- Rated R
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
roduced especially for the DVD geek in all of us, the Wachowski Brothers have finally released “The Ultimate Matrix” DVD box set, a digital nerd-a-palooza filled with over 35 hours of special features and the entire film trilogy in all of its glory. So it’s a bit overdone and incredibly redundant, but how could any fan of the sci-fi saga resist such a colossal DVD release as this? Before you even crack open the several flip cases that protect each disc, most fans will fall in love with the cosmetically fresh and shiny “running code” box – a mesmerizing pop culture landmine that will make anyone’s collection look that much cooler. Included in the DVD box set are ten discs jam-packed with an overabundance of special features and bonus material that can quickly become exhausting to zoom through. When you do manage to plow through the entire source material though, you will have a full understanding to the vast amount of time and energy that went into making all three films.
First and foremost, “The Matrix” trilogy has never looked better. The entire saga is presented in an amazing anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer and has been given a 5.1 Dolby Digital audio track that will blow both you mind and your ears out of the real world. The most important change in the collection is the new digital transfer of the original film since it first debuted in the trial-and-error age of DVD technology. The new transfer for the original film now more closely resembles the same vibrant visual styles that can be found in “Reloaded” and “Revolutions” like the greenish tints of the matrix and the blue tints of the real world. The decision to make these small changes really affects the Brother’s original vision of viewing the trilogy as one story and you won’t notice how much this impacts the overall product until you watch them back-to-back-to-back.
With so many small changes being made to the visual aspects of the film, most fans will be glad to know that the directors didn’t spoil their original films with new footage. If you already own the original DVD releases of the trilogy, be prepared for an identical treatment. Disc 1 includes “The Matrix” with a new digital transfer and minus the Carrie-Anne Moss commentary track, disc 2 is the formerly released “The Matrix Revisited,” and discs 3-6 are carbon copies of the “Reloaded” and “Revolutions” two-disc editions. The special features that appear throughout the first half of the collection include inside looks at the music selection of the first film, SFX and stunt featurettes, making-of documentaries, cast interviews and the 23 individual scenes specifically shot for the “Enter the Matrix” video game. Some of the better featurettes include a look at the techno-inspired scenes in Club HEL (disc 6) and the choreography behind the burly man fight between Neo and the gang of Agent Smiths (disc 4), but each and every special is filled with hours of remarkable production notes.
In fact, the only changes made to the first six discs of the box set are the added commentary tracks and written introduction by Andy and Larry Wachowski that appear on discs 1, 3 and 5. While the written memo is the same on all three discs, each film has been given two brand new audio commentaries. The first commentary on each film is led by the philosophers who loved the trilogy (Dr. Colonel West and Ken Wilbur), while the other track is bombarded by the critics who hated it (Variety’s Todd McCarthy, Vogue’s John Powers and the author of the New Biographical Dictionary of Film, David Thompson).
Another familiar addition to the collection is the previously released DVD, “The Animatrix.” Showcasing nine short films exploring the matrix by some of anime's top artists and directors, “The Animatrix” is a unique look at the other lives that have been affected by the events in the film. Japan’s top animators dive into the history of the machine renaissance and introduce fans of the series to new characters within the world through a variety of different mediums ranging from computer-generated animation to two-dimensional cartoons. The single-disc also has its share of special features for audiences to browse, but most of them aren’t nearly as enjoyable as the earlier features. Along with audio commentaries on four films by the respected directors and making-of documentaries on the origins of each short, “Scrolls to Screen: History and Culture of Anime” is by far the best pick. The hour-long documentary examines the art of anime leading up to the production of “The Animatrix” and serves as a nice retreat from the sometimes repetitive barrage of “Matrix”-themed documentaries.
The final three discs are a hodgepodge of documentaries and special bonus features that couldn’t be placed on to one certain disc, so they’ve been broken down into separate categories. All three of these discs most likely could have been condensed into one, but for the sake of intimidation, the collection has spread the final four hours of footage on to discs 8-10. Disc eight, “The Roots of the Matrix,” takes a look at the intellectual and academic properties of the series through two documentaries that are led by some of the world’s greatest minds. In “Return to Source,” a panel of philosophers and writers examine the film’s religious and philosophical connotations through various theories and commentaries on the subject. “The Hard Problem” follows up on the previous documentary by discussing the scientific aspects of the film through the evolution of AI and computer-simulation over the past twenty years. Both of these featurettes are very hard to sit through for the full hour unless you are extremely interested in deconstructing the numerous references used throughout the trilogy, so don't feel ignorant for skipping over this one.
For the fans that are just looking for a few more hours of behind-the-scenes footage though, check out disc nine, “The Burly Man Chronicles.” Spanning just over an hour-and-a-half, “Chronicles” is a fly-on-the-wall view of the day-to-day production of the entire trilogy. Showing the audience everything from the major cast’s martial arts training to the actual shooting of the film, this is probably the best documentary of the entire collection. Throughout the feature, a small white rabbit will also occasionally blink at the bottom right corner of the screen, and by pushing “Enter” on your DVD remote, the feature will temporarily pause and show hidden featurettes on several crew members that worked on the film. These short featurettes can also be viewed individually under the “Follow the White Rabbit” option on the main menu of this disc.
The final disc of the massive box set, “The Zion Archive,” is simply filled with a collection of supplemental material like concept art and film trailers for all three films. Also included on the disc is a worthless 10-minute “Rave Reel” of FX shots and a fantastic insider’s look at the new “Matrix Online” video game. Disc ten is another section of the collection that can easily be skipped over for time, but I’m glad that the material was included for the sake of those that wanted access to the little things that inspired the creation of the films.
The entire set has a number of flaws that can be expected from such a daring DVD release as this, but overall, "The Ultimate Matrix" is a big slice of pop culture that shouldn't be missing from your film collection. The new extras will be a bit enticing for those who currently own the first seven discs from their previous releases, but with an enormous lack of original material making its way on to the Wachowski's so-called "ultimate" release, this is one DVD collection better left to those who could wait. Unless you can justify your eternal fandom for the sci-fi saga by repurchasing the same film twice, don't open your wallet a second time. And it shouldn't take an Oracle to convince you of that.