I watched The Matrix for the first time in a few years last week, and watched Reloaded and Revolution with DVD commentary by critics Todd McCarthy, John Powers, and David Thomson. I had listened to the commentaries before and found them interesting and insightful -- these critics were chosen because they did NOT like the Matrix sequels.
I have really enjoyed some "fan edits" like the Phantom Edit of Star Wars: Episode I. I read that there was a "DeZionized" version of the Matrix, but feeling that you couldn't have a completely coherent story without Zion, I began to make my own version. Putting the latter two movies of the trilogy together has been done a lot already (see FanEdit.org), but I looked at this as an exercise in editing and understanding narrative as well as making a version I would prefer to watch.
I really liked my results. I spent the better part of a week on it. Halfway through, I watched my initial cut, which was still 3 hours. I made some additional cuts, tons of audio crossfades, and rewatched a new 2 hour, 35 minute version. Aside from three minor glitches to fix, this felt like a pretty solid, exciting sci-fi epic.
Notes on my changes:
I put together both movies as one, obviously. Tried to pace it in three larger acts:
I. Find the keymaker, get Neo to the Architect.
II. The plan failed; rescue Neo and make a plan for getting back to Zion.
III. Zion attacked, Neo defeats Smith and saves Zion.
I didn't leave out Zion, but I severely reduced it. I mainly kept in scenes focusing on Commander Locke, as those keep us up to date on Zion's predicament.
One big motivation was to reduce redundancy and tedium. A lot of the dialogue is repetitive. A lot of the action scenes are repetitive. I think the Wachowski's wanted an epic feel but padded the movies too much. This version retains the story arcs, but compresses the time for a better sense of urgency.
Notes on the cuts:
Neo's dream of Trinity is gone. We start in the Matrix with the ship's meeting, led by Niobe. "The machines are digging" is the first line you hear.
Cut out Neo "doing his Superman thing" besides the take off. Cut from the Two Smiths right to entering Zion.
Zion: drastic cuts here, naturally. Obviously, the infamous rave scene is deleted. The Nebuchadnezzar's drawn-out entrance to Zion is cut in half. The Kid is gone. Zee gets one scene here -- when Link leaves. Still intact: the scene of Locke, Morpheus, and the Counselor; the scene of Neo meeting his followers (I don't love it, but it helps with his "questioning destiny" arc); the scene of Neo and the Counselor (I did make 2 cuts to speed it along); Ballard telling Neo the Oracle summoned him; once more with Locke and the Counselor. I think all of this was enough to give a sense of Zion and a sense that the Nebuchadnezzar's crew went back for a night (Neo wakes up from a dream(?) of Smith taking over Bane). We are out of there in 10 minutes of screen time.
Seraph and Oracle -- mostly intact, a few redundant lines deleted for flow.
Burly Brawl -- totally gone. Some may miss this; I don't. Smith's intro in the "back doors" scene is enough.
Council and Locke -- 2 ships dispatched (Soren & Niobe). Mostly intact, but I cut out Bane/Smith telling his captain to volunteer.
Merovingian/Persephone -- mostly intact, small cuts to speed us along
Merovingian goon fight -- there was a pause in the middle, so I just cut to the end. Anticlimactic but kind of the point -- these guys are no challenge to Neo.
Freeway chase -- lots and lots of small cuts. Took out most of the slowmo cars, some character reactions that take us out of the chase, etc. About 5 minutes are gone, and hardly noticable.
Get Neo to the source scene. I think this was very well edited to begin with -- maybe some minor pacing changes. Smiths appear here, and it's surprising and exciting.
Architect scene. A couple lines here and there are gone, to speed it up. I think it actually makes more sense now, because it's more focused. Also cut out a little of Trinity's fight with the Agents. I wanted to cut Neo's saving of Trinity (by beating her heart with his hand), but due to the music and everything, it needed to stay.
Neo stops sentinels, Hammer arrives -- intact.
Hammer scenes -- cut out the stupid Bane DUN DUN DUN music, just kept these scenes quiet and unassuming. Reshuffled the order a little so we go back and forth between the bridge and sickbay. Inserted Neo's scene with Sati here, because I felt like we needed to wait longer before Seraph calls Morpheus.
Scenes of the Oracle with Morpheus & Trinity and Neo with Rama-kandra -- a few cuts in each, for pacing and reducing redundancy/confusion.
Trainman vs. Morpheus et al -- intact. Morpheus et al & zero-G Merovingian goons -- gone. Seraph does a quick beatdown in the parking garage, then they're in the club.
Merovingian scene -- cut down the mini fight started by Trinity.
Neo & Oracle -- cut out a little for pacing
Seraph & Sati vs Smith -- gone. Oracle asks Smith what he did with them and that's enough. Oracle & Smith ends right when she's assimilated. No over-the-top Smith laugh.
Finding/fixing the Logos -- small cuts for pacing.
Bane vs. Neo/Trinity -- mostly intact except some drawn out "drop the gun" false tension and Bane's cheesy "you're going to pay for that" line. Tried to cut more, but music and dialogue prevented it from flowing.
The half-hour scene of fighting in Zion is cut down ruthlessly. Focuses on Locke and Mifune, with more time on the (much more dramatic) chase with the Hammer. You get the point that Zion is overwhelmed and the Hammer barely makes it in about 5 minutes of screentime. It's actually exciting now.
Trinity's death scene -- a small cut to speed things up. She's one of the main characters, but her death scene is over 3 minutes long.
Neo vs. Smith climax -- very long and repetitive. Now they collide once, fly in the air a bit, Smith forces them down, then does his "this is where it ends" monologue. Removes the indoor fight, the cheesy "why do you persist?" part of the monologue. My cut isn't perfect but it gets the job done.
Zion ending -- no Kid, no Link "whoo!", no crowds. Focuses on Locke, Niobe, and most importantly, Morpheus.
Matrix ending -- kept the same. Considered doing a montage of Zion over the Neo "Dies Irae" sequence, but it didn't make sense in the end.
Replaced the "epic" choral music with Rage Against the Machine.
What else I would like to change -- besides crummy dialogue and wooden acting:
Either cut out the Bane subplot or put the Smith-infecting-Bane scene later, so the audience will remember that it happened. Give Bane more character development ahead of time. Maybe if he replaced Ghost (Niobe's second-in-command) it would resonate more (i.e. good guy taken over by bad).
Make the Hammer into the Logos and cut out Roland and his crew. It would help us focus more on Niobe.
Make the second Merovingian scene matter a little more. Maybe instead of needing him to get Neo out, Neo needs him to stop Smith. Maybe he has captured the Oracle finally...something. I looove the Merovingian but his second appearance is squandered.
If Gloria Foster hadn't died and been replaced with Mary Alice as the Oracle, much of the middle could be dispensed with. But we do need scenes explaining why she looks different. I found a lot of little things like this necessitated earlier scenes. If only one movie was planned, I could see going from the Architect scene basically straight to Neo's Oracle scene. I presume that's what "DeZionized" does and just doesn't worry about the actress change.