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The Ultimate Matrix Collection: HD-DVD Review

By Chris Boylan
"The Matrix" was a ground-breaking film when it hit theaters in 1999, with its unique visual style, over-the-top martial arts sequences and mind-blowing storyline. The film continued to break new ground in its DVD release where it became the first title to sell over 1,000,000 DVDs. With The Ultimate Matrix Collection on HD-DVD, Warner is trying for a repeat performance on the fledgling HD-DVD format, where you can now own not just one but all three "Matrix" films, in full HD 1080p quality, with advanced lossless Dolby Digital TrueHD surround sound and enough extras and value-added materials to choke a horse (a virtual horse, of course). Is it worth the price of admission? Read on to find out.

Ultimate Matrix Collection HD-DVDThe Films

As "the Matrix" begins, we see the angular but attractive features of "Trinity" (Carrie Anne Moss) - a so-called "hacker" on the brink of apprehension by the police. Or is she? This diminutive but tough little vixen manages to single-handedly kick the living shit out of the entire gang of policemen who come to arrest her, narrowly fleeing from a trio of sinister FBI-like "agents." In doing so, we see that she is capable of some pretty fancy martial arts moves - moves that seem to suspend something we like to call the "laws of physics." Is she super-human? Or are things not exactly as they appear?

Cut to Neo (Keanu Reeves in a role he was born to play), a man living a dual life as computer hacker/software engineer who dabbles on the darker side of technologically-enhanced entertainment. Neo is contacted by Trinity, and by the enigmatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who wish to arrange a meeting. This meeting results in Neo making a choice - a choice that turns his entire world upside down, shaking his perception of "reality" to the core.

The lovely Trinity (Carrie-anne Moss) evades Agents in pursuit, with the Keymaker (Randall Duk Kim) along for the ride.

As Neo attempts to assimilate this new definition of reality, as well as his place in it, we are treated to a veritable visual feast of state-of-the-art effects, stuning martial arts and actually a fairly compelling story inhabited by characters that we really care about. "The Matrix" has a satisfying beginning, middle and ending, with a plot that builds to a crescendo that delivers on the promise of what came before it. If only I could say the same about the next two films.

I remember the anticipation leading to the second film in the "Matrix" series. I was attending an early showing of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones at the Ziegfeld theater in Manhattan (yes, I'm a geek, and yes, it pretty much sucked). But before the film had begun, as the lights were dimmed and the crowd hushed, those trademark green characters of "the Matrix" began to trickle down the black screen and the crowd erupted in applause and cheers. It was just a trailer for "Matrix Reloaded" but three and a half years of waiting had certainly whet our appetite for the further adventures of Neo, Trinity, Morpheus and their band of merry men, women and programs.

Unfortunately the second and third films did not quite deliver on the promise of the earlier film. Oh, they had plenty of martial arts action, and incredible effects, such as the myriad versions of "Agent Smith" (Hugo Weaving) fighting side by side and toe to toe, attempting to take Neo down. And they had no shortage of compelling characters, such as the delightfully sardonic Merovingian (Lambert Wilson) and his hot wife Persephone (the lovely Monica Bellucci) as well as the creepy albino twins (Adrien and Neil Raiment). But where "Matrix" delivered with a strong premise and compelling story-line, the two films that followed suffered a bit, if only by comparison to the first film.

The Matrix in High Definition will allow you to count the Agent Smiths as Neo and his nemesis prepare for battle.

I will say that watching the full series of films again, and in close succession (something I had never done before since I owned the first DVD well before the second and third films were released in theaters), the story-line was more cohesive, if not more "believable," at least it was less ridiculous. The films do not suffer from repeated viewings - in fact they may benefit from it - and this does speak to a certain "je ne sais quoi," an ineffable quality that sets the entire series apart from the many pale imitations that followed "the Matrix."

For an alternate perspective on each film, check out resident film Maven Joe Lozito's reviews of The Matrix, Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions.

The Picture

Although the "Matrix" series benefits greatly from the enhanced definition of HD-DVD (after all, 1080p does offer roughly six times the picture resolution of 480p standard DVDs), the intentionally artificial look to the film (the overly saturated colors of "the Matrix" and the muted greenish tones of "reality") make it difficult to define these discs as "reference" material. To me, reference material would be defined as material that presents a realistic and detailed image - a "window on reality" if you will. But all this really means is that I'm not going to use "The Matrix" HD-DVD s to gauge the color accuracy of HDTV displays up for review on "Big Picture Big Sound." I am going to actually play the discs on these displays, and expect to enjoy it thoroughly, as I have on our current crop of HDTVs.

