In 1999, a science-fiction film called The Matrix rose to such unexpected prominence, first at the box-office and then in pop culture itself, that its rise brought into spotlight all those associated with it, especially the duo who made it all possible – The Wachowski siblings. Lana (previously Lawrence) and Andy Wachowski were the heartbeat of the movie, acting as its screenwriters, directors and executive producers. They were then meant to move on to grander things in Hollywood. But something like The Matrix is always difficult to surpass. In 2003, the Wachowskis released the next two sequels in The Matrix trilogy, and in 2006, they worked on the screenplay for the brilliant film V for Vendetta. Since then, it has been a rather downhill journey.
In 2008, the Wachowskis’ first directorial film since The Matrix trilogy, titled Speed Racer, had a theatrical release. A $120 million budget film based on a popular Japanese anime series and releasing in the prime time of the summer of 2008 was expected to garner much attention. Alas, it was no where near the classic some were expecting. The movie had a rather straightforward screenplay, written by the Wachowskis themselves, which lacked the boldness and creativity seen in their previous works as writers. Narrating the story of a young automobile enthusiast who wants to follow in the footsteps of his deceased elder brother, the movie had enough material to create a stronger emotional sentiment, mix it up with lavish adventures, dazzle with some shocking plot revelations, and then lead up to a resonating climax. But all the Wachowskis could attain was a rather brightly coloured landscape with only a few entertaining racing stunts, engulfed in the need to project the movie as one for family viewing. Not many families walked into the theatres though. With only $94 million worldwide earnings, Speed Racer was a big box-office disappointment, which isn’t too surprising if you have seen the movie, but is a bit shocking when it comes from the creators of The Matrix.
The Wachowskis moved back to the genre of science fiction, and picked up David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas to adapt into a movie. Cloud Atlas released in 2012, that is four years after the debacle of Speed Racer. It was an elaborate piece of work, with 172 minutes of runtime which is quite unheard of in modern times; the movie after all had six interrelated and interwoven stories spanning different time periods. The length of the film might be a deterrent for many and that did turn out to be true. Barring this though, the film received appreciation for the ambitious nature of the project, its eye-catching visuals, its score and the ensemble cast which included Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, to name a few. Cloud Atlas felt more like it came from the pens and minds of the creators of The Matrix than Speed Racer ever did. But even then, Cloud Atlas is no match for the sci-fi hit of 1999. The movie holds a 66% score on Rottentomatoes indicating mixed thoughts of the critics. At the box-office too, the movie was a failure managing only $130 million worldwide earnings as against a production budget of $102 million. Cloud Atlas too was not the film that would bring back the siblings into the limelight. So where to next for the Wachowskis?
The upcoming weekend will witness the release of the next movie written and directed by the Wachowski siblings – Jupiter Ascending. It would also be the costliest film that the siblings have made, with a production budget of $175 million. The stakes are high, aren’t they? But its fate seems doomed already. The movie was initially intended for a July 2014 release, which would have been in the summer season that could have caught more eyeballs. But the movie’s release was shifted due to additional time required in the post-production work, and so it has landed up in February. The revised release date seems very odd to me, for February is as terrible a time as one can get to come out with such a big budget film. That too, early February. It seems to be a sign that Warner Bros. has already lost hope with the movie and is set to write it off from its books. The movie recently had a rather dull premiere at Sundance film festival, where the critics were not invited. There is hardly any buzz around the movie despite having Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis in leading roles. The inter-planetary theme of the movie may result in some striking visual effects, but that is no longer enough to make a movie work. Jupiter Ascending would need worldwide box-office collections of at least $500 million to break-even, one fears; the dull marketing around the movie and its poor release timing would make it extremely difficult for that break-even figure to be achieved.
The Matrix was more than just about special effects. It was slick; it was smart; it was cool; it was ground-breaking; it breathed a new life into science-fiction; it was intelligent, entertaining, visually appealing, everything packed into one. It deserved all the accolades it received and so did the Wachowskis. But since then, the Wachowski siblings seem to have been desperately seeking for another winning formula which eludes them. They tried the simpler family film Speed Racer, and then the more complex and elaborate Cloud Atlas. When both failed, they have shifted to another sci-fi tale with Jupiter Ascending though this one seems to have been made keeping in mind the younger crowd. The results on their latest flick will be known over the coming weekend, though the initial signs are not encouraging. Nonetheless, I wish that the Wachowskis can find their feet back again in Hollywood, and their fading career sees a resurgence soon.