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With the release of The Ultimate Matrix Collection just a few days behind us, I thought it might be prudent to perform a brief comparison between the old and new versions of The Matrix. Originally released way back in 1999, the film that eventually spawned a trilogy was, at the time, a cutting edge DVD presentation. In fact, the disc was so cutting edge it wasn’t actually compatible with a lot of DVD players! Thankfully I was one of the lucky ones who experienced no playback issues, which was handy considering I nearly wore my region two copy of the disc out, so often did I play it!

A couple of years on, as my appreciation and understanding of the DVD format continued to grow, I decided it was time to invest in the fabled region four release of the film. For those of you who are not familiar with the story, the region four release reportedly featured superior picture quality to the region one and two efforts, while containing the uncut version of the film (the UK region two release suffered at the hands of the BBFC).

It is this ‘superior’ region four edition that will be used as the benchmark for quality when examining the new digital transfer housed on disc one of the new ‘Ultimate’ set. Additionally, this article has now been updated to incorporate the original region one release to allow for a ‘like for like’ comparison between two NTSC sources. In the shots below, the images are taken from the DVDs in the following order: region four, region one, and region one Special Edition. So, without further ado, let’s move on to the comparison.

Scene One: "Hands on your head!"


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Scene Two: "We have the name of their next target."


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 Scene Three: "Whaddaya think, Dejour?"


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Scene Four: "You have a problem with authority, Mr Anderson."


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Scene Five: "You help your landlady carry out her garbage."


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Scene Six: "Let me tell you why you are here."


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Scene  Seven: The Matrix


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Scene Eight: Dojo Showdown


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Scene Nine: Sentinels


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Scene Ten: "Ahhh."


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Scene Eleven: "I’m a Smith."


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Scene Twelve: "Never send a human to do a machine’s job."


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Scene Thirteen: The Lobby Shootout


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Scene Fourteen: Neo Begins to Believe


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Scene Fifteen: "No."


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Scene  Sixteen: Matrix Code


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As you can see from the above images, the new transfer is far closer to the look of the sequels than the original effort. For the most part, contrast is greatly improved, with the superior black levels being the most noticeable change (at times, blacks the original release bordered on grey). Harder to spot in these images is the reduction in grain. Again, the first release contained too much grain, even for a film shot in Super-35. In fact, the Wachowski brothers cited excessive grain as one of the main reasons for this new transfer. Brightness has also been elevated in many scenes, with shots one, seven, eight and sixteen illustrating this perfectly. Oddly enough, the Sentinel in shot nine reveals slightly more detail in the original transfer, although the colours are not as vibrant.

However, perhaps the biggest, and most noticeable change, is the colour timing. The shots above illustrate just how different scenes inside the Matrix now appear, with many of the scenes that used to appear a murky brown now having the familiar green tint. The new transfer really does bring the original film in line with the sequels, and I feel that this is particularly apparent in shots five, eleven and twelve. In scene twelve you can see that the Agents’ suits are now far closer to those in The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions than they originally were. Although there may be some who are against the changes made to the film’s pallet, I feel that in this instance the good far outweighs the bad. At least the content of the films hasn’t been ‘tweaked’ like another trilogy I could mention…

Hopefully this short comparison will give those of you debating whether to purchase the new boxed set a glimpse of what’s on offer. To this end it’s worth noting that it’s not only the original film that has received a makeover, but also the sequels. Both follow-ups feature ever-so-slightly cleaner transfers than those found on the two-disc releases, with improved colour and slightly enhanced levels of detail. This is particularly apparent during one scene in The Matrix Reloaded. After beating the Agents at the beginning of the film, Neo flies off to look for the Oracle. While doing his ‘Superman’ thing, Neo flies in front of the moon. It was at this point the original DVD release featured some nasty posterisation and a little bit of blocking. Thankfully this is all but eliminated on the new DVD.

All images we captured using PowerDVD 6.0 at 1280x720 using the default profile, with no software filters applied. The images were then automatically re-sized and compressed into .jpg format by DVDActive's automated upload process. However, as with any level of compression, the introduction of a few minor visual artefacts was unavoidable.

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