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The Ultimate Matrix Collection Review
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The Ultimate Matrix Collection Review

Courtesy of DVD File.com:

History may not look kindly on the whole of the Matrix saga, but if thatís the case, the trilogy is in good company. Many of the great film trilogies donít hold up when viewed during one, long, microwave popcorn-filled night. For instance, now that George Lucas is done will his incessant tinkering, the original Star Wars films, recently released on DVD, can finally be evaluated as a cohesive unit. And it must be said that while Star Wars holds up very well and The Empire Strikes Back is a bona fide classic, Return of the Jedi is a serious letdown. Lucas was probably too busy tending to his own, Earthbound empire to care, but Jedi forever created an imbalance in the force of the Star Wars juggernaut. And of course, the creative failure of the two prequels doesnít help the legacy.

Star Wars wasnít the only trilogy to stumble at the finish line. The Godfather may be the only film series to win Best Picture Oscars for its first two installments, but Part III seemed produced because Francis Ford Coppola felt he had to, not because he had anything more to say. At the outset, the film faced an uphill battle against its own expectations: when you wait 16 years for the final chapter of one of the cinemaís greatest achievements, youíre bound to be disappointed.

Even The Terminator films petered out. Without James Cameron, who cranks out exciting, adult thrill rides like no one else, the series had a hole in its center that new director Jonathan Mostow couldnít fill. Mostow is talented, but T3 was missing the oomph and the heart of the earlier films.

And, in what will certainly be considered blasphemy, The Lord of the Rings saga also lost me and will fade with time (I said the same thing about Titanic and now whoís laughing?). The Academy awarded The Return of the King a Best Picture Oscar solely because New Line gave half a billion dollars and the fortunes of their entire company to an unknown New Zealander whose only worthwhile film was a lame Michael J. Fox horror/comedy. It was an enormous gamble that the industry was

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Spider-Man 3 a Best Picture Oscar). However, for my money, the entire Rings saga is confusing. I had no idea who anybody was, nor could I pronounce most of the character and city names (then again, I still canít pronounce the name of Liam Neesonís character in The Phantom Menace). While the battle scenes were amazing and the effects blended seamlessly into the flesh-and-blood, the second film consisted of two dwarfs sitting in a tree and the third film refused to end.

Other trilogies stumble in the second chapter, then make up for it with a socko third chapter. Such was the case with the Indiana Jones films and the Back to the Future movies. In fact, in researching modern trilogies (and Iím only talking trilogies, which excludes Star Trek, James Bond, Alien, etc.), the only contemporary series to hit three consecutive home runs are Austin Powers and Die Hard.

All of this brings us to The Matrix films. After a fast and brilliant start with the 1999 original, the series took a bad turn with The Matrix Reloaded before partially righting the ship with the finale, 2003ís The Matrix Revolutions. 1999ís The Matrix pulled numerous rabbits out of its special effects hat and even had the good sense to wrap them around a great narrative concept: our world is a computer simulation meant to divert us from the knowledge that our bodies are lying in fluid-filled cocoons and being mined for their bio-electricity which is then used to power the machines that have taken over Earth.

As the film continues, we learn that Mankindís only hope is Mr. Anderson (Keanu Reeves), an office drone by day and a hotshot computer hacker by night. Andersonís world takes a seriously odd turn when heís approached by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his ragtag Freedom Fighters, who claim that Anderson is really Neo, the Chosen One whoíll free humanity from cyber-slavery. By the end of the film, Anderson unlearns his entire reality, coming to believe The Matrix really exists and that heís willing to play a role in its destruction.

The Matrix kicked serious ass. No one had ever seen anything like it,

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with its groundbreaking "bullet time" effect, "trenchcoat cool" wardrobe and religious overtones (Neo=One, etc.). Matrix creators Andy and Larry Wachowski, who showed promise with their 1996 crime drama Bound, surely didnít show this much promise. In short, the cultureís definition of "cool" had just been changed.

After the massive success of The Matrix, Warner Bros. commissioned the simultaneous production of two sequels, a smart financial move but, as it turns out, a bad creative move. Had the Wachowskis known how poorly 2003ís Matrix Reloaded would be received, they may have tweaked the script for The Matrix Revolutions. Unfortunately, with both movies shooting at the same time, the story was essentially locked.

