The Matrix: There are two realities: one that consists of the life we live every day - and one that lies behind it. One is a dream. The other is The Matrix. What is The Matrix? Neo (Keanu Reeves) believes that Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), a person he knows only through legend, an elusive figure considered to be the most dangerous man alive, can give him the answer.
The Matrix Reloaded: In this second chapter of the "Matrix" trilogy, Neo assumes greater command of his extraordinary powers as Zion falls under siege to the Machine Army. Only a matter of hours separates the last human enclave on Earth from 250,000 Sentinels programmed to destroy mankind. But the citizens of Zion, emboldened by Morpheus conviction that the One will fulfill the Oracles Prophecy and end the war with the Machines, rest all manner of hope and expectation on Neo, who finds himself stalled by disturbing visions as he searches for a course of action.
The Matrix Revolutions: In the final chapter of the Matrix trilogy, Neo took another step forward in the quest for truth that began with his journey into the real world at the outset of The Matrix but that transformation has left him drained of his power, adrift in a no mans land between the Matrix and the Machine World. While Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) holds vigil over Neos comatose body, Morpheus grapples with the revelation that the One in which he has invested a lifes worth of faith is merely another system of control invented by the architects of the Matrix. During the stunning conclusion, the rebels long quest for freedom culminates in an explosive battle. As the Machine Army wages devastation on Zion, its citizens mount an aggressive defense but can they stave off the relentless swarm of Sentinels long enough for Neo to harness the full extent of his powers and end the war?
If you're reading this review then you probably don't need me to tell you how great these movies are, we can assume that you've probably seen them, several times. The Matrix was released at a time when everyone expected Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace to set new benchmarks and provide the high point of cinema in 1999 - but it wasn't to be. The Wachowski Brothers created a sci-fi movie so exciting, so cool and so unique that blew George Lucas' efforts away. The Matrix earned all the attention - and accolades, and deservedly so. From the moment you saw Carrie-Anne Moss's character Trinity leap into the air, with the camera panning around her before taking out the cops you knew this was going to be something very special indeed.
When a movie manages to gross $460 million with a production budget of only $US63 million studios tend to sit up and take notice and demand sequels. Realising the potential the two Matrix sequels were shot back to back over a year, and then saw releases in May and November 2003 grossing a spectacular $US738 million and disappointing $US424 million respectively on budgets of around $US150 million each.
So onto the two sequels released back to back in 2003 - The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. It's fair to say that neither matches the mystery or 'coolness' of the first movie, but we enjoyed both sequels for different reasons.
The Matrix Revolutions is generally regarded as the weakest of the movies but, for me, it was still an action packed thrill ride. As the machines close in on Zion everything gets desperate for the last of the human race and with Neo following his own path to save the world the conclusion may be a little obvious - but with a couple of twists and surprises along the way. Where this movie shines for us is the ultra large-scale battle that takes place towards the end of the movie. Sure, there are some moments where the CG is obvious, but it's a fine effort overall.
Finally on the fourth Blu-Ray disc we have The Animatrix which is a series of nine animated shorts ("Final Flight of the Osiris", "Kid's Story", "Program", "World Record", "Beyond", "Detective Story", "Matriculated", "The Second Renaissance Part 1", and "The Second Renaissance Part 2") which act as a prequel to the movies explaining how the machines took control of the world. Certainly the highlight of these movies is the brilliant Final Flight of the Osiris which is a fully CG rendered movie by Square-Enix. I recall seeing this in cinemas and was blown away, and again, on Blu-Ray this is a stunning movie which probably hasn't been surpassed visually as yet - although Beowulf would be in the running.
I must point out that all three of the Matrix movies have a deliberate green tint to them. That is not a fault of the transfer, but rather the way the Wachowski Brothers intended the films to look. Indeed I still recall the cries of faulty transfers when the movies first hit DVD but this is how the movies were shown in cinemas, and how they are intended to be seen on Blu-Ray.
Despite the improvements in resolution and fined detail over the DVD releases we can't honestly say that we were totally blown away with this transfer. Some of the colours looked a little muted, and there appeared to be a lack of sharpness to some of the images. Now typically we don't go by bitrate to determine picture quality - there are so many other factors - however for much of the movie the bitrate hovered in the 10-15Mbps range which is very low. I would have liked to see Warner Brothers re-compress these movies to allow for a bump up in available space from 30GB on the HD-DVD to 50GB on the Blu-Ray discs.
While Warner Brothers disappoint in many of their releases audio wise that isn't the case with this box set. Each of the movies contains a glorious Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track (it isn't the default track, so make sure you switch over to it). As with most recent action and sci-fi movies there is an aggressive use of surround sound channels with solid bass and crystal clear voices.
