Judge Dennis Prince once mixed a red pill with a blue pill. While he didn't achieve a balanced straddling of two states of consciousness, he did gain immediate relief from a nagging case of acid reflux.
Our reviews of The Matrix (published October 18th, 1999), The Matrix: 10th Anniversary (Blu-Ray) (published April 17th, 2009), The Matrix Reloaded (published October 20th, 2003), The Matrix Reloaded (Blu-Ray) (published September 13th, 2010), The Matrix Revolutions (published March 23rd, 2004), The Ultimate Matrix Collection (published January 17th, 2005), and The Ultimate Matrix Collection (Blu-Ray) (published October 23rd, 2008) are also available.
"The only way to own The Matrix in High Def is on HD DVD."
Not so long ago within a Consortium not very far away, a collective determined that a new standard of home video entertainment was needed. The ten Founding Companies agreed upon an authoring technology, a manufacturing specification, and a content direction that would deliver a stunning new experience to the populace that exceeded the offerings on VHS and Beta. The Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) was a breakthrough in its innovation and ease of use. Although its penetration into and through the "video tape mentality" was a challenge, it succeeded nonetheless. But there was to be more, much more. The advent of high definition television technology demonstrated that viewers were only getting less than half of the picture, with telling details and visual tones obscured by the technical impotence of the 480-line NTSC display standard.
Anamorphic enhancement, although it did well to preserve the original aspect ratios of films when augmented by the newer 16:9 display screens, was merely the beginning. The advent of the HDTV and the proliferation of widescreen monitors equipped to fully display improved digital images clearly demonstrated that viewers were only seeing half the picture when utilizing inferior media (be it televised broadcasts or 480i/p standard definition DVD media).
And so the DVD Forum determined a new standard was needed to provide high definition entertainment to consumers and, as with the previous DVD technology, it seemed appropriate that all members of the Consortium would align to the task.
But there was a defector amid the collective.
And so it's widely known that Sony Corporation elected not to align itself with the HD DVD specification, citing issues with copy protection vulnerabilities, and effectively convinced several major motion picture studios and distributors to go along with them. The result was a split by Sony, some CE manufacturers, and some key studios, who presented the Blu-ray standard as an alternative. And so the line was drawn. Now two formats compete for the high definition media market. Through various moves and counter-moves, manufacturers have utilized machine pricing strategies and incentives while also leveraging certain title releases to sway an indecisive consumer base. Naturally, the two sides have chosen their visible "uniforms" in this conflict: HD DVD is marked by the RED product case while Blu-ray is identified by its BLUE case.
And what does all this have to do with The Matrix? Everything. Although many consumers have taken a wait-and-see approach to the outcome of the "format war," some are now being rightly tempted to make a choice based upon the release of significant titles in one particular format, since many are exclusive to HD DVD or Blu-ray. Now that this highly-anticipated trilogy has been offered to only one segment of the high-definition adopters, the decision that must be made is considerably more difficult to delay: will you take the RED disc or the BLUE disc?
Facts of the Case
While the standard definition (SD) DVD set required a full 10 discs to deliver this enormous amount of material, the HD DVD release consolidates this into a 5-disc package, four RED snap-cases housing a single disc, and one additional black snap-case containing two additional discs of relevant content. Specifically:
The first RED case delivers the foundational excursion into the realm of the Matrix and the experiences of a somewhat slovenly computer hacker, Neo (Keanu Reeves, Speed). He meets up with a highly regarded hacker, Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss, Disturbia) who indicates she can lead him to the near-legendary cyberterrorist Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, Akeelah and the Bee). This encounter, however, leads Neo to shed his day-to-day life as the dreadfully normal Thomas Anderson, software programmer, and venture into a realm that will reveal that all that is perceived as "real" is actually an elaborate sensory stimulation intended to control the minds of the world population. Neo is about to discover the Matrix. What you'll discover is an incredible high-definition re-mastering of this new age science fiction classic that will similarly peak your senses (more about the technical details later). This is accompanied by an In-Movie Experience (IME) option, also discussed in further detail later in this review. Additionally, included on this disc is the first of three written introductions from the Wachowski brothers, as well as four audio commentary tracks, plus a collection of relevant featurettes, isolated musical cues, a Marilyn Manson music video, theatrical trailers, and TV spots. On the flipside of this disc is the documentary The Matrix Revisited, previously found on a stand-alone release, included in its entirety. This is accompanied by the Take the Red Pill and Follow the White Rabbit features.
The Matrix Reloaded
In the second RED case, you'll find the second installment of the trilogy presented in a new high-definition transfer. Reloaded extends the experiences of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus, as they learn more about the machine world and how the Agents are actually programs designed to maintain the passive physical state of humans in order to harness their bio-electrical energy. Their minds are controlled via the Matrix to ensure they will be unaware of their physical harvesting. Side One of this disc also includes the optional IME content, a second Wachowski brothers written introduction, two audio commentaries, the Enter the Matrix content that chronicles that companion video game creation, theatrical trailers, TV spots, and a P.O.D. music video. The flipside includes additional game material, plus excellent featurettes on the set-piece sequences from the feature film, character histories, and more effects discussion.
