From 'Metropolis' to 'Matrix' -- wow!


April 04, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach

The Matrix," a cautionary tale about what happens when the machines take over, promises a movie experience like no other. It's a claim the film lives up to, thanks in large part to special effects that enable bullets to stop in midair, combatants to defy gravity and kung-fu kicks to be delivered with lightning speed and precision (by someone who's not Jackie Chan).

But "The Matrix" isn't the first film to promise the never-before-experienced. Here are a half-dozen others that lived up to their advance billing.

* "Metropolis" -- Fritz Lang's 1926 meisterwerk depicted, with frightening clarity, a future where the collective was everything. It featured sets right out of "1984" -- 23 years before Orwell's novel was even written. Most memorable image: a robot changing into a woman.

* "King Kong" -- In 1933, audiences were convinced a 30-foot gorilla really was after poor Fay Wray. Using stop-motion animation and a hand-sized model, Willis O'Brien set a standard for bringing the fantastic to life that wouldn't be topped until the "Star Wars" era.

* "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" -- James Mason, as the famously deluded Captain Nemo, made a whole generation terrified of squids. The special effects may not look like much today, but they were state-of-the-art for 1954, and audiences loved them.

* "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- Maybe the one film of Stanley Kubrick's that is an unqualified work of genius. Spaceships gliding through space to the music of Richard Strauss, a computer that literally had a mind of its own and a blinding final sequence that begins with a huge black monolith and ends with a fetus. Thirty-one years later, some people still don't know what they saw.

* "Brazil" -- The 1985 masterpiece of director Terry Gilliam. Its style seemed perfectly suited to the man whose crude, incongruous animation helped make cultural icons of Monty Python. The unexpected is de rigueur in Gilliam's world (see "Time Bandits," "12 Monkeys"), and no other director has such a firm handle on the concept.

* "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" -- With Arnold Schwarzenegger as a cyborg sent from the future to protect the boy who would become mankind's last hope. It features the coolest special effect ever, a bad guy who can change into any substance he touches. Watch open-mouthed as he turns into a floor, a knife, a hook. This is one terrifyingly bad dude, thanks to computer animation that, by 1991, could make anything possible.

Pub Date: 04/04/99

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