In 1999, "The Matrix" came out of nowhere to gain a remarkable buzz. After some absolutely amazing trailers, audiences everywhere were asking "What is the Matrix?". The film was the first big-budget effort from the Wachowski Brothers, the filmmaking duo who were behind the stunningly good 1996 noir thriller "Bound". Endlessly copied and even parodied fairly often to the point where the film's groundbreaking effects now seem dated, "The Matrix" is still where it all started.
The film focuses on Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a software engineer by day and a computer hacker named "Neo" by night. However, he senses that his existence is not quite right. It's not long before he's contacted by Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and the mysterious Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). Agents, lead by Smith (Hugo Weaving), are in hot persuit of Thomas/Neo, as they know he's been contacted. When Thomas finally comes in contact with Morpheus, he tells him that all is not as it seems - the world as he knows it is merely a construct of computers that have taken over the world and are using human beings as a power source. While humanity is used as batteries, the computers show them what they think is a real life. After Neo agrees to follow Morpheus, he learns more about his false reality - and the fact that a potential savior - one who can stand up to the machines and manipulate the Matrix - may be coming, and it just might be him.
"The Matrix" provides a mixture of philosophy and action - the film's themes and ideas regarding humanity and free will are nicely covered in the film's opening half, only to really be kind of dropped in the second half, which is full of thrilling action sequences. The film as a whole does take from a lot of other sources - films and otherwise - but overall, the picture manages to blend these elements together into a fresh, visually involving whole. While the film's then-revolutionary visual effects were certainly the most popular element of the film's images, the other star of the show would be cinematographer Bill Pope's work, which is wonderfully shadowy and noir-ish.
The performances are generally very good. While Keanu Reeves has never been highly regarded as an actor, his rather basic performance and sense of discovery works here. Laurence Fishburne's monotone delivery and seriousness makes the most out of the dialogue. Carrie-Anne Moss is also stellar as the fierce Trinity. Still, one of the best performances in the films has to be Hugo Weaving, as the dry, deadpan Agent Smith.
The film does have a few slow points in the early going and the balance between philosophy and action is a tad off at times, but "Matrix" still is a suspenseful and enjoyable sci-fi epic that mostly succeeds.
VIDEO: "The Matrix" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a new transfer of the film, supervised by the Wachowski Brothers and cinematographer Bill Pope. While the original presentation wasn't too bad, this effort is clearly an improvement over the prior release. Sharpness and detail are noticably better this time around, as definition appears stronger and more consistent. Shadow detail is superb, as well.
This time around, the picture appeared largely free of edge enhancement, aside from a few of very slight-to-mild instances. No traces of pixelation were visible, either. The print appeared to be in superb condition, with no specks, a couple marks and no dirt or other flaws. The grain present in the image is an intentional element of the cinematography.
As for the film's color palette, once again, the greenish tone of the film is an intentional element (and, at times, I thought the movie looked even a little bit greener than the prior release) Otherwise, the film does not present bright/warm colors, but the film's color palette is portrayed very well here. Black level looked solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate. Overall, this is a stellar effort that, while not perfect, is an improvement that really gets closer to how the film looked theatrically.
SOUND: "The Matrix" is presented once again in Dolby Digital 5.1. One of the few real disappointments with this box set is that DTS tracks are not included, but the Dolby Digital presentation once again is electric. The film won the Oscars for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects editing, and for good reason. Although passages of the picture do not provide aggressive use of audio, the action sequences whip sound effects around the viewer in spectacular fashion, enveloping the viewer in well-placed effects and ambience.
Audio quality was superb, as effects sounded punchy and richly recorded. Very nice bass often accompanies the film, which sounds dynamic and full throughout. Score and dialogue seemed clean and clear.
EXTRAS: The Wachowski Brothers offer some written notes for the set, but they are otherwise absent for this box set. The commentary that was offered for the original DVD, with Carrie-Anne Moss, John Gaeta and others, does not return here, either. Instead, the Wachowskis came up with the concept of having two opposing viewpoints serve as the pair of commentaries for each of the movies. In one corner, we have the philosophers: Dr. Cornell West, Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University and author Ken Wilber In the other corner, we have the critics: Todd McCarthy, film critic for Variety; David Thompson, author of The Biographical Dictionary of Film; and John Powers from Vogue magazine.
No bonus points for guessing that the critics are the ones against the movie. Although they are complimentary here (not as often in the other two films), there are certainly issues that they have with the first film, including some of the dialogue and, more strongly, the music, which they feel is generic. While they praise some of the details and elements that the film draws film, they also point out elements that are rather cliched or formulaic. The problem with this track, I think, is that the critics get caught up in watching the film - while their comments are interesting and occasionally quite funny, there are also some fairly sizable spaces where there's no chatting going on.
The philosophers talk a bit more than the critics, offering an amusing chat about the themes and concepts of the movie, as well as some of the potential meaning behind some of the elements present in the film. Also available is the written statement by the Wachowski Brothers explaining their reasoning for the commentaries. While I do think these commentaries are a pretty decent effort and it's nice that they tried something different (the critic's one, despite being interesting, suffers from a few too many instances of silence), the Wachowski's reluctance to talk about their films in any way is becoming a bit irritating.
Final Thoughts: Despite some flaws, "The Matrix" is highly entertaining sci-fi fare, with fine performances and some superior action sequences. While the audio is the same, video quality has been considerably improved this time around. * This edition is only available in this "Ultimate Collection" set.
(movie review written 5/03)
In 1999, Warner Brothers released "The Matrix". While the studio initially didn't have a great deal of confidence in the success of the film, the footage that was coming out of the Australia-based production was generating massive buzz for the picture. The Wachowski Brothers were the directors and writers. I'd guess that the majority of those who had seen their first feature, the small noir thriller "Bound", could definitely see a bright feature for the two. Despite that film's small budget, their visual style was extraordinary (the "Matrix" films use several of the same crew members) and the performances were terrific. The trailer for "The Matrix", a beautifully edited and thrilling clip that didn't give away too much, made audiences stand up and take notice. The result was a film that grossed a remarkable amount for an R-rated film, finding success both domestically and worldwide.