The Matrix on HD-DVD allows you to see the film in its original 2.4:1 aspect ratio, just as the directors intended.

The picture quality of the 1080p HD transfer is top-notch - I found myself freeze-framing on Monica Bellucci's perfectly formed face and body... repeatedly... as well as playing the dramatic fight sequences in slow motion looking for visible wires or other indicatons of artifice - none were to be found. I'm happy to say that the technical prowess of the film's creators (with extensive Computer Generated effects, green screen and wire work) hold up well to the enhanced resolution of HD-DVD.

This is a film (or series of films) that many people have been waiting, with bated breath, to see released in high definition, and the video quality of this HD-DVD set will not disappoint. The film is transfered to HD-DVD at its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.4:1 which means you will see black bars at the top and bottom of your 1.78:1 HDTV screen, unless you happen to own an anamorphic front projector which supports the cinemascopic aspect ratio (lucky you!).

The Sound

Warner has left nothing to chance in this definitive set of "The Matrix." In addition to the high quality Dolby Digital Plus soundtracks (available in English 5.1, French 5.1 and Spanish 2.0 versions), they've also included a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1-channel surround sound track (English only) for each film. This means you'll be able to hear something extremely close to what the director intended, without degradation from lossy surround sound codecs. The sound of "the Matrix" series of films can be a bit cacaphonous at time (gunshots, explosions, overlapping dialog, etc.) but this cacaphony is extremely well represented in the Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, with excellent dynamics, deep low bass extension, powerful throbbing (rave-inducing) music and clear articulation of dialog.

The Extras

Warner, or perhaps the Wachovski brothers who ultimately envisioned and executed this complex trilogy of films, clearly believe that true collectors like to have a lot of extras. Extras such as running commentary tracks, documentaries, and contemporary analyses of the films themselves help a fan or film buff get inside the heads of the actors and film-makers. And with the "In Movie Experience" option of HD-DVD, the disc producers are able to present something that can't physically be done in DVD: screen-specific video and audio commentary that runs as a defeatable PIP picture on top of the movie as it's running.

A wealth of supplementary materials explore the challenges encountered while making the Matrix films.

Want to see how Neo and Agent Smith fly through the air with the greatest of ease? Just click on the "In Movie Experience" option and you can follow along with the film-makers as they progress through the film, showing the green-screen, wire-supported original shots as a PIP window above the finished product. They say that a magician should never reveal his tricks, but the commentary tracks, included documentaries and In-Movie Experience options are evidence that the Wachovski brothers take the opposite approach: show your viewing audience just how complicated it is to shoot and assemble the various components of a film, and they'll have a better understanding - and a better appreciation - of just how much effort went into creating the finished product that they already know and love.

All in all, there are over 35 hours of bonus material on a total of 5 double-sided discs (3 HD-DVD discs, 2 standard DVDs). The set even includes the complete "Animatrix" - a series of short films set in the Matrix universe, directed by some of the top directors in the Anime (Japanese Animation) field - as well as shorter documentaries on the making of each of these films. All in all, there's more than enough material to keep die-hard fans entertained for days, if not weeks. It's certainly enough for a casual fan or movie-lover to gain a deeper understanding of (and a deeper appreciation for) what it really took to put these films together.

Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed the first Matrix film and it still holds up to repeated viewings. Seeing it now in full 1080p High Definition with Dolby TrueHD surround sound kicks up my enjoyment a notch, and flipping through the supplementary materials can take the better part of a weekend if you allow it. The other two films never quite attained the impact of the original, but presented here in 1080p High Definition I did watch them both again from start to finish and found that my appreciation had grown a bit in the fullness of time.

If you're a Matrix fan, then buying this collection is a no-brainer. In fact, for fans who do not yet own an HD-DVD player, this may be a good enough reason to go out and buy one. As of this writing, HD-DVD players are selling for as little as $250 and even Toshiba's top of the line player the HD-XA2 is selling for under $600 - a fraction of what most people pay for their HDTVs. The price of the Ultimate Collection itself is a bit steep ($119.95 MSRP) but it is available at a significant discount on Also, if you just want the films themselves (with fewer extras) then the same 1080p/Dolby TrueHD HD-DVD transfers are available in the Complete Matrix Trilogy for about $10 less (street price).

