The Matrix (1999) was a landmark film in the Sci-Fi genre. While it’s box office intake was dwarfed by Episode 1, it was The Matrix that had people talking. Andy and Larry Wachowski’s story of a post-apocalyptic world where humans serve as biological generators of energy for the machines that rule the planet, challenged people’s perceptions of what reality was.
In addition to the well crafted story, The Matrix was well known for the creation of one of the most copied special eff…cts shots currently in movie production, “bullet time” blew audiences away. The normally wooden acting of Keanu Reaves seemed to fit Neo’s transformation well and the performances by the supporting cast (Laurence Fishburne and Carrie-Ann Moss) were visceral in their appeal. The Matrix was a box office success – the production budget was $63 million and the domestic gross was $171 million.
People were enticed by the story and the philosophical underpinnings that went along with it. The public wanted to know how well Neo could adapt to his new powers and use them to free humanity. Any good performer after a solid performance will tell you that you always want the audience to leave wanting more. I wish the Wachowski’s would have listened to that advice.
“Sequilitis” struck big time and actually, in my humble opinion, actually detracted from the first Matrix which is almost universally accepted as one of the best movies that the genre had to offer. In 2003 Warner Bros. released both sequels to The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions in an attempt to cash in on the hype and cult following that the original had created.
Unfortunately what we were presented with was a classic example of style over substance. While both movies were visually appealing, they were not groundbreaking as the first was, and in fact some of the CGI looked rather dated. Filmgoers were expecting to be blown away by new visuals, and instead were merely satisfied. However, what mainly caused the failure of the sequels was the lack of clarity in the progression of the story. At the end of the first movie, it was quite clear that Neo’s mission was to save humanity. By the end of the discussion with the Architect in Reloaded, which is what the entire movie was building to, I left with a headache and feeling of apathy. The gibberish that occupied those 10 minutes in the movie left a lot of the audience completely in the dark and really interrupted the frenetic pacing that the movie had been delivering to that point. There really was no coming back after that one. This scene was most appropriately represented during the MTV movie awards spoof, in which Wil Farrel as the Architect, was spouting out, “ergo”, and “vis-à-vis” at every opportunity. During the review of the DVD I watched this scene with the subtitles on to understand the dialogue better, and still didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. The shades of grey that were supposed to be a metaphor for the nature of reality was often lost in the semantics that were the key to the story telling.
By the end of Reloaded, the audience had really lost touch with the main characters and the blurring of the boundary of the Matrix and the ‘real world’ resulted in audible groans during the last scene. Due to the hype however, Reloaded was a smash success at the box office with a production budget of $150 million and a domestic take of $281 million.
Six months later, the final part of the trilogy was released, Revolutions, which would be considered a ‘bomb.’ Domestically it made $139 million, which normally would be a great gross, except it cost $150 million to make. There were many reasons for this. One of the basic premises is that in action movies, audiences want a clear antagonist and a clear protagonist. Three way dances rarely work. At the end of The Matrix it was Neo and the free humans versus the machines. By the end of Revolutions it was Neo vs the machines vs Agent Smith. And then it was Neo with the machines vs Agent Smith because Agent Smith (formerly an agent of the machines) had become more powerful than the machines and wanted to control everything. Confused? Join the crowd. People expected to leave theatres with a sense that there has been some conclusion as to whether humankind would be freed of the machines. This did not occur, hence lack of repeated viewings and lack of ticket sales.
Comparison of this trilogy to two other modern trilogies will quickly point out its shortcomings. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (which cost the same amount to make as Reloaded and Revolutions) was very clear in it’s identification of who is good and who is bad. The story delivered what the audience wanted to see and the special effects really came through (the battle at Minas Tirith far outshone the final battle of Zion) .
The other trilogy, which will soon be completed, is the prequel Star Wars trilogy. All three movies deal with a main character whom is ‘the chosen one’ (Aragorn, Neo, and Anakin) and the choices he makes. Aragorn’s nobility and willingness to sacrifice for his friends make him a very endearing character, which is consistent throughout the films. Anakin’s fall from grace will strike a cord with all of us in terms of the mistakes that we have all made at one time or another, however, his will have tragic galactic ramifications – and yet we know that he is redeemed at the end. Neo’s decisions throughout the films lack a certain consistency such that by the climax, when he chooses to align with the machines, the audience has lost a lot of the connection that was established in The Matrix. Many left disillusioned and disappointed as there was no definitive ending.
Once again, with The Lord of the Rings, definite ending. Star Wars, definite ending…or beginning depending on how you look at it. Revolutions had such an ambivalent ending that it really discouraged people from going to see it repeated times. While The Matrix was innovative and exciting, the sequels left much to be desired, and really excluded it from entering the truly upper echelon of Hollywood trilogies.
However, where the The Matrix series took a unique turn was the way in which the world was fleshed out with other non-cinematic releases. In particular, The Animatrix was a collection of 9 anime shorts that told not only the background of supporting characters but also of the world itself. For someone who truly wants to be immersed in the world of The Matrix this is a must watch. The animation styles range from cutting edge CGI to traditional anime with beautiful results. A very welcome addition to The Matrix experience.
