To be honest, its a little difficult to review a film like The Matrix. Ten years from its original release, the movie has taken on a life of its own, seeming to mirror the computers and robots that inhabited the pictures dark world. Cultural osmosis has made names like Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and words like “Bullet Time” part of our vocabulary to some extent, and even if youve never actually seen The Matrix, you probably already know a lot about it, and have at some point had a fanboy rattle on in your ear about how deep the philosophy of the movie is, or perhaps how simply awesome its action sequences are.
Indeed, the movie was pretty groundbreaking at the time on many of those levels. In fact, even though its release preceded the new millennium by a few months, its hard to imagine a movie that is more synonymous with the film genres of Science Fiction or Action in this decade, much like Terminator 2: Judgment Day was for the previous decade and the late 70s and 80s were belonged to George Lucas Star Wars Trilogy. In many ways, The Matrix seems like an amalgam of both of these major predecessors, fusing James Camerons dark futuristic war against machines with Lucas spiritual journey of a “chosen one” and the simplistic ongoing war between good and evil.
It wasnt until the movies sequels came along and muddied the waters concerning the first films philosophy and mythology that things got really complicated. While the series creators, the Wachowski Brothers, had seamlessly managed to merge timeless themes onto their technological nightmare in this first film, trying to up the ante in the films sequels managed to only make their series more convoluted and frustrating for fans. In some ways though, because the sequels had such a sobering effect on its audience, its a little easier to dissect the first film and really get an appreciating for what it originally brought to the table.
In many ways, The Matrix is a prime example of a film that ends up being great because of the way it is able to composite so many elements that had come before it. Not only was there the movies combination of robot war and coming of age motifs, but there was the distinct influence of “future noir” concepts from Ridley Scotts Blade Runner and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, the slow-motion gun battles borrowed from John Woos Hong Kong masterpieces, such as Hard Boiled and The Killer, as well as the hard-hitting fight choreography of Yuen Woo-Ping, most notably featured in the Jet Li actioner Fist of Legend. Then of course, theres the movies virtual reality concept.
Stories of people being trapped in a world that is not their own reality date all the way back to Plato, and films have often tried to explore this ground, with prominent examples being Alex Proyas Dark City and 1997s Abre los Ojos (Open Your Eyes), but I dont think that many had ever really tried to apply this theme to a run and gun Action film before. The Wachowskis didnt weigh us down with Philosophy or concepts in this first outing, because they managed to keep us riveted with the next Kung fu battle or bullet ballet. The movies pacing whips along and youre caught up in just how awesome the whole experience is if you manage to buy into the films dogma of spirituality and striking cool action poses as much as possible. The real achievement by the film makers wasnt how original these concepts were, but the synergy they were able to create by combining all these elements together. Like Lucas and Spielberg before them, they took the tools that were presented to them by past masters of escapism, updated those concepts, and then gave them to a whole new generation.
To present their world, the writer/directors also needed an appropriate messiah. Its obvious that the range that Keanu Reeves exudes as an actor has its limits, which can be painfully obvious at times, but for a savior for this modern generation, a more suitable agent probably couldnt be found. Reeves manages to embody the slacker twenty-something, unhappy with his job and dying to break free to do something more with his life. When it is revealed that Reeves is “The One”, who will lead humanity against the machines and restore our place on Earth, its not tough to imagine ourselves in those shoes and Reeves wears them well.
My favorite critique of Reeves acting in this series came from critic Drew McWeeney, who compared Keanus Neo to Mark Hammills Luke Skywalker, basically saying that with both actors, this wasnt really about the performance they were giving, it was about them believing. Thats what you get from Reeves here; he believes in Neo, and especially here in this first movie, I do to. It also doesnt hurt that hes surrounded by stoic veterans like Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving, though.
Unfortunately, even with Reeves in pretty much high gear and these two acting heavyweights battling for Neos soul, there are still some things the movie cant overcome. Moments of stilted dialogue elude to what was to come in the sequels, and Carrie Anne-Moss looks great in leather when shes high kicking, but when shes trying to emote, the moments tend to fall flat. Not coming anywhere near kick-ass female hall-of-famers like Sigourney Weavers Ellen Ripley in Aliens or Uma Thurmans Kill Bill heroine, The Bride, to me Trinity has always been the weak link in the series cast, especially during what should be the biggest moment of the film (“The Oracle told me that I would fall in love and that that man… the man that I loved would be The One.” ). Instead she just makes me groan.
Still, theres no denying how important, influential, and downright kick-ass The Matrix really is. With its fusion of so many elements working on levels that most Action or Science Fiction movies cant even dream up, the movie ends up a philosophical juggernaut that still manages to invigorate with its visceral impact as much as it makes you think. Even after the haze of its initial impact and imitation has worn off, what youre left with is one of the most important and iconic moments in Sci-Fi or Action in the last twenty years, and a legacy that is not likely to go away any time soon.
