Matrix, The (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Bill Hunt
  • Review Date: May 12, 2018
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Matrix, The (4K UHD Review)

Director

The Wachowskis

Release Date(s)

1999 (May 22, 2018)

Studio(s)

Village Roadshow/Silver Pictures/Groucho II Film Partnership (Warner Bros.)
  • Film/Program Grade: A
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: A

The Matrix (4K Ultra HD Blu-ray)

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Review

By day, Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is a programmer for a leading software company, just one of many blue collar cogs in the machine slaving his life away in a cubicle. At night, however, he becomes Neo, an expert computer hacker who breaks into mainframes and surf digital networks with impunity, seeking the answer to a question that’s long haunted him: “What is the Matrix?” One day, Neo gets an online message that leads him to an underground club. There he meets a woman named Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), another hacker who warns him that he’s been discovered and is in a great deal of danger for his hacking exploits. But there’s an upside; Trinity offers to lead Neo to a mysterious man known as Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) who can answer his question... and reveal a secret that will shake Neo’s perception of reality to its very core.

Written and directed by The Wachowskis, The Matrix was an almost complete surprise to audiences and critics when it arrived in theaters in 1999. There had simply never been anything like it on the big screen before – only Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) and Alex Proyas’ Dark City (1998) come close, though the film certainly owes nods to Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira (1988) and Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost and the Shell (1995) as well, both landmarks of Japanese anime.

If you haven’t already seen The Matrix, the less you know about its story the better. In tone, the film is equal parts HK action, high-concept sci-fi, and noirish mystery. Its ensemble cast is as unlikely as it is good. This is one of those rare roles that seems to fit Keanu Reeves perfectly. Moss and Fishburne add just the right measure of cool provocativeness, Joe Pantoliano is as shifty as ever, and (pre-Lord of the Rings) this was Hugo Weaving’s breakout exposure to mainstream international audiences (though arthouse filmgoers had seen him a few years earlier in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). You may also spot Robert Taylor (of Longmire fame) in an early role here as one of Weaving’s bespeckled Agents.

The Matrix was shot on film in Super 35 using Panavision cameras and finished on film (with VFX shots rendered at 2K). It’s been newly-scanned in 4K from the original camera negative and remastered under the supervision of the film’s director of photography, Bill Pope. Following high dynamic range grades in both HDR10 and Dolby Vision, the resulting image is presented here on Ultra HD at the proper 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. The increase in fine detail and texturing over the previous Blu-ray transfer is remarkable, especially given the film’s vintage and the slightly lower resolution of its visual effects shots. The image is gritty but not overly so, yet the definition is crisp and tight. Completely gone is the digitally-processed look the film has always had on Blu-ray, not to mention the haloing of edge enhancement. This actually looks like the film it is. And the high dynamic range! Shadows are deeply black, yet still retain all of the detail present in the negative. The brightest areas of the frame are bright enough to be truly eye-reactive. When Morpheus and Neo visit the Construct for the first time, the environment around them is a luminous white. As the police officers wave their flashlights at Trinity in the film’s opening, there’s a lifelike pop to their glare that really adds to the intensity of the moment. And of course the colors are exquisite, often shifted to a cool green-blue by design, truly bold when appropriate, yet subtle and nuanced always. You have, quite simply, never seen the film looking this good before, even if you experienced it in a theater in its original release. It’s gorgeous.

Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in a new object-based Dolby Atmos lossless mix that has a wonderfully effortless quality. The staging is completely natural sounding, with tremendous dynamic range that takes you from the quietest dialogue moments, set amid softly-atmospheric environmental cues, to the thunderous bombast of the film’s action moments. Dialogue is clean and clear, and the surround panning and movement has extraordinary precision. When Neo and Morpheus are sparring in their virtual dojo, the light, shimmery sound of cymbals and gongs lingers in the air before fading away. Drums have a rich organic tone, with firm bass. And when the film’s pulsing electronic soundtrack kicks in, it’s as if you’re listening to an SACD. This a great surround mix for this film and a perfect match to the newly-upgraded visual experience. Additional audio options include English and French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital, with subtitles available in English (for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing), French, Dutch, and Spanish.

The 4K Ultra HD disc itself includes five extras, all carried over from the previous Blu-ray and DVD editions. These include:

  • Written Introduction by The Wachowskis
  • Philosophers Commentary by Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber
  • Critics Commentary by Todd McCarthy, John Powers, and David Thomson
  • Cast and Crew Commentary by Carrie-Anne Moss, Zach Staenberg, and John Gaeta
  • Composer Commentary by Don Davis with Music-Only Track

The package also includes the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray, but this is not simply the previous single-disc edition. It’s a new two-disc set with the movie on its own Blu-ray, mastered from the new 4K scan (with the Dolby Atmos audio mix as well). It too includes the same four commentaries and text introduction listed above and adds following special feature from the previous Blu-ray edition:

  • In-Movie Experience (an Enhanced Viewing Mode – 136:17 in all)

There’s also a Blu-ray of special features that carries over all of the other previous special features, including the following (in the original SD):

  • The Matrix Revisited (feature-length documentary – 122:50)
  • Behind the Matrix (7 featurettes – 43:06 in al)
  • Follow the White Rabbit (9 featurettes – 22:51 in all)
  • Take the Red Pill (2 featurettes – 17:42 in all)
  • The Music Revisited (41 audio-only music selections)
  • Rock Is Dead music video (3:20)
  • Teaser Trailer (1:01)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:33)
  • TV Spots (8 spots – 3:45 in all)

This is a great batch of material, some of which was created for the original DVD release and some of it for The Ultimate Matrix Collection box set (see our review of that Blu-ray set here). The documentary and featurettes are good, but The Music Revisited material is a treat, and the real highlight is the Philosophers Commentary. It’s quite simply one of the best features ever produced for either DVD or Blu-ray. Cornel West and Ken Wilber are a pair of genuine deep thinkers. You’ll be listening along and West will mutter something like, “Good God almighty, I like this music,” in his smooth tones. Then he’ll follow it with, “This is very interesting, the relationship between awakening and danger. Once you begin to question, you begin to constitute a threat to whatever authority is keeping track of you...” Wilber will respond with a comment on Socrates and the perception of layers of reality... and man, if the track doesn’t have you by then, you’re brain dead. Book yourself a nice, long block of free time and consume this track with a good scotch. It’s terrific. Note that this package also includes a Movies Anywhere Digital Copy code on a paper insert, as you might expect.

Rooted in literary cyberpunk, and equal parts William Gibson, Jean Baudrillard, and Lewis Carroll, The Matrix was ahead of its time twenty years ago, is arguably more relevant today than ever, and still ranks as one of the best science fiction films ever made. Though its memory was somewhat diminished by its two sequels, The Matrix is a unique and compelling gem that looks and sounds better than ever in this new and reference-grade 4K Ultra HD presentation from Warner. This film was almost made for eventual enhancement with High Dynamic Range and object-based audio (word is the sequels are likely to receive a similar upgrade on 4K later this year). Add the bonus of a remastered Blu-ray too and fans should not be disappointed with this release. You get your money’s worth here. Not only is this a highly recommended release, it’s an absolute must-have title on the Ultra HD format. Don’t miss it.

- Bill Hunt

(You can follow Bill on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

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