The Matrix films were intense and innovative genre cinema, influencing decades of action films and the entirety of science fiction. However, it was another titan of genre — filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining) — whose influence made production on the second and third films in the franchise into an exercise in repetition that wore cinematographer Bill Pope down over the long and exhausting shoot.
Speaking to Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins on the Team Deakins podcast (courtesy of Indiewire), Pope remembered the arduous task of shooting The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions back to back — calling the experience “sort of torture.” It's all thanks to a Kubrick book that the Wachowski sisters read before production. The legendary Kubrick died in 1999 and a handful of biographies and interview collections hit the market around the same time, so it made sense for the similarly innovative genre filmmakers to seek them out. The philosophy they took away from them, however, was taxing to the crew.
“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," Pope said. "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.”
Perfectionism manifesting into multiple takes is one thing, intentionally wearing out a cast for a more natural performance is quite another -- especially with the extra-long production that the Wachowskis were running for Reloaded and Revolutions.
“There is something about making a shoot that long, 276 shoot days, that is mind numbing and soul numbing and it numbs the movie,” Pope said. “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.”
However taxing the process was to create these two films, which suffered lower critical appraisals than the first, Pope is still "proud of them." The fourth Matrix film is currently in production under the helm of writer-director Lana Wachowski — and is being shot by Oscar winner John Toll.