• George Morris

Rating Matrix 'Bullet-Time' References Across the Noughties

The Matrix. You know it. You love it. You can’t help but whisper ‘oh that’s so cool’ every five minutes whilst The Wachowskis rub their hands together and marvel at what they created back in 1999. Not only was it a kick-ass action film but it had enough thematic depth and philosophical references to inspire dozens of essays, theses and books on the subject matter. Whilst the sequels never fully managed to recapture the magic, some of the extended mythology in stuff like The Animatrix is worth checking out in preparation for next year’s tentatively-titled The Matrix 4.

Going back to the first film however, it’s difficult to comprehend just how influential everything about the movie was. Everything from it’s green-tinted aesthetic to its dystopian imagery and perhaps most importantly, it’s implementation of slow-motion action sequences. Commonly referred to as ‘bullet time’ since the implementation within the film, these slow motion sequences generally feature a character’s lightning-fast movements being slowed down during a fight sequence in order to evade (or inflict) ultimate damage. Keanu Reeves’ Neo uses it to dodge bullets, Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity does it whilst leaping between buildings. In short, it looks cool as hell.

It was a massive technical achievement too. Detaching the time and space of a camera was something that was revolutionary and seemingly impossible. How could a camera move to another angle during a freeze frame? In fact, it was actually pulled off using a digitally-created backdrop (which is incredibly impressive for CGI in 1999) and dozens of still photographs taken of the action in front of a green screen. It’s essentially a stop-motion effect as the photos are used to transition from one camera to another. The Matrix seemed to pull it off flawlessly despite it being notoriously difficult.



Of course, being the new film on the block had everybody applauding it and begging for a piece of the pie. References and knockoffs were bound to erupt from the movie’s success, and thus it seemed as though every film attempted to sneak in a reference or two to The Matrix. Whether it was a simple namedrop, a black leather trench coat or best of all its own bullet-time sequence. It’s interesting how common these were within things that weren’t even remotely action-based and how many family films took on the trope despite The Matrix being a film intended for adult audience (even though we all watched it because…well, we had taste). The attempts range from fantastic to…well, cheap cries for attention in otherwise lifeless films, and today I’m going to be going through ten different examples I could find and ranking them against a strict list of categories:

Relevance to Narrative – Does bullet-time and/or the fight sequence fit the story of the film/show? E.g. Is it at all relevant?

Implementation – How well do they implement the technique of bullet-time? E.g. Does it look good?

Faithful to Source Material – Do they get the film’s iconography correct? E.g. Is it a good reference?

Entertainment Factor – Is it entertaining?

Each category will receive a score out of 5 building for a total of up to 20 points. Why am I doing this? Shut up that’s why.

I will also state that these are specifically references to the bullet-time sequence and nothing else, as if I were to do The Matrix references in general we’d be here until the end of time. It’s also not just generic slow-motion sequences either, homages to The Matrix tend to include the circling of the camera amidst the slow-motion in order to highlight action.


Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003)

Motocross Mayhem

I debated actually including this one, but I think it just about edges into being a bullet-time sequence. As Nat (Cameron Diaz), Dylan (Drew Barrymore) and Alex (Lucy Liu) are chasing the Thin Man (Crispin Glover) they indulge in a complete over-the-top motocross chase with mid-air gun firing and slow-motion explosions to boot. The bullet-time segment itself blends into the gratuitous nature of these films. It's deliberately hammy and stupid and doesn't attempt to go for any notion of realism or tension, but I grew up with both as guilty pleasures and have a weak spot for them.


Relevance to Narrative - 3/5

Implementation - 2/5

Faithful to Source Material - 0/5

Entertainment Factor - 3/5

Total - 8/20


Less of a reference and more a continuation of the insanity present with McG's films, Full Throttle kind of just does its own thing throughout.


Conker's Bad Fur Day (2001)

The Heist

A videogame?! That's right! My list my rules. Bullet-time is famously used when referring to Max Payne's slow-motion effect, but Rare's Nintendo 64 lewd platformer features a great pastiche of the corridor shootout in the final level of the game. Thanks to the pop-culture soaked mentality of the game, film references were in abundance, and The Matrix offered up the perfect chance to offer a break in the more traditional gameplay. Yes, you can play during bullet-time and the corridor is identical. The characters are even in full leather getup which only adds to the greatness.


