The Matrix Review
The Matrix was released following a deluge of hype - although not quite up to the same level as Star Wars: Episode 1 the long running, largely internet based advertising campaign certainly drew in the crowds. However, as with most films hype did more damage than good and the backlash as far as The Matrix is concerned was quite intense.
With its release on DVD The Matrix ushered in a new era of extras-lead discs. Receiving as much hype as the film itself did, the disc was quick to appear in people’s collections - many still consider it to be one of the best DVDs ever released. With this in mind, I've decided to take a retrospective look at the disc that first helped bring our favourite video delivery format to the attention of the masses.
The Matrix is set in two distinct worlds - what we consider to be real life is in fact a huge simulation run by a computer using it's human 'inhabitants' as a source of energy, keeping them alive by making them believe that they're just living their day-to-day lives. However, there are those that have escape the Matrix and have returned to live in the 'Real World' - these few escapees are now fighting to free the rest of humanity. Our 'heroes' have taken the opportunity to exploit the Matrix and have found ways to enhance their skills and attributes when inside the simulation - with the press of a few buttons and a piece of software it is possible for them to have any skill they require.
Keanu Reeves plays Thomas Anderson leads a relatively normal life doing a mundane computer job. However, in his own time he is Neo, a computer hacker. He is invited to follow the white rabbit in a message on his computer and eventually ends up meeting Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) and later, Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) who shows him that everything around him is a computer simulation. Struggling to cope with the fact that nothing he knows is real, Neo at first does not fully accept Morpheus claims' - however it doesn't take long for him to be converted to their cause.
The main problem with The Matrix is that it hold little in the way of rewatch value - the first time you watch it it's hard not to be impressed with the concepts and visuals, but upon subsequent watches these wear off and you realise just how paper-thin the plot really is. Another huge problem is the sentimental and sloppy ending that is completely out of style with the rest of the film and is quite possibly one of the worst to grace a big-budget release in quite some time. As a result while the film has a lot of potential, very little of this is satisfied - if you're after nice flashy effects and style more than substance then this is the film for you. If you want any more from it then The Matrix probably wont be enough to keep you satisfied.
Regarded by many as a technical triumph, this DVD isn't quite all that it's cracked up to be. Many have praised the picture and sound claiming them to be the best there is - they're not, and many consider the extras to compensate for the film. They don't.
Picture and Sound
Presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, the transfer on show here is competent but not really outstanding. There is significant grain on show throughout which really does bring down the score quite significantly. The other issue is the green tint - while intentional, it's not nice to watch and seems far too intense when viewed on anything smaller than a projector display. It's faithful to the theatrical showing of course, but it would have been nice if Warner had taken the time to make the film appear a bit friendlier. Thankfully, there aren't any digital artefacts so that's one plus point and the transfer itself is by no-means bad - it's just not as state of the art as some would have you believe.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is a little disappointing too considering just how impressive it was supposed to be. There is a lot of surround action, but something just feels a little detached from the film itself. The bass kicks in nicely when required, but the soundtrack as a whole lacks the punch required to elevate it above any other bog-standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track out there - maybe we've just been spoilt with excellent soundtracks over the two years since this disc's release, but considering the fact that even now people are still putting this disc up there as being one of the best we really should be expecting more.
Finally how do the extras measure up? Well, they're not too bad - but maybe not quite as inventive as we first thought and they don't really push any boundaries.
The cast and crew commentary has very little going for it - and I challenge anyone to sit through the whole thing without wishing it would end more quickly. The participants just don't have what's required to make an interesting commentary track - it seems lethargic, drawn out and in the case of some participants you wonder why they ever bothered turning up to take part in the first place. There's nothing revealing here that can't be found elsewhere on the disc.
The much vaunted 'Follow the White Rabbit' feature has been copied time and time again. And it's a good idea, no doubt about that - at key moments a white rabbit will appear on the screen, and by pressing 'Enter' you can access a brief making-of segment detailing how the particular scene or effect is put together. Unfortunately, while it helps to put the making of sequences in the right context they don't offer much above the making-of featurettes/documentaries you find on other discs. Nice try and it works to a certain extent.
There are two hidden features under the 'Find the Red Pills' banner - they're both quite interesting looks at key elements of the film - 'What is The Concept?' and 'What is Bullet Time?'. However, the latter in particular does repeat quite a lot of the material in the White Rabbit segments. Finally, the standard DVD content is rounded off with a music-only audio track that is all well and good, but not particularly noteworthy.
The rest of the features are wrapped up in a DVD-ROM shell so can only be viewed on a PC. We get the full website for the film (as of June 1999) along with a selection of other bits and pieces that could have just as easily been included as standard DVD features. You can't even get to the film's trailers without using a PC that is a major oversight.
Is The Matrix as good as many will have you believe? Unfortunately, on all counts the answer is no. That's not to say that it's not a good disc, and at the time of its release there almost certainly weren't many to challenge it. However, time isn't kind and two years in the DVD world has unfortunately taken its toll.
The film has somehow achieved a status on par with the Star Wars saga when in fact it's nothing out of the ordinary and largely only just scrapes by as an average slice of sci-fi entertainment (some would say the same about the aforementioned Star Wars films). It's not a bad film, it's just not the be all and end all that it wants to be either.
The DVD isn't particularly outstanding, but it is a solid disc and offers good presentation.