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The date was April 4th, 1999. A little film called The Matrix was opening in theatres across the world; a world that had no idea that the film would blow up and earn a ton of money because, after all, when was the last time a science-fiction film was popular? Well apparently Warner Brothers was so pleased with the film’s gross that, despite the first ending with a solid conclusion, the company ordered the Wachowskis to film two sequels back to back. We all know what happened when the two sequels opened. The general consensus was that you either loved the two films or pretty much hated them. You won’t find a general plot summary here, but I will spend a bit of time with Revolutions spelling out my reasons for disappointment. Grab your soda and popcorn and let’s move forward shall we?

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
The original The Matrix arrived with such ferocity that everyone, regardless of age, came out of the theatre and immediately called their nearest friend simply to exclaim about what they had just seen. That was what brought me into the theatre to see the film. I hadn’t seen a trailer (luckily, because viewing the trailer now shows so much of the film!) and didn’t even know what it was about. All I knew was that it contained (quote from my friend) ‘a lot of cool effects and tons of guns’. I figured the film couldn’t be that bad with a statement like that coming from a fellow fourteen-year-old (that was my age in 99’). Getting up after finishing the film, I didn’t see what the big to do was. Sure it was entertaining, but it was also ripping off a lot from other science fiction films like Dark City. People were acting like The Matrix was the second coming for science fiction, even though it wasn’t. Yes the ideas the film presented were intriguing, and the idea that we would become so dependent on machines in our everyday lives that we would eventually succumb to them doesn’t sound that odd, does it? But the problem with The Matrix was that it tried to take itself seriously, but ended up being known more for its lobby sequence than for the ideas it presented. I can just imagine that the Wachowski brothers presented a rough cut to the folks at Warner, void of a majority of guns only to hear executives say that there wasn't enough action. The Matrix is definitely an intriguing film, but would have been a hell of a lot better if the last forty minutes of the film weren't complete action. If you thought the first film had a large reaction, we only had to wait four years until The Matrix Reloaded arrived in theatres.

Coming out in May of 2003, The Matrix Reloaded is easily the best of the series (*takes a breath and prepares for the backlash that sentence will receive*). Now that I got that off my chest, the film is simply the best of the three for a number of reasons. Reloaded did everything the first film failed to do. Yes I did write above that the first film ended with a solid conclusion, and it did if you were to think that there would only be one film in the series. Now that we know of the two sequels, watching all three films back to back reveals the middle being the best. Reloaded expanded on the world The Matrix briefly touched upon. The film concludes with an excellent speech by the Architect of the Matrix. Many were perhaps confused and certainly dumb-founded by this speech. I’m sure many disliked the film not because it was bad, but rather because they were confused by this speech. I don’t ever go around claiming to be the smartest man, but a careful analysis of the speech reveals that it wasn’t that mind-boggling but rather that it explained a lot of what the Matrix was, what exactly the machines were, and why the One is so important.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
As the film ended, we were meant to leave the theatre with all these questions in our head simply so we could ponder about the third film, entitled The Matrix Revolutions. Unfortunately, while Reloaded presented these questions of real, genuine interest, Revolutions failed to answer a lot of them. When The Matrix Revolutions was announced for release in November of that same year, fans and industry analysts started to move around in their chairs. The film would have to succeed both physically and monetarily; if it didn’t want the label of disappointment slapped on its behind.

In November of 2003, the third highly anticipated film of the Matrix trilogy was released. Interest was lessened for some due to the less than satisfactory second film, Reloaded. When it comes to the second film, expectations were so high that it was practically impossible for everyone to be satisfied with it. To me, the second film built on the strengths of the first and expounded them to result in an intelligent and fast paced sci-fi movie. Given Reloaded and its cliff-hanger ending, Revolutions promised to solve the unanswered questions and resolve the Machine War. Instead of this, the film felt like one of those huge build-ups that promise so much and deliver so little. The film is given so many opportunities to shine, but decides to take the fork in the road to failure. Since the film was a big disappointment for me, I will spend a bit more time on it than the previous two films.