The Matrix Reloaded was released in May 2003 amid high expectations and unprecedented amounts of studio hype. In the film, the machines locate and target Zion, humanityís last free city. Hundreds of thousands of Sentinels (those metallic jellyfish machines) are dispatched to destroy it. Meanwhile, Neo, haunted by visions of his own death, tracks down the Oracle, an all-knowing being able to see the future. The film ends on a cliffhanger shot so weak Iíll never forget it: the camera moves, from feet-to-head, up a body lying on a medical table. The camera stops at his upside-down face, then cuts to black, with the music pounding the drama into our brains. The problem was, half the audience had no idea who this person was. So it was a bit hard to get excited about him, which only sent us out of the theater even more confused and disappointed.

From a box office standpoint, The Matrix Reloaded set any number of now-broken box office records. But the film failed in numerous ways: first of all (and there was nothing the Wachowskis could do about this), the world of The Matrix wasnít new anymore. Weíd seen it. The element of surprise was gone. Secondly, the film introduced new characters who just werenít that interesting. Persephone, Niobe and Merovingian never really grabbed hold of us (at least we had Agent Smith, so wonderfully played by Hugo Weaving). Also, with the introduction of these new

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characters, the whole storyline was getting bogged down, bloated and confusing. But the real problem was Neo: now harnessing his powers like a natural, he was basically Superman. He was no longer just a kid wresting with an incredible dilemma. The audience no longer had any connection to him and no emotional stake in his survival.

But, disappointed audiences did have one thing to hang their hats on: a slambang finale that would tie everything together in epic fashion. In The Matrix Revolutions, Neo is trapped between the Matrix and the real world. Agent Smith, meanwhile, is getting more and more powerful and it becomes clear that the only way to save humanity is for Neo to stop him. This leads to a climatic showdown in the rain and plot twists that wonít be revealed here. Revolutions was a definite improvement over Reloaded, even if the final fade-out failed to elicit any real emotion or satisfaction. In total, it wasnít enough of an improvement to overcome the disappointment of the second film and the overall feeling that the entire series was too heavy and too convoluted. The Wachowskis cashed in the innovation and surprise of the first movie and just cranked out two fairly typical action films. After the jaw dropping inspiration of The Matrix, the series just stopped being fun.

Of course, to blithely enumerate what the series is not, is to ignore what it is. The Matrix trilogy is, and will always be, groundbreaking cinema. Itís visually sumptuous, completely confident in itself and its importance and unbelievably well-produced. As proof of its rock-solid fan base, 1999ís The Matrix was one of the first "must-have" DVDs. And now Warner Home Video, aware of its importance to young (read: DVD purchasing) fans, has released a ten-disc set that digitally encodes every bit of information ever compiled about the trilogy, along with the trilogy itself and computer-generated stories revolving around supporting Matrix characters. Much of this information has been seen before on previous Matrix-related DVDs. So donít go in thinking itís ten discs worth of new information. The result is an achievement in both DVD production and overkill.

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Video: How does the DVD look?

The original DVD incarnation of The Matrix was extremely good-looking and probably motivated more than one teenager to beg his parents for a DVD player for Christmas. But, gazing upon Warner Home Videoís new transfer, one realizes how much room there was for improvement. This new effort was supervised by the Wachowskis and cinematographer Bill Pope. The difference between the old and new transfers may not be eye-opening, but itís close. The first film is now brighter with colors that pop. Overall, there is a greenish tint in much of The Matrix that wasnít there before, but itís consistent with the look of the other two films. In fact, much like the transfer for Steven Soderberghís Traffic, each location looks a bit different: the Matrix looks green, while the real world is kind of steel-blue. As mentioned before, all the films look very similar, and it helps sells the saga as one, epic journey. The transfer for all three films is 2.35:1 anamorphic and each shows great contrast, especially Revolutions. Reds donít tear and blacks are solid and dark. Whites are bright and donít betray any specks or pieces of dirt. In fact, overall color accuracy is top-shelf. Plus, daytime exteriors (of which there are very few) are damn smooth. Not surprisingly, grain is a non-issue and fine detail is exceptional. Dirt and grime on pipes can be seen, and every pore on Laurence Fishburneís face is viewable. The transfer also seamlessly combines the CGI effects with the filmed elements. Even Neoís fight with the 100 Agent Smiths is good, better than the original DVD transfer. Potential problems like mosquito-noise and edge enhancements are nowhere to be found. To rank the transfers, Iíd put The Matrix first, since itís so wonderfully improved, followed by Revolutions, then Reloaded.

Audio: How does the dvd sound?

The audio quality was always great on the Matrix DVDs, and itís no different here. Everything is a full blown Dolby Digital 5.1, and the results are amazing. The Matrix sounds as if itís undergone a bit of tweaking, so now itís up to the standards of the other two. In general,

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this is reference quality. The .1 channel is so deep and floor rattling that a glass of water on your coffee table will probably start to ripple. The surround channels work serious overtime to make all three films some of the most enveloping ever available for a home theater system. In fact, the front side speakers seem to convey just as much dialogue and overall personality as the traditional center speaker. Sounds come through in minute detail, including little bits of crumbling walls and the echo of gunfire. Side panning and channel separation are just a whole lot of fun (so good that hearing a well-rendered effect can take you out of the movie). When the Nebuchadnezzar gets buffeted around narrow spaces with Sentinels approaching, youíll be completely surrounded with aural excitement. No surprise here, but the dialogue is reproduced perfectly, with no difference between ADR lines and production-audio lines. Don Davisí excellent score sounds great, with no tearing in the upper registers. Overall enjoyment of the Matrix DVDs is enhanced greatly by these three wonderful mixes.

Language tracks are available in English and French, while subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

Supplements: What goodies are there?

Whoa!

Warner Bros. has provided the last word in everything Matrix (and if itís not the last word, thereís going to be violence) with ten discs worth of Matrix related arcana.

Opening the boxed set, with its familiar green lettering on black background, reveals five cardboard slipcases. Each slipcase contains two DVDs. Whatís on those ten DVDs? I thought youíd never ask.

DISC ONE

Disc one contains The Matrix. The only extras are two audio

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commentaries. The first is called The Philosophers and it includes Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber. The second is called The Critics and it includes Todd McCarthy from Variety, John Powers from Vogue and author David Thomson.

Both commentaries are surprisingly listenable, but the one you enjoy most will depend on what you think of the film. West and Wilber completely buy into the Matrixís philosophical leanings and attempt to explain much of it. Cornel talks of the "intellectual violence" that keeps us sleepwalking through our dreary days and how the movie brings that concept to life. Wilber deifies the movie more than Cornel, who is a very odd, interesting and obviously brilliant person. Cornel is also able to find meaning in scenes and shots where none seemed to exist, which shows how thoroughly heís drank the Matrix Kool-Aid.

The critics are surprisingly hard on the movie. McCarthy admits that The Matrix was not on anyoneís radar before its release, especially after Bound, which had a heavy sexual component. Before long, of course, the critics are referencing Jean-Luc Godard, Jean Cocteau and 2001: A Space Odyssey. They go back and forth on the dialogue, calling it both operatic and insipid. There are plenty of gaps in their comments, but it never takes away from the overall effect.

The whole thing begins with a written introduction by the Wachowskis, where they discuss, among other subjects, why they donít talk about the film publicly and why they chose people like Cornel West and Todd McCarthy to do the audio commentaries.

DISC TWO

Disc two begins with The Matrix Revisited, a two hour documentary that chronicles the making of the first film. This is the same documentary was the released as a single DVD in November of 2001. Behind the scenes footage that was too boring for inclusion before is now fair game when you have ten discs to fill. And man, is there a lot of BTS material.

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The documentary, which starts with Laurence Fishburne playing the harmonica waiting for a setup, is incredibly comprehensive. Costume designers, producers, music supervisors, special effects artists, actors, makeup people and production designers are all accounted for. Keanu Reeves talks of the books he read in preparation for filming, including Kevin Kellyís Out of Control and a textbook called Evolutionary Psychology. Carrie Anne Moss says the original film was so low-key they didnít even have a coffee maker in the production office. Things changed drastically in films 2 and 3, with Fishburne admitting to "a lot less anxiety" about the production. There is plenty of footage of the reclusive Wachowski brothers, which adds to the ultimate-access feel of the documentary. The Matrix Revisited is actually very impressive. Itís thorough and itís interesting. The full-screen picture is clean, but the clips are non-anamorphic widescreen and some of the interview footage is flawed, be it too hot or a bit soft. The audio is perfect.

