Gary Dretzka
..Leonard Klady
..David Poland
..Ray Pride
..Patricia Vidal




November 1, 2003

Thanks mostly to a self-imposed silence on the part of its creators, Larry and Andy Wachowski, The Matrix has inspired more pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo than any movie since the '60s, when maestros Bergman, Antonioni, Resnais and Kubrick combined to turn cinema into a religious experience. Critical analysis of the brothers hugely entertaining sci-fi trilogy has run the gamut from astute and inspired, to pretentious and overwrought.

The same can be said about the response to Star Trek, Star Wars and every other blockbuster series that succeeds in transcending its genre. Overheated hype and media overkill, I suppose, are small prices to pay for movies that provoke vigorous public and critical debate and encourage fans to renew their library cards. They mostly deserve kudos, if only for their ability to stimulate the growth of brain cells, instead of hastening their destruction.

Don Davis' musical compositions have played a crucial role in the success of all three Matrix movies, and, in certain circles, the scores have been dissected with the same passion as the comings and goings of Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and the Oracle. It may not be completely accurate to describe the soundtracks as being characters onto themselves, but there's no questioning their dramatic impact and distinct intellectual voice. Thus, it can be assumed the Wachowskis parsed every note, movement and influence.

Davis has been working with the Chicago-born brothers, ever since they emerged from the relative obscurity of the comic-book universe in 1996 with the psycho-sexual thriller, Bound. In addition to his work on the Matrix series, the Anaheim native composed music for the Wachowski's sidebar project, The Animatrix.

Revolutions picks up where Reloaded left off, with the machine army threatening to destroy Zion and the Smiths preparing to finish off Neo, once and for all. The soundtrack album for The Matrix Revolutions will be released a day before the film opens on Nov. 5, day-and-date in multiplexes and on IMAX screens around the world.

Davis was raised in Anaheim and, as a young boy, began playing trumpet. His early leanings were toward jazz, but while at UCLA he developed a passion for scoring movies. His first big breaks came orchestrating such TV shows as The Hulk, Hart to Hart and Beauty and the Beast. His other film work includes Jurassic Park III. and The House on Haunted Hill.

This interview took place the evening after Davis attended the gala premiere of Revolutions, at the spanking-new Disney Hall, in downtown Los Angeles.

MOVIE CITY NEWS: How did Disney Hall handle the high-octane sound of The Matrix Revolutions?

DON DAVIS: Those of us involved in post-production all had different expectations, and, to various degrees, some of us were disappointed. The hall wasn't designed for movies, though, and I doubt that many premieres will take place there.

MCN: What's the difference?

DD: Films are dubbed to create depth. By putting six speakers around the audience, you're creating an artificial environment, and in a space as "live" as Disney Hall -- which was built for acoustic music -- the bouncing of the sound made our music sound muddy.

People sitting in the audience couldn't discern the separation in the speakers. When an orchestra is playing in the halls, however, that's the effect you do want ... a fully integrated sound.

MCN: Even so, I suspect that Disney Hall will be the hot place to stage premieres for a while. How did this one come about?

DD: I think the premiere came about because (producer) Joel Silver and (architect) Frank Gehry are friends. Joel owns and has restored several Frank Lloyd Wright homes, and is an authority on Wright.

His company's logo is taken from a Wright tile. Joel's pretty well known in the architectural community, so that's how that came about. But, it isn't an ideal situation for movies.

MCN: I assume the Wachowski brothers had more than a little input into your compositions.

DD: Well, there is a lot there. We wanted the music to function dramatically with the audience, and put forward what Larry and Andy were to trying to communicate to them.

Any time I could add some symbolic imagery to the score, I would.

MCN: For instance?

DD: In the first movie, for example, one of the recurring motifs was reflection ... reflections off glass surfaces, mirrors, Morpheus' eyeglasses, Neo's glasses. At one point, Neo touched a mirror and it appeared to turn liquid, and began crawling up his arm.
I saw that as playing off of the idea that the reflections were describing an illusory environment, and what we were seeing might not be real or permanent.