The movie begins right when Reloaded left off, with Neo in a coma after being able to mysteriously stop four Sentinels just by thinking about it. The Merovingian (a delightful character in Reloaded, a bit wasted here) is holding Neo prisoner in an artificial construct called Mobil Avenue as punishment for the rebels’ effrontery against him in Reloaded. A scene soon occurs that is literally the most disappointing in the entire film. After the rebels failed to capture the Trainman and visit the Oracle to receive new instructions, they go to Club Hel to bargain with the Merovingian for Neo’s freedom. After a rather ordinary and mercifully brief action sequence, they met with Merv. He demands the eyes of the Oracle in exchange for Neo. This is the worst part of the movie. Instead of the interesting possibilities that such a request entails as well as its deeper meanings for both villain and hero, the potential is wasted, resulting a Mexican standoff and Neo being quickly freed. An extra ten to fifteen minutes on the possibility here would have strengthened the film greatly, especially if it came at the expense of the later overlong action sequences.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Neo is returned to the Matrix and goes to the Oracle, looking for many answers. The film again wastes its potential with simple explanations and short answers, whereas the more thoughtful audience members hoped for a more intriguing connection. Neo was able to stop the Sentinels simply because he is still connected to the Source of the Matrix. This scene felt like a slap in the face. Instead of diving deeper into why Neo was able to stop the Sentinels (literally five minutes more could have satisfied anyone), we’re given a lame answer that he was connected to the Source. We know Neo is connected and we realized that at the end of Reloaded. I’m not really going to go into much more of the film here as I’ve gone off on far enough of a tangent ranting about this film. The film isn’t necessarily bad per-say, but was just so disappointing, especially when one considers what the film before it built on.

Regardless of opinion, the Matrix films have a place in the heart of every movie fan. They had a positive impact on film as a whole, only if you view the advancement the films made for sound and visual effects. While the whole trilogy would rate as a seven out of ten (mostly because of the weaker third part and the somewhat weak original with a fantastic second), the whole trilogy is still enjoyable. My best advice for you is to shut off your brain during the last thirty to forty minutes of the first film, open your mind for the entire second film, and somewhat keep your brain on for the third film. If you do this, you probably will enjoy the films on the level I did, but only won't have the level of disappointment I had with the third film. Now that we’re done with the films, let us take a look at the portion that video and audiophiles have been waiting for.

Video


So here we have it everyone. The Matrix has arrived onto HD DVD after nearly a year and a half of adverts in Warner’s HD DVD releases. So was the wait worth it or did Warner do a sloppy job? What did you think the answer would be huh? This is The Matrix folks.

All three films have been re-mastered into a 1080p, VC-1 Encoded, 2:40:1 widescreen aspect ratio that looks absolutely stunning. Even though the second and third films do present a better looking image that the first, the overall video experience here is something that fans will need in their collections regardless if you love these films.

The biggest obvious upgrade here is the use of colours and the film’s attention detail. Obviously the films have a very dark, almost drab look to them, typically containing darker colours like greens, blacks and blues. If you really want evidence of improvement, watch the second and third film and try to find an error. Unless you literally pause the films and try to look for errors, you won’t find any while watching them. The black leather that our heroes wear was so shiny and bright that I had to look away at some points. Speaking of bright, during the sequence where the agents break into the hotel after being tipped off by Cypher as to where Neo and Morpheus are, the lights off the S.W.A.T. team’s weapons was so bright that my brothers and I had to turn away from the screen for a second.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Grain is present here and there throughout the three films, but never does it become a real cumbersome issue. The film’s print has really been improved, as I didn’t notice a bit of dirt or any blemishes on the screen. Warner needed to make these films look this good if HD DVD is to continue to put up a fight against the Blu camp. Warner has ensured that HD DVD is here to stay and is certainly not giving up this Hi-Def battle anytime soon.

Audio


The Matrix Collection has been one of the most requested HD titles to date, so the audio better be on par with the video quality. Luckily for us the audio is downright impressive boasting some of the BEST HD audio available on either format to date. Warner has delivered the goods here by providing us with a Dolby TrueHD (48khz/16-bit) audio track on each of the included films. Say hello to your new demo disc.

Dialogue is crystal clear throughout every film, never becoming an issue where the viewer would have to throw on the provided subtitles. Dynamic Range was perfect as the surrounds worked in tandem with the rest of my speakers to provide the quintessential audio experience. Since I loved the provided audio tracks so much, I’m going to outline a few demo-worthy sequences from each film.

Obviously everyone (myself included) will pick the lobby fight from the first Matrix film. As Neo and Trinity infiltrate the office building to rescue Morpheus, bullets zip and fly by us in such a powerful manner that I—for fear of the neighbours calling the police—had to lower the volume. I’ve since watched the same sequence with a higher volume rate and have come away with such a smile that this sequence is one of my new demo sequences with the next sequences slightly beating it (only because of the music).

For the second film, The Matrix Reloaded, my scene of choice is the extended highway chase sequence. This scene boasts some of the best music the series has to offer via the ‘Mona Lisa Overdrive’ from Juno Reactor. The aural effects and experience during this scene is absolutely breathtaking. Bass is active and powerful while treble is kept in check via solid mid and high range that help to bring home a really convincing audio treat.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
The final film, The Matrix Revolutions, boasts an excellent sequence toward the ending of the film with Neo and the Machines. The use of bass here is, literally, the most powerful sequence out of the three films. The booming lighting and creepy sound design creates a top-notch audio experience that anyone, regardless if you like the film will be sure to demo off for quite some time.