If you own a DVD player then it is likely you already own The Matrix on DVD and already know that it has a great transfer back in 1999. The new release has a new transfer that was overseen by the Wachowskis and director of photography Bill Pope. In the original version, the scenes within the Matrix was filtered through green light whereas the scenes that occurred in the ‘real world’ was filtered with a blue light. The new transfer really brings this subtle coloring change into full effect. The new transfer overall is much brighter and has a greater depth of detail. The first film was brought into a level of detail and feel that matched the following films. Reloaded looks better with a lower level of compression compared to the original release as there as fewer extras on the movie disc. Revolutions maintained the same high level of detail as the original.
The original films had some of the best digital sound effects and mixing of soundtrack that have existed since the inception of the DVD media. The new mixes enhance the separation of sound further. Your home theater will be put through a full workout with a wide dynamic range of sound, major use of the sub-woofer and excellent use of the surround speakers. Somehow despite all of the ambient sound, the actors voices were somehow enhanced and brought forward such that they are clearer than before. A great sounding set just got better.
The new extras are spread throughout the discs. There are 2 new commentary tracks – one by 3 critics who didn’t like the films and the other by 2 philosophers who liked the film. There is some lame written explanation contained in the set from the Wachowskis describing why they didn’t provide a commentary track. This was the one extra that I was looking forward to when I first learned of this release. I need some one to explain what in the blue hell was the architect yammering about? I thought that the directors would be able to shed some light on this very perplexing subject. The critics didn’t even comment during that scene and the philosophers (as they will) also lost me in the details about how that whole conversation looked at the nature of reality. Will the true meaning of that scene forever elude me?
The extras that were included in the first release of The Matrix are not present here. As well The Animatrix is unchanged. The Matrix Reloaded – Revisted contains the video that was shot for the Enter the Matrix game. One of the big selling features of the game for the fans was that it had 23 cut scenes that were specifically shot for the game but also fleshed out Niobe’s character a lot more than the limited treatment she got in the theatrical releases.
Some of the other extras are broken down as follows…
- I’ll Handle Them looks in depth at the fight in the Merovingian’s mansion, in particular the choreography, set design and weapon creation.
- Car Chase obviously goes into detail about, in my opinion, the highlight of Reloaded. Any car chase that involves the creation of a section of a freeway has to be good.
- Unplugged discussed the Neo vs the army of Smiths which involved more effects shots than the entire first film.
- Teahouse Fight chronicles the fight between Neo and Seraph with in depth analysis from Yuen Woo-Ping, master choreographer.
- The Exiles covered the new characters of Reloaded – The Merovingian, Persephony, the twins, the Keymaker, and good old Col. Sanders himself, the Architect.
Revolution’s extras are less entertaining (as was the movie)…
- Crew is a very boring look at the background players – set designers, carpenters, sculpters, etc.
- Hel follows the creation of the Club Hel scene, the most interesting piece being the effect of the guys who climb down from the ceiling.
- Super Burly Brawl chronicles the very Dragon Ball Z style final confrontation between Neo and the nearly God-Like Smith at the end of the movie.
- Aftermath focuses on the post production stages, adding the soundtrack, sound effects and film editing.
The seventh disc has the featurette entitled: Return to the Source: The Philosophy of The Matrix. Once again we have the same philosophers who were present for the commentary but also other scholars from around the world adding their own unique spin on the films. There is a bit too much of fast cutting between the various PhDs to really give them a chance to go further in deeping the discussion.
The Hard Problem: The Science Behind The Fiction is an hour long feature investigates the technology involved in films and the possibilities of producing a real Matrix. The discussion is a collaboration of scientists, computer technologists and once again, the philosophers (they must really like those guys).
Disc nine has The Burly Man Chronicles which tells the story of the mammoth 276 day shoot of the two final films consecutively.
The final disc has The Zion Archive, which is a collection of storyboards and concept art for the trilogy. The Media of the Matrix contains trailers for the films and music videos. Lastly, Rave Reel shows various special effects in different stages of completion.
This set is definitely worth of purchasing for the excellent audio and video production if you don’t already own them. While the films themselves may not be worth watching multiple times (except the first) this is a first rate box set. It is not without it’s drawbacks however. Where is the commentary track by the Wachowskis? That would have been a selling point for me, but when I heard that it was not being included I refused to buy it as I, like a lot of other people, already had the original releases on DVD. I got mine as a Christmas present and was glad to get it through those means. I enjoy listening to the director’s commentaries as they help me to gain a better appreciation of what the film is trying to say and with a film as complex as The Matrix this was one feature that really is lacking.
Special Features List
- 6 new commentaries by philosophers and critics
- A feature-length mind-expanding look at The Matrix from conception to phenomenon
- 17 behind-the-scenes and making-of featurettes (Matrix)
- Written introductions by the Wachowski Brothers
- Go to the second chapter’s furthest reaches
- 21 behind-the-scenes and making-of featurettes (Reloaded)
- 23 extra scenes shot for Enter the Matrix video game
- The cataclysmic final confrontation is chronicled
- 29 behind-the-scenes and making-of featurettes (Revolutions)
- Cinematic, historical, philosophical and technological inspirations are explored
- 2 insightful new documentaries
- Probe the society of actors, craftspeople, and filmmakers who shaped the movie trilogy and Enter the Matrix video game