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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 12/2/04
updated: 12/3/04

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
1999-2003 (2004) - Warner Bros.

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One

Overall Set Rating: B+

Film/Program Ratings:

The Matrix: A
The Matrix Reloaded: C+
The Matrix Revolutions: B

The Matrix Revisited: B
The Animatrix: B+

Disc Ratings: See Review Text

10 discs in slipcase packaging - also available as a Limited Edition Collector's Set in a large plastic library case with a liner notes booklet and a collectible Neo resin bust.

Star Trek: The Original Series - Season One

"What is the Matrix?"

If you don't already have the answer to that question, there's no better place to go looking for it than The Ultimate Matrix Collection. It's about damn time too, given that most of you (at least you fans) have probably already purchased all three of these films on DVD, and probably The Animatrix and The Matrix Revisited as well.

Here's the good news: If you ARE a fan, The Ultimate Matrix Collection is absolutely worth adding to your collection. It's fairly comprehensive, it's generally illuminating and overall it's quite entertaining. Here's the bad news: While this set includes much of the material previously released on DVD, there are a number of things on particularly the three previous movie editions that do not carry over. That means that while you can safely sell your old copies of The Animatrix and The Matrix Revisited, you'll need to keep the previous DVDs of The Matrix (mainly for its cast/crew audio commentary and the music-only audio track), and both The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions (for some of the production featurettes and the more marketing-oriented extras on those discs). To be sure, much of the material included in the previous discs' featurettes is included in the documentaries here, but not always in totality and not in the same format.

Before I get started, let me tell you what I'm going to do, and what I'm not going to do in this review. I'm not going to review the films themselves, or the previously released program material. We've already covered those DVDs in the past here at The Bits (where appropriate, I'll include links to the archived reviews). I'm also not going to go really in-depth on everything in this set, because it's really just best to let you explore this material yourself. What I will do is give you a sense of what's on each of these discs, address the DVD production quality and give you an idea of what's good and what's maybe not so good. I've also included a quick disc-by-disc feature list below to help you sort it all out.

Cool? Then let's get started...

Disc One - The Matrix

Video/Audio/Extras: A/A-/A-

The first film in this series is presented here in stunning anamorphic widescreen video, thanks to a brand new, high-definition film transfer done specifically for this edition. While the original DVD's video was state of the art for its time, it just doesn't hold a candle to the new video you'll find here. Gone are the many compression artifacts that riddled the previous video. The contrast here is absolutely excellent, with deep, dark blacks and wonderful shadow detailing. The film has been color-timed to perfection, exactly as the Wachowski Brothers intended it to be seen. Hues are muted when necessary and accurate to the original intent at all times. The image is crisp without the use of unnecessary edge enhancement, and you'll see light grain throughout the film appropriate to its original theatrical exhibition.

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix is very good, if maybe not quite as immersive as the mixes for the newer films in the series. The soundstage is enveloping, surround play is natural and active, low frequency reinforcement in the LFE is more than adequate and dialogue is clear at all times. Note that French 5.1 audio is also available, along with subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

The best thing about this disc, and all of the movie discs in this set for that matter, are the two new audio commentary tracks. You get (at the Brothers' suggestion) dual commentaries featuring a pair of philosophers who liked the film (Dr. Cornel West and Ken Wilber) on one hand, and a trio of film critics who didn't (Todd McCarthy of Variety, John Powers of Vogue and author David Thomson) on the other. You also get a text introduction to the commentaries by the Brothers, explaining what they wanted to accomplish with this idea and why they were reluctant to record a track themselves. I have to confess, I was a little miffed when I first learned that the Wachowskis had no intention of recording a director's commentary. But to my surprise, the tracks you do get are pretty fantastic. Well... the philosopher commentary is at any rate. The critic track is mostly three guys trying to impress you with their film knowledge, pointing out all the various cinema connections you'd expect to hear about (references to Cocteau, film noir, Hong Kong action and other such things). It's amazing, given how much they supposedly dislike these films, how much they actually find to gush about. The philosopher track on the other hand is a great listen. These guys are a couple of real hipster/deep thinkers - a genuine Vroomfondel and Majikthise. You'll be listening and West will mutter something like, "Good God almighty, I like this music," in his smooth, Funkadelic tones, and then he'll chime in 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 then comment on Socrates and perceptions 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 much alcohol. You will not be disappointed.

If you want to know what we thought of the film itself, click here to read Todd's review of the previous DVD edition.

Disc Two - The Matrix Revisited

Extras: B

This disc is basically the same DVD that was released in 2001. It was a sort of The Matrix 1.5, without actually making you buy the film again (although it was also sold as a 2-pack with the film disc). Todd reviewed the original edition of The Matrix Revisited shortly after it was released. The original Matrix DVD was pretty state of the art for its day (it was actually the first DVD release to sell more than a million copies in the format's history), but over time as more elaborate special editions were released, it began to look a little lackluster. The Matrix Revisited helped a great deal by adding a 122-minute documentary on the making of the original film and the preparation that was (at the time) underway for the sequels. The complete doc is available here, along with 6 Behind the Matrix production featurettes (17 minutes total), 2 Take the Red Pill concept featurettes (10 minutes - which were included on the original film DVD), and 9 Follow the White Rabbit effects featurettes (23 minutes - these was also included on the original film DVD via the Follow the White Rabbit viewing option). It's all presented in 4x3 aspect ratio, which is no surprise.

I said this is BASICALLY the same DVD that was released earlier, but it's not quite identical. The disc has been reformatted with new menus for this release (all the DVDs in this 10-disc set start with an animated opening that places you before The Architect's wall of monitors). In addition to the newly added material from the film disc, a few of the more marketing oriented featurettes from the original Matrix Revisited disc have been left out (including previews of the forthcoming films, The Animatrix, the official website and a rather silly look at fans of the website). Also, the featurettes that were included on the original disc as Easter eggs are now just included in the main list of features. The theatrical trailer for The Matrix (which was included on the original movie DVD as a ROM extra) is also missing, but don't fret - it's on Disc Ten of this set. Finally, the 41 tracks of electronic music inspired by the film, which were part of an Easