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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 10/1/03

The Matrix Reloaded
2003 (2003) - Warner Bros.

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Matrix Reloaded Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/C-

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
138 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 80:25 in chapter 20), keep case packaging, animated film-themed menus with sound effects and music, scene access (36 chapters), languages: English and French (Dolby Digital 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two - The Extras
Preload behind-the-scenes documentary (22 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), The Matrix Unfolds featurette (5 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), The Freeway Chase documentary (31 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), Get Me an Exit featurette (10 mins, 4x3, DD 2.0), Enter the Matrix: The Game behind-the-scenes documentary (28 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), trailer for The Animatrix (4x3, DD 2.0), MTV Movie Awards spoof video (10 mins - 4x3, DD 2.0), DVD-ROM feature (weblinks), animated film-themed menus with sound effects and music

The Matrix Reloaded has arrived on DVD. Get ready for the double-dip.

Reloaded is the second chapter of Andy and Larry Wachowski's epic, three part trilogy set in the word of the computerized Matrix, where Machines have enslaved the bodies of Human by tricking their minds as to the true nature of reality. Neo, Morpheus and Trinity are all back, along with a rogue's gallery of new supporting characters. And things have gotten a little dicey for them. It seems the Machines have upgraded and mass produced themselves for a final, all-out assault on Zion, the Human enclave miles underneath the burnt-out Earth's surface. They're right over Zion and they're drilling down fast. As if that's not bad enough for Neo and company, the software agents in the Matrix too have been upgraded somehow, especially Agent Smith. Smith is just itching to get his digital hands around Neo's neck, and he's got the power to do some serious damage now. But thankfully, Neo has also gained in strength, having vastly improved his mastery over the "rules" that govern the Matrix. So now Neo and his friends are waiting for a message from the Oracle... a message they hope will lead them to the key to stopping the Machines once and for all.

As cool as all of that sounds, I have to say that this isn't a particularly great film. Part of the problem is that too much of The Matrix Reloaded feels like an exercise in style over substance. The many, many fight scenes tend to go on too long, so that you're drawn out of your immersion in the story. It's as if this film were a musical, and every so often the whole thing stops for a big song and dance number. Here, unfortunately, the dance moves are all wire-supplemented and CGI enhanced. Don't get me wrong... they're all pretty cool. But they just can't compete with the emotional impact that the fights in the first film had. We were all blown away by those, because we'd never seen anything quite like them before. With Reloaded, of course, we have. So to try to garner that same impact, the filmmakers have simply made the fights bigger, longer and more over-the-top. It doesn't work, at least for me. There's a point in the set-piece, hand-to-hand battle between Neo and a hundred Agent Smiths where the characters suddenly become all digital, so that the fight moves can be made that much more incredible. But you can tell exactly when none of the characters you're seeing aren't real anymore, so a lot of the sense of jeopardy in the scene goes away. Throw in an extended, ten-minute rave scene in Zion, full of sweaty, sexy writhing bodies, and it becomes tough to appreciate this film as anything but spectacle on a vast scale.

Still, there's definitely some good stuff going on here. The production design is fabulous, and the CGI is mostly excellent - a good thing given that there's so much of it. The story is rife with cultural and literary references, seemingly all of it serving some kind of subtle (and not so subtle) symbolic purpose. The cast fills out their roles admirably, with a number of new additions to the supporting players, notably Monica Bellucci as the deliciously sensual Persephone. Keanu Reeves is once again stiffly perfect as Neo - the guy was born to play this role. It'll be tough to see him deliver dialogue in anything else and not expect the next line to be: "Mister Andersonnnn..." And on that note, it would be impossible to review this film and not give a nod to the delightful Hugo Weaving, who plays the role of Agent Smith to the absolute hilt here. I did use the words "a hundred Agent Smiths" a minute ago, and believe me, every last one of them tears up the screen.

