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Category:    Home > Reviews > Action > Science Fiction > The Complete Matrix Trilogy (HD-DVD)

The Complete Matrix Trilogy (Warner Bros. HD-DVD)


Picture: B+     Sound: A-     Extras: C+     Films: C+



NOTE:  This version and the more expanded Ultimate HD-DVD have both been discontinued, but the latter has been reissued on Blu-ray, which you can read more about at this link:






When The Matrix arrived seeming out of nowhere in 1999, it was not exactly like anything we had not seen before.  Many tried to compare it to Film Noir (even if those observers could not explain what that meant) and others to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or its imitators.  The one thing that did get people to stop and think was that the action had a new stylization (one that had really been launched by Stephen Norrington’s key Horror/Superhero/Action work Blade in 1998, which made the Marvel Comics film boom we are still in possible) that these films would eventually claim.


One cycle this trilogy thankfully killed were that of those silly, annoying “virtual reality” films that included the odd Strange Days, started with the likes of Douglas Trumbull’s Brainstorm and even produced the lame Johnny Mnemonic with Keanu Reeves.  When Reeves signed on for The Matrix and the film’s content summary was roughly revealed, many expected “Johnny Mnemonic II” or worse, but it obviously did not work out that way.  That is unless you did not like the films.


The Matrix stared innocuously enough with a chase and a female protagonist who disappears by simply making a phone call.  How did she (Carrie-Ann Moss as Trinity) do it?  What is going on here?  What kind of empty city was she running around in?  We slowly learn that there are several worlds thanks to the computers who have overtaken the human race as the dominant force in the world.  In one dimension, the world is the dark, empty one that turns out to be a middle ground between the “heaven” of a utopia that keeps humans vegetative, numb, inoculated to reality and in a gilded cage where all that glitters is cyber gold.  In the opposite direction of that perfect world is the truth where the computer systems and their artificial intelligence (as if extrapolating on The Terminator films, which go back to Colossus: The Forbin Project) are on a fascist annihilation of the human race or anything else in their way.  They even use human bodies as batteries!


This first film was a hit when no one was certain (even with Reeves sometimes spotty box office track record) what the film would do.  Then people began talking about it, many of whom had missed its predecessors and two sequels were on the way.  The first film was not as full of itself as the sequels would be, having a good sense of humor and not afraid to have fun with various film genres.  Many thought the idea of Reeves character Neo possibly being a savior of any kind was a joke, but the film was smart enough not to take that too seriously starting with the training sequences by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne from Event Horizon) .  The film had fun with hardware, martial arts, reality tricks and had an energy the sequels would lack.


Then something went wrong.  The sequels arrived and though the trilogy has its fans, there are more than a few who thought they did not work and went off into directions that had nothing to do with the first.  I agree.  Four disconnects between the first and the sequels are an abandonment of more of that Noir world for more digital effects than should have ever been created, the sudden serious tone of the follow-up films, sudden introduction of some human sexuality that seems to come out of nowhere and a sudden obsession with fantasy elements (including issues of mortality, as people have different ways they can die and dying is not always final) and mythology that might have worked better if the sequels also finished what the first film began.


And they are all made more obvious by another factor that was beyond the control of the producers: the events of 9/11.  When people wanted more realism, they received less and felt the trilogy was talking down to them.  Politically, some now blame the Religious Right for all the chaos that followed from opportunism and other problems too numerous and really off subject to go into.  Needless to say that complicates the religious theme of the film’s sequels.


The dichotomy offered is evil computer versus Christian-Judeo fix within the title locale of seemingly endless cyber-patterns.  Like Tron, such an intent or point may be sincere, but in both cases fails to address other issues.  This is why the Disney film was not a hit and still has no sequel despite their best efforts, while so many people are disappointed by the two here.  The cyber/fantasy path alone seems simply anti-climactic and the Wachowski-produced V For Vendetta (see the HD-DVD review elsewhere on this site) as remarkable as it is cannot change where the sequels go.


The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (both filmed at the same time) in some way throw out the parts of the first film that got people talking in the first place in a way that has nothing to do with offering something new.  Instead, the Wachowski Brothers seem to try to be putting Stanley Kubrick back into Ridley Scott by imitating Scott, then trying to look so much like a Kubrick film that they loose their visual footing.  This might make for some of the best visual demo moments (the staircase or highway battles), but is more concerned about looking cool (like the long haired blonde killers from the highway sequence) that anything that worked gets lost in the shuffle.


Reloaded in particular did not heed the lessons from The Empire Strikes Back in how to make a middle chapter work.  I give Hugo Weaving credit for playing a good villain (a color-gutted cyber version of Jack Kirby’s menacing Marvel Comics classic character(s)/villain (s) Hydra, i.e. is that a man or army that cannot be stopped?) and he is a really good, even underrated actor, but even his menace becomes weakened as the sequels become figuratively and literally repetitious.


