The Matrix

The Ultimate Matrix Collection on Blu-ray

Warner Bros. new Ultimate Matrix Collection is an extensive boxed set that seemingly features pretty much every piece of footage ever recorded relating to the Matrix trilogy. And isn't that what fans expect?

It also includes the animated "Animatrix and a digital copy of the first film. In all, it's a heckuva compelling set for Matrix fans.

"The Matrix" is a sci-fi action adventure film that's much more than skin deep. It's exciting and great looking, with terrific special effects - and a thought-provoking concept that's a real brain teaser.

Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano, "The Matrix" turns one's conceptions about the earth and our life upon it upside down, with its vision of a planet in which we are not who we think we are - or even when we think we are.

The film was directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, and features Reeves as Neo, a computer programmer recruited by an underground figure-cum-Messiah called Morpheus (Fishburne) who's being hunted down by a group of ruthless "Men in Black-types".

Once recruited, however, he discovers the shock of his life (and we're not going to spoil the movie for those who haven't yet seen it) and is forced to decide whether to return to his previous existence of blissful unawareness or take his destiny into his hands and fight for the future of the human race. Morpheus believes Neo is the real Messiah, and trains him in a virtual world to fight with all manners of weapons and tactics and then joins him in the war to free his fellow Man.

The situation's a bit reminiscent of the "Terminator" movies, with some "13th Floor" and martial arts extravaganzas thrown in for good measure, but in the end, it's unique and works (and succeeds) on its own levels.

Superficially, "The Matrix" looks like it's just another blast 'em up action yarn, and there's enough blast 'em up action to please fans of that genre - but it's also an intelligent movie that's well conceived, well written - and with acting and production that does the package justice. The production design is also excellent.

The Matrix, from Warner Home Video
136 minutes, 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano
Produced by Joel Silver,
Written and Directed by The Wachowski Brothers

The Matrix Reloaded

What is the Matrix? Even if you’ve seen the first movie and you know the answer, that doesn’t mean you fully understand it.

After a four year wait, the Wachowski Brothers were finally able to bring the middle chapter of their trilogy to the big screen, with mixed results. As is the case with any sequel, many were disappointed, probably because they had such high expectations.

But The Matrix Reloaded surpassed our expectations.

An entire swarm of Sentinels (thousands upon thousands, to be slightly more precise) is heading towards Zion, the last refuge of the humans. As the city prepares for the attack, Neo, Morpheus and Trinity are off to find the Keymaker, who can get them into certain restricted areas. Unfortunately for the trio, Agent Smith has been freed of his “agent” status and has cloned himself several hundred times.

There is also a pair of “ghosts” who, if they don’t feel like being hurt, can turn transparent. Sounds like Pac Man, doesn't it?

This brief description doesn’t do the movie justice. This is a highly complex, thoroughly entertaining film that combines a great story with some of the best action scenes ever filmed, if not the best. It also features some of the most seamless, most impressive effects ever done, not just your typical everyday CGI like you see in other big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. The freeway chase is a great mix of live-action and special effects, not to mention the mile-and-a-half long strip of road that was built specifically for the movie. It also features some of the most professional, complex direction I’ve ever seen.

The cast is impressive. Keanu Reeves turns in a Keanu Reeves performance as Neo, but before you cringe, you should realize that he is actually perfect for the role, as if it were written for him (which it may have been; we don’t know for sure). Laurence Fishburne is, of course, Morpheus, and he plays him with equal parts wisdom, intensity, and naiveté. Carrie-Anne Moss is again Trinity, who comes across as smart, sexy, and tough. Hugo Weaving, who was a load of fun as Agent Smith in the original, appears to have even more fun this time around. Fellow supporters Jada Pinkett Smith, Gloria Foster and Monica Bellucci all do a good job, but don’t really have enough to do.

There’s only one scene in the movie that is wholly unnecessary. Near the beginning, Zion is having a rave, where people dance, grind, and have sex. It’s too long, slows things down, and doesn’t have anything to do with the movie. It seems like just an excuse for cheap titillation.

The Wachowski Brothers have created a brilliant series with The Matrix, and despite what some think, The Matrix Reloaded is even better than the first. It’s smart and deep, with a helluva lotta wicked action.

The Matrix Reloaded, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
138 minutes, 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano
Produced by Joel Silver,
Written and Directed by The Wachowski Brothers

The Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix Revolutions is what happens when you only have an idea for the first two movies, but want to make it into a trilogy anyway.

Everything gets wrapped up for the most part, but it seems only wrapped up because they had to get it wrapped up.

After using his power to stop the Sentinels, Neo (Keanu Reeves) is now in a coma, stuck in a place called the Train Station, which lies in between the real world and the Matrix. Since his power is only supposed to work in the Matrix (though it now does in the real world as well, apparently), his only way of escape lies with his friends. Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) have to make a deal with The Frenchman (Lambert Wilson) for Neo’s release.

But they have to move quickly, because Zion is about to be invaded by thousands upon thousands of Sentinels, and the city needs every available man, woman and ship ready to fight. So it comes as no surprise when Neo, after coming back to reality, announces he needs a ship to go to the Machine City. Only Neo knows what Neo is up to, so he and Trinity head off while the rest stay and defend the city. Meanwhile, Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) is taking complete control of the Matrix at the same time as he is trying to kill Neo in the real world.

The first hour of the movie is endless talking. And it’s not the kind of story-based talking we got in the second movie. This talking seems to be heading nowhere and just filling up the first hour so they can get to the action.

The first major action sequence involves the attack on Zion, and is about 25 minutes of some really cool stuff. Once that ends, though, there’s no reason to continue. There’s some more talking, followed by the really lame final battle between Neo and Smith.

This third installment of the trilogy just plain sucks, which is even more disappointing since the second movie was so great. Even Keanu Reeves, who did a good job in the first two movies, seems to have forgotten how to act. Everyone else has toned up the intensity to the point of disbelief; now it looks like they’re all acting (with the exception of Weaving, who is once again fun to watch).

The Matrix Revolutions is one of those movies that we could nitpick at for hours and delve deeply into all its drawbacks. But who has that kind of time? Although many have hailed the third as the best, it’s hard to imagine anyone liking it compared with the greatness of the first and second. Revolutions is the kind of movie that make us think that maybe – just maybe – the Wachowski Brothers aren’t as smart as they made us think they are.

The Matrix Revolutions, from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
129 minutes, 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Starring Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving and Joe Pantoliano
Produced by Joel Silver,
Written and Directed by The Wachowski Brothers

The movies looked great on DVD, and on Blu-ray they look even better - just superb, in fact. Despite a dominant hue of green, the colors on these discs are beautiful, rich and deep, with contrast, detail and depth to die for.

This is reference quality stuff.

Likewise, the Dolby TrueHD audio is also first rate. It's wonderfully dynamic and enveloping, with excellent low bass and crisp, clear midrange and high frequencies.

Each of the movies also comes with abundant extras - and the first film even has a digital copy on a second disc. Each film also comes with an introduction and a set of audio commentaries, as well as an "In-movie Experience",m an interactive look at the worlds of The Matrix.

Each movie also comes with enough documentaries and featurettes to choke a horse - enough stuff to keep you Blu-raying happily until the cows come home. There's even a little booklet.

In all, it's an extremely compelling package that, as its name says, is truly the "ultimate Matrix Collection" at least for now.

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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