So could there be improvements on this release with the audio? While it's hard to complain given the overall quality I did feel, ever so slightly, that the track lacked a little bit of punch here and there - perhaps during some of the fights - but that may have been a decision made during the films production rather then the transfer here. The track is encoded with 48Khz/16-bit Dolby TrueHD audio, and the step up to 24-bit may have solved this. Another very slight disappointment is that for such a blockbuster release, the lack of 7.1 audio is slightly disappointing. Still these are very, very minor issues in an otherwise great sounding package.
Other languages on these discs include English, French and Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks encoded at 640kbps and Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks encoded at 192kbps. Each is certainly as good as the formats have ever sounded. Subtitles are provided in English for the Hearing Impaired, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese. I do find it a little disappointing that a plain English subtitle track isn't included on this release.
Now we come to to the part where, to be honest, I haven't had the time to fully check out everything on this Blu-Ray set, but have listened to the commentaries and watched the extras on the DVD release some time ago. Before we look at the details we wanted to point out that each of the three movies has a wonderful feature known as the In-Movie experience. If you don't want to wade through the tonnes of extras this offers a concise look at the production as a Picture-in-Picture video commentary. If there is one ever so slight disappointment it's that there isn't an audio commentary featuring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne or Hugo Weaving among others - although they are all in the numerous other extras. With so much content we felt that the best way to cover all these extras is to go through disc by disc, so here we go:
Disc One (The Matrix): The first disc in this box set contains four audio commentaries in total - an insane amount really which could take up around 9 hours to listen to. These commentaries include a Philosopher's Commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber, a Critics Commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson, a Cast and Crew Commentary by Carrie-Anne Moss, Zach Staenberg and John Gaeta, and a Composer Commentary by Don Davis with Music-only track. We then get "The Matrix Revisited" (2:02:50) which is a documentary - originally released as a standalone DVD a few years ago - including over 2 hours of footage covering the entire production of the movie from concept to filming to post production. "Behind the Matrix" (42:58) offers even more insight into the production of The Matrix.
Disc Two (The Matrix Reloaded): This second disc in the set contains two audio commentaries, a Philosopher's Commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber, a Critics Commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson. Under the Behind the Story category we have the following; "Behind the Matrix" (46:57) is the making of documentary for this release, "Car Chase" (55:14) is split up into eight parts (Which, annoyingly doesn't contain a "Play All" option) and covers the brilliant, and lengthy, Freeway sequence of the movie, "Teahouse Fight" (7.04) which looks at storyboarding and filming the teahouse fight, "Unplugged" (40:26) which focuses on the fight between Neo and the numerous Agent Smiths, "I'll Handle Them" (17:10) which looks at the fight in the chateau, and "The Exiles" (17:53) which looks at the 'lesser' characters in the movie.
Disc Three (The Matrix Revolutions): Again on this disc we have two audio commentaries, a Philosopher's Commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber and a Critics Commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson. For video features we get another extensive "Behind the Matrix" (1:30:03) documentary covering production which is, again, quite fascinating, then we get "Crew" (25:01) which gives credit to the behind the scenes artists that worked on the film, "Hel" (27:36) which looks at the Club Hel sequence, "Super Burly Brawl" (16:53) which looks at another Neo and Agent Smith fight, "New Blue World" (26:07) which focuses on - well - odds and ends, "Siege" (40:09) is another long feature which focuses on the massive climactic siege at Zion at the end of the movie, and "Aftermath" (39:49) which is, again, very lengthy and focuses on the films post production. Finally we have the Matrix Revolutions Trailer and TV Spots.
Discs Five and Six (The Matrix Experience 2-disc Data Bank): These two discs are presented on DVD rather then Blu-Ray. Disc Five contains "Return to Source: Philosophy & The Matrix" (1:01:04) which looks at the philosophy of the movies and includes quite a few industry professionals commenting on what the movie, and its beliefs all mean. "The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction" (1:01:05) is a look at mans reliance of machines in the world. Quite fascinating this is a great way to kill an hour. On Disc Six we have "The Burly Man Chronicles" (1:34:39) is another extensive look at the making of the second and third movies which doesn't get overly technical but fans will be intrigued (if you can cope with even more detail!). Also on Disc Six is "Follow the White Rabbit" which includes three additional areas "Pre-Production" (32:25), "Alameda Shoot" (15:32) and "Australia Shoot" (33:52). Strangely these documentaries, despite being on DVD using the MPEG-2 codec, appear to be encoded in HD?
Review By: Dave Warner