On Saturday night, The Matrix, a 1999 sci-fi cult film absorbed by the generations raised on computers, was screened at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall in downtown San Francisco. The man responsible for the movie’s original score, Don Davis, conducted The San Francisco Symphony in a riveting two-hour-long performance that brilliantly complemented the pivotal moments of the movie displayed directly above their station.
Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this experience, besides observing members of the symphony eagerly awaiting their next cue (there were times they fell silent for obvious reasons, such as the club scene where Neo first meets Trinity), was participating in the revelry of reactions with a deeply engaged audience that was not only familiar with the movie’s main plot, but loved it in spite of some of the more blatant rip-offs of other sci-fi classics including Star Wars.
Everyone cheered when badass leader Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) first appeared, not Keanu Reeves. But, we laughed when he proclaimed “I know kung fu.” Whoa. Other points of amusement, besides Morpheus talking to Neo like Yoda did to Luke Skywalker during training (how symbolic), included the Agents – sentient programs that would destroy anyone who rebelled against the false utopian world meticulously created to control humans. They informed Reeves’ character, Mr. Thomas Anderson, that his life as a programmer at a respectable software company promised him a future while the other path, operating under the hacker alias “Neo,” did not.
The term “hacker” received a negative connotation in this context but it should be noted that it’s by members of a corrupt authority. The heroes and do-gooders are hackers, a battle that continues to this very day as influential members of the tech community continually lobby in the media to prevent “journalists” from using the term in conjunction with illegal activities. True hackers are skilled creators working towards a better future.
There were nice, subtle touches as well. When the film’s antagonist, Cipher, a trader willing to sell out the human rebellion so he could be “re-inserted” into the Matrix, was dining with an agent, a spotlight fell on the symphony’s harpist at the exact moment the harpist on screen began playing at the restaurant in the virtual world.
The outfit, as a whole, was swathed in a green-screen hue that represented the main code base of the Matrix. This, along with their deft command of the material, was noticed and appreciated as conductor Davis, and the entire symphony, received a standing ovation plus an encore round of applause after the film’s final credits finished rolling.
As of late, The San Francisco Symphony has gotten more broad and experimental with their other performances – straying from renowned classics into territories like popular arcade games and other contemporary films. After Saturday’s memorable experience, all I can say is that it’s definitely a great initiative on their part.