Relevance to Narrative - 2/5

Implementation - 4/5

Faithful to Source Material - 5/5

Entertainment Factor - 4/5

Total - 15/20


One of the best there is. Of course it's perhaps easier for games to implement this technique, but that doesn't stop Conker's Bad Fur Day going all out. This one section is arguably better than most actual Matrix games, even if it is supremely limited...


Lizzie McGuire (2002)

TudgeMatrix

In the episode 'He Said, She Said, He Said', Larry Tudgeman has a fantasy in which he portrays Neo, the chosen one, in a gag as how cool he believes himself to be. As a Disney Channel show, the reference is more of an obvious callback to the stereotypically nerdy character being a fan of The Matrix, but it's still a neat little reference.

Relevance to Narrative - 3/5

Implementation - 1/5

Faithful to Source Material - 2/5

Entertainment Factor - 2/5

Total - 8/20


Honestly it's the technology that holds this one back. Live action bullet-time on a Disney Channel show's budget is pretty much impossible, so the blurred movements and faux-freeze frames are probably the best the team could do. It's still a nice little detail in Tudgeman's mind though.


Shrek (2001)

Fiona Kicks Ass

Whilst proving that she's not as 'in distress' as Shrek expected, Princess Fiona (Cameron Diaz, again) beats the crap out of Robin Hood and his men. She also happens to be able to freeze time mid-air in order to fix her hair before suitably knocking two of the merry men out. This could simultaneously be a reference to both The Matrix and Charlie's Angels in which her character does a very similar thing mid-fight.


Relevance to Narrative - 3/5

Implementation - 5/5

Faithful to Source Material - 1/5

Entertainment Factor - 4/5

Total - 13/20


Shrek gets a faithfulness point for including a wall-run jump too despite not featuring any of the iconography. But, once again it's such a good homage because animation allows for easier implementation. It should also be said that this isn't the only time Fiona uses this move, she also does so in Shrek 4-D.


Also if you haven't already do make sure to check out my story pitch for Shrek 5. Dreamworks still won't answer my calls and I owe a lot of money to some not very nice people.


Kung Pow! Enter the Fist (2002)

The Cow Fight

You all know this one. Steve Oedekerk's silly martial-arts satire features dozens of film spoofs, but the best of which is a Matrix-like one-on-one with a pissed off cow. Complete with karate action, a driving guitar riff and a mid-air bullet-time freezeframe, this one belongs on the list. It's also very silly.


Relevance to Narrative - 2/5

Implementation - 3/5

Faithful to Source Material - 1/5

Entertainment Factor - 4/5

Total - 10/20


Enter the Fist may not have aged gracefully, but the fighting on display and the bullet-time sequence in particular are very well done. The mixture of a live-action udder and CGI cow also makes for an uncomfortable but entertaining mix.


The Fairly OddParents (2001)

Power Mad! (about the 12:15 mark)

One of the first episodes of Nickelodeon's brilliant cartoon features Timmy Turner trapping himself and his friends inside a video-game. Whilst initially dodging a barrage of projectiles (in this case, disgusting healthy carrots), Timmy indulges in a classic Neo move and dodges them using bullet-time. His fairy godparent Cosmo isn't so lucky, unfortunately.


Relevance to Narrative - 2/5

Implementation - 4/5

Faithful to Source Material - 1/5

Entertainment Factor - 3/5

Total - 10/20


The switch from 2D to 3D animation for the sequence is very nice and subtle, with the trails left by the carrots being a particular highlight. It also feels quite natural for the situation Timmy is in, making for a cool little nod to some of the older kids watching.


Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

The Other Side

Whilst trying to get over the garden wall, Gnomeo (James McAvoy) is faced off against Tybalt (Jason Statham) and two duke it out until they're disturbed by the presence of an awoken human. This film continues to perplex me. And the fact that there's a sequel makes even less sense. It's such a weirdly good cast and the more I think about it the more weirded out I get.


Relevance to Narrative - 1/5

Implementation - 3/5

Faithful to Source Material - 0/5

Entertainment Factor - 2/5

Total - 6/20


The thing that irks me the most about this one is that it's so much later than the rest of these references. By 2011 the bullet-time thing craze had come and gone, and it's a testament to Gnomeo & Juliet's lack of cultural awareness. It's like my theory on The House Bunny all over again.


