The Matrix (1999) was a landmark film in the Sci-Fi genre. While its 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. Computer hacker extraordinaire Neo (Reeves) has this gut feeling that life isn’t all that it seems to be. Turns out he’s right in a big way. A group of revolutionaries led by the thought-to-be-mythical Morpheus (Fishburne) open his eyes to the Matrix.
The Matrix, it turns out, is nothing more than an elaborate computer-generated reality intended to mollify humanity who are in reality nothing more than sheep, or in this case a renewable energy source, to feed the machines that have inherited the Earth. Morpheus believes Neo is “The One”, a prophesized savior who can bend the Matrix to his own will, who will eventually lead humanity out of slavery. What follows is enough eye candy to give an army of Swiss chocolate factory workers diabetes.
In addition to the well-crafted story, The Matrix was well known for the creation of one of the most copied f/x 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 Wachowskis would have listened to that advice.
“Sequelitis” struck big-time, and actually, in my humble opinion, 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 a 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 were often lost in the semantics that were the key to the storytelling.
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 versus the machines versus Agent Smith. And then it was Neo with the machines versus 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.
The Matrix Films are presented in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 55 mbps. That’s a pretty reliable average, but it does tend to jump around a lot throughout. In the original version, the scenes within the Matrix were filtered through green light, whereas the scenes that occurred in the ‘real world’ were filtered with a blue light. The new transfer really brings this subtle coloring change into full effect. It’s what HDR does best. The new transfer overall is much brighter and has a greater depth of detail. I’ll admit that the f/x appear a little dated in the sewers with the ship with this kind of resolution. On the other hand, the bullet time and suspended body camera rotation f/x still hold up very well. Black levels are pretty fine. Speaking of fine black levels, you need to check out Trinity’s costume in 4K.
The Dolby Atmos presentations default to exhilarating 7.1 tracks. Be careful here. For some odd reason, the audio will default to a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is rather inferior to the Atmos 7.1 version. Your home theater will be put through a full workout with a wide dynamic range of sound, major use of the subwoofer, and excellent use of the surround speakers. Somehow despite all of the ambient sound, the actors’ voices were greatly enhanced and brought forward such that they are clearer than ever before. A great-sounding set just got better.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copies of the films and an additional Blu-ray disc.
These are all the same features from the Blu-ray releases from years ago. This includes all of the Audio Commentaries, which can also be heard on the 4K disc.
Where 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. It’s not included in this collection. There is talk of a reboot, but I hope that the first film is eventually allowed to stand on its own through time. I know it’s a drag buying the same films on new and improved formats. I think this will be the ultimate for films like this. “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”