I liked the first film, although didn't quite love it (I've since grown to like it more in recent viewings.) I appreciated the well-written story, enjoyed the advanced visual effects and liked the attempt to add philosophy into the middle of a sci-fi picture that could have simply been an action-fest. However, I've never felt that last part was entirely successful: the first feature never quite smoothly integrated the philosophical aspects of its story enough, making for somewhat uneven pacing.
The success of the original feature had the studio eager to greenlight two additional pictures and certainly, this is one time where that was quite agreeable - there was obviously potential for more tales of Neo (Keanu Reeves). The second and third features, however, reportedly cost somewhere around $150m a piece, which is a large jump from the budget of the 1999 original. This invites thoughts of visual effects overload - a sequel that uses its mega-millions to throw everything at the audience in the hopes that some of it works.
Thankfully, "The Matrix Reloaded", in my opinion, is not only bigger than the first feature, but better in some ways. The philosophical aspects (not the which, but the why is a big part) that took up a large part of the middle of the first feature are integrated into the story here in a way that I felt was largely smoother. Once again, some of the philosophy gets repetitive and once again, its not terribly deep, but at least some of it is rather thought-provoking here and there.
Early in the film, we find out that the last of humanity, lead by Neo (Reeves) has been more successful than ever in freeing humans from their enslavement in the Matrix. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) still believes that Neo is "the one" who will lead humanity to victory in the battle against the machines. However, some of those who live in Zion (the last city that holds humanity, built underground) believe that their only way to stop the machines (who, as the story opens, are burrowing their way towards Zion) is by military force.
The first hour also holds several other issues. The love between Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) has grown stronger. A female captain named Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith) re-enters Morpheus' life, although on the arm of another - one against Morpheus's belief that Neo will save them all. Neo visits the Oracle (the late Gloria Foster), who once again offers guidance under layers of philosophy. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) makes a return appearance, only this time, Neo has quite a few more Smiths to contend with.
The second hour largely concerns attempts to free the Keymaker, who holds the (you guessed it) key to unlocking further understanding of the Matrix. If it seems like I'm not giving much away about the story...well, I'm not. "The Matrix Reloaded" entertained and often surprised me (especially towards the end) for its 150-minute running time and it's best for viewers to find those surprises out on their own.
The film does have flaws, although I didn't quite view some of them as such. "The Matrix Reloaded" may be an instance of trying for too much with not enough time. I'm sure that there was a limit for this film's running time to ensure the most screenings per day. However, an additional 15 minutes (more or less) might have helped fill in some scenes and add some additional character moments. Personally, I was able to come to my own conclusions about sudden events, but I felt that this was a well-paced and engaging film and that I would have gladly sat through another several minutes in order to go a bit deeper into the story or characters.
Some of the subplots could have gotten more focus, and Reeves and Moss are good enough together that I would have liked their romance to have a bit more screen time. Some of the supporting characters are so well-played in their few minutes (Bellucci is phenomenal and Pinkett-Smith is quite good) that I would have liked to have seen more of them, although I suppose they're maybe featured more in the third film.
Some aspects of the first quarter of the film are rather cheesy, as well. The most noticable instance of this is a dance sequence that seems to be endless and doesn't add anything much to the story. The residents of Zion, gathered together in a cavern, are told that the machines are burrowing down into the ground towards them and that they will have to face a massive battle. What do they do in response? Prepare? Nope, dance. A dance sequence, accompanied by what might not be considered the best of techno, seems to go on for something like five minutes. To be fair, there's some cutting to Neo and Trinity doing their own thing, but the sequence didn't work for me. Although meant to a celebration of humanity, the techno backing and slow-motion didn't convey that terribly well.
The effects of the first film were revolutionary on their own, leading to an invasion of copy-cats and even a few spoofs (a "Simpsons" bit involving Bart delivering menus still remains the best of those). This time, the effects budget has been upped considerably, leading to two enormous sequences (Neo fighting a crowd of Smiths, as well as a giant highway chase sequence that's larger than I could've imagined), as well as several smaller sequences. Rather than the action largely at the beginning and end, as it was in the first picture, there's quite a bit of action (both large and small) nicely spaced out throughout the picture. I liked the choreography of the fight sequences here even more, as it seemed even more elaborate and graceful. Although some moments employ a CGI Neo, the CGI characters in this feature were more convincing than a couple of moments in "Harry Potter" and other films that have employed the occasional CGI version of a character. Once again, I liked the look of the second feature (many of the remarkable talents behind the camera, such as cinematographer Bill Pope, return again here), and appreciated the design of everything down to the smallest details.
The acting is generally good, once again. While many still continue Keanu Reeves to be a mediocre actor (and, I admit, some of the "Mad TV" spoofs where the actor opened his own acting school were simply priceless), I can't imagine a different actor in the role of Neo. Fishburne is still wonderfully commanding as Morpheus and Carrie-Anne Moss is dynamic and compelling as Trinity, although she really doesn't seem to get quite as much focus here. Jada Pinkett-Smith, Harold Perrineau Jr and Monica Bellucci all manage to make an impression in a relatively small amount of time, which makes their lack of screentime all the more disappointing. Hugo Weaving is delightful as Smith, once again bringing his dry, darkly funny delivery.
Yes, "The Matrix Reloaded" does end with a "To Be Concluded". The third - and likely final - picture will be released to theaters in November. While some have complained that it is an "abrupt" ending, I was very pleased with how it concluded this section of the story. The film does end in a way that leaves us hanging, but lets just say that its not in the middle of a terribly intense sequence. The result was an ending that was satisfying for this part, while also heightening my excitement for the next feature.
Those who did not see the first one or don't remember the details should seek out the original before seeing the sequel, as the story jumps right in with no explanation of the events of the original or much of what's happened since. Overall, I found this to be a very satisfying movie. "Reloaded" offered generally good continuation of the story, unbelievable visuals and well-choreographed action. Although not without some concerns, I was entertained throughout. Recommended.