All in all, The Ultimate Matrix Collection is an impressive set of HD-DVDs, and would make an excellent gift for the Matrix fan in your life (even if that fan is you). I hope to see Warner (and other labels) give the same deluxe treatment to other important film collections in the future.

Where to Buy: Technical/Release Details
  • Written and Directed by Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski
  • Actors: Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, and more
  • HD-DVD Disc release date: May 22, 2007
  • MSRP: $119.95
  • Feature film video transfer: 1080p 16:9 HD transfer
  • Aspect Ratio: Widescreen, 2.4:1
  • Sound format: 5.1-channel Dolby TrueHD (English), Dolby Digital Plus (English: 5.1, French: 5.1, Spanish: 2.0)
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Studio: Warner Home Video

Complete Details from the Studio (Warner Home Video):

The Matrix (1999)

The box-office sensation follows the trials of a young computer programmer (Keanu Reeves) searching to determine the deepest reality of a post-Apocalyptic world. His journey uncovers a web of deceit and massive computer-generated illusions obscuring the truth. As the character Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) said to Neo (Reeves), "No one can be told what The Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself." The same is true for this mind-blowing movie.

The film also stars Carrie-Anne Moss and was produced by Joel Silver. The Matrix was written and directed by Andy and Larry Wachowski, who spent years nurturing and refining the movie's breakthrough concepts.

Special Features:

Side 1
• In-Movie Experience
• Commentaries
  °Written Introduction by The Wachowski brothers
  °Philosophers Commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber
  °Critics Commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson
  °Cast and Crew Commentary by Carrie-Anne Moss, Zach Staenberg and John Gaeta
  °Composer Commentary by Don Davis with Music Only Track
• Behind The Matrix
  °Making The Matrix
  °The Dance of the Master: Yuen Wo Ping's Blocking Tapes
  °The Bathroom Fight and Wet Wall
  °The Code of the Red Dress
  °The Old Exit: Wabash and Lake
  °Agent Down
  °But Wait- There's More
• The Music Revisited
• Marilyn Manson Music Video Rock is Dead
• The Matrix Teaser
• The Matrix Trailer
• The Matrix TV Spots
  °Forget Everything
  °Buckle Up
  °The Answer
  °Kung Fu

Side 2
• The Matrix Revisited
• Take the Red Pill
  °What is Bullet Time?
  °What is the Concept?
• Follow the White Rabbit
  °Trinity Escapes
  °Kung Fu
  °The Wall
  °Bathroom Fight
  °Government Lobby
  °Government Roof

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

In the powerful second chapter of the Matrix trilogy, Neo (Keanu Reeves), Trinity (Moss) and Morpheus (Fishburne) lead the revolt against the Machine Army as it attacks Zion, the last human city on earth, unleashing their arsenal of extraordinary skills and weaponry against the systematic forces of repression and exploitation. In their quest to save the human race from extinction, they gain greater insight into the construct of The Matrix and Neo's pivotal role in the fate of mankind.

What is The Matrix? The question is not yet fully answered. And it leads to another: Who created The Matrix? The answers lead to more worlds of bold possibility - and to a destiny that passes from revelations to Revolutions.

Special Features:

Side 1
• In-Movie Experience
• Commentaries
  °Written Introduction by The Wachowski brothers
  °Philosophers Commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber
  °Critics Commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson
• Behind The Matrix
  °The Matrix Unfolds
  °Get Me an Exit
  °The MTV Movie Awards Reloaded
• Enter the Matrix: The Game
• Enter the Matrix (contains 23 scenes from the video game)
• P.O.D. Music Video Sleeping Awake
• Reloaded/Revolutions Teaser
• The Matrix Reloaded Trailer
• The Matrix Reloaded TV Spots
  °Jack In
  °Nice Trick
  °No Escape
  °I'm In

