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Warner Home Video presents
The Complete Matrix Trilogy HD-DVD (1999-2003)

"There is no spoon."
- Neo (Keanu Reeves)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: May 23, 2007

Stars: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss
Other Stars: Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster, Joe Pantoliano, Helmut Bakaitis, Monica Bellucci, Randall Duk Kim, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lambert Wilson, Mary Alice
Director: The Wachowski Brothers

MPAA Rating: R for sci-fi violence, brief language, some sensuality and brief sexual content
Run Time: 06h:44m:33s
Release Date: May 22, 2007
UPC: 085391159742
Genre: sci-fi


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- B-A-A B+

DVD Review

The Matrix (1999) 2h:16m:32s

"I imagine right now you're feeling a bit like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole."
Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne)

The Matrix was a pivotal film in the evolution of DVD; it helped jump-start the format and was a showpiece title for many. It is still one of the most widely-owned DVDs ever, despite all the huge-selling titles that have been released since. With the release of the HD DVD version, Warner may be gambling that this title can similarly jump-start the HD optical formats. If that's the case, they're not holding back, with a vibrant release that adds still more to the already copious special editions.

The Matrix follows Thomas A. Anderson (Keanu Reeves), a software developer by day and hacker Neo by night, who begins receiving peculiar messages from one Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) about the Matrix. Intrigued by the promise and also terrified of the pursuit of agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), who seems to know too much, Neo follows Morpheus into the rabbit hole, where he learns that what he thought was the real world is only a digital construct, a shared reality that keeps humanity in slavery. Morpheus and his crewmates aboard the ship Nebuchadnezzar, including Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Cypher (Joe Pantoliano), is engaged in a battle to bring down the Matrix and free humanity. The key is the promise of the One, who has been prophesied by the Oracle (Gloria Foster) to bring down the Matrix and the machines behind it.

While there are moments that don't hold up (the wirework, slightly ridiculous in 1999, looks utterly absurd today), but there's no denying that the Wachowski Brothers were onto something in the notion of combining action, sci-fi and mind-blowing ideas. No one said it had to be coherent, and their script is something of a mishmash of epistemological wanderings, eastern religion, Gibson and Burroughs, clad in black leather dusters and kicking butt. It's almost too much for one movie to hold, and still include a plot, but the Wachowskis manage to pull it off and to be thought-provoking far more than one would expect from an action film.

I still don't buy Reeves as an action hero, even in a black leather duster. It's just impossible to take him seriously, especially whenever he drops into Bill and Ted mode. A slumming Laurence Fishburne is suitably intense, obviously relishing his role as cryptic sensei. Moss doesn't have the best chemistry with Reeves, but she makes Trinity a terrifically strong character who is more than able to hold her own. Hugo Weaving's Agent Smith is an intriguing study of cold efficiency with an edge that seems on the edge of going out of control; his desire to escape the Matrix himself lends the character even more depth and rounds him out more than would be expected. The really jarring moments come when abbreviations are explained to people who ought to know them as second nature (AI and EMP, for starters), which I suspect may be examples of ham-handed studio interference.

The effects range from serviceable (the Nebuchadnezzar feels like it uses blinding lights to hide its shortcomings) to dazzling, with the search-and-destroy bots, the sentinels, in particular still holding up vividly. The notorious green light within the Matrix is echoed by a glossy sense that contrasts with the organic real world, which is only glimpsed in a limited fashion in this first picture. The action sequences, especially the dazzling opening with Carrie-Anne Moss taking out a horde of cops, and an amazing gunfight in an office building lobby, are brilliantly staged for the most part, with a visceral and exciting quality. The last half hour sags a bit, especially as Neo starts to come to terms with his destiny, foretelling the disastrous results of the second and third movies. But the original is still a very solid entertainment that can both entertain with violence and provoke with ideas.



The Matrix Reloaded (2002) 2h:18m:30s

"You didn't come here to make the choice, you've already made it. You're here to try to understand why you made it."
- The Oracle (Gloria Foster)

The DVD Review is by Brian Calhoun.

I have seen many films that probe the themes of existence, destiny, and freewill, but few that prove as fun as The Matrix Reloaded. A tasteful blend of science fiction, martial arts, Hong Kong action, and brain bending philosophy, the Matrix films have earned a rightful status as the thinking person's action films. This second entry in the trilogy delivers the frenetic thrills seen in the best action pictures, though I found the experience to be equally cerebral.