Note: The teaser trailer for the third film in the trilogy, "Matrix: Revolutions", is included after the credits roll on the film, just as it was when "Reloaded" was in theaters.
VIDEO: "The Matrix Reloaded" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is simply stunning, possibly aided by the fact that all of the extra material is located on a second disc, leaving the film by itself on a dual-layer disc. Sharpness and detail are exceptional - definition throughout is consistent and remarkable, with fine details nearly always clearly present.
Flaws? Well, there really aren't many, if any. A tiny bit of edge enhancement was spotted a couple times, but it was so minor and brief that the couple of instances are hardly worth mentioning. The print is in pristine condition, with not a speck or mark on it. No compression artifacts were noticed, either.
The film's unique greenish/bluish color palette is quite perfectly portrayed here, with no concerns. Black level remained rock solid, while flesh tones appeared accurate. This is certainly a first-rate transfer that will impress many. The transfer appears to be the same transfer as the previous release.
SOUND: "The Matrix Reloaded" is presented by Warner Brothers in Dolby Digital 5.1. Since the three "Matrix" features share the same sound designer (Dane Davis, who has worked on such films as "Swordfish" and "Treasure Planet"), one can be assured that all three films share the same "vision" when it comes to the sound design. Viewers of the first film will be familiar with some of the "signature" sound effects, too.
However, "Reloaded" is certainly a much bigger, bolder experience sound-wise than the award-winning soundtrack of first film. Surrounds are put into play much more frequently and maintain a near-constant presence throughout the picture. With more action this time around, there's plenty of instances where sound effects pan around the room or ping between speakers. In fact, I appreciated hearing the film's soundtrack in the close-up environment of a home theater to hear some of the sound work that I'd missed in a large auditorium, such as the word "inevitable" coming from all sides when the multiple Agent Smiths pile on Neo during the fight.
Sound quality is certainly what one would expect; strong, deep bass accompanies both much of the sound effects and Don Davis' score. Dialogue remained clear and easily understood throughout, with all the elements well-balanced in the mix. Certainly, "Reloaded" will have an easy time becoming the new sound demo for many home theater owners. As with the video quality, audio quality also seems to be the same as the prior DVD.
EXTRAS: The Wachowski Brothers offer some written notes for the set, but they are otherwise absent for this box set. The Wachowskis came up with the concept of having two opposing viewpoints serve as the pair of commentaries for each of the movies. In one corner, we have the philosophers: Dr. Cornell West, Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University and author Ken Wilber In the other corner, we have the critics: Todd McCarthy, film critic for Variety; David Thompson, author of The Biographical Dictionary of Film; and John Powers from Vogue magazine.
The film critics go after "Reloaded" more than they did the first film. While they do have praise for some aspects of the picture, they do tear into parts of the first half, calling them "pointless", as they don't do anything or don't do enough to advance the narrative. They also criticize points of the car chase sequence (one of them asks another, "Do you think this is exciting?") Unfortunately, like their commentary for the first film, while the critics do provide some interesting chatter, they also leave some definite spaces of silence.
The philosophers offer another fine commentary here, presenting a relaxed discussion about theories and themes in the picture. Their discussion is pretty enlightening, and they keep things fun and light. There's some spaces of silence here, as well, and I wonder if it wouldn't have been a more interesting thing to have the more straightforward critics have a "roundtable" discussion with the philosophers in one commentary for each of the films instead of two tracks. I think maybe more information would have not only been offered, but more would come out of the bouncing around of ideas. That way, there could be one philosopher/critic commentary and one crew commentary, maybe.
Final Thoughts: Some gave "Reloaded" a mixed reception, but I found it to be an entertaining continuation of the "Matrix" trilogy. The performances are quite good and certainly, the remarkable visuals reflect the increased budget the sequels were working with. As for the DVD, the audio/video quality for the film presentation is nothing short of outstanding.
Two massive films, a big-budget video game that was poorly recieved and a series of anime shorts later, the "Matrix" trilogy finally comes to an end. While many who have seen the film seem to consider it another actioner along the lines of "The Matrix: Reloaded", it is - and it isn't. While "Revolutions" does share some things in common with the film before it, much of the picture is certainly far different.
When we last left the story, Neo (Keanu Reeves) was in a coma after managing to stop a few - not all - of the attacking sentinels (squid-like machines) who were trying to burrow down and attack Zion, the last human city. Early on, we find that Neo is stuck in limbo between the Matrix and the real world, in something that appears to be a train station. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) set out to save their friend, which requires a visit to the Merovingian (Lambert Wilson). His wife, Persephone (the stunning Monica Belluci) is in the scene, as well, but she has one scene and her impressive cleavage seemed to be the focus of the moment.
Neo is rejoined with his friends soon enough and the interesting idea of the train station comes to a particularly blank conclusion. The remainder of the first hour is, once again, filled with exposition and some thin philosophy, although the latter is really a bit forced and unnecessary here, as it starts to feel like we've heard all this before one too many times. The club sequence has a rather action-heavy opener with some nifty walking on the ceiling, but it seems to be done for no particular reason other than that the beginning needed to have an action sequence.
Much of the rest of the film splits the action into a few stories - Trinity and Neo seek out the machine world in Niobe (Jada Pinkett-Smith)'s ship; Morpheus and the rest of the crew try to zip back to Zion in time to save the city and finally, the people of Zion prepare for - and eventually face - the worst.
The battle between man and machine (or, well, men in giant machines that shoot machine guns) makes up the middle of "Revolutions", as the brutal battle continues to get worse and worse as the moments pass. Unlike "Reloaded"'s continual near-escape/crowd-cheering action sequences that even mixed in a couple of touches of humor, "Revolutions" is a much more grim feature, with a very melancholy, heavy tone that will likely surprise most viewers who will expect more of the same. The only joke here is a brief one, as Neo finds that attempting to get out of the train station early in the film doesn't get him very far.