Side 2
• Car Chase
  °The Freeway Chase
  °Oakland Streets and Freeway: Unseen Material
  °Tour of the Merovingian's Garage
  °Queen of the Road
  °Arteries of the Mega-City: The Visual Effects of the Freeway Chase
  °Foresight: Pre-planning the Mayhem
  °Freeway Truck Crash: Anatomy of a Shot
  °Fate of the Freeway
  °Freeway Action Match
• Teahouse Fight
  °Two Equals Clash
  °Guardian of the Oracle: Collin Chou
• Unplugged
  °Creating the Burly Brawl
  °A Conversation with Master Wo Ping
  °Chad Stahelski: The Other Neo
  °Burly Brawl Action Match
  °Spiraling Virtual Shot: Anatomy of a Shot
• I'll Handle Them
  °The Great Hall
  °Building the Merovingian's Lair
  °Tiger Style: A Day in the Life of Chen Hu
  °Heavy Metal: Weapons of the Great Hall
• The Exiles
  °The Exiles
  °Big Brother is Watching: The Architect's Office

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

In the powerful final chapter of the Matrix trilogy, Neo (Keanu Reeves) takes another step forward in the quest for truth that began with his journey into the real world at the outset of The Matrix - but that transformation has left him drained of his power, adrift in a no-man's land between the Matrix and the Machine World. While Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) holds vigil over Neo's comatose body, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) grapples with the revelation that the One in which he has invested a life's worth of faith is merely another system of control invented by the architects of the Matrix.

During the stunning conclusion, the rebel's long quest for freedom culminates in an explosive battle. As the Machine Army wages devastation on Zion, its citizens mount an aggressive defense - but can they stave off the relentless swarm of Sentinels long enough for Neo to harness the full extent of his powers and end the war?

Special Features:

Side 1
• In-Movie Experience
• Commentaries
  °Written Introduction by The Wachowski brothers
  °Philosophers Commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber
  °Critics Commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers and David Thomson
• Behind The Matrix
  °Revolutions Recalibrated
  °Neo Realism: The Evolution of Bullet Time
  °CG Revolution
  °Super Big Mini Models
  °Super Burly Brawl
  °Double Agent Smith
  °Mind Over Matter: The Physicality of The Matrix
  °Future Gamer: The Matrix Online
• The Matrix Revolutions Trailer
• The Matrix Revolutions TV Spots
  °Give Anything

Side 2
• Behind The Matrix
  °Before the Revolution
  °3-D Evolution
• Crew
  °Owen's Army: The Australian Art Dept.
  °2nd Unit: A World of Their Own
  °Bill Pope: Cinematographer of The Matrix
  °Masters of Light and Shadow
• Hel
  °Coat Check
  °Upsidedown Under
  °Fast Break
  °Exploding Man
  °Gun Club
  °The Extras of Club Hel
• Super Burly Brawl
  °The Skybarn
  °The Crater
  °The Egg
  °Anatomy of the Superpunch
  °Super Burly Brawl
• New Blue World
  °Geography of Zion
  °The Ships
  °Tour of the Neb
  °Matrix TV
  °Logos Fight Expansion
• Siege
  °Dig This
  °The Siege Action Match
  °Anatomy of a Shot: Mifune's Last Stand
  °Building an APU
  °Product of Zion
• Aftermath
  °Revolutionary Composition
  °The Glue
  °Dane Tracks
  °Cause and Effects

The Matrix Experience (2 Discs, Standard DVD format)

DISC 4 (Standard DVD) : Animatrix & The Roots of the Matrix
Side 1: The Animatrix - 9 Short Films by Anime Masters
  °Final Flight of the Osiris
  °The Second Renaissance Part I
  °The Second Renaissance Part II
  °Kid's Story
  °World Record
  °A Detective Story
• Voices
  °The Second Renaissance Part I Commentary by Mahiro Maeda
  °The Second Renaissance Part II Commentary by Mahiro Maeda
  °Program Commentary by Yoshiaki Kawajiri
  °World Record Commentary by Takeshi Koike
• Scrolls to Screen: The History and Culture of Anime
• Execution
  °Making Final Flight of the Osiris
  °Making The Second Renaissance Parts I & II
  °Making Kid's Story & A Detective Story
  °Making Program
  °Making World Record
  °Making Beyond
  °Making Matriculated

Side 2: The Roots of the Matrix (2 Documentaries)
• Return to Source: Philosophy & the Matrix (AKA. Brainiac's Revenge)
• The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction

DISC 5: Burly Man Chronicles & The Zion Archive

Side 1
• The Burly Man Chronicles
• Pre-Production
• Alameda Shoot
• Australia Shoot

Side 2
• The Zion Archive - Photo galleries
• The Rave Reel
• The Matrix Online
• 2 Music Videos, Theatrical Trailers and TV Spots

What did you think?

View all articles by Chris Boylan
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