The Music Revisited includes 41 tracks of funky and propulsive needledrop music that was used in the film. Originally, this was an Easter egg on the Matrix Revisited DVD, but now itís graduated to primetime. Most of the included bands are known only to the hippest of hipsters. Names include Fingertwister, Tripnotic and Hardknox may mean nothing to most of us, but at least the music is cool. This is actually a great extra if you want to impress a hip-chick or pretend your apartment is a club.

Behind the Matrix is comprised of 6 featurettes that total about 17 minutes. Subjects include fight choreography and the brawl in the bathroom with Morpheus. The level of minutia explored in these featurettes is so deep that thereís even a 1-minute piece about a woman in a red dress who walked through the frame in one shot.

Take the Red Pill will be familiar to those who watched the first Matrix DVD release. Itís comprised of two pieces: What is Bullet Time delves into the creation of the groundbreaking effect where multiple cameras seem to spin around an object or objects frozen in space. What is the

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Concept is a montage about the making of certain special effects, like when Neo "dips" his hand into the mirror. By disc two, you can already see this whole set is turning into really cool bloatware.

Follow the White Rabbit takes all of the White Rabbit featurettes found on the previous Matrix DVD and compiles them all. Basically montage pieces, subjects included the lobby shootout, the helicopter scene and the subway fight between Neo and Smith. Most of the video here is full-frame, but it looks terrific.

DISC THREE

Disc Three contains The Matrix Reloaded. The only extras are the two commentary tracks, one brought to you by philosophers Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber and the other from critics Todd McCarthy from Variety, John Powers from Vogue and author David Thomson. The critics are harder on Reloaded then they were on The Matrix. They mention how there was no way the sequel could live up to four years of fan expectations. McCarthy addresses how the Wachowskis knew what the audience liked in the first film and tried to deliver more of that, which was ultimately a miscalculation. Powers rips on the computer-generated unreality of the milieu, asking to "get to something I can recognize." The introduction of veteran TV actor Anthony Zerbe made the critics "feel the air starting to leave the room." At one point, one of the critics even makes a snoring sound.

Even the philosophers rip on the second film. Dr. West notes that the first film was about the resistance, which is much more interesting then war, which is what Reloaded is about. While the critics practically laughed at the Zion rave scene, Wilber called it "a wonderful celebration of the body", with Dr. West adding that according to Descartes the body itself is a machine. Wilber likens the evolution of Agent Smith (as he takes over body after body) as a Kabalistic spirit, which the practitioners of Kabala probably wonít appreciate. Finally, West concludes that Reloaded is about needing "to know how to practically deploy

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instrumentsÖthat it still serves human purposes without the idolizing of machines." Point well taken to a crowd that probably idolizes its Treo 650 and its Xbox.

DISC FOUR

The whole of disc four is titled The Matrix Reloaded Revisited, and itís a potpourri of featurettes that explain everything from the making of the film to the making of the videogame based on the film.

The festivities begin with Enter The Matrix. Once weíre done watching Jada Pinkett Smith and producer Joel Silver breathlessly expound on how amazing and fantastic and brilliant and groundbreaking the videogame is, we get to the good stuff. Thereíre 23 live action scenes that were shot especially for the game. Pinkett Smith stars in pretty much all of them. Bruce Spence (The Road Warrior) also reprises his Matrix role, as do a couple of other minor players. The studio really put some money into these: using existing sets and costumes, the scenes look great and could pass for clips from the actual film. This is the type of material that Matrix fetishists will want to memorize to learn further about their favorite cyberworld.

Iíll Handle Them is about the fight in the Great Hall. Like all the other featurettes, thereís plenty of BTS footage. Production designers take us through the foyer of Merovingianís vulgar, decorative mansion, while Chen Hu, the actor who played Tiger, demonstrates his martial arts expertise. Footage from 1997 of Chen going through his moves in a karate studio is mixed with on-set footage. If nothing else, it reminds you that even the tiniest role in these movies must be filled with a professional. Finally, we learn about the hundreds of rubber weapons that were created for the Great Hall fight scene. Medieval texts and history books helped the weapons designers create these instruments of death.