The main fight is intense, technically stunning and yet, just not that compelling; it does start to get repetitive and resemble a video game - and not a very good one - after a while. "Revolutions" is also a disappointment in the way that it largely dumps the kung-fu fighting from the first two films in favor of CGI-heavy battles, including Neo's final battle versus Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), which largely involves the two spinning through the air and occasionally hitting each other while millions of copied Smiths simply look on in the streets below. There's a few stunning visuals scattered throughout this sequence, but it goes over-the-top and then some.
There were times throughout where I fondly remembered "Reloaded"'s highway sequence, which wasn't so CGI-heavy and took time out for a couple of smaller battles, such as the well-choreographed one in a moving car between Trinity, Morpheus and one of the twins. The final battle in "Revolutions" between Neo and Smith, promoted by some as bigger than any of the action sequences in the other films, isn't even as impressive as the battle between Neo and the hundred-or-so Smiths that took place outside the apartment in "Reloaded". In my opinion, the best action sequence in "Revolutions" is not the two major ones, but a chase sequence where a ship tries to sneak by several thousand sentinels, then has to run when the mechanical creatures are alerted to their presence. It's a smaller sequence that's part of the bigger battle in Zion, but it's a tense, tight and very well-staged sequence that gains and holds suspense.
The acting is merely satisfactory. Reeves is actually off-screen for the majority of the battle in Zion, and this is really the film where his character seems to matter the least. Fishburne continues to play Morpheus along the same lines, and Carrie Anne-Moss is more convincing playing tough than playing drama (although she does have a very touching moment as the ship she and Reeves are travelling on barely touches peace in a brief moment above the clouds). Monica Belluci, whose smoky voice and stunning looks seemed like they were going to lead to a mysterious, interesting character in third film, is completely wasted here. The re-appearance of Wilson as the Merovingian isn't much of an issue here, either. The real star of the show would be Hugo Weaving, whose Agent Smith has turned into the dictionary definition of the villian audiences love to hate.
Is this a fitting end to the trilogy? Not exactly. I went in with mild expectations and found "Revolutions" to be an entertaining and satisfactory experience, but nothing groundbreaking. While dismayingly full of itself to a degree the other films weren't, "Revolutions" still has great moments, some good performances and some pretty epic battles. I didn't feel, however, not as satisfying a mix of action (both sci-fi and martial arts) and ideas (philosophy, religion, human nature) as either of the prior films.
VIDEO: "Matrix: Revolutions" is presented by Warner Brothers in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. As with "Reloaded", this is a 2-DVD set where the film is largely all alone on the first disc, while the majority of the supplements are included on the second platter. A separate pan & scan edition is also going to be available. As for the anamorphic widescreen presentation, this is almost as impressive a visual effort as the transfer for "Reloaded". Sharpness and detail are nothing short of exemplary, with fine detail present throughout and a consistent level of clarity and definition.
A little bit of edge enhancement and a few instances of very minor compression artifacts were spotted, but this was largely a smooth, clean presentation that appeared very "film-like". The print used looked to be in flawless shape, with some light grain that is an intentional element of the cinematography. Colors appeared bright, vivid and well-saturated, with no flaws. Black level looked bold, while flesh tones appeared accurately. Video quality appears to be the same as the prior release.
SOUND: "Revolutions" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Not quite as consistently action-packed as "Reloaded", "Revolutions" does have some stretches in the first half that are dialogue-driven, but once the second half begins, there are several passages where all speakers come in full-force with various elements. The early gun battle in the club has gunfire and various sound effects coming from all directions, while the massive battle to save Zion has the sounds of the sentinels sweeping through all of the speakers. The final battle between Nemo and Smith is also an exciting mix of score, swirling sound effects and low bass. Another fine moment is when Neo speaks with the Machine Lord, whose booming electronic voice reverberates throughout all of the speakers. Those who can enable a back surround speaker will find that it adds to the experience, providing an even greater sense of envelopment.
Speaking of low bass, this soundtrack has plenty of it, especially during some of the Zion battle sequences, where the walking robots that the humans are piloting have every step accompanied by a deep, powerful thump. Throughout the film, sound effects remained crisp and detailed, as did dialogue. Balance between score, effects and dialogue was also pleasing. Audio quality was the same as the prior release.
EXTRAS: The Wachowski Brothers offer some written notes for the set, but they are otherwise absent for this box set. The Wachowskis came up with the concept of having two opposing viewpoints serve as the pair of commentaries for each of the movies. In one corner, we have the philosophers: Dr. Cornell West, Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University and author Ken Wilber In the other corner, we have the critics: Todd McCarthy, film critic for Variety; David Thompson, author of The Biographical Dictionary of Film; and John Powers from Vogue magazine.
The critics do enjoy the rather mysterious opening of the third film, but it's not long before they start to dig into some of the scenes, talking again about how the film has, in their opinion, a lot of filler at times. The critics also chat about some parts they find ridiculous (people still not believing Neo was the one, despite the events of the two prior movies) or don't understand, as well as some general ways that they would change the film. At the end, they summarize the films in saying that the sequels really did try enough, choosing to go largely the safe route.
Again, there's some insight (they share their opinions again about the use of CGI in films after some discussion about it on the other tracks) and fun (when one character states he knows where another character is, after the audience had been previously shown where that character is, one of the critics dryly pipes up, "so do we! so do we!") here, but there's also a fair amount of silence. The philosophers also return, offering more discussion on some of the themes and concepts present in the film, although they seem more silent here, while the critics do pipe in a little more often.
Overall, these commentaries provide some interesting analysis and viewpoints, while managing to do that in a manner that's entertaining. Both tracks are worth a listen on all three films. However, the issue is that there's a bit too much silence on all six commentaries to give them much replay value. More participants or combining the tracks would have helped.
Final Thoughts: While it stands as probably one of the most debated big-budget films of the past several years (some have called "Revolutions" a classic, others have been far less kind), "Matrix: Revolutions", in my opinion, provides some thrills, surprises and impressive visuals. It is certainly flawed in some regards, but I think it's an ambitous effort that I may get a somewhat better reception on video.