I hold no reservations in stressing that it is absolutely mandatory to first see The Matrix before watching Reloaded, as creators Larry and Andy Wachowski show no sympathy for those who are unfamiliar with the Matrix universe. Unlike most sequels, there is no back-story, no plot rehash, and no character re-introductions, but rather layer upon layer of new developments on top of the already overwhelming amount established in the first film. While the essence of "the matrix" is ostensibly explained in the opening chapter of the trilogy, Reloaded dispels many of those ideas and tumbles us further down the dizzying rabbit hole. The central concept, however, is still evident. As discovered in The Matrix, reality is nothing more than "the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth." I will refrain from spoiling specific details to those who have not seen either film. Let me just state that the "truth" is not pretty.

Reloaded finds Neo (Keanu Reeves), Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and the ever-growing human resistance preparing for a war against the machines that have enslaved humanity for over a century. They have discovered that 250,000 squid-like sentinels have been dispatched and are tunneling towards the great human city of Zion. In less than 72 hours, the sentinels will reach their target, and Zion will be destroyed. Neo, who has been prophesized as "the one" to defeat the machines and save mankind, once again seeks counsel from The Oracle (Gloria Foster) to serve him on his quest. She leads him to the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim), an exiled program somewhere in the matrix who may hold the secret to penetrate the machines' defenses.

The story may sound rather silly, but the Wachowski brothers have constructed the pieces brilliantly from an unusual blend of influences. It is rare for an action film to challenge the mind, but Reloaded succeeds on levels where many similar films fail, and others do not even aspire. The brothers have not just created a typical sequel where the same characters are caught in similar situations, but rather a continuation of a much larger story. Elements that initially may seem like nothing more than a method of satiating fans of the first film, such as Trinity's love for Neo and the return of the nefarious Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving), have been meticulously crafted to serve the greater purpose of an elaborate story.

The Matrix was abundant with action sequences like none other we had ever seen before. The action in Reloaded does not prove quite as awe-inspiring simply because it no longer feels like uncharted territory. Each of these sequences, however, fuels the narrative rather than simply being thrown in to astonish the audience. Most impressive is a dazzling 15-minute freeway chase filled with mind-boggling effects work. I nearly fell out of my seat as the camera zoomed underneath semi-trucks, in between speeding cars, and high above the city. Also included is the "burly brawl", which finds Neo battling innumerable clones of Agent Smith. Though this conflict does serve a narrative purpose, I did find it to be excessively drawn out.

Simultaneously the most satisfying yet frustrating aspects of Reloaded are the philosophical musings. The Oracle, The Architect (Helmut Bakaitis), and the enigmatic Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) pummel us with a wealth of existential perspicacity, none of which can apparently be taken at face value. While these scenes suffer somewhat from the Wachowskis propensity to "tell" rather than "show", the concepts are undeniably fascinating and worthy of discussion.

While the incomplete nature of Reloaded maddened plenty of viewers, I found its ambiguity to be part of the fun. The Wachowski brothers are wise enough to understand that the power of motion pictures does not merely lie in the viewing experience itself, but also how one carries that experience with them long after. The six-month wait between Reloaded and Revolutions allowed fans to gain a more interactive experience of the Matrix trilogy, invoking fascinating theories as to what the final chapter might hold. While I have my ideas, I can only hope that the Wachowskis have not gone the same route as X-Files creator, Chris Carter, and generated more questions than they can ever hope to successfully resolve in Revolutions.



The Matrix Revolutions (2003) 02h:09m:31s

The Oracle: Everything that has a beginning has an end. I see the end coming. I see the darkness spreading. I see death, and you are all that stands in his way.
Neo: Smith.


The DVD Review is by Joel Cunningham.

There was so much hype for the two follow-ups to The Matrix, the surprise blockbuster of 1999, that disappointment seemed, to borrow a phrase from the series' main antagonist Agent Smith, not impossible... inevitable. The first film was mind-blowing to the many who ate up its ironic humor, stylish violence, ground-breaking special effects, and the impressive pseudo-philosophical sci-fi conceit at its core—that the world we see is merely a construct, a computer program created by machine overlords to keep human beings docile while they harvest our bodies for energy.

After The Matrix made a mint for Warner Bros., the studio asked brothers and co-directors Larry and Andy Wachowski for a pair of follow-ups, their own trilogy to rival George Lucas. The brothers agreed, but demanded complete control and a huge budget. They got it, and if nothing else, the sequels are proof that even the sharpest minds can suffer when working without constraints. With enough money to do whatever they wanted, the Wachowskis turned the already somewhat overblown series in on itself, ramping up the anime influences and the convoluted workings of the Matrix mythology. The results weren't popular with the fans of the first film—though it grossed $280 million, many strongly disliked The Matrix Reloaded, and the far less successful Revolutions is considered by most to be the worst of the lot.

Plot summary is basically pointless after the heady Reloaded, which teetered on the edge of parody with its stilted acting and obtuse dialogue. The two sequels were filmed simultaneously, so the Wachowskis didn't have a chance to change the story to correct complaints about Reloaded. Thus, we pick up where we left off: Neo's (Keanu Reeves) body lays lifeless onboard a ship carrying the survivors of a mishap that destroyed most of the human fleet. His mind is trapped in some sort of transitional part of the computer world after he somehow used his special powers in the real world at the end of Reloaded. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) has replicated himself in the Matrix and beyond, into the body of a comatose human lying next to Neo in the sick bay. The machines are still digging down to Zion. And about 30 peripheral characters are fighting for screen time, among them Neo's main squeeze Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, looking utterly ridiculous in her plastic dress... nice gloves); his Yoda, Morpheus (a chubby Laurence Fishburne); and the Oracle (Mary Alice, taking up the role following the death of actress Gloria Foster).

It's easy to see why audiences were so unhappy with the conclusion to the Matrix trilogy—it crowds Neo out of the picture in favor of a bunch of faceless, boring humans fighting the battle to save Zion. Neo's quest, and the love story between Neo and Trinity, provided the driving force for the first two films, but, though he's important to the story, Neo has little to do for much of Revolutions (at one point, he and Trinity work off-screen for nearly half an hour). The stories we do get—the epic battle as machines invade Zion, Morpheus and old flame Niobe (Jada Pinkett Smith) driving around (no, really)—aren't nearly as compelling as they should be.

Yet the ideas are there, and so is the action. There are a number of great martial arts sequences, and the CGI during the machine invasion of Zion is sometimes breathtaking (the swarm of flying Sentinels bursting through the city's defenses elicited a gasp when I saw the film in the theater). Though the story moves in fits and starts, I like the way it wraps up, offering a conclusion but still leaving some things open to interpretation. The acting is stilted, particular from Moss and Reeves, but it's all part of the "world" of the Matrix (the dialogue and costumes are pretty ludicrous too, after all). The two do have a few very strong scenes together, including Trinity's first glimpse of the real sky.

I think there were better ways to film the ending of The Matrix, but at least in terms of tone, Revolutions gets it right. The Wachowski brothers have created a sci-fi epic that will probably outlive its frosty reception at the box-office, one that favors big ideas over brainless plotting without sacrificing the spectacle we've come to expect from big-budget sci-fi epics.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: If Warner meant to make The Matrix look better than anything else previously released on HD DVD, well, they succeeded. The detail is incredible, starting with the streaming columns of numbers that open the picture. Texture and detail are incredible at times, from the skin (see exactly how bad Fishburne's skin condition is) to the fine wrinkles in the black leather. Obviously, the Matrix is swathed in green, as it's supposed to be, but even the real world features a somewhat limited (though more natural palette). The digital effects, such as the sentinels, look fabulous. There's no sign of edge enhancement or compression artifacting anywhere, even in the stark black on white of the Construct Room. The lobby gun battle is extraordinary, as every bit of particulate flying from the walls as the bullets hit is rendered in loving clarity. There's one dazzling moment after another, and the transfer helps make the onscreen antics completely absorbing. The Matrix gets a solid A+ for its transfer.



Reloaded's image is not quite as good as on The Matrix HD-DVD. The picture seems softer and not quite as crisp, a possible indication of filtering being applied for some reason. Shadow detail is still fine, however, which is important for this darker entry in the series. Texture on the costuming still comes across quite well. Mild shimmering was at times observable in the backgrounds; while that could be intentional for the Matrix sequences, it shouldn't be part of the Zion sequences. Still a reasonably solid, but not exemplary, transfer.



The video transfer in Revolutions, like Reloaded, seems oddly soft as well. Edge enhancement haloing is frequently visible on facial closeups. The splashes of red are certainly attention-getting after all the green and blue. And how can one resist a high-definition Monica Bellucci? The black leather still looks great as well, which is important for the fetishistic undercurrent of the series but especially this third entry.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
+
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Matrix offers DD+ 5.1 tracks in English and French, as well as a 2.0 Spanish track, but the obvious winner is the English TrueHD lossless track, which frequently has the feeling of a symphony orchestra playing right behind your screen. There's excellent directionality, both subtle and flashy, from dialogue sequences to gun battles. There's a broad soundstage that sounds completely natural, with an immerisve final result.



English DD+ and TrueHD tracks are also present on Reloaded,and they have a clean and vibrant sound. In particular, the sequence in the temple square with the heavy drumming has an excellent impact. There's plenty of surround information throughout, and the combat scenes have all the oomph you could want, with good bass extension. The quieter dialogue scenes have a nice intimate feeling to them, which is particularly appropriate for the more sensitive moments between Neo and Trinity.



Revolutions features more of the same high-impact sound, starting with the moody musical mix. That features strong brass hits and ominous trombones, as well as heavy and frequently metallic percussion. The club setting offers plenty of deep bass extension and the gun battles, as usual, offer plenty to rock your home theater. The whooses of the wirework moments have nice spatial differentiation. At a few points the audio is oddly hissy, but this is apparently intentional for some reason.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 107 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
24 TV Spots/Teasers
Production Notes
Isolated Music Score with remote access
3 Documentaries
16 Featurette(s)
8 Feature/Episode commentaries by 1) philosophers Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber; 2) critics Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson; 3) Carrie-Anne Moss, Zach Staenberg and John Gaeta; 4) composer Don Davis
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Music videos
Extras Review: Even if you thought that the standard DVD Ultimate Matrix Collection was overwhelming in its extras, the new HD DVD ups the ante. For starters, there's an In-Movie Experience that provides almost nonstop information about the filming, with plenty of picture-in-picture, with participation from all of the principals, includingnot only Reeves and Fishburne, but also the elusive Wachowskis. The clever commentaries by philosophers who liked the movie and critics who hated it that appeared on earlier versions are repeated here, but there are also two more commentaries new to this set. Several members of the cast and crew, including Moss, provide one commentary, and composer Don Davis remarks in between tracks of an isolated music score. If you haven't gotten enough of the music, there are 41 tracks of music from the picture, totallying nearly three hours, as well as the Marilyn Manson Rock is Dead video. Behind the Matrix incorporates seven featurettes, from the HBO "Making Of" to a bonus selection of random behind-the-scenes footage. Wrapping up the disc are the trailer, teaser, and a set of eight television spots.



The Matrix Reloaded isn't quite as loaded for quality extras as the original, though it does have a solid In-Movie Experience. The philosophers' and critics' commentaries are ported over from the standard edition, as are the documentary for Enter the Matrix: The Game (28m:13s) and several (but for some reason, not all) of the fluffy featurettes. The modestly amusing MTV Movie Awards Reloaded does make the transition. The P.O.D. music video for Sleeping Awake is also here, as are the trailer, teaser and eight television spots. One new addition that will be interesting to those who didn't play the videogame are 23 live-action sequences shot for the game, which tie reasonably well into the movie. As is the case with The Matrix, there's a written intro from the Wachowski Brothers.



The third entry's extras are a bit more limited than for the other two pictures. There's another informative In-Movie Experience that features all the prominent cast and many crew members. The critics and the philosophers return for counterpointing commentaries. Behind the Matrix assembles two documentaries and five featurettes to make a formidable 1h:29m:58s total. Revolutions Recalibrated (27m:03s) is the most substantial, providing a overview of the picture's making. CG Revolution is slightly over 15m devoted to the visual effects work on the siege sequence. The other featurettes cover such diverse matters as bullet time, making multiple Agent Smiths (or is that Agents Smith?) and the online game. There's a trailer and half a dozen TV spots to wrap up the package If this sounds familiar, that's because except for the IME and a written intro from the Wachowskis, this has been on every previous release of Revolutions. Disappointing, to say the least.

Unfortunately, except for the In-Movie Experiences none of these extras are in HD.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

While the sequels are dispensable, the original film still packs a punch and plenty of ideas to go with the action. The HD transfers are jaw-dropping, and these movies look and sound as good as anything for the home theater, with an overwhelming quantity of extras, many newly available. Highly recommended for fans of the movies. Those who can't get enough may want to seek out The Ultimate Matrix Trilogy, with another disc devoted to The Animatrix and a fifth devoted to still more extra materials.

 


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