The best sequence in Reloaded is the freeway chase. A mile and a half

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of roadway was built specifically for it. Car Chase is a one-hour look at how the scene was planned and shot. Thereís scads of great footage for this amazing stunt. The filmmakers considered shooting on an existing stretch of road in Akron, Ohio, but then decided that building their own road was more conducive to filming. Storyboards and computer simulations are mixed with on-location footage to show how it was all choreographed. Morpheusí fight on top of the truck was shot indoors on blue-screen and that footage is also included. Trinityís stunt double was a three-time national motorbike riding champion, and she really drove that Ducati the wrong way through freeway traffic. The piece ends with a slick comparison of the storyboards with the actual footage. Car Chase is one of the more essential documentaries on the ten-disc set.

Next is Teahouse Fight, which is 7 minutes all about the, um, teahouse fight. Clean, full-screen on-set footage is mixed with interviews with principles like First AD James McTeigue. We also meet Collin Chou, the actor who plays Seraph, the guardian of the Oracle. Heís been practicing martial arts for over ten years and heís done over 30 films in his native Hong Kong. Fans must really, really, really care about the Matrix to get anything out of this featurette that they canít get from the 7,000 other featurettes in the set.

Unplugged is a forty-minute look at the scene where Neo fights 100 Agent Smiths. As customary here, boatloads of computer models, on-location footage and interviews tell the story. The last part of the fight, with eighty Agent Smiths was all CGI, including Neo. Legendary fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping weighs in via subtitles on how he learned Kung Fu and then became a stuntman. His contribution was essential in the whole series, but especially this big fight. We also meet Chad Stahelski, who is Keanu Reeveís stunt double. This guy has a cool job! He gets to fly in the air and spin and jump and do awesome wire work. The piece ends with footage of Keanu Reeveís 100% CGI face that looks almost indistinguishable from his real face. Amazing stuff.

The Exiles explains the character of Merovingian and his wife

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Persephone. The actors who play them explain their roles within the Matrix world. Then we meet Adrian and Neil Rayment who played those cool looking albino twins. Watch this if you must.

DISC FIVE

Disc five contains The Matrix Revolutions, the final chapter in the series. And, like the previous two installments, it contains two audio commentaries, one by philosophers Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber and a second by critics Todd McCarthy from Variety, John Powers from Vogue and author David Thomson. They admit their excitement going into this one was diminished, and Lord knows there are major gaps in their comments (doing a 7-hour audio commentary must be difficult). McCarthy rightly says that the philosophical elements that made the other films unique are lost when 250,000 Sentinels attack Zion and the film becomes one enormous special effect. In the final scene Powers asks, "Will they manage to slip in one authentic moment in here?" To the critics, they did not. McCarthy says he felt "relief and weariness that itís over."

Not surprisingly, the philosophers groove on the Christ-like overtones of the last third of Revolutions. Over the end credits, they go into how Trinity and Neo become one with the spirit and their oneness redeemed the world. West closes by noting how every individual digs deep into their soul to find a way to connect with something bigger. Thatís what the major characters in The Matrix saga did and, in a sense, thatís what the rabid fans did, as well. In all, their take on the material is unique and fun to listen to.

DISC SIX

Disc six begins with Crew, which highlights some of the unsung heroes of the shoot. First off, production designer Owen Paterson helps strip away the veneer of moviemaking by explaining that his art department used five stages to construct 140 sets. Next we meet Kimble Rendall,

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the 2nd Unit Director, whoís Vice President of Blowing Things Up. A montage of, appropriately enough, things blowing up, follows. Next is DP Bill Pope, who talks of the "scale and density" of the filming. He says the last two movies have a total of about 760 scenes! As a DP, imagine having to shoot all that. Itís amazing this University of Virginia grad did such a great job. Finally, we meet the Key Grip and Gaffer. They explain what they do, and we see them do it. They take endearingly special note to point out what "the key grips do in Australia." In all, this is one of the nicer pieces in the set. Video is full screen and clean. Some of the on-location is less than perfect, but thatís to be expected with run and gun footage like this.