Warner Brothers has provided a very fine DVD edition, with excellent audio/video quality and a few supplements that seemed more informative than those that appeared on the "Reloaded" DVD.
Directors Larry and Andy Wachowski have said in their few interviews that they are big fans of Japanese animation (or, "Anime"). Watching "The Matrix", one can sense the influences from Anime style. Given the fact that the story of "The Matrix: Reloaded" was too big to tell in one nearly 150-minute movie, elements of the story are being told both in the video game "Enter the Matrix" and this set of animated features, the "Animatrix".
Given their desire to expand the side and back-stories, the Wachowski brothers had several famed animation directors go to work on 9 short films that further enrich the "Matrix" tale. The first feature is the "Final Flight of the Osiris", a fully CGI tale constructed by some of the same artists who were involved with "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within". However, as remarkable as "Final Fantasy" was, the animation technology seems to have improved even further, as the kind of detail present here is extraordinary. Without giving anything away, the tale involves the crew of the Osiris trying to get a warning to Zion. It's interesting to see how this story ties into the first level of the video game.
"The Second Resistance: Parts I and II" are dark and fascinating shorts that are essential to the understanding of the "Matrix" story. Both stories cover how the machines developed under the eye of man and how they eventually rose up and defeated mankind. As with the rest of the shorts, the imagery throughout these stories is dark, haunting and remarkably imaginative. Sound designer Dane Davis ("The Matrix", "The Matrix: Reloaded") has a voice cameo. Directors Larry and Andy Wachowski were also responsible for the writing of these first three segments, which deal the closest with the stories of the two films.
Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves also offer voice cameos in "Kid's Story", a tale of a young student who finds out the truth, and must run from agents. "Program" features a samurai battle between a male and female warrior, who debate existence while waging a tense battle. "World Record", a rather odd feature, involves a track star whose extraordinary talent and drive leads him to find out about the existence of the Matrix. "Beyond" focuses on a young woman who stumbles upon an abandoned building full of children with strange powers while she was searching for her lost cat. "A Detective Story" is a noir-ish piece that has an investigator trying to track down Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss. The piece has a fascinating black-and-white look. Finally, "Matriculated" has members of the human resistance attempting to reprogram a machine to fight on their side.
The shorts are: Final Flight of the Osiris, The Second Renaissance Part 1, The Second Renaissance Part 2, Kid's Story, Program, World Record, Beyond, Detective Story and Matriculated.
VIDEO: "The Animatrix" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. All of the short films share the same aspect ratio. The shorts also share image quality that is extraordinary - just a little bit short of perfection. Sharpness and detail are remarkable; the images are not only well-defined and crystal clear, but have a smoothness to them that's extremely pleasing. Only a slight hint of edge enhancement in a couple of the shorts gets in the way of these presentations achieving perfection. Otherwise, there's no concerns - no pixelation or other faults are spotted, and colors look superb.
SOUND: All of the shorts boast an amazingly aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. Every possibility for surround use is taken advantage of; discrete effects can often be heard from both sides, enveloping and immersing the viewer in the worlds that are created in these shorts. Sound quality is extremely strong, with crisp and clear effects, rich bass and clean-sounding dialogue.
EXTRAS: Audio commentaries (in Japanese, subtitled in English) are offered by the directors of The Second Renaissance Parts 1 and 2, Program, and World Record. The other major supplements of the DVD are two large featurettes, "Scroll to Screen", which is a 22-minute look at the history of anime, as well as "Execution", which is a 55-minute look at the making of all of the shorts of the "Animatrix". "Execution" is actually short featurettes that can be played together in a 55-minute whole. These are interesting pieces that really explore the background of the animators and how their vision and the vision of the Wachowski brothers came together into each of the short films. Other interesting tidbits are scattered throughout the featurettes, including a look at a test by the "Final Flight of the Osiris" team that stars the main character of the "Final Fantasy: Spirits Within" film the animators worked on.
Rounding out the supplemental section are a group of profiles on the "Animatrix" animators and a look at the making of the "Enter the Matrix" video game.
Final Thoughts: The first three shorts of the "Animatrix" are not only fascinating, but richly animated and provide an enjoyable look at the backstory of "The Matrix". The other shorts, which are the animator's own looks at the "Matrix" universe, are not always as compelling story-wise, but the animation is nothing short of spectacular and the different styles are marvelous to watch. The DVD offers magnificent audio/video quality, along with stellar supplements. Highly recommended.
In early 1999, "The Matrix" amazed and thrilled audiences with its remarkable special effects, interesting story and fascinating visuals. Much really hadn't been said or heard about the film early in production, then more and more details and images from the production came out and the excitement built. A series of marvelously edited and powerful trailers were the first elements to hook audience's interest - by the time of release, the excitement of the film's release had built to an exceptional level, but not quite to the point of the kind of hype that will overpower a film's possibility for success in the way that "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" ran into.
The film's success and continuing box office run after its release not only opened the doors to two sequels for the picture (which are currently in production), but influenced quite a number of action films that came after (most of which, like "The One", pale in comparison). It's now been quite some time since "The Matrix" really hit audiences and Warner Brothers has obviously felt the need to pull audiences back into the "Matrix" stories and give fans something to hold them over at least somewhat until the release of the sequel - hence, "The Matrix: Revisited", a 120 minute documentary about the making of "The Matrix".
The documentary mainly revolves around interviews with those involved: directors The Wachowski Brothers, ace cinematographer Bill Pope, editor Zach Staenberg, legendary (rightly so) fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping, producer Joel Silver, actors Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie Anne-Moss and other members of the film's cast and crew. The documentary mainly revolves around the first picture - for those who are hoping to see some sneak peeks of the second picture, there really aren't many. "Revisited" revolves almost entirely around the production of the first picture, as we hear from many of the crew members, who discuss their roles in the film's production - such as costumes, sets, visual effects and other elements. Most of the detailed production interviews are quite informative and interesting; yet, there are moments that talk about the story (Reeves often discusses it in his interviews) or how great everyone was that offer less insight. These moments are brief and mainly at the begining of the documentary.
