Released in 1999, The Matrix is credited by many with helping to push the fledgling DVD market into the big time. I actually bought the first DVD release of The Matrix the first day it was in stores. I remember being absolutely mesmerized at how good the action scenes looked on the big screen; she jumped in the air and the camera swirled around her. I just had to have that kind of first rate action in my personal collection, on this new media called a DVD. I remember thinking it looked absolutely stunning and I watched The Matrix on DVD twice that night.
Beyond DVD technology, The Matrix changed big budget movie making forever. The film’s writers and directors, the Wachowski brothers, have created a visually stunning masterpiece that’s bound to be a benchmark for other action films for years to come. The Matrix reportedly cost $80 million to make and borrows from a variety of movie genres: martial arts, science fiction, action and cyberpunk and somehow mixes them all together to create something intelligent and wholly original.
Thomas Anderson a.k.a. Neo (Keanu Reeves) is a mild mannered software engineer by day and hacker by night. He is recruited by a group of cyber-rebels, led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and the leather-clad warrior Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). They’ve discovered the world doesn’t exist; it’s actually a kind of Virtual Reality, designed to turn us into an obedient society with no struggle. It’s a world where we all go to our lousy jobs, no questions asked. As Morpheus tells Neo, “Matrix is the wool that has been pulled over your eyes–that you are a slave.” The rebel’s goal is to ruin the framework that keeps the Matrix in place. Morpheous believes that Neo is the one person who can lead the rebellion. The fight will take mental as well as physical strength. Lined up against them are the Angels. The films battles take place in Virtual Reality; Neo’s mind is plugged into the combat. (You can still get killed, though: “The body cannot live without the mind”).
Obviously, there’s much more to The Matrix than that. However, to reveal much more of the plot would take away from the excitement of seeing the film, if you haven’t already. Although The Matrix frequently blurs the line between grim reality and computer generated fantasy, it rarely leaves the viewer completely lost. The Wachowskis have carefully structured the story in such a way that the audience is capable of following the action and understanding what’s going on even when all of the secrets have not been revealed. Nevertheless, The Matrix does require the audience to do some thinking to accomplish its desired affect; its not the kind of film to just pop in your Blu-ray player for a veg out session.
The original Matrix stands up well on its own, despite the fact that the filmmakers went on with second and third films. The premise of The Matrix is fascinating enough, the stunts exciting enough, and the Blu-ray picture and sound good enough to enjoy the movie over and over again.
The widescreen picture size measures a generous 2.40:1 ratio, the image nicely detailed, well defined, and almost totally free of grain, except that which was inherent to the original print, sometimes noticeable in wide expanses of white and helping the film to look more realistic than some of its all-digital cousins.
The Wachowskis chose an oddball color palette that runs high to shades of green and yellow, so it’s a little hard to tell just how “natural” the colors are. I’d say, though, that everything is in order and in fairly sharp relief. And even though the black levels are intensely strong, darker areas of the screen allow one to see deeply and clearly into them.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound are excellent in most every way. The sonic range is wide, especially in terms of bass and dynamic contrasts, and the channel separation is clearly distinct from all six speakers. If you can, choose the TrueHD track. It is the wider-ranging, more cleanly focused of the two English tracks. Switching back and forth between TrueHD and regular DD reveals a more open sound stage in TrueHD, with a slightly smoother overall response and a tauter bass.
For this stand-alone 10th anniversary release of The Matrix, Warner has simply extracted the single disc from the Ultimate Matrix Collection box set and repurposed it with new packaging. Fans will find nothing new here, save for the “DigiBook” casing and a nifty collectible booklet. Also as before, all video-based bonus materials are presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 only.
• Introduction – Things kick off with the “Written Introduction by the Wachowski Brothers.”
• Audio Commentaries – The original The Matrix includes a crazy number of audio commentaries. There is a “Philosopher’s Commentary” featuring Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber, and a “Critics Commentary” with noted cinema journalists Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson. Carried over from the very first DVD release of the film is another track with effects personnel Zach Staenberg and John Gaeta, plus actress Carrie-Anne Moss, as well as a music-only track (in Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1) featuring comments from composer Don Davis (which are inserted in the silent passages, in between cues.
• “The Music Revisited” – A very cool feature. This is an exhaustive catalog of no less than forty-one(!) audio-only music cues from the film. This was originally included as an easter egg on the original DVD set, but is now very easy to access right from the Extras menu.
• Documentary: “The Matrix Revisited” – ‘The Matrix Revisited’ was first released as a stand-alone DVD, but has been integrated here in its original, complete form. It runs 122 minutes, and is quite exhaustive. Chronicling the entire production from November 1997 (the beginning of pre-production) to April 2000 (as preparation for the first sequel commenced), this is a thorough, exciting video diary.
• Vignettes – Also included are the now-famous “Take the Red Pill” and “Follow the White Rabbit” vignettes that were presented as branching segments on the original DVD release. The material runs about 40 minutes, and each vignette is a narration-free, you-are-there look at a specific action sequence or other key scene. “Take the Red Pill” includes: “What is Bullet Time?” (6 min.) and “What is the Concept” (11 min.); “Follow the White Rabbit” includes: “Trinity Escapes” (1 min.), “Pod” (2 min.), “Kung Fu” (4 min.), “Wall” (2 min.), “Bathroom Fight” (2 min.), “Government Lobby” (4 min.), “Government Roof” (1 min.), “Helicopter” (1 min.) and “Subway” (4 min.).
• Promotional Gallery – The disc ends with The Matrix original Theatrical Teaser and Trailer, eight TV spots, and a music video for Marilyn Manson’s “Rock is Dead.”
• Collectible Booklet – The only real new extra on this stand-alone Blu-ray, we get nifty DigiBook packaging, and this booklet, which has some basic production and cast info, nice photos and a few words from the Wachowski Brothers.
• Digital Copy of The Matrix – A standard-definition, DVD digital copy of “The Matrix” compatible with iTunes and Windows
Warner also includes the exclusive content from the Ultimate Matrix Collection, which boasts a single picture-in-picture video commentary.
• Picture-in-Picture – It is worth noting that there is no new material here, per se. Neither the Wachowski brothers, nor any other of the cast and crew have been reassembled to record new intros or other content. Instead, the video commentary simply compile the best bits from all of the existing documentary material, organizing it around the framework of each film.