Next we go to Hel. Club Hel, that is. For 27-minutes, we learn how the Club Hel sequence was planned and shot. As part of the scene, stuntmen ran atop the ceiling, and thereís plenty of footage to show how it was done. In a nice touch, we even see some stunt tryouts, with all sorts of Australian stuntmen auditioning for the film. Then we meet Leo Henry: Exploding Man, who talks about how his love of fireworks led to his job exploding squibs and bullets for The Matrix series. Finally, we meet the extras in the Club Hel scene. And man, watching a bunch of extras sit around and wait really takes the glory out of filmmaking.

Super Burly Brawl is about 16-minutes. During the climatic fight, Neo gets thrown through a wall and here we learn that two stuntmen and one very well-paid actor (named Keanu) were involved in that 3-second shot. The piece does a good job of pointing out which bits were done by stuntmen and which were done by Reeves. According to Hugo Weaving, the rain in the climatic fight was coming down so hard, they couldnít hear themselves speak. Finally, thereís a brief bit on the Superpunch Neo delivers to Agent Smith. A mold of Hugo Weavingís head was made grotesque-looking, as if it had just been hit with the hardest punch a man could deliver. Computer models and storyboards continue the story, which ends with the final footage. Good stuff.

New Blue World is a 26-minute tour of Zion, humanityís last free city.

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They talk of giving Zion an engineering quality, different from the coolness of the Matrix. The actors marvel at how most of the inhabitants of Zion are minorities. We also take a tour of the Nebuchadnezzar cockpit and we meet the people who designed all the computer displays. Again, video is full screen and dirt free. Some individual shots can be flawed, but itís nothing to worry about.

Finally, we have Aftermath, which we meet the other unsung heroes of filmmaking, post-production. First we meet composer Don Davis, whose contribution to the film is sometimes overlooked. While the score isnít heavily thematic, he does say that Neo and Trinity have a love theme, which becomes very prominent in Revolutions. Nice, long chunks of scoring session footage fill out this interesting piece. Next we meet editor Zach Staenberg who looks relieved that principal photography had just finished. Getting "Larry and Andyís attention" is now a lot easier. Staenberg, who wanted to keep the three films consistent editorially, takes us around the editing offices. Finally, we meet the crew responsible for all the sound effects. And man, there were lots of sound effects and the team tried mightily to never use the same sound twice. We see them recording the sounds (sometimes in the oddest places), then deciding how theyíll work in the shot. I liked this piece, because it sang the praises of very important, but sometimes overlooked crew members.

DISC SEVEN

Disc seven is a re-package of The Animatrix, In November 2003, to prime the pump for the release of Reloaded, Warner and the Wachowskis commissioned nine animated short films that took place in the Matrix universe. Each film served one of two purposes: 1) provide factual information about how the machines came to take over the world and 2) tell individual stories about everyday people living in the Matrix. Although Animatrix seems like filler, the end result is pretty damn entertaining. Each short was created using a different animation technique. Some are Final Fantasy-quality CGI, others are anime, while

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others create their own impressionistic, creative blend.

While theyíre not all equally successful narratively, they do score major points in the art department. There are nine films total and they are:

Final Flight of Osiris has been called The Matrix 1.5 and itís easy to see why. In this 9-minute short, the hovercraft Osiris discovers that the bad guys have found Zion. The crew needs to get that information to a drop point in the Matrix before the Sentinels destroy the ship. The CGI here is stunning and the story, written by the Wachowskis, is exciting. Average fans of the movies will dig it because itís directly relevant to the series.

The Second Renaissance 1 & 2 were also written by The Brothers and they answer a question that fans have always been curious about: how did the machines take over Earth? Presented as an archive news file, Second Renaissance 1 & 2 are apocalyptic fun, with heavy nods to The Terminator series. The story takes us from Manís reliance on machines, to our inability to see them as sentient beings, to the machines rebelling, to Man basically destroying the world to keep them from taking over (Nice plan. Didnít work.) The style is anime with a touch of Ralph Bakshi. Itís a trip well worth taking.

A Kidís Story features the Neo and Trinity characters helping a school kid who has figured out for himself that reality is an illusion. The animation is really something to behold: itís anime mixed with pencil line drawings. Also written by the Wachowskis, the story is fairly well told with an okay payoff. But the wonderful animation pulls you through.