Warner made at least one very smart decision with this film on disc. There is absolutely nothing on Disc One except the film, which means that every bit of space - literally - is dedicated to the picture and sound quality. That's important, because this is a film with an astonishing level of detail and chaotic motion. The result is exceptional. This film looks about as good as it ever could on DVD. The average video data rate is about 6 Mbps, but the compression is very efficient. You'll see only very minor artifacting on this disc, and only if you really, really look for it. There's light grain, as is appropriate, and edge enhancement is a non-issue. What you'll appreciate is the clarity. The detail apparent here is extraordinary given that this is only a 480p image. Texture is visible in subtle ways throughout the image, in everything from skin to hull plating, making this a very dimensional video presentation. Contrast is also excellent, with the darkest picture areas retaining just the right amount of shadow detail. And the deliberately stylized and muted color scheme looks exactly as it should. This should easily rank among your best video demo material on disc.

What I really like about the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is its subtlety. This is a surround mix that is extremely active, as it should be, with lots of directional panning and exceptional atmospheric fill. But its staging and presentation never hits you over the head. It's surprisingly natural sounding, and adds a wonderful degree of authenticity to the image onscreen. The front soundstage isn't hugely wide, but it's perfect for the task at hand. Dialogue is always clear and tight, the music is well blended in the mix, and low frequency fills in the bottom end of the soundscape at just the right moments. Some viewers might find that they're not as "blown away" by this audio mix as they expected to be, but if you really give it a chance, I think the fine nuances here will really leave you impressed. Matrix movies are all about mood and atmosphere, and the DVD sound here has both in spades.

If the presentation quality of this disc is stellar, the extras on Disc Two leave almost everything to be desired. Note that this is not a special edition. There's a very good reason for that. When this trilogy is complete, the brothers Wachowski intend to revisit all three films in a full-on special edition box set. In fact, Warner's planned two-disc edition of the original film was cancelled earlier this year for just this reason. Accordingly, you'll find no audio commentary here, and no deleted scenes. There are no artwork galleries and no multi-angle scene dissections. Instead, what you get is a simple glimpse behind the scenes, along with a generic look at the Matrix phenomenon as a whole and not-so subtle promotion for other Matrix products, like The Animatrix on DVD and the Enter the Matrix videogame (the stories for both of which tie closely, through not indispensably, into this film). The best of the extras is the Preload documentary, which runs about twenty minutes and takes you inside the production. There are interviews with cast and crew and lots of footage of stunt work. The Freeway Chase looks in more detail at the staging of... well, the freeway chase. It's thirty minutes long. Also thirty minutes is the look at the making of the videogame. The rest is just filler, although the Get Me an Exit featurette is at least somewhat interesting, with its look at design and advertising inspired by these films. And fans will be pleased to find the MTV Movie Awards spoof with Sean William Scott and that kid from N*SYNC. Still, there's virtually nothing here that will impress you, from either the standpoint of insights into the film or interesting use of DVD features. And none of it is anamorphic. You'll be left with the feeling that the best bonus material is being saved for later, which of course it is.

All in all, it's probably not fair to really be critical of The Matrix Reloaded, without having yet seen the conclusion to this trilogy. This is basically just the first half of a four-hour sequel to the original film, to be concluded by The Matrix Revolutions in a couple of months. Accordingly, there are lots of storylines left hanging, and even if you think you've got them all figured out already, there are bound to be at least a few surprises up the Wachowskis' collective sleeve. For now, it's really best to just sit back and try to enjoy this film for what it is... glossy, high-speed eye candy. Thankfully, that's easy to do with presentation quality this good. And if the extras here don't impress you, and they won't, well... you and I both know this isn't the last we'll see of The Matrix Reloaded on DVD. So until the double-dip, knock back a stiff shot of your favorite transcendental beverage of choice and give Disc One a whirl. Trust me, spinning this flick is guaranteed to... well, leave you spinning.

Bill Hunt

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