While much of the documentary offers interviews from around the set and in offices, there are also some terrific behind-the-scenes clips, showing the actors in serious physical preparation for their fight sequences and some clips of the production at work in Australia. The documentary gets more enjoyable in the second half, as we see more about the making of the film and some of the obstacles that had to be faced (Reeves' physical problems as the production began) and in-depth footage of how some of the film's biggest stunts were achieved.
I think there was some concern over this release and what it would contain (I didn't even know that the main piece that was going to be included was this two-hour documentary. Overall though, I was very pleased. I didn't feel this was just some "promotional" piece, but a well-crafted and often very informative two-hour documentary about the film's journey from pre-production to final film.
VIDEO: The documentary is presented in 1.33:1 full-frame, while the clips of the movie throughout are presented in 2.35:1 widescreen. The quality of the image is generally excellent, as the image remained sharp and detailed throughout the entire program, with only a few minor instances of shimmer to take away from the image. Colors remained bold and vibrant throughout, with no concerns.
SOUND: The documentary is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, but there's really little for the surrounds to do but lightly reinforce the music. The interviews are the focus and the discussions of those on-screen remained clear and easily understood.
EXTRAS: This time around, the "Revisited" DVD drops some featurettes (such as one about the internet fans) and adds some new pieces, as well as one major new feature.
That Old Exit: Walbash and Lake: This 2-1/2 minute piece takes a look behind-the-scenes at the filming of the sequence where Neo tries to escape the agents and head into the subway tunnel.
Agent Down: This very brief piece chats with actor Hugo Weaving about his leg injury during the production.
The Dance of the Master: This section allows the viewer to watch fight choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping's blocking tapes as the film's fight sequences are planned out. 5 min - 39 sec.
Code of the Red Dress: This very brief piece focuses on filming this minor character.
Bathroom Fight: A smaller documentary about the preparations for the bathroom fight sequence.
But Wait, There's More: Additional random clips of the production at work, cut together into a short featurette.
Take the Red Pill: This section offers us the production featurettes, "What is Bullet Time?" (a look at the film's then-groundbreaking visual effect) and "What is the Concept?" (concept art/some visual effects elements).
Follow the White Rabbit: This section offers short production featurettes: "Trinity Escapes", "Pod", "Kung Fu", "The Wall", "Bathroom Fight", "Government Lobby", "Government Roof", "Helicopter" and "Subway".
The Music Revisited: This section offers 41 (audio-only) music tracks selected by the Wachowski Brothers in creating the film. Very nice section (although even better if you're a fan of the music), but it would be nice to get more of an explanation about the section and how some of the music in the film was chosen. Again, a section where the Wachowskis could certainly have provided some input.
Final Thoughts: While I wouldn't say that "The Matrix Revisited" isn't without a few minor slow moments, I thought the majority of the documentary and the extra features were well-crafted, informative and entertaining - the entire package provides substance and isn't something "promotional".
"Enter The Matrix": This section offers the filmed clips that appeared in-between missions in the video game release, "Enter The Matrix". The game followed a parallel story, as players took on the role of either Ghost or Niobe. While it was cool to get some backstory, the gameplay was lackluster, as the buggy game seemed rush to be released alongside the second movie.
For those who didn't play the game, they certainly may find these fully-produced scenes (which total about 42 minutes of footage) interesting. There's a little extension of the highway footage, Niobe visiting the oracle, more after the EMP, and a kiss between Monica Belluci and Jada Pinkett-Smith, among other things.
I'll Handle Them: This section offers four featurettes - "The Great Hall", "Building the Merovingian's Lair", "Tiger Style: A Day in the Life of Chen Hu" and "Heavy Metal: Weapons of the Great Hall". Best watched as a whole via the "play all" option, these documentaries lead us through the sequence quite wonderfully. We visit with the stunt coordinator, fight coordinators, art directors, stunt actors, wire workers and assistant directors as they choreograph, rehearse and work through the sequence. Additionally, the Chen Hu part is especially interesting to watch, as the guy's an amazing martial artist. Altogether, about 17 minutes.
Car Chase: This section offers four featurettes revolving around the freeway chase sequence - "Oakland Streets and Freeway: Unseen Material", "Tour of the Merovingian's Car Garage", "Queen of the Road" and "Arteries of the Mega-City: The Visual Effects of the Freeway Chase" (although the last featurette also looks at visual effects pieces in other scenes in the movie.) This is a pretty fascinating set of featurettes, as the stunt coordinators, visual effects artists and others lead us through a massive scene that has to be done precisely.
This footage allows viewers to take a look at some of the most interesting details of the production of the sequence - we see the previsualization of the sequence, learn more about how cars were "rigged" to do certain things, how the wood of the highway construction was donated to make low-cost homes (there was enough material to frame and side 150 homes, according to one person in the documentary), more about the stunt work involved and a lot more (it takes up the majority of the 55 minute total run time of the four pieces) about the visual effects elements that went into the scene. Towards the end, we get an "Anatomy of a Scene", as visual effects supervisor John Gaeta takes viewers step-by-step through the truck crash. A "play all" option is available.
The Teahouse Fight: This section offers two pieces: "Two Equals Clash" and "Guardian of the Oracle: Collin Chou". This brief section - both featurettes run for a total of a little over 7 minutes - focuses on the choreography and production of the fight sequence, as well as actor Collin Chou, who plays Seraph.
Unplugged: This section runs for a total of 40 minutes and contains five pieces: "Creating the Burly Brawl", "A Conversation with Master Wo Ping", "Chad Stahleski: The Other Hero", "Burly Brawl Action Match" and "Spiraling Virtual Shot: Anatomy of a Shot". This sequence allows us to look at the production design of the set, as well as how motion capture and visual effects were used to stage the fight in the film between Neo and the many Smiths.
Exiles: This 2-part, nearly 18-minute section offers a look at some of the supporting characters in film, such as the Merovingian, the Twins and Persephone.