I like the rest of the casting too, so that is never a problem.  The later additions of Monica Bellucci and Nona Gaye are a plus, but never add up as they should, which is the problem all around when you take this as a trilogy.  However, I was only so impressed with the original to begin with, which watered down better Science Fiction films before it to be slick product.  At least in the beginning, it did not fain some kind of importance it did not have.


If the idea was to be like slick, cutting edge action films of the past, the trilogy fails as compared to the rawest recent expressions of such in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill films or his Grindhouse release with Robert Rodriguez.  Tarantino is often accused of pastiche, but he is at least more explicit about it and the Wachowski’s debut film Bound was/is often thought of as one of the better Tarantino “imitators” or the like.  What is original besides the glowing green overdose previously associated with Horror genre work is the attempt to deal with the implications of inhabiting such space and how there can be consequences.  If only it had taken that route all the way, then this trilogy would have been an inarguable classic.


At the time of the first film, the reaction on the enthused became so dumb that the statement was being made that this was the filmmaking of the future that somehow made directors like (as said by name, believe it or not) Martin Scorsese, art films and any other important film works obsolete, which is as absolutely as idiotic a proposition as saying digital and HD imaging somehow would kill cinematographers and cinematography (note how no one actually has the guts to take responsibility for such hyperbole by putting their names on it, showing an obvious cowardice to go with the ignorance) as made by the ignorant and persons who never liked film (and probably not much of anything else) to begin with.


One only needs to think back to the early 1980s when MTV arrived and films like Flashdance and 9 ½ Weeks were being touted as the filmmaking of the future by like minds then who also never identified themselves.  Music Video has changed since then, as have Video Games.  When you look past the hype and flash, you then begin to realize The Matrix Trilogy is just an update of the MTV style.  Music Video is not dead, though MTV showing them all the time is, but record labels are pumping big dollars for flash in their artists’ clips the way Video Game makers are making more advanced games (adding HD and overproduced digital effects at that) and these films capitalized on the update unnoticed.  However, by sacrificing substance with flash (despite controversial political images in the last film which was very welcome), a massive opportunity was lost for create an enduring classic.  Like Tron before it, expect someone to come along in a few more decades and create a film to challenge The Matrix Trilogy on its own terms and maybe they’ll get it all to work.



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image was shot by Bill Pope, A.S.C., and is consistent (when the (often dated on arrival) digital effects do not get in the way) and memorable and dense enough to be recognizable when you see it on site.  I am impressed how good this actually looks considering the lesser DVD-Video transfers I have seen, along with tired broadcast copies, but I have also seen all three in 35mm and those who enjoyed it in the theater will start reliving their big screen experiences (IMAX too) with the films as they watch these solid transfers.


Sound is always interesting in all Wachowski productions and in this trilogy, that is especially obvious.  Three soundtracks in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 are included and they are good, but none (English, French, Spanish) can match he English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mixes on the three films.  Not that the mix always has a deep meaning, it does give a sense of place the way Alex Proyas’ Dark City (1998, an obvious influence on all aspects of this trilogy) does between the various worlds, though not always as distinctly in the sequels.  I just wonder if the TrueHD was at the highest possible bitrates.


There are 25 hours of extras on these HD-DVDs, though if that is not enough for you, the snazzier Ultimate Matrix Trilogy HD-DVD box set adds more, but the following for this set are about all most owners will ever need.  Included on all three sets are the HD-DVD exclusive In-Movie Experience mode that allows for better navigation and more goodies access, written introductions by the Wachowski Brothers, TV spots & theatrical trailers for each film respectively and two commentary tracks.  One is from Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber about philosophy, the other by Todd McCarthy, John Powers and sometimes particularly controversial David Thomson on the cinematic aspects.


The Matrix also has a Marilyn Manson Music Video, 41-audio track Music Revisited isolated score option, seven behind the scenes featurettes and two more audio commentaries.  One is by composer Davis, the other a cast/crew affair with Moss, Zach Staenberg and John Gaeta.  The Matrix Reloaded also has a P.O.D. Music Video, documentary on the tie-in videogame, 23 live-action scenes used for the game and four featurettes on the making of the film.  The Matrix Revolutions also has seven behind the scenes featurettes.


In the version, the much-discussed Anamatrix animated shorts series is not included, though it is a downloadable option if you have an X-BOX 360 and the code included in the case.  An interesting side work, it is surprising it would not just be another extra here in high definition.  However, even if you do not have an HD player or even like the trilogy, we once again want to recommend the hilarious political send-up called The Meatrix!


Made by vegetarians, it is a spoof so good that even if you do not agree with the politics or what is being said, the creators have nailed dead-on the workings of the trilogy.  You can see all about it at:





It is done with much heart, soul and humor.  We dare you to check it out.


As for HD fans, even if you do not like The Complete Matrix Trilogy for its content, you really should see the performance of the picture and sound of these discs just the same.  Warner has gone all out and we can only hope they will aggressively continue on this path for all their HD-DVD and Blu-ray releases.  However, as of this posting, this trilogy is not out in Blu-ray, so expect this to be a hot exclusive in the HD-DVD format for a while to come.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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