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The first film shook the foundations of Hollywood and instantly became one of the most enduring film images of the modern era. Not only a special effects film, The Matrix blended an incredibly intricate storyline with mind-blowing special effects, something which audiences took to immediately. A sequel wasn’t immediately on the cards, but with the film’s success it was probably inevitable. The Matrix Reloaded was born.

The second film tried to take the action and, more importantly, the story to a new level. Special effects were again the focus with some of the most visually appealing showcases sequences since, well, the first film. The narrative was really beefed up the second time around, much to the detriment of keeping the audience in touch with what was going on. I swear I could see a giant question mark over the whole cinema on first viewing, and a smaller version when I reviewed the new release DVD. But, like all great trilogies, the third installment is always the one to behold. Bring on The Matrix Revolutions.

Matrix Revolutions, The
Movie
Plenty of movies nowadays try to dumb down their stories to appeal to the lowest common denominator. This is certainly not the case here, as the focus turns squarely towards providing as much complexity as possible, audience comprehension be damned. With that in mind, I’ll give you the most simplified version of the plot. At least then you might have an idea of what’s going on.

Neo (Keanu “Whoa” Reeves) finished the first film in a coma, stuck between the Matrix and the real world. When Morpheus (Lawrence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) investigate, they find out that Neo seems to be inside the Matrix without being plugged in. Kind of like Super Mario without a Nintendo, so to speak. With the help of a brooding support player named Seraph (Collin Chou) who has been assigned the task of protecting mother hen figure the Oracle (Mary Alice, after previous actress Gloria Foster passed away before completion, bless her soul), the trio dig deeper and try to figure out a way to free poor old Neo from the clutches of technology.

And it wouldn’t be a movie if they didn’t, so the main problem then becomes man’s war against the machines. Zion, where all the characters live, is under impending attack from the machines. And they’re not your average toasters and washers; these are sentinels with enough brain power to think their way through a whole population of humans. So, every spare pair of hands is on deck to hold these machines at bay and hope a solution rears its head.

Of course, being a Wachowski creation there’s a whole lot more to it than that. Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving, brilliant as always) has inhabited the body of Neo’s former ally Bane (Ian Bliss doing a pitch perfect Hugo Weaving impersonation). This sets up the inevitable Neo vs Agent Smith battle we heard about all through production. There’s also the confrontation with the man who owns limbo, Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his wife (Monica Bellucci in all her busty glory), a side story involving Jada Pinkett-Smith’s Niobe piloting a ship through dangerous territory and the love story between Neo and Trinity that was unfinished from the second film.

Matrix Revolutions, The
While the showcase action sequences were the talk of the town before and after the film’s release, the pacing of the third installment isn’t actually all that quick. The calm before the storm dictates that some long dialogue sequences will be stacked up before we finally get to the action-packed payoff. Granted, the major eye-candy is nothing short of top notch as usual, but the story just doesn’t quite gel as well as it should, making the low-key scenes just seem like a way to make things more complicated as well as paving the way for the next visual feast.

Looking at the film as an action film with a lot of substance is definitely the way to go. While you might not grasp all the substance until either someone explains it to you or you watch the film again, there’s no doubt you’ll enjoy the two major set pieces, which will surely go down as among the most creative in cinema history. Neo’s fight with Agent Smith and his thousand clones in the pouring rain is an absolute treat, though the battle with the sentinels is stunning if not a little too monotonous over the course of its duration. The Return Of The King’s penultimate battle just had enough contrast here and there to keep us interested for the lengthy running time, whereas the major fight sequence in this film doesn’t quite do enough to stop us from merely watching humans and machines clash over and over again. The visuals themselves, however, are top notch, and quite possibly make every kid in the world wish he could ride one of those massive robots into battle.

It’s a shame the two sequels couldn’t quite live up to the lofty standards set by the first film. Sure, anyone would be hard pressed to match the unique quality of the first installment but at least there was a decent balance between some brilliant visuals and a story that doesn’t alienate its audience as soon as it opens its mouth. Hard-core Matrix aficionados (and there are many) will surely revel in all the detail, but casual fans may well just be frustrated by the lack of an identifiable story, save for the obvious elements such as the battles. At that point you tend to not really care what happens to most of the characters and purely sit back to soak in all the cinematography and CGI.

Not all the loose ends are tied up, many audience members might not know a loose end from a tied one and the many other more complex messages of the narrative may have flown well and truly over the heads of all but a few, so the ambitious Wachowskis have probably bitten off a bit more than they could chew. However, as entertainment this is still quite good, and when you’ve got two truly amazing action sequences in your arsenal there’s always still plenty to like about your work. The final battle is worth the price of admission alone, yet this is offset by the underlying sense of disappointment that the third act fails to rise to a greater level than it does.

Video
Does no one at Roadshow check the details on the back cover anymore? I swear the last handful of releases have a 1.85:1 transfer listed on the slick, regardless of the actual aspect ratio used on the disc. This is again the case with this film, though it matters little as the 2.40:1 presentation comes up an absolute treat in every department. The one thing the two sequels have over the original is picture quality, which is why the rumours persist that a better transfer for the first film might surface some time down the track.

Matrix Revolutions, The
The sharpness in the transfer is probably the most remarkable feature of the presentation. Everything looks so clean and crisp that it’s like you’re looking through a window at all the goings-on. Close-ups look magnificent and you never lose any objects in the long shots. Colour is spot on as well, with the white glows of the train station, browns and grey of Zion and the odd splash of blue and green here and there rendered perfectly throughout. The explosions and flashes of blue light from the machine battle look awesome on this disc and really do make this one to show to your mates when you’ve hooked up your killer home theatre.