Osmosis Jones (2001)

Osmosis vs. Thrax

This half-animated, half live-action hybrid was a favourite for me growing up. Whilst its live-action segments require a lot of patience (the Farrelly Brothers don't know when to tone it down) the animation still stands up and looks gorgeous. In the final climactic fight Osmosis Jones (Chris Rock) is fighting off against Thrax (Laurence Fishburne - extra points already) - a deadly pathogen as he tries to escape and infect the daughter of Bill Murray's Frank - the body where Jones lives. As a sly wink to the actor of course they're going to include a slow-motion kick as they do battle on a false eyelash.


Relevance to Narrative - 2/5

Implementation - 3/5

Faithful to Source Material - 1/5 (for Fishburne)

Entertainment Factor - 4/5

Total - 10/20


You really can't beat animation for implementation, and Osmosis Jones' animation is some of the best. It's just sly enough to blend into the film's action sequences too, which is always fun.


The Simpsons (2000-2001)

Various (The First 3 in the video)

Everything is parodied in The Simpsons, but immediately after the release of The Matrix there were a couple of examples of bullet-time as specific callbacks to the film. The first was a standalone couch-gag as the family freeze in midair before sitting down in 'Insane Clown Poppy', the next is in 'Lisa the Tree Hugger' where Bart freezes whilst dressed as a ninja and delivering takeout menus. However the one I'm focusing on is in 'New Kids on the Blecch' where boyband N'Sync appear as themselves and teach the 'Party Posse' their own dance routine that ends with 'close on a Matrix' where they all do the signature move.


Relevance to Narrative - 2/5

Implementation - 4/5

Faithful to Source Material - 2/5

Entertainment Factor - 3/5

Total - 11/20


The Simpsons has been through a lot over the years, and whilst its references aren't always topical there's a gleeful sense of energy in them that it's difficult not to be won over by.


Scary Movie (2000)

Kicking the Killer's Ass

As a parody film, the first Scary Movie has actually aged rather well. Granted it has to grab ideas from genres outside of horror for many of its laughs but that encompasses the feeling the films always had. As Anna Faris' Cindy comes face to face with the Ghostface killer, she manages to pull out some previously-unmentioned fight moves including, you guessed it, karate and a bullet-time sequence set to a very Matrix-esque soundtrack.


Relevance to Narrative - 2/5

Implementation - 5/5

Faithful to Source Material - 3/5

Entertainment Factor - 4/5

Total - 14/20


I've left this one until last because I think it might be my favourite. Coming so close after the actual release of The Matrix is an impressive task, even more so when the implementation is top-notch. Whilst the original used CGI to reframe the backdrop, it appears as though Scary Movie relies on wires yet still manages to capture that same effect. Even the dodge sequence is surprisingly solid and leads into a great gag. For one of the (if not the) first homage to the film it's remarkable in many ways and possibly the best one out there in film...not that that says much, of course.


Whilst they've slowed down in recent years, it'll be interesting to see whether the next film bring forth a whole new method that others will jump to imitate (though I doubt it). Until then, there's so many more out there, and the lasting effects of The Matrix will always be felt throughout Hollywood...


Why did I do this again?


#TheMatrix #TheMatrix4 #TheMatrixReloaded #TheMatrixRevolutions #References #BulletTime #SlowMotion #Homage #Pastiche #TheAnimatrix #TheWachowskis #CloudAtlas #ScaryMovie #AnnaFaris #Scream #Parody #TheSimpsons #LisaTheTreeHugger #NewKidsOnTheBlecch #NSync #InsaneClownPoppy #Animation #GeorgeMorris #Screenwriting #Screenwriter #Writer #FarrellyBrothers #OsmosisJones #ChrisRock #LaurenceFishburne #BillMurray #TheHouseBunny #GnomeoAndJuliet #JamesMcAvoy #EmilyBlunt #JasonStatham #Nickelodeon #FairlyOddParents #Cosmo #Wanda #TimmyTurner #PowerMad #KungPow #EnterTheFist #SteveOedekerk #Shrek #Shrek5 #PrincessFiona #CameronDiaz #RobinHood #Freezeframe #LizzieMcGuire #DisneyChannel #HilaryDuff #HeSaidSheSaidHeSaid #Nintendo64 #ConkersBadFurDay #Rare #MaxPayne #CharliesAngels #FullThrottle #LucyLiu #DrewBarrymore #CrispinGlover #McG #CarrieAnneMoss



0 views