Program was written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawaiiri (Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust) and it tells the story of Duo, a mighty warrior who decides he prefers the carefree illusion of the Matrix and wants to go back in for good. When he tries to convince a nameless white-maned woman to join him, they fight in Japanese feudal style. It takes an interesting Matrix-related question, "would you rather live with a horrible truth or live in

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blissful denial?" and gives it anime life.

If World Record was a bit less obtuse in its storytelling, it would have been one of the better entries. Champion sprinter Dan Davis ruptures his quad while racing to best his own 100M world record. The pain is so bad, that Dan actually wakes up in his cocoon, discovering the truth about his existence. The machines then fly over to his cocoon and fry his brain. Danís one, brief taste of freedom is stylistically drawn, with thick borders and anime flair.

Koji Morimoto, an animation supervisor on Akira, writes and directs the okay entry, Beyond. A young girl, trying to find her lost cat, enters an abandoned house where weird things are happening. As it turns out, the house is a section of the Matrix on the fritz. Beyond is too long. Its story could have been told in half the time. Pretty to look at, with its combo of anime and CGI depth of field, but itís only worth a skim.

A Detective Story is a gorgeous piece of film noir. A detective is hired by unknown benefactors to find Trinity (voiced by Carrie-Anne Moss). The resulting investigation is brought to life with black and white images of pure beauty.

Finally, Peter Chung, creator of MTVís Aeon Flux (one of the first mainstream uses of the Japanese animation style), writes and directs Matriculated. In this challenging story, a group of Freedom Fighters capture machines and convert them, making them fight for Mankind. But of course, in the Wachowskiís world, itís never that simple, and the ending is never happy. Itís a beautiful combination of cell animation and CGI.

All nine segments were done in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, which only adds to their power. The transfers are 99% perfect, with extremely minor noise bringing the final score down. Colors (mostly muted, but some bold), detail, and black levels are excellent. The overall picture is very smooth with outstanding contrast and no compression artifacts.

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The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is also a winner. The surrounds are constantly engaged and the Don Davis score sounds full, with no tearing in the high end. Bass is impressively deep. Dialogue is clear and understandable.

The extras on Animatrix are identical to the previous release. There are directorís commentaries that accompany four episodes: Program, World Record and The Second Renaissance 1 and 2. The audio is in Japanese with English subtitles. The Japanese take this art form very seriously and their thought-provoking comments are worth a listen. There is a dark side to this polite Far East society and it comes out in their interpretations of the Matrix material.

Scroll to Screen: The History and Culture of Anime is a 22-minute look at this very Japanese art form. Here we learn about the development of Manga and how it led to anime. Plus, we chart its travels from Japan, across Europe and to America (always the last to implement something really cool). Anime classics like Ghost in the Shell and Akira are discussed, as well as the Matrix series. Itís a good primer for beginning amine buffs.

Creators are text-based bios of the filmmakers, while Executions are making-of featurettes. Watch them separately or all in one 55-minute shot.

DISC EIGHT

Disc eight is called The Roots of the Matrix and it explores the religious and spiritual underpinnings of the world the Wachowskis created.

Return to Source: Philosophy & The Matrix asks a bevy of religious professors and writers from prestigious institutions to weigh in on the subject. Calling it "a savvy modern myth", the Matrix is said to be based on Jesus of Nazareth and expectation of the One that infuses the bulk of the Hebrew Bible. The film also touches upon aspects of Buddhism,

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which posits that ignorance is the problem and liberation or awakening is the solution.

Social scientists see the Matrix as a world of rigid thinking and institutionalized control. People in our world are guilty of this every day, giving ourselves over to parents, schools or police. West says that all of us should be suspicious of authority and blind obedience. The people in the Matrix who are not ready to know the truth are the ultimate losers, in the minds of the social scientists interviewed here.

Philosophy professors discuss how the Matrix is the opposite of Socratesí main thesis, which is that "we know that we do not know." Those who live in the Matrix donít know that they donít know (very Rumsfeldian).