To be honest I couldn’t find anything wrong with the print or the rendering at all, making this pretty much faultless on all counts. If I had to be picky I’d say that some scenes were unnecessarily dark but that’s about as far as the criticism goes. One can confidently say that this sits firmly alongside the Lord Of The Rings discs as the most impressive going around.

Audio
More speculation as to a special edition release will almost undoubtedly bubble along thanks to the exclusion of a DTS track, which admittedly wasn’t present on the previous releases either. What we do get here, however, is a stunning Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that will knock your socks off, and possibly your neighbours as well. This is what surround sound is all about, folks, so jump on board.

The most pleasing aspect of the audio mix has to be the balance between the effects and the dialogue, as well as the juggling act between volume levels for the quiet moments compared to the action sequences. You’ll never have to reach for the remote between scenes as the levels are set perfectly each time you make a transition from noisy to quiet environments.

In terms of surrounds this is a great sounding disc. The front sound stage takes on a life of its own, with not only the dialogue being positioned around each of the three speakers rather than just the centre, the effects are also not limited to subtle instances heard in the rears. The back speakers work overtime to provide that extra spark of ambient sound, effects and music. Bass levels are good without being over the top, and you’ll find yourself immersed even further by the Don Davis’ orchestral score.

If there was ever a time to hook up some 5.1 action it is now. With a disc such as this looking and sounding so good, you’ve got a ready-made reference disc in your hands to test your new gear out. Trust me, on the audio front you definitely won’t be disappointed.

Extras
A neat extras package has been assembled for this release, though I’m sure there will be more to come if the rumours prove to be true. The first disc is not surprisingly devoid of any commentary tracks, though after the effort on the first film I’m not sure they’re game to try it again. All we get on disc one is a teaser trailer set from The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded and The Animatrix as well as the theatrical trailer for The Matrix Revolutions. Oh yeah, and there’s a weblink in there too.

Matrix Revolutions, The
Disc two is where it’s at, though. We begin with Revolutions Recalibrated, a 27-minute featurette that looks at the making of the film as a whole. The montage is quite good as it shows us a wide range of behind the scenes material, from the wire work, CG models and general outtakes and interviews with the key players. They cover the death of Gloria Foster and the way the rewrite came about to explain the use of a different actress, the use of stunt men and women and how crazy they are, and of course the computer generated imagery and animation from the film. It’s a pretty comprehensive featurette without going into too much detail on each subject.

Animation devotees will enjoy the featurette entitled CG Revolution, which combines the finished footage with a lot of pre-visualisation footage and the like. Running for around 15 minutes this is a pretty good look at how some of the effects were created by the rather large animation team from the film. Moving on, Super Burly Brawl is a multi-angle look at the penultimate scene with Neo and Agent Smith in the rain. You can use the angle button on your remote to choose between three angles; the behind the scenes footage, a storyboard sequence or the final version. The angles you don’t choose are still displayed in smaller windows below the chosen angle so it’s good to be able to see them running all at once.

The Operator section on the disc includes four featurettes about the production. The first, Neo Realism, delves into the groundbreaking nature of Bullet Time, created by the Wachowski brothers. Several people discuss the phenomenon and how it came about. It’s amazing to see all the technology behind all of it, even though by the third film it’s almost becoming, dare I say it, a little passé. Super Big Mini Models looks at the creation of miniatures for the purpose of blowing them up and making them look like a real-life explosion on film. Again, so much work goes into this stuff it’s mind blowing.

Still in the Operator section of the extras on disc two, Double Agent Smith looks at the Smith vs Neo fight once again but this time in the perspective of using Agent Smith rubber doubles instead of using the costly exercise of using CG. One would have to imagine Hugo would’ve been freaked out by seeing different versions of himself all over the place. A great little piece. The final featurette for this section is Mind Over Matter, a look at the stunt work endured by the actors. One can’t imagine how hard it would have been for them to be battered around and work so hard on the technique and end result. The 8-minute piece is well worth a look.

The second page of the extras holds three pieces. Future Gamer: The Matrix Online is like an extended trailer for the multiplayer video game. We look at how the story is continued from where the films left off and how the video game will allow you to become part of the story. It runs for an impressive 11-minutes and is quite interesting to watch. The Before The Revolution section is a text-based piece which tells the whole story of the Matrix from go to whoa. Be warned, though, there are a lot of pages to go through if you’re thinking of reading the whole thing. Thankfully it is divided into various sections for easy reference.

And rounding out the collection is the 3-D Evolution piece, which is a sort of stills gallery featuring concept art and storyboards. The navigation is kind of tricky to start off with but becomes easier as you go along. There’s some real value in this section, housed in a unique looking gallery environment.

That’s all for the extras, which really does point to a more packed edition further down the track. There’s a hell of a lot more to cover about all three films so it would almost be safe to say you should keep your ears peeled for any news. As an extras package, however, it’s not too bad, if a little plain with only a series of featurettes and stills galleries to keep you interested. Not the best on offer but I’m sure that will surface shortly.

Matrix Revolutions, The
Overall
While the anticipation for the third film waned a little when the first sequel wasn’t such a huge hit as we all thought it would be, there’s still plenty to like about The Matrix Revolutions. It’s a pity the storyline continues its complicated run and the action sequences, while very impressive, are just too few and far between to make it mindless fun. Fans will be divided over this one, though it’s still well worth checking out as a great piece of entertainment. The video and audio presentations are absolutely superb, while the extras are light on with a possible view towards saving the best for a special edition later down the track. The disc is very solid, though, so if you liked the film then be sure to pick this up if you’re not worried about a double-dip later on.


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