Red pill: Downloading 'Matrix Reloaded'

You want to know everything you can about "The Matrix" sequels "Reloaded" and "Revolutions"? Well, frankly, so do we. The famously reclusive Wachowski brothers, creators of "The Matrix," are standing somewhere behind a giant curtain, moving their levers as secretively as they can before the official unveiling of their latest creations. At least that's the public story.

In fact, "The Matrix" sequels are generating a carefully orchestrated storm of hype that makes "The Phantom Menace" look like "Caddyshack 2." Unfortunately, much of what's out there is just hype, and precious little in the way of hard information. Here's a rundown of a few of the facts we've winnowed out from all the hyperbole.

The plot: Neo, Morpheus and the other fighters for what's left of humanity now must defend the last human city, Zion, against an invasion of Machine Army probes. Their main weapons are Neo's superhuman powers, a 3rd Infantry-like array of firearms and, of course, a deadly sense of style.

So, who's new?

Among the additions:

Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith), a gonzo fighter pilot in Morpheus' anti-Machine Army. She's also the main star of the video game, "Enter the Matrix."

Persephone (Monica Bellucci), who apparently is the embodiment of the Machine Army's realization that the only way to crack Neo is to enlist somebody who looks better in latex than he does.

The Virus Twins (Adrian and Neil Rayment). The Rayments are twin brothers who, up until now, were known for their handyman skills on a British do-it-yourself show. As the Virus Twins, they attempt to infect Neo with some sort of bug that takes away his ability to move or fight within the Matrix. Sure, that's fine, but what if they just snuck into his apartment when he's on vacation and remodeled it?

Check, please: The first "Matrix," released in 1999, was shot for an estimated $64 million and grossed $171 million in the United States. The "Reloaded" and "Revolutions" sequels, in production since March 2001, have cost a combined $237 million, according to the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com).

"Bullet Time": "The Matrix" featured the spectacular use of a special effect called "Bullet Time." The effect created the illusion of a 360-degree view around, for example, Keanu Reeves dodging bullets, in super slow motion. Effects artists did it by placing an array of still cameras all around the actors, then morphing the still images together.

"Bullet Time, Reloaded": "Reloaded" pushes the technology edge even further. The climactic fight is a scene known on the production as "The Burly Brawl," featuring a battle between Neo and hundreds of copies of his nemesis, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving). According to Wired magazine, the scene was created in a process closer to computer animation than conventional filming.

Effects artists digitally filmed Reeves and Weaving in meticulous detail acting out a range of expressions. They also filmed a team of fighters choreographed by original "Matrix" fight coordinator Yuen Wo-Ping. They entered that data into huge computer banks, and used it to create a virtual, three-dimensional fight scene in which every figure could be manipulated (or multiplied) by computer. Having the entire scene mapped out by computer also allowed the directors to show the scene from any angle, in essence creating a virtual camera that could swoop in and out of the action at a speed that no real camera could duplicate.

Hey, can you build us a new viaduct? The Wachowskis also wrote a good old-fashioned, conventionally filmed freeway chase scene so chaotic that no real highway would stand up to the carnage, so they built 1.6 miles of actual freeway on a set in Alameda, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Get ready for the cliffhanger: "The Matrix: Reloaded" is essentially part one of a two-part movie. "Reloaded" ends smack in the middle of a scene, and you have to wait until the second part, "Revolutions," debuts in November to find out what happens.

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