, it was easy to envision a massive program into which thousands of people could plug in and interact inside at the same time. Then by making this virtual world a place where most people spent their entire lives thinking it to be reality, and a reality modeled after 20th century life and times, it teases you with the possibility that you might be living in the matrix right now. This is the kind of thing that makes science fiction so fun.
A lot of elements came together in this series. Let's face it, it's a good action film in its own right. And if you're going to have a lot of fight scenes, you may as well make them interesting. Coming off the graphic novel genre, the brothers certainly understood that idea. Most fight scenes were choreographed in detail by a then unknown (in America) martial arts film expert, and each one had some new element thrown into the mix. To be honest, I usually just sit through fight scenes waiting for the plot to continue, but these were fun to watch because they just looked so good. Speaking of looking good, even my wife, who is a fashion expert, commented on the cool wardrobes - something you don't often see in sci-fi but find a lot of in the comics world. And regarding the concept, they did a good job of exploring all the angles of the interaction between consciousness, avatars, and intelligent programs. However, I could never convince myself that those falling green symbols could even begin to represent a program as complex as reality - but it still looked cool.
Many critics seem to think the first movie of the trilogy was good, but the other two were horrible. I read some of the negative reviews and could see some patterns emerging. The Wachowski's always intended the trilogy to be a "serial" movie, that is, one story with three parts. Most of the reviewers find flaws that are based on judging each movie in isolation. This is as much of a mistake as watching, say, the last third of a movie and saying it lacked character development and had too much action. Well, the character stuff was done at the beginning and the big action comes at the end. Another recurring critique was about lame dialogue. Let's get one thing straight... this is not meant to be a great piece of drama. This was a serial comic book story set to film. The dialogue matched what you'd find in the pages of any "graphic novel". Good guys vs. bad guys, conflicted heroes, overdramatic visuals and dialogue, and lots of fighting. I've never been a comic book fan, but I do believe their draw is the same reason a lot of us go to the movies - to lose yourself in another world for a while. The fact that it was also good science fiction put it on the map in that genre.
Finally, if you get the collector's edition DVD set, you'll get a bonus DVD called the Animatrix, which is a project in its own right and deserves to be in its own entry next up.