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review added: 4/13/04



The Matrix Revolutions
2-Disc Widescreen Edition - 2003 (2004) - Warner Bros.

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Matrix Revolutions Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A/B

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
129 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, double-disc keep case, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), 4 trailers (The Matrix teaser, The Matrix Reloaded teaser, The Animatrix teaser and The Matrix Revolutions theatrical trailer), DVD-ROM weblinks, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (33 chapters), languages: English and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two - The Extras
NR, full frame (1.33:1), single-sided, single-layered, Revolutions Recalibrated featurette, CG Revolution featurette, Super Burly Brawl multi-angle feature, Future Gamer: The Matrix Online featurette, Before the Revolution timeline, 3-D Evolution galleries (concept art and storyboards), web links, 4 Operator featurettes (Neo Realism, Super Big Mini Models, Double Agent Smith and Mind Over Matter), animated film-themed menu screens with sound, languages: English (DD 2.0 Surround), Closed Captioned


The Matrix so far...

Back in 1999, a computer hacker calling himself Neo discovered that the world he thought he knew was in fact an elaborate computer simulation called the Matrix. In the real world, his body was stuck in a colossal pink egg-type thing, plugged into the Matrix and being used as a battery to feed the machines that had taken over the world long ago. Neo was rescued from his dream-state by Morpheus and Trinity, two people from the real world that believed Neo was "The One", i.e., the one who could end the war between man and machine and who's coming had been foretold by The Oracle. Attempting to stop them was Agent Smith, a computer program whose task it was to track down and kill humans who were aware of their existence in the Matrix. Neo destroyed Smith and returned to the real world with Morpheus and Trinity, ready to take things to the next level. Along the way, Larry and Andy Wachowski redefined science fiction cinema, creating a visual look and style whose influence is still being felt today. In Neo, Keanu Reeves found another role that matched his Zen-surfer acting style completely. And Japanese anime and wire-fu techniques were thrust into the mainstream of American pop culture.

2003's The Matrix Reloaded found Neo settling comfortably into his new role as messiah, having picked up all sorts of nifty savior tricks like the ability to fly and bring people back from the dead (or, at the very least, people that he just loves too goddamn much). In the last remaining human city of Zion, Morpheus continued to tell anybody who'd listen that Neo was going to end the war. Neo and Trinity hooked up as the real world's cutest power couple. While back in the Matrix, Agent Smith turned out to be not quite as destroyed as everyone had assumed. In fact, he had simply been freed from the Matrix and was now running loose, replicating himself throughout the system like the world's worst e-mail virus. Somehow he'd even figured out a way to infiltrate the real world by possessing a hapless soldier. Zion was about to be attacked by the machines and time was running out. If Neo really was The One, he'd better do something quick. But by the end of the movie, even that was thrown into doubt as Neo lay comatose (right next to the Smith-possessed soldier) after taking out some Sentinels in the real world by waving his fingers at them. At the same time, Larry and Andy Wachowski redefined audience sequel disappointment, overloading Reloaded with baffling new characters like The Merovingian, Persephone, The Architect, and The Keymaker (Zuul and Gozer, apparently, were not available).

I mention all this because if you attempt to watch The Matrix Revolutions without first at least trying to make sense of the first two movies, you're not going to have clue one what's going on here. By comparison, The Two Towers and The Return of the King look positively user-friendly. If the Matrix movies were a school assignment (and with their often heavy-handed literary and religious allusion, sometimes they feel like they are), you'd get extra credit for watching the animated DVD tie-in The Animatrix, reading the online comics at The Matrix website and playing the Enter the Matrix video game, all of which fill in some of the holes left by the movies themselves.

As one of the millions of people who loved The Matrix and was mildly shocked and appalled by The Matrix Reloaded, I was somewhat surprised to discover that the capper to the trilogy is something of a return to form. No, Revolutions doesn't approach the innovative heights of the first movie. No, it doesn't answer all your questions or make Reloaded any less confusing (though I suspect that if you're extremely well versed in computers, which I certainly am not, this all seems perfectly clear to you). But it does correct some of the second film's more fundamental cinematic flaws. In Reloaded, Neo seemed to have become so amazingly all-powerful that there was practically nothing he couldn't do. It's no coincidence that the Wachowskis banished Neo from Reloaded's signature freeway chase. As soon as he swept in and saved the day, the chase was over. In Revolutions, Neo is more human. He starts the movie in a purgatory run by the Trainman. For the first time since the first movie, he's in a situation he can't understand or control.

But for all of the Wachowskis' grand ideas (most of which are cribbed from other sources anyway), what people really respond to most in the Matrix movies are the set-piece action sequences. Here, Revolutions delivers in spades. Smack dab in the center of the movie is the Sentinels' siege on Zion, a breathtaking twenty-minute action epic that starts big and just doesn't let up. Capping the movie is Neo's final showdown with Agent Smith, another impressive sequence that bests all of the other mano-a-mano fights in the series.

