A new deepfake video on YouTube serves up a fascinating look at what “The Matrix” would have been like if Will Smith claimed the role of Neo. Smith balked at the chance to lead the 1999 sci-fi blockbuster to instead star in the critically scorned comedy “The Wild Wild West.”
What Could Have Been
Smith isn’t proud of his decision, which he explains in an episode of his “STORYTIME” YouTube series. After doing “Independence Day,” he almost turned down “Men in Black” because he didn’t want to be typecast as “the alien guy.” Thankfully, MIB Director Steven Spielberg changed Smith’s mind, and he starred in the film.
After that, he took a meeting with the Wachowskis for “The Matrix” and wasn’t impressed with their pitch. So, he turned down their offer to star in the film. Keanu Reeves took the job instead, and his fans (and Smith) agree that he played Neo to perfection.
However, the dazzling deepfake allows the world to witness an alternative reality in which Smith “performs” some of the film’s iconic scenes.
Surreal Smith Sequences
The original cast did a stellar job, but “The Matrix” caught everyone’s attention for its Oscar-winning visual effects. The deepfake shows Smith “performing” some of the film’s key, mind-bending sequences.
It opens with “Neo’s” decision to take the “blue pill” or the “red pill.” Smith’s face eerily displays concern over the choice and reflects in Morpheus’ (Laurence Fishburne) mirrored shades. In the legendary “there is no spoon” scene, the changes in skin tone, facial hair, and overall expressions are surreal.
Smith “stops” bullets in the bullet scene. He also unleashes the machine gun’s wrath in the iconic helicopter sequence. The transformation is uncanny and arguably unnerving.
Deepfakes superimpose images and videos onto source media using machine learning. The video of Will Smith as Neo shows just how real AI-altered images can look. The technology has grown increasingly popular in the past few years.
Ironically, another YouTube channel deepfaked Reeves into a “Sesame Street” segment. Meanwhile, users have been getting in on the fun. A Chinese app, Zao, allows them to plug themselves into clips of their favorite movies and TV shows. For example, someone could star as Leonardo DiCaprio in “Titanic” if they want.
Facial alterations like these frequently fall somewhere between silly and fascinating. However, the technology has sparked a lot of controversies.
A few months ago, the U.S. Congress expressed concern that deepfake technology could disrupt the 2020 presidential campaign. The government’s reaction followed an altered video that made Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi appear to be drunk.
Ultimately, this kind of visual trickery could be dangerous on a global scale if, for instance, a deepfake depicts a world leader declaring war against another country. Due to these kinds of potential risks, researchers are scrambling to develop technology to detect computer-generated fake videos.
By comparison, the Will Smith “Matrix” video is harmless—and it might get fans pumped up for his upcoming Ang Lee sci-fi thriller “Gemini Man.” The film premieres in October and stars Smith as an aging hitman who battles a younger clone of himself.