Having seen the movie on VHS, DVD, HD-DVD, and now Blu-ray, its easy to recommend the upgrade to this incredible format. Really even blowing the HD-DVD print away with its clarity, this disc delivers with image detail that youve never seen from this movie before. In fact, if it werent for the out of date computer set ups and the 90s looking cell-phones, youd swear this was a movie that just came out instead of one thats been around for nearly a decade.
The same absolutely goes for the sound on this disc, which will thunder its way through your home theater. The gun battles and explosions have never sounded better than they do here, and you wont be disappointed with how real the movie gets when you hear an arm break or a neck snap.
Basically, you might remember buying The Matrix on DVD to try and show off your home theater when you first upgraded to that format, and while I cant say that this is the best looking film on Blu-ray the way that The Dark Knight, Iron Man or WALL-E could make that argument, it may be the best example you could find for showing your friends why youve made the switch to High Def.
Written Introduction by the Wachowski Brothers – This disc is actually the same first disc from the Ultimate Matrix Collection, but if youre looking for just the first movie, this nice “Digi-book” packaging is the way to go. In it, youll find a lengthy introduction to the movie written by the Wachowskis, and also tons of other credit information. Unfortunately, this is the only “new” extra to be found that hasnt been on another edition before this one.
Audio Commentaries – There are a number of commentary tracks that are available on this disc, but unfortunately, none by the reclusive Wachowskis themselves. If youre looking for some insight into this movie though, look no further. My favorite track on this disc is the one with noted Film critics Todd McCarthy (Variety), John Powers (NPR), and David Thomson (The New York Times ), each of whom were given carte blanche to say what they felt not only about this movie, but the series at large. While the thoughts on this movie are pretty positive, the critics absolutely tear into the films sequels, a motif which is actually really refreshing to hear on a track, instead of the usual promotional stuff you get from commentaries.
Also very entertaining is a track featuring featuring Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber. On what is called The Philosophers Commentary, we get to hear their thoughts on the concepts found within The Matrix, which at times is fascinating and at other times manages to stretch the importance of events. Lastly, two tracks that were available all the way back on the original DVD release of the movie feature special effects gurus Zach Staenberg and John Gaeta with Carrie-Anne Moss, and also a music-only track with commentary from Composer Don Davis. Both of these tracks are pretty nice as well, but if youve already heard them from the previous DVDs, they dont have a lot to offer at this point.
The Matrix Revisited – I remember this was a supplemental DVD you could buy which just had this documentary on it. Now this exhaustive, feature-length doc is available as an extra on this Blu-ray, but unfortunately it is not presented in high def. This is probably the best feature ever produced for a Matrix film, covering this production from its very earliest conceptual stages, to casting, to fight training, all the way through to the movies release.
Though actors doing their own stunts are kind of old-hat now, my favorite portion of this doc is the fight training that the actors went through in preparation for this movie. Back then it was pretty groundbreaking to have an American production have your actors doing all this intricate fight choreography, and this was grueling work put in by these guys, and gives you a higher appreciation for the feats that end up in the picture. Again, this is a really terrific documentary about the making of this film, and if you are a fan of the picture you owe it to yourself to watch this if you havent already.
Take the Red Pill and Follow the White Rabbit – I dont know for sure, but these two may be the first branching features ever produced for a DVD. Both allow you to watch “fly on the wall” style footage on the making of this picture, which adds up to about 40 minutes.
Behind The Matrix Documentary Gallery – This section has got 7 Featurettes covering everything else you could want to know about this movie. Some of these were included on the original disc, such a Making of The Matrix which goes 40 minutes plus, and others were included on previous Ultimate Collections
The Music Revisited – Like the music cues from The Matrix? Well heres 41 of them.
In-Movie Experience – This is a pretty awesome feature, giving you a picture-in-picture extra that runs the length of the movie. Featuring interviews, behind the scenes footage and more, this is one of the best extras on this disc for those that find the documentaries a little daunting or if you want to see an extra in high definition.
Trailers and TV Spots – One of the coolest trailers ever is included here, featuring Enigmas “The Eyes of Truth”, which is some of the best soundtrack music ever.
Marilyn Manson’s “Rock Is Dead” Music Video
Overall, if you love the first film, but hate everything else with the name The Matrix on it, then this is the Blu-ray edition for you. Its impossible to deny what an impact this original movie had, and seeing it here on this BD you get the best print of the movie ever. Also, theres a metric ton of extras waiting for any Matrix fanatic that wants to dig into this movie again and again, but be warned, if you already own The Ultimate Matrix Trilogy box set on Blu-ray, theres no reason to really get this.
Warner Bros. presents The Matrix: 10th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition. Directed by: The Wachowski Bros. Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Hugo Weaving, and Carrie-Anne Moss. Written by: The Wachowski Bros. Running time: 136 Mins[/b[. Rating: [b]R. Released on Blu-ray: March 31, 2009. Available at Amazon.com
Tags: The Matrix