MCN: Larry and Andy aren't the most accessible guys in town. How did you get together?

DD: Several years ago, I worked with an editor named Zach Staenberg, who was hired by the Wachowskis for Bound, their first movie. We had developed a mutual respect for each other's work, and Zach asked them to consider me as composer.

MCN: Not much is actually known about Larry and Andy. Were they much different to work with than other directors?

DD: Well, all directors are different. But, I was astonished from the get-go at how much control they were able to maintain over the production.

A lot of times, when you have two people in charge, people on the set will sit back and try to determine which one really has the power.

MCN: The old divide-and-conquer game.

DD: Sure, but I've never seen Larry and Andy disagree with each other. There were times when they would get together away from the cast and crew to discuss something, but it was clear that they both shared the power.

MCN: The first Matrix became such a huge commercial hit, Warner Bros. agreed to simultaneously film two sequels. Did its popularity change the way the brothers approached the material?

DD: The philosophy was there all along. The difference between the first and second Matrix was the amount of money they had at their disposal.

The first Matrix was not an inexpensive film ... something like $80 million. The next two were budgeted at around $300 million, though, which may have been the largest green light in history.

MCN: I suppose we could discuss the philosophy behind the music for hours. I'm particularly interested in the compositions for the monumental fight scenes, which had some pretty amazing choral work?

DD: There was a big choir in the Super Burly Brawl sequence ... and, no, I don't know why they called it that. I asked Larry and Andy to examine their canon, and determine if there might be a particular text the choir could recite/sing over the action, which would add another texture to that scene.

We discussed several texts, before Larry suggested Upanisads, an ancient Hindu scripture. They picked out six passages in the original Sanskrit, which, when translated, were remarkably close to the concept of the movies.

MCN: Was there a lot of digital tweaking done to the compositions?

DD: There are some electronic elements in the score as a whole, but the battle-for-Zion scene has fewer than most. It came mostly in the stacking of sounds required to emphasize impact and crashes involving the machines.

MCN: I don't suppose the boys asked you to add any subliminal messages?

DD: No, if you play the soundtrack backwards, you don't hear Larry and Andy singing 'Sweet Home Chicago, or anything like that.

MCN: The Wachowskis don't grant interviews or do publicity. Why's that?

DD: They feel very strongly that a movie should stand on its own, and to speak about it is really unseemly. They think it's ludicrous when other directors go on and on about their work.

I couldn't imagine that the studio would allow them to walk away from the film scot-free, without doing any publicity, but that's the power they had. If it wasn't written into their contracts that they didn't have to do any publicity, they probably would have walked away from the sequels if it wasn't in there. That's how strongly they believed in it.

MCN: And, personally?

DD: They're pretty normal, for big-shot movie directors ... definitely introverted, though.

MCN: Was your mission on The Animatrix different than for Matrix?

DD: It was different. The music was edgier, I think, in a more organic earthier way. I was able to refer to The Matrix, especially in the power plant scenes.

MCN: You seem to get more than your fair share of sci-fi projects.

DD: We're all pigeonholed, to a certain extent. People have their perceptions of what we do best. But, of course, it's better to be pigeonholded than not get any work. I'm not asked to do comedies very often, which would be a drag except I have friends who can't stand being pigeonholed as comedy scorers.

MCN: I can't imagine what a Wachowski comedy would look like.

DD: I was told that Larry and Andy once were asked to attend a pitch meeting for a major motion picture with a big star attached. They listened to the pitch, until the producer said, 'And it will have a lot of laughs," at which point they got up, and said, 'We don't do fuuny,' and left the room.

MCN: The sound in IMAX theaters should be better than at Disney Hall, anyway.

DD: Yeah. I'm looking forward to that.

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