So there you have it folks. Warner has done everything right here with The Matrix on HD DVD. The provided audio is perfect with convincing, clear dialogue, effective dynamic range, powerful bass, exceptionally well placed discrete effects (that shows that the films do deserve the acclaim they receive) and great, enjoyable music by Don Davis. I’m sure if Neo was around, he would simply exclaim ‘whoa’ after hearing this.

Extras


All of the features from the original Ultimate Matrix Collection appear on this HD DVD release. While this is definitely a plus, it’s a shame that all the features are presented in 480p instead of being upgraded to 1080p. Since we have features practically on every disc, I’m going to break the feature section down by Disc.

Disc 1

Found on the first side of The Matrix, we start off with a ‘Written Introduction by the Wachowski Brothers’, which serves as a basic appetizer of what’s to come on the disc. Next we get two different audio commentary tracks (the same commentary tracks were recorded for Reloaded and Revolutions. The first is a philosophers’ commentary with Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber was a fantastic listen for fans of the inner qualities of the first film. Both West and Wilber offer a lot of quality comments that a true fan of the film will definitely appreciate. The second commentary, entitled critics’ commentary, is with cinema journalists Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson.  I looked at the critics commentary as something I could just listen to in the background as I was doing other things. While the comments made by the participants were great, this commentary paled in comparison to the philosopher’s commentary.

Trust me folks, the commentary tracks don’t stop there. If you ever wanted to know about some aspect of the film, you’re bound to find it here. Porting over from the original 1999 DVD Release, we find a commentary from effects personnel Zach Staenberg and John Gaeta as well as actress Carrie-Anne Moss. This one was definitely informative, but seemed rather dull at points as the two above commentaries cover pretty much any aspect of the film I really cared to know about. The next commentary will definitely please those who’re fans of the film’s score. The isolated Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 music only track features a few comments from composer Don Davis. Since I’ve always enjoyed the music to the film, I found this one a real treat. We continue on with a forty-one different audio-only music cues taken from the film. We also get a few different trailers, a music video from Manson for the track ‘Rock is Dead’ and eight TV spots. Now for the second side of disc one.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Flipping over the disc, we come to find a documentary on the entire production of the film. Running a staggering 122 minutes, this documentary chronicles literally every aspect of the film from the original production in 1997 to the 2000 when talks of Reloaded began. Also included is the fun features Take the Red Pill and Follow the White Rabbit. Both serve as extended making of features that look at different action sequences from the Lobby sequence to the final Subway fight.

Disc 2

Now we start on the features for Reloaded. As I mentioned above, the standard Introduction is included as well as the two philosophers’ and critics’ commentaries. Since I enjoy Reloaded the most out of all the film, I loved both of these tracks as each brought, obviously, a different feel to the film. The philosophers’ track, which is a plus for those who were a bit confused by the ending, approaches the ending with an interesting feel that I’m sure true fans will find interesting. The critics’ track, as above, was a kind of a light-hearted affair mostly focusing on what critics disliked and liked about the film.

When this is done, we come to find a forty-two minute feature that was shot for the Enter the Matrix videogame. We all know how horrible the game was, so the two or three fans of the game will enjoy the various aspects that are dealt with from the production to the various effects that were used. Also included on side one is the film’s trailer, eight TV spots and the video for P.O.D.’s ‘Sleeping Awake’.

Flipping over the disc, there is a host of great features. First up is ‘Car Chase’, which runs fifty-five minutes and covers the entire highway car chase from the Merovinigian’s garage to the ending sword slice by Morpheus. ‘Teahouse Fight’ runs seven minutes and briefly deals with the fight Neo has with Seraph before meeting the Oracle. ‘Unplugged’ runs for forty minutes and covers the film’s most impressive sequence. The sequence in question is Smith vs. Neo in the Burly Brawl. I remember watching this in theatres and being amazed at how they were able to do this. Luckily for me, we get to find out how this sequence was accomplished. Also included is ‘I’ll Handle Them’, which runs seventeen minutes and deals with the Merovingian Chateau sequence. Lastly we come to find an eighteen minute montage entitled ‘Exiles’ dealing with the various minor characters in the film and ‘Big Brother is Watching: The Architect’s Office’, which covers the final dialogue sequence where the Architect explains the Matrix to Neo.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Disc 3

Moving onto disc three, we find ourselves looking at the same Intro from the Brothers as well as the two aforementioned commentaries. Since Revolutions is the weakest film in the series, I didn’t go into these commentaries with much interest. I will say that I came out with a greater appreciation for the film and I now understand what was trying to be accomplished.