Unfortunately, not everything is fixed. Still missing in action from the Wachowskis' repertoire is anything even resembling a sense of humor. The Matrix was a big, thunderous action movie, yes, but it actually had some lighter moments and a couple of laughs as Neo tried to figure out just what the hell was going on. That was sacrificed totally in the second film and is only lurking around the edges of the third, as if frightened by all the stark lighting, guns and torrential rains. Granted, it's tough to make room for a pie fight when you're making a movie about humanity's last stand but adding some lighter moments would help give the audience a reason to care if these people lived or died. As it is, computer characters like The Oracle seem far more human than Laurence Fishburne's impossibly stoic Morpheus or Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss as the androgynous Wonder Twins.

To the surprise of hopefully nobody, Warner's two-disc DVD looks and sounds downright amazing. With virtually all of the special features on the second disc, the bulk of the space on Disc One is devoted to bringing the movie to life. This is a perfect, razor-sharp image with impeccable levels of detail. Shadows are deep and rich, not just patches of black screen. Although it's a fairly monochromatic film, colors are vibrant and stable when they do appear. The sound is by turns bombastic and subtle, roaring to life in scenes like the siege and impressing with tiny details during quieter moments. Across the board, this is a top-notch technical presentation.

The real surprise with The Matrix Revolutions on disc is that the quality of the bonus features is much improved over the anemic Reloaded disc. For the first time on any Matrix disc other than The Matrix Revisited, trailers for the films have been included. Disc One includes the teasers for the first two movies as well as The Animatrix and the full theatrical trailer for Revolutions. On Disc Two, we're treated to Revolutions Recalibrated, a half-hour featurette on the epic-length shoot. As such things go, this is by no means comprehensive but it's a fine overview of the process, certainly better than some promotional puff pieces masquerading as making-of documentaries. Another featurette, CG Revolution, examines the groundbreaking technology of the sequels, showing how CGI work was intermingled with green-screen photography, miniatures, and other cinematic tricks of the trade. Again, not comprehensive but interesting.

A multi-angle feature dissects the climactic Super Burly Brawl in Revolutions, offering the choice between the final scene, storyboards, and animatics and behind-the-scenes on-set video. Unlike some similar multi-angle features on other discs, this actually allows you to see all three on screen at once. Your choice of angle simply gives that selection prominence over the other two. It's well designed and a good choice of scene to examine in this way. Both this feature as well as the two previously mentioned featurettes bring back the old "Follow the White Rabbit" feature from the original Matrix DVD. When the bunny appears in the corner, hit "enter" to see additional featurettes about the miniature work, the wire-fu, motion capture, and the makeup created to make an army of Smiths. If you don't want to sit there with your finger on the trigger waiting to see the white rabbit, all four are individually accessible under Operator at the main menu.

Wrapping up the package is a trio of miscellaneous features. Before the Revolution is a 3-D timeline explaining the convoluted Matrix story, illustrated with scenes and stills from the three movies and The Animatrix. Future Gamer is a brief explanatory look at the upcoming multi-player Matrix Online game. Yes, it's a promotional piece but since the game seems to be ridiculously complex, it's also an explanation of what exactly it is. Finally, 3-D Evolution is another comparison between concept art, storyboards, and final scenes, arranged in a wildly overdesigned gallery format. It takes some getting used to the interface and your patience may wear thin before you do but there is valuable stuff in here, especially comic book artist Geof Darrow's amazing conceptual art.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Why bother picking up The Matrix Revolutions on DVD when you can just wait for the inevitable Matrix mega-disc box set? Well for one thing, Warner has not officially announced such a beast. If you honestly don't think one's coming up, I have some beautiful Everglades property in Florida I'd like to sell you. Yeah, it's bound to happen sooner or later but without any sort of official announcement, playing the waiting game is something of a gamble. And to my eyes, here's the big hurdle. During the Matrix promo blitz of '03, Larry and Andy Wachowski were conspicuous in their absence, preferring to let everybody else from the cast to producer Joel Silver do the talking for them. On DVD, the Wachowskis are nowhere to be seen. They do not contribute to the commentary on The Matrix. They are not interviewed in the featurettes on Reloaded or Revolutions. For a Matrix box to be worth picking up, these boys are going to have to get over their aversion to cameras and microphones. I don't care how comprehensive the documentaries get or how into the technical minutiae of the special effects they go. A box set of these movies without the direct participation and not just the tacit consent and approval of the guys who created this whole thing is going to fall leagues short of being definitive. If Larry and Andy Wachowski can get over themselves and take part in any future releases of these movies, terrific. I'll happily plunk down money to buy these movies again. If not, and there's absolutely no guarantee that they will, as far as I'm concerned you're better off picking up what we already have. Until we all have HD-DVD players, these movies will not look and sound any better than they already do.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


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