The Matrix Revolutions
The third RED case houses the final film in the trilogy, which reveals Neo's ultimate purpose: ending the war between the machines and the human resistance huddled in the subterranean Zion. Again, this high-definition presentation is accompanied by IME content, as well as the third Wachowski introduction, two audio commentaries, Behind the Matrix featurettes, trailers, and TV spots. The opposite side includes additional Behind the Matrix content, plus the complete The Matrix Revolutions Revisited collection of featurettes.
The Matrix Experience 2-Disc Databank
This fourth box is a black disc case that contains two double-sided discs, all of which is standard definition content. Disc One contains the full complement of The Animatrix's nine short features, which excellently utilized varied animation techniques to present compelling 9-minute forays into the world of the Matrix. These shorts are presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen format in 480p / MPEG-2 encoding. Included are director commentaries for four of the shorts, plus a highly informative featurette on the origin and significance of anime. Lastly, Execution offers an in-depth look into the making of the various Animatrix shorts. The flipside of this first disc contains two intriguing documentaries, Return to Source: Philosophy & the Matrix and The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction, both which explore the cultural and philosophical impact of the Matrix trilogy. The second disc in the case contains an exhaustive documentation (95 minutes' worth) of the second and third features in The Burly Man Chronicles. The flipside contains the massive Zion Archive that collects various production elements, art, music videos, trailers, TV spots, and online content.
Think back and you may recall that The Matrix was a flagship release from Warner Home Video during the early days of DVD, and was the first disc to sell one million copies. Since then, the film and the ensuing franchise accounted for over $1 billion in worldwide commerce. And while 2004 saw the release of the standard definition "ultimate" edition (complete with a Neo statuette), it seems it has all been building up to this next-generation experience. With nearly three years to ensure the content of such a Matrix experience could be fully delivered, Warner Brothers has once again issued a landmark release with this high-definition version of the revered trilogy.
Be advised: The RED pill is your only option at this time.
Although Warner is visibly in support of both high definition formats, it has elected to issue Ultimate Matrix Collection only on HD DVD at this time (with a statement that a Blu-ray version will be released "later this year"). Therefore, this serves as a boon to the HD DVD effort, as this collection is just as comprehensive as the previous SD release, but improved thanks to the incredible high-definition transfers of the feature films.
But the significance of this particular RED disc release is given even greater impact when coupled with the improvements in HD DVD hardware, both in regards to functionality as well as affordability. Just as the Blu camp (if "camps" truly exist in a contrived commercial conflict dubbed a "format war") has released its exclusive Pirates of the Caribbean high definition discs, the RED camp has decided to release the highly anticipated trilogy to hold serve (and, yes, some in the RED corner will correctly note this Matrix release was announced long before the competing exploits of Jack Sparrow—if that really matters or establishes any sort of gain on this 1080p playing field). Regardless, this Ultimate Matrix Collection comes to HD DVD in excellent fashion, Warner Brothers making it clear that it understands the importance of the release to its already-applauded support for the high-definition formats. Therefore, expect to find the three feature films meticulously remastered at 1080p using the VC-1 codec, pressed to HD-30 dual-layer media. If you're looking for the latest in reference quality high-definition content, this is it. Beginning with The Matrix, the image is such a revelation that to watch it in this enhanced format is like experiencing it again for the first time. From the familiar opening title graphics, the crispness and color correctness on display lets you know you're in for something special. Indeed, as the film jumps into action with the introduction of Trinity and her remarkable "talents," the visuals are practically jaw-dropping, not for the once-breakthrough freeze-and-180-degree-pan shot, but rather for the way it looks so truly dimensional and practically life-like. The entire film proceeds in this manner, details bursting from the screen—glass shards, bullets, you name it—like you've never seen before. Surface textures are remarkable, from the grungy interiors of the Nebuchadnezzar to the amazing clothing details to the incredible skin textures that you can't help but marvel over. Color is excellent, popping even more than the previous standard definition "Ultimate" collection. Shadow detail is the best it has ever been for this feature, delicate details finally emerging from the previously obscured masters. This transfer is a wonder to behold. The competent team at Warner Brothers has provided fans a truly "reloaded" experience that rejuvenates this 1999 production to the point where it looks absolutely new. With the second and third features, The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, the image only gets better. As the production values improve, so too do the high-def presentations. Again, the source material is exquisite, and the resulting transfers bear a similarly impressive level of detail, color correctness, contrast control, and shadow detail. While viewing all three features, there was no evidence of compression artifacts, save for those intentionally injected within the original production design. All films are properly framed at 2.40:1 aspect ratios.
