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THE MATRIX ($25) is a really cool science fiction movie, that offers an intelligent story and some of the most impressive visual effects every created for any cinematic genre. Written and directed by Andy Wachowski and Larry Wachowski, THE MATRIX fuses the styles of Hong Kong action/martial arts movies with the Cyberpunk of Japanese Anime to create a totally unique motion picture experience. THE MATRIX is the most impressive science fiction film that I’ve seen Alex Proyas’ greatly under-appreciated DARK CITY. Why THE MATRIX succeeded in the marketplace, while DARK CITY failed dismally is anyone’s guess, since both films are incredibly stylish and intelligently written science fiction offerings that exceed the expectations of their own genres.

So what is the matrix? I am hesitant to answer that question, since one should go into this film without any preconceived notions. Knowing too much about THE MATRIX will only diminish one’s appreciation for the film as the story unfolds. However, there are a few plot elements that I can reveal without letting the cat out of the bag. In THE MATRIX Keanu Reeves portrays programmer Thomas Anderson who does the nine-to-five corporate thing during the day, but by night switches to the other side- becoming a computer hacker who goes by the moniker Neo. Although he can’t quite put his finger on it, Neo senses that there is something wrong with his life. Neo’s suspicions are validated when he is contacted by an enigmatic figure know as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), who offers to show him the truth about existence. Of course, learning the truth comes with consequences- making it impossible for Neo to return to his ordinary life. Once Neo leaves behind the world he knew, THE MATRIX turns into a non-stop action thrill ride filled with beautifully choreographed martial arts, spellbinding action, unbelievable visual effects and the kind of stylish gunplay one would find in several John Woo movies. In addition to Keanu Reeves (whose lack of personality actually works in this film) and Laurence Fishburne, the cast of THE MATRIX also features Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster, Joe Pantoliano, Marcus Chong, Paul Goddard, Robert Taylor, Julian Arahanga, Matt Doran, Belinda Mcclory and Anthony Ray Parker.

Warner Home Video has done an amazing job with their DVD incarnation of THE MATRIX. The wide screen transfer restores the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is enhanced for 16:9 playback. As for image quality, THE MATRIX on DVD is a stunning recreation of the film’s intended stylized look. There is an oddness about the film’s color scheme which would make one think that THE MATRIX was photographed under fluorescent light sources. However, it turns out that the original cinematography was intentionally processed to remove all traces of the color blue- giving the film an unnerving sallow appearance. Bill Pope’s cinematography is also purposefully grainy, which adds another layer to the world of THE MATRIX. Sharpness and detail are usually excellent, even within the shadowy recesses of the image. Color reproduction is outstanding, especially when one factors in the way the film’s hues have been manipulated in postproduction. Blacks are perfectly reproduced and the contrast is incredibly smooth, despite the way the image has been purposely skewed. While the purposeful look of THE MATRIX offers the kind of challenges that the best compressionist would find daunting, digital artifacts are almost always under control on this well authored DVD. 

As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack, can you say demo time? The soundtrack provides the absolute best in action movie mixes, with incredibly active sound effects that seem to come absolutely everywhere, including the well utilized split surround channels. There are some extraordinary manipulations of the sonic environment, which serve to underscore the film’s most impressive visual effect, which is referred to as "bullet time." The mix also contains a high-octane bass channel that brings to life every single explosion or round of gunfire. Dialogue reproduction is excellent, although there is one scene where the actor voices are a bit difficult to hear- but then again; it was an intentional effect. Additionally, Don Davis' musical score has a powerful presence and is well integrated in to the sound mix. Subtitles are provided on the DVD in English. The interactive menus have a great interface, with full motion video and music that matches the visual style of the movie. Through the menus one can access the standard scene selection feature, as well as the disc's numerous supplements that make THE MATRIX a true collector's edition.

Extras on THE MATRIX DVD include two alternate soundtracks, first is a running audio commentary with actress Carrie-Anne Moss, visual effects supervisor John Gaeta and film editor Zach Staenberg, the second alternate soundtrack features the film's isolated score along with comments from composer Don Davis. Both tracks are interesting, however the first track is a bit sparse at times. Other supplements include a behind-the-scenes documentary that provides on-camera interviews with both cast and crewmembers, as well looking at how the special effects and the martial arts sequences were achieved. Another two short featurettes are hidden within the interactive menus. One takes a look at how the "bullet time" effects were created, while the other how the film's visuals were conceptualized. The DVD also makes use of the multiple angle feature for "Follow The White Rabbit"- which is another look behind-the-scenes that gives the viewer the ability to take an in depth look at various sequences within the film, as they occur. Cast biographies/filmographies fill out the regular DVD supplements. THE MATRIX is also DVD-ROM enhanced, offering a number of supplements that require the use of a properly equipped PC.

As I said above, THE MATRIX is a really cool science fiction movie. Warner Home Video has done a terrific job bringing the film to DVD, producing an absolutely first rate disc that most genre fans are going to want to own. Absolutely recommended.

The Matrix


DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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