When the Wachowski Siblings began the Matrix trilogy, many people had no idea that it would evolve into the transmedia franchise that it is today. The franchise includes not only the three principal films, but also animated shortfilms (The Animatrix), comic books, and online content which address plot items not covered elsewhere in the franchise.
The franchise embodies many elements of Henry Jenkins “Seven Core Concepts of Transmedia Storytelling”. These elements will be discussed below.
Spreadability vs. Drillability
The Matrix franchise is perhaps one instance where both spreadability and drillability are reflected. In once sense, the characters in the feature films are spreadable. They appear in video games. They appear as action figures. Similar characters appear in the animated series. There is a consistent plot-line which underscores the action. The personalities and characteristics of the main characters are mostly consistent throughout the franchise. However, the characters are also drillable. There are a variety of fan forums set up where fans discuss various theories and alternate plot lines. They can pick apart plot lines, analyze character identities, ask questions, and even discuss different elements of the franchise.
Continuity vs. Multiplicity
Again, the Matrix franchise is duplicitous in their approach to their storytelling. There is a constant plot-line that applies to the trilogy of movies, however, different plot-lines are developed throughout the Animatrix animated shorts. In fact, the Animatrix tells the back-story that predates the narrative of the movies. Additionally, the video games entertain similar plot lines, but even go beyond the movies with an hour of additional original footage that did not appear elsewhere in the movies. The Wachowski‘s had a direct hand in the creation of all of the content.
Immersion vs. Extractability
During the height of popularity of the Matrix franchise, Warner Brothers Pictures set up an immersion experience in Gold Coast, Australia. According to the exhibits wikipedia page, “Items displayed included replicas of weapons such as swords utilised during the film, as well as actual items used during filming, including scale models, miscellaneous crewmen’s items, statues, costumes and control room sets. These are spliced with multimedia presentations including audio tracks of sound effects and music from the movies and video scenes. Set pieces include such items as the Keymaker’s key room with plastic prop keys painted with metallic paint and the ectochairs used to “jack into” the Matrix, among others.”
This exhibit, combined with the already popular franchise of action figures and other souvenirs, allowed fans to both immerse themselves in the world of the Matrix, but also allowed them to take items away with them.
The franchise constructed a large “world” over the course of the trilogy, largely in part due to the efforts and direction of the Wachowski’s. The depth of this world is captured and consolidated on many fan forums with a range of discussions that transcend any individual landscape. Fans have dedicated innumerable number of hours analyzing even the smallest details of the various narratives and seek to understand even the most subtle anomalies or peculiarities in the plot-lines.
Of any franchise, the Matrix franchise is masterful in spreading the narrative arc across multiple media systems. The animated series, the trilogy of movies, and the video games, all include unique “bonus feature” which reveal different aspects of the overall narrative and build upon the various plot-lines in a dynamic way.
Portions of the franchise narrative are subjective in their approach. For example, while much of the main narrative of the trilogy is told from the perspective of Neo, the protagonist, the Animatrix prequel cannot do this. The second episode of the Animatrix introduces the character of Trinity, however it is set in an ambiguous timeframe with some fans speculating that it takes place long before the main narrative of the Matrix, and others claiming that the episode takes place after Trinity has met Neo. The third episode of the Animatrix is unique because its “Its events are briefly alluded to in dialogue at the beginning of The Matrix Reloaded.” (source: wikipedia, and I’ve seen all of the films). This crossover of ‘point-of-view’ allows a great degree of subjectivity and ‘dynamic-ness’ across all elements of the franchise.
In the same way that there is a great deal of participation from fans in online forums, many fans have produced fan-films that offer alternative narratives to the franchise. A simple search on youtube brings up a variety of results, including a feature length fan film of almost 60 minutes in length. As with any user-generated content, the quality of the various “performances” varies greatly with some flics displaying a high degree of production value, and others almost no production value. In each case, none of these performances are officially sanctioned through the Matrix franchise, but the still effectively expand the “world” of the matrix. Other fans have remediated footage from the original trilogy to create “fan trailers” as seen below. Such a video offers an alternative perspective toward the movie than what the original content producers perhaps wanted to convey, but effect is neither exceptionally helpful or harmful.