On the audio side, Warner steps up to offer not only an improved Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix (640kbps) but also includes the newer Dolby TrueHD alternative, a mix that matches the impact and intensity of the enhanced image. By simply cycling between the two mixes, it is immediately apparent the TrueHD mix packs a more robust punch than the DD 5.1 offering. The soundstage is impressively full and noticeably "larger" in the way it images across the channels. Discrete effects flow gracefully at times, while at other times they explode at you from all directions. The score is perfectly balanced so it always maintains a presence yet never suppresses other aural details. The dialog is perfectly established and clear throughout. Lastly, the LFE channel is engaged so heavily that it becomes a new experience, as explosions take on a more life-like immersion and practically every gunshot works to thump you with exaggerated yet enjoyable impact. All three features offer the Dolby TrueHD alternative; it should definitely be regarded the de-facto selection for any viewing.
As for the extras, fans looking to make this high definition upgrade will be relieved to know that this remains a complete package and, therefore, contains the near-overwhelming complement of 35-plus hours of bonus content. This includes 12 audio commentaries, 5 documentaries, 103 featurettes, 3 hours of musical cues, the complete Animatrix collection of 9 short films, 3 written introductions from the Wachowski brothers, theatrical trailers, TV spots, game development segments, still galleries, and more. (For an exhaustive and borderline exhausting analysis of all of this, please refer to our esteemed Judge Gibron's look at the SD release of The Ultimate Matrix Collection.) Now, be advised that, while this is an HD DVD offering of The Ultimate Matrix Collection, said bonus content remains in its original 480i/p formatted standard definition presentation. Thankfully, it up-scaled nicely in my Toshiba HD player (especially the Animatrix shorts) and, therefore, is a bit better looking than before. Understand, though, that this content has not been upgraded to HD specifications. (Take heart RED raiders; the Blu Pirates discs did the same with their non-HD extras—just in case you're determined to keep score.)
But what of the exclusive IME (In-Movie Experience) content that comes along with this particular release of the trilogy? This is a sort of good news/bad news situation. The IME feature works excellently, providing pop-up content including interviews, production specifications, and more over the course of the three films' playback. But it's important to understand that content isn't new material developed specifically for this HD DVD release. Sadly, none of the cast and crew were reassembled for this opportunity—not even the elusive Wachowski brothers—and so the IME content is culled from that vast collection of 35+ hours of material. That said, don't dismiss this feature too quickly, either, since it succeeds in providing a compellingly condensed yet concisely competent presentation of the key production details that offers something of a "fast-track" journey through the voluminous bonus content if viewed as individual elements. Essentially, you can opt for this veritable BLUE pill alternative while still dabbling in some of the RED pill pleasures.
One of the most innocuous of the "bonus elements" is the single sheet insert that accompanies the four disc cases: the announcement that Blade Runner is to be released on HD DVD in October 2007. Long regarded an overlooked classic of modern cinema, fans are hopeful Warner Bros. can finally do justice to the film and its different release cuts with this "Essential 25th Anniversary Edition." Why is this worth mentioning within the body of this particular review? HD DVD adopters have been skittish about a lack of push from the participating studios to release relevant and persuasive content. Ridley Scott's 1982 masterpiece, along with this equally anticipated Matrix collection, can be considered as significant sponsorship and support for the nascent high definition format.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While your senses will assuredly delight in the overflowing content in this newest incarnation of The Matrix universe, remain ever vigilant that there is a still a battle underway for your mind. This mechanized warfare takes place within the miniscule pits etched in a 5½-inch plastic disc but its impact is far greater than its size might suggest. Remember that you're being lured and perhaps even lulled into adoption of a media format that is in conflict with another, purportedly identical in experience yet very different in its method of delivery and decoding. The choice, as always, is yours to make, but be aware that once you do choose, you may be perpetually assailed by your own thoughts over why you made that choice. Was it the "machines" that influenced your decision, or will it be your decision that influences the longevity of the machine, a mechanism also battling for supremacy in a largely undecided consumer population
You have to let it all go…fear, doubt, disbelief. Free your mind.
So, make your choice. If you choose the Blu path, you'll eradicate The Matrix from your personal experience and continue to live your life without engaging in the conflict of the machines. If you choose the RED path, however, you will stay in the world of the reloaded Matrix and will have to stand by your decision, whatever eventuality that may come.
Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see for yourself.
Equally, you must acknowledged your ability to impose choice should you elect to enter the high-definition fray. No one can tell you which format to choose; that is something you must do for yourself. However, this particular release is not to be missed, given its reference-quality presentation and its attention to completeness.
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Studio: Warner Bros.
Distinguishing Marks, The Matrix
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Scales of Justice, The Matrix Reloaded
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Studio: Warner Bros.
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• In-Movie Experience
Scales of Justice, The Matrix Revolutions
Perp Profile, The Matrix Revolutions
Studio: Warner Bros.
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Review content copyright © 2007 Dennis Prince; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.