Final Thoughts: This is an enjoyable look at the making of "Reloaded". While some of the pieces offer a bit more information than others, the "Car Chase", "Unplugged" and "I'll Handle Them" sections offered some good insight and behind-the-scenes clips. For those who didn't play the "Enter the Matrix" videogame, the film clips from the game included here will be fun to see.
Crew: This section offers four featurettes that profile some of the crew members that worked on the film. The pieces include: "Owen's Army: The Australian Art Department", "2nd Unit: A World of Their Own", "Bill Pope: Cinematographer of the Matrix" and finally, "Masters of Light and Shadow". Altogether, the featurettes run for a total of about 24 minutes. Altogether, the pieces provided an interesting look at the roles of some of the crew members (such as the lighting department) and the work of Bill Pope in creating the look of the films.
Hel: This section looks at the club sequence, and offers six pieces: "Coat Check", "Upsidedown Under", "Fast Break", "Exploding Man", "Gun Club" and "The Extras of Club Hel". These pieces run for a total of about 27 minutes. There are definitely some solid behind-the-scenes looks here, as it's interesting to learn more about how the upside-down fight was accomplished. We hear from stunt coordinators, camera operators and others. Like the majority of the other documentaries, the pieces get right to the point and emphasize the roles that people have on-set and how everyone had to work together in be in sync to get the scene accomplished.
The Siege: This section is split into five pieces: "Dig This", "The Siege Action Match", "Anatomy of a Shot: Mifune's Last Stand", "Building an APU" and "Product of Zion". The section runs a total of 40 minutes. A sequence that combined live action and many forms of visual and practical effects, the amount of work from the different departments that went into this sequence is pretty fascinating. We hear from the stunt teams, the visual effects artists and more as we see behind-the-scenes footage and are lead through part of the scene by visual effects supervisor John Gaeta. This section runs for a total of 16 mintues.
Super Burly Brawl: This set of four featurettes looks at the epic fight between Smith and Neo in "Revolutions". It includes: "The Skybarn", "The Crater", "The Egg" and "Anatomy of the Superpunch". In the case of the first piece, it's amusing to see how three different actors - two standing in for Reeves and then Reeves himself - make up one small bit of a sequence. We also see Reeves and Weaving making the most of a miserable situation as very heavy rain falls over the crater sequence and the visual effects artists having to have to do a lot of work to accomplish the mid-air fight sequence.
Blue New World: This set of five featurettes takes a look at some elements of the "Matrix" universe: "Geography of Zion", "The Ships", "Tour of the Neb", "Matrix TV" and "Logos Fight Expansion". Through members of the cast and crew, we learn more about the film's representation of the city of Zion and more about how the look of the city/production design was accomplished. The featurette also gives a better idea of the layout of the city. We're also shown the little-seen "screen graphics" department (who work on what's seen in the computer screens in the film). This section runs for a total of 26 minutes.
Aftermath: This section offers: "Revolutionary Composition", "The Glue", "Dane Tracks", "Cause and Effects". It runs for a total of 39 minutes. The first section visits with composer Don Davis, who discusses his contributions to the "Matrix" trilogy, and his concepts for how he approached the films. "The Glue" sits with editor Zach Staenberg, who chats about his role in the trilogy and how he approached working with the directors in trying to assemble, structure and pace the three films. We also hear about how exensively pre-visualizing the three films helped in the post-production process. In "Dane Tracks", we hear from sound designer/sound effects editor Dane Davis, who talks about how he had to go about creating different sounds for elements of the films. We learn about the methods for creating specific sounds and how some sounds were pumped up to become more dramatic. Davis also talks about the difficulty of creating sounds for an effects-heavy movie where the images aren't always in a state of completion. Finally, "Cause and Effects" is an overview of the final film's visual effects work.
Final Thoughts: "Revolutions: Revisited" provides a terrific look at the third film. While I would have liked more of a debate on the second and third films - I was a little surprised the "Aftermath" part didn't have more of a "look back" or "reaction" feature - these pieces provide a great look at the nuts and bolts of the making of "Revolutions".
"The Burly Man Chronicles" is something of a sequel to the "Matrix: Revisited" documentary. While that piece took a look at "The Matrix" and the explosion of popularity that accompanied the release, this feature-length (94 minutes) documentary rejoins the Wachowskis and crew as they regroup and start production on not only "Reloaded" and "Revolutions", but the "Enter the Matrix" video game. The fun starts pretty quickly, as the production does some early shooting on a zero gravity flight. We are also let in as the crew starts kung fu training and does some early green screen shoots. Meanwhile, production crews, such as the costume design staff and visual effects crew, start to gear up for the shooting. Four days before the production begins in California, we see Carrie-Anne Moss trying to learn to ride her motorcycle, as she would be required to do some complex and potentially very dangerous stunts on it in the film's highway chase sequence.
The production opens with the highway chase sequence in "Reloaded", and we watch as the scene is blocked out, the drivers choreographed and Moss attempting to work out her motorcycle work. Elsewhere, the crew is starting to work on the Burly brawl, which is the fight in "Reloaded" between Neo and the Smiths in the park. The production in Australia gears up shortly after 9/11/01, and we see the cast and crew discuss the tragic event, as well as view a painting from the production that will go to raise money for a fire station in New York City. The Sydney, Australia sets, we're told, would cover a total of a little over 564,000 square feet. The crew used 245 miles of wood, over 5,000,000 staples and over 2,500 gallons of glue.
Once the Australian leg of the production gets into full swing, we follow along as the cast and crew have fun shooting various sequences (the Chateau Fight, the Club Hel sequence, the final fight between Smith and Neo, the train/train station sequence early in "Revolutions", the Zion Dock sequence in "Revolutions") and doing quite a bit of motion capture and effects work. There's lighter moments too, as we see a joke getting played on cinematographer Bill Pope on the day when he's to make his "acting debut".
Overall, this is a very well-done piece that expands upon a lot of the things shown in the "Revisited" documentaries quite well. I was a little surprised, however, that it focused entirely on the pre-production and production, with no real "afterstory" focusing on post-production and the release of the two sequels.