Return to Source: Philosophy & The Matrix is an hour long, and itís worth the trip. At the end, the Matrix trilogy is memorably called "jazz mythology," where little bits of different mythologies are thrown out there and the sum effect is the creation of a totally new myth.

The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction is also an hour and it focuses on the technological aspects of the Matrix story. The overall thrust of the trilogy is not new: robots become aware and become our masters. In that sense, Matrix is no different from The Terminator or I, Robot or any number of sci-fi texts. Everyone interviewed here agrees that a totally persuasive virtual reality world is possible, but drawing electricity "from our spines", as one scientist puts it, is a bit harder to believe. Still, the very basis of all science fiction is, "you never know."

The Hard Problem begins by getting into the videogame phenomenon and how those silly FPSís are actually a serious glimpse into the future. After all, in a videogame, weíre interacting with intelligent software that is posing as a monster, a quarterback, a cop or an alien. From there the doc discusses nanobots, then AI, then finally virtual reality. Like the previous documentary, this is no fluff piece. Itís pretty interesting and, if

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their credits are any indication, the people interviewed are real-deal scientists. Also like the previous documentary, the film clips are in 2.35:1 and look great, while the interview bites are a clean widescreen.

DISC NINE

As if half a dozen discs involving all manner of Matrix minutiae isnít enough, Disc Nine is a 90-minute documentary called The Burly Man Chronicles. The doc begins in August 2000, with the pre-production of the two Matrix sequels and the Matrix videogame. The piece starts in Alameda, California, where stuntmen are undergoing fight training. It continues with storyboards, wire-work training, (including a trip on the Vomit Comet, a plane that flies high enough to attain zero gravity), green screen shooting with Hugo Weaving (Agent Smith), more fight training, costume fittings, stunt coordinating, designing of the freeway chase, etc., etc.

March 27, 2001 is Day 1 of principal photography and the first shot of the first day is Trinity driving full speed out of an underground garage. From there, we go to the freeway chase (which was covered on another doc on another disc), The Burly Brawl (what the filmmakers called the Neo vs. 100 Agent Smith fight) and the Zion rave (which included 959 extras).

From there itís on to Australia, where over 140 sets were built, for scenes that would take over 200 days to shoot. 7,500 costumes were sewn Down Under, which included 1450 self-covered buttons for Neoís jacket. Two tragedies marred the Australian portion of the shoot. On August 25, R&B singer Aaliyah, who had a role in the film, was killed in a plane crash. And two weeks later, September 11th. Thereís emotional post 9/11 material, including Carrie-Anne Moss carrying a painting from the Matrix cast and crew that will be sold to raise money for a fire station in New York that lost 11 firemen. Also, Laurence Fishburne gives a speech to the crew, telling them to "give as much as we can to this project", since the themes of The Matrix seem especially relevant now.

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And if that wasnít enough in the tragedy department, Gloria Foster, the actress who played Oracle, died.

The Burly Man Chronicles ends with the 1st AD announcing, "thanks everybody and thatís a wrap on Matrix." Thatís followed by Moss and Fishburne giving "thank you" speeches while the champagne flows.

Directed by Josh Oreck, The Burly Man Chronicles is actually quite excellent. The BTS footage has been mercifully paired down to the essential and the interesting, while Oreckís team was able to capture lots of great "inside baseball" moments, where the Wachowskis and the actors discuss their characters. The documentary is full-frame and looks good, even in low-light.

Of course, on The Ultimate Matrix Collection, you canít just have a great documentary and leave it at that. There must be more, More, MORE! Similar to the original DVD of The Matrix, whenever you see a white rabbit in the corner of the screen, press "enter" on your remote and branch into a short piece about the subject at hand. There are 23 in all and they can also be accessed separate from the documentary.

DISC TEN

By the time you get to disc ten, you should seriously consider taking a shower. If youíre so immersed in all things Matrix that you canít even get up to take a shower, you may want to pop a multi-vitamin, or hook yourself up to an IV. But fear not, the end is almost here.

Disc ten is mainly comprised of sketches, photo galleries, TV spots, and trailers. But in the name of thoroughness, letís go through all of it.

The Zion Archive contains boatloads of production art. First are storyboards for thirty different sequences. Some of the storyboards are computer-generated and some, like the fight storyboards, are hard drawings. The Characters section contains slick color sketches of the

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