A Maui playwright and author says he has found 116 instances of "striking similarity" between a screenplay he created more than two decades ago and the "Matrix" science fiction action films, as his $300 million federal copyright infringement lawsuit continues against Warner Bros. film studio and the team that produced the films.
"They took so much," said Thomas Althouse, referring to similarities between his screenplay "The Immortals" and the Matrix trilogy. "The striking similarities are off the charts."
In addition to Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., the lawsuit names as defendants Matrix writers and directors Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (formerly known as Larry Wachowski), and producer Joel Silver.
In response to a request for comment, a statement released Wednesday by Warner Bros. said: "There is no merit to this frivolous lawsuit."
In a court filing, attorneys representing Warner Bros., the Wachowskis and Silver said that "Defendants deny that there are substantial similarities between any of plaintiff's alleged works and 'The Matrix Reloaded' and/or 'The Matrix Revolutions.' ''
According to the lawsuit filed in January 2013 in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, Althouse created the 164-page screenplay "The Immortals" in 1992.
At the invitation of studio executives in Warner Bros.' New York offices, Althouse said he submitted a copy of the screenplay by certified mail on June 25, 1993, to the Warner Bros. story department in Burbank, Calif., for consideration as a possible project. The defense denies that Althouse was invited to submit "The Immortals" screenplay to Warner Bros. for consideration as a possible production.
According to Althouse, a deposition by Lana Wachowski dates the conception of the Matrix story to Oct. 25, four months after the Warners Bros. story department received Althouse's screenplay materials.
The Matrix films depict a future where reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality created by machines to subdue the human population while using them as an energy source. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a computer programmer who learns the truth and becomes part of a rebellion against the machines.
The first film was released in 1999.
Because Althouse's lawsuit was filed more than 10 years after the release, the statute of limitations had lapsed for bringing claims involving "The Matrix." His lawsuit is for claims involving "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions."
Althouse said that he has been asked why it took 20 years to come forward. He said he was diagnosed with a stress disorder that prevented him from watching violent films and television programs.
"Not only that, but I didn't watch the second and third movies until long after they came out, because I heard they were terrible," he said. "I had seen the first one when it came out but figured it was just coincidence that some elements were similar (to those in 'The Immortals' story). It wasn't until my attorney suggested it in 2010 - after I'd run across a couple of familiar images on a random movie website - that I finally sat down to watch the other two and was, like . . . no way.
"I started researching immediately, and I was blown away."
There are "almost verbatim dialogue and character descriptions," Althouse said.
His list of "striking similarities" between his screenplay and the Matrix films includes the opening scene of gliding through pillars of clouds in "The Matrix Reloaded," the second film, and the final scene of the trilogy showing a little girl pointing above her.
But Althouse said the ending in the film "made no sense" because it lacked the meaning of his screenplay.
"What I was writing was from my life," he said. "If anybody wants to know where "The Matrix" comes from, it's my experience with the religious right."
He said he developed his screenplay from his experience as a graduate student at the Christian Broadcasting Network University, now Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson. "It was a horrible experience," Althouse said. "The only option I had was to turn it into art."
Through his screenplay, Althouse said he tried to show "how you have to manage two worlds" and "what it feels like when they take away your world."
"What keeps you alive is compassion," Althouse said. "The story is supposed to help people. If it comes from a real place, you want to share it."
Althouse, a Maui Meadows resident who has lived on Maui for 11 years, has been a drama instructor for middle school students. He said his original comedy "The Worthmores" is scheduled to be staged at Iao Theater in the spring.
Wailuku attorney Anthony Ranken is representing Althouse in the lawsuit, which is in the discovery period until March 19. A trial is set for June 17 and is expected to last four to eight days, according to court records.
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.