The extra included here is the "Follow the White Rabbit" feature, which allows viewers to skip to short documentary pieces before being brought back to the documentary feature. These short pieces (21 in all) are split up into three groups: Pre-Production: (focusing more on some of the crew members involved) (Steve Skrooge, Geoff Barrow, George Hull, "Pre-Production", Kym Barrett, Owen Patterson, Rock On: Rock Galotti), Alameda Shoot (Freeway chase in "Reloaded") ("Rigmaster", "Ronumentary", "A Day in the Life of Agent Johnson" and Anthony Zerbe) and finally, "Production" ("Tribute", Roy Jones, Mary Alice, "Dessert of the Real", Peter Robb King, "Upgrades", Ian Bliss, "Publicity Shoot", "A Day in the Life of Dr. Cornell West" and "The End"). All 21 features run for a total of about 80 minutes.
"The Roots of The Matrix" offers two documentaries. The first documentary is "Return to Sender: The Philosophy of the Matrix". This 61-minute documentary joins together various philosophers, including professors (such as Cornell West, who was included in the commentaries on the DVDs in this set for the three films) and authors.
This involving documentary has the various participants discussing the religious and mythological aspects of the stories, as well as the ideas, themes and concepts that the films present. They talk about such ideas as about how our environment shapes our actions and how the stories people can let themselves get into repetitive, passive patterns and behavior instead of allowing themselves to function as an individual.
The other documentary included, "The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction", is another 61-minute piece that I found a bit more involving. While the philosophical discussion was informative and interesting, I suppose I responded a bit more to the more straightforward discussions here. This documentary focuses more on the line between the real and the artificial, discussing such things as video games (Will Wright, creator of "The Sims" is one of the people interviewed) - both solo and online games, the latter being social and a world of its own. The participants also discuss the future of A.I. and virtual reality, while also sharing some of the history that has gotten us to this point.
First in this disc is "The Zion Archive", which offers galleries of storyboards, production/concept photos and more. It is split into several sections ("Storyboards", "Characters", "Ships", "Machines" and "Sets".)
Breaking them down further: Storyboards (Architect Intro, Chateau Melee, City Chase, Code Orgasm, Code Vision, Flamming Tsunami, Industrial Smiths, Neo Reveal, Power Outage, Sentinel Reveal, Tower Vision, Trinity Assault, Trinity Falls, Trinity Saved, Upgrade Fight, Vigilant Destruction, Virtual Control, Deus Ex Machina, Hal Coat Check, Lock Seals Dock, Logos Final Fall, Logos Finds Path, Machines End Siege, Neo Vision Quest, Super Burly Brawl, Zion Under Siege, Bug Extraction, Construct Kung Fu, Elevator Shaft, Spoon Boy)
Characters (Ghost, Hamman, Hal Nightclub Patrons, Keymaker, Kid, Link, Lock, Merovingian, Military, Morpheus, Neo, Niobe, Oracle, Persephone, Seraph, Smith, Trinity and the Twins)
Ships (Avatar, Brahma, Ganesha, Gnosis, Icharus, Logos, Mjolnir, Nebuchadnezzar, Novalis, Osiris, Shiva, Vigilant and Vishnu
Machines (APU, Armada, Deus Ex Machinea, Digger, Docbot, Garbage Truck, Harvester, Machine City Bugs, Sentinels, The Keep, Tow Bomb)
Sets (Abandoned Apartment, Architect's Office, Chinatown, Chinatown Teahouse, Freeway, Hel Night Club, Hel Coat Check, Industrial Hallway, Industrial Loft, Logos Cockpit, Logos Engineering, Machine City Tower, Mobil Avenue, Mjolinir Bedroom, Mjolinir Cockpit, Mjolinir Infirmary, Mjolinir Main Deck, Mjolinir Gunnery, Merovingian Basement Keymaker, Merovingian Garage, Merovingian Library, Merovingian Lower Hall, Neb Cockpit, Neb Main Deck, Neb Mess Hall, Neb Neo's Room, Power Station, Rerouting Facility, Stock Exchange, Sub Metro Access, Sub Metro, Sub Station One, Sub Station Two, Tenement Park, Trinity's Room, Vigiliant Cockpit, Vigilant Main Deck, Virtual Control, Zion Command Center, Zion Council Chamber, Zion Dock Area, Zion Dock Bunker, Zion Dock Destruction, Zion Defense Duct, Zion Engineering Level, Zion Gate Control, Zion Gate Three, Zion Hamman's Office, Zion Link's Home, Zion Lock's Office and finally, Zion Map)
The Media of the Matrix This includes teaser & theatrical trailers, as well as a music video and 8 TV spots for "The Matrix"; teaser and theatrical trailers, as well as a music video and 8 TV spots for "Matrix: Reloaded" and finally, the theatrical trailer and six TV spots for "Matrix: Revolutions". A gallery of the posters and maybe some international promotional stuff would have been nice, but neither are included here.
Matrix Online Preview This 9-minute documentary looks at the upcoming video game, which allows players to inhabit the "Matrix" world after the third film is over and try to determine and shape future events for themselves. Looks pretty interesting.
Rave Reel: A series of production stills set to techno music.
Final Thoughts: "The Ultimate Matrix Collection" offers a very comprehensive look at the making of these movies, as well as at the meanings behind the films. I'm not sure the commentaries included with the films are going to be everyone's cup-of-tea (there's a bit too much silence, among other things), but they're an interesting experiment.
There's a few things I would have liked to have seen (poster/international galleries on this disc, commentary from the cast and/or crew on at least the first film) and some missing things from the original releases that should have returned (the "Reloaded" MTV Movie Awards parody), but the supplements included certainly give a good look at what it took to bring the trilogy to the screen. The audio/video presentations (especially the improved transfer for the original film) look superb, as well. It's all very reasonably priced, too - I've seen the set going for around $60 (more or less) online. A definite recommendation.