Onto the actual features though, we get a ‘Behind the Matrix’ feature, which focuses a few different areas of the film. Running a total of twenty four minutes in length, we get a bit of information of the Bullet Time (four min), the film’s CG (two min), a few models (one min), the ending brawl between Neo and Smith (two min), the two Agent Smith’s (three min), the Physicality of the film (three min), the Matrix Online (two min), and a brief look into the whole film in ‘Revolutions Recalibrated’ (six min). As side one came to a conclusion, I found a few TV spots and a trailer for the film.

On side two we get six more features that focus on everything from the cast and crew (twenty five minutes) to the big Club Hel sequence (twenty eight minutes). While these technical features were interesting enough to watch, I couldn’t help but feel that I had seen these before courtesy of The Matrix and Reloaded. Next up is we get an in-depth look into the ‘machine attack’ sequence. Running forty minutes in length, this feature breaks down the various models used and the different camera angles and building processes that went into the sequence.

One feature I enjoyed was the ‘Super Burly Brawl’, which focuses (in seventeen minutes) on the final fight sequence between Neo and Smith. One interesting aspect was how visual effects allowed the faces of Weaving and Reeves to appear all distorted. Next up is ‘Aftermath’, which deals with the post-production (in forty minutes) dilemmas the crew faced. Subjects like music, promotion and editing are dealt with. The final feature, entitled ‘New Blue World’ runs twenty six minutes and basically features all the different aspects of the film that hadn’t yet been touched upon.

You must be done, right man? Nope I still have another two discs to detail, so sit back and grab a soda. Just a side-note here is that disc four and disc five features all the extra material in 480p video (boo). This definitely feels like Warner is cheating us here. If we’re going to throw down $120 dollars for this set, we should expect everything to be in full 1080p video.

Disc 4

The main bulk of disc four deals with The Animatrix series, which contains nine different shorts, each dealing with a various aspect of the series. The included extras are very interesting as they focused on the history of anime (in twenty two minutes) via ‘Scrolls to Screen: The History and Culture of Anime’, and a seven part documentary entitled ‘Execution’ that deals with the making of the entire series.  We also get a few commentaries from creators Mahiro Maeda on both parts of The Second Renaissance, from Yoshiaki Kawhiri on Program, and Takeshi Koike on World Record. Since I love The Animatrix series, I found this disc to be highly entertaining.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Flipping the disc over, we get more on the whole trilogy. In ‘Return to the Source: Philosophy & The Matrix’ we get to hear from a wild variety of professors and historians as they comment on the significance of the world according to Neo. Common names like Rene Descartes, Frederick Nietzsche and Plato are brought up as these gentlemen share their beliefs. Obviously this one will appeal to those who have religious backgrounds, but if you have an open mind, you’ll probably find something to ponder over here. Next up is ‘The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction’, which deals with the topic of the man vs. the machine throughout the entire trilogy. I viewed this one as a basic documentary instead of a real in-depth look into the topic.

Disc 5

Don’t worry folks we’re nearing the end here as we’ve come to the final disc. Akin to the ‘The Matrix Revisited’, ‘The Burly Man Chronicles’ runs a staggering ninety five minutes and covers every little aspect of the four-year shoot of the two sequels. Production, casting, conceiving and commercial expectations are dealt with here. We also get three bonus segments that can be accessed via the ‘White Rabbit’ icon that appears on the screen. The three bonuses are: ‘Pre-Production’ (thirty one min), ‘Alameda Shoot’] (sixteen min), and ‘Australia Shoot’ (thirty four min).

On side two we find ‘The Zion Archive’, which is a huge still gallery of nearly over one thousand (yes you read right, one thousand) still images. While this may seem worthwhile in print, going through all of these images with the difficult menu system (owners of the collection on DVD can testify) make this quite frustrating. ‘Rave Reel’ is a nine minute montage of clips from the entire trilogy (look on it as a basic Youtube fan video). We also get ‘The Matrix Online Preview’, which is a ten minute preview of the online version of Enter the Matrix. Lastly we get all the trailers, TV spots, videos and the like that were shown earlier all in one convenient area.

Almost done guys, I swear! The only other extras found on each film, is an HD DVD Exclusive feature entitled ‘In-Movie Experience’ or ‘IME’. Don’t feel like getting through them all and want a basic Cliff-Notes version? Watch the video-IME commentary that runs via a small box during the film.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection

Overall


It’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Matrix series has been the most requested series for Hi-Def every since the first advert in The Last Samurai signalled that the series was coming to HD DVD. Even though we had to wait a full year and a half, the wait was well worth it my HD DVD friends. Warner has presented an all-star package with flawless video and audio and some intense, if sometimes overkill, features that any fan will love. The only possible fault here is that the bulk of the extras aren’t in 1080p, which is a huge shame as Warner is charging a premium price for this set. If we’re going to pay $120, why not get our money’s worth. This is probably more of an annoyance on my part than the average person will care about. Regardless of this caveat, HD DVD fans rejoice—Warner has done the Matrix series proud with a fantastic package.


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