Warner Bros. // 1999 // 136 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dean Roddey (Retired) // October 18th, 1999
You keep going, and going, and going...but you ain't the bunny!
Okay, let's get it out up front that I absolutely loved this disc. So I'm going to be gushing all over myself. I love small, quirky films personally. But, once in a while, by some cosmic accident, the mondo bucks that Hollywood can bring to bear on a film mistakenly get spent creating something unique and awe-inspiring. The Matrix is one of those cosmic accidents, where it all comes together to remind us why we spent those thousands of dollars on black boxes and power company-sized speaker cables.
The basic gist of the film is that, some time in the next century, intelligent machines finally formed a union and basically put the humans down on the farm. And, when I say down on the farm, I don't mean working down on the farm; I mean that they are the crop! Okay, so the machines taking over the world thing has been done a dozen times; but, in this case, its only the backdrop to a much more interesting story of a group of dissidents who represent the last hope of humans to get back in the driver's seat.
Here the humans are being used as batteries. During the final war between men and machine, the humans basically destroyed the atmosphere (probably a nuclear winter though it's not said explicitly), so that the machines cannot get the solar energy that was their food source. So, they start growing humans on a huge scale and using the body heat and biological energy to drive massive energy systems.
In order to keep the humans happy down on the farm, the machines have created a huge and complex computer simulation called the Matrix. This is fed into each human's mind to present the illusion that life is going on as normal, when in fact they are nothing but "copper tops" running the ultimate bad bunny who definitely wants to keep going, and going, and going...
The main character of the film is Neo, his computer hacker alias, and his desire to figure out what The Matrix is. Living in the cyber underworld, he's heard whispers but doesn't know what's going on. The story follows his discovery by one of the captains of the revolution, Morpheus, who believes that Neo is "The One," the prophesied savior of the human race. Morpheus' crew can insert themselves into the Matrix to do battle with the system, as represented by "software agents." I won't give away any more of the film, because you'll want to be pulled along into the story yourself as you watch it.
Neo is played by Keanu Reeves (The Devil's Advocate, Little Buddha, Bram Stoker's Dracula.) Okay, so Keanu doesn't have the best reputation, but I think he's redeemed himself somewhat lately with The Devil's Advocate and now The Matrix. Morpheus is played by Laurence Fishburn (Othello, Event Horizon, Tuskegee Airmen), who does quite an excellent job in the role, in my opinion. The rest of the cast is relatively low-key, which works fine for me since this film needs no big name hype to push it forward.
If you hate special effects movies, you might not like this one. However, I have to say that the effects in this film are used to incredible umm...well effect I guess, and don't get in the way of the story. In my humble opinion, in the way that Star Wars was a landmark in special effects, The Matrix will be seen as a standard setter. Some of the effects are truly stunning, particularly "bullet time." The effects are well described in a nice making of featurette. All kinds of computer effects, wirework, and camera work contribute to make this film basically a living version of a sci-fi Japanese anime.
The video is extremely good, though ever so slightly soft in a couple of scenes. The audio track is tremendous, one of the best ever. The extras include a cast/crew commentary track and the above-mentioned making of featurette. There is also a DVD ROM section for computer access, which I could not evaluate.
If you hate big budget, special effects films, you might not like this one. But, I'd suggest you give it a chance because the special effects are well in the service of the illusion. If you have taken some sort of death pact never to see any Keanu movies, you might want to just see it and lie about it later, or maybe claim you thought he was just computer generated in this one.
The commentary track is relatively lame. In almost all cases where more specialized crew are on commentaries (i.e. not the director), they tend to only talk about the parts that involved them. So there will often be 10-minute gaps where little is said. This is also caused, I think, by having more than one person on the track, so people are loath to step up to the bat and say things about other people's work. I would have much preferred the co-directors to make the track.
There's a bit of violence here. Of course, in the context of the story, the people dying are already dead anyway in effect and only their virtual presences within the Matrix are being killed. And it's all in the greater good of freeing mankind from the grip of the machines.
I have to say that this disc gave me the chills. This is the kind of material that justifies all the expense and effort of setting up a killer home theater. It sounds awesome, it breaks ground in visual special effects, it has a great story, and consistently delivers the goods. When I opened the curtains afterwards, I felt like I'd been taken somewhere far away and dropped back down in my boring old life. I have to admit that I've watched it four times now, and enjoyed it every time. Its completely immersive, as a great DVD should be.
This one is guilty of being to danged good. When discs like this, or say Ronin, come along, I find myself kind of let down that there isn't more of that kind of high quality, intelligent but big time fun stuff out there. Of course, Hollywood being what it is, there will probably The Matrix Parts One through One Hundred, but that's no substitute for originality.
Review content copyright © 1999 Dean Roddey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 136 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Behind-the-scenes Making of Documentary
* Audio Commentary with Carrie-Anne Moss, Zach Staenberg, and more
* Special Effects Documentaries
* Alternate Behind-the-Scenes Angles
* Music only Audio Track with Commentary
* Interactive screenplay
* "Are You The One?" Interactive Feature
* Special Web Events
* Link to Theatrical Website
* Links to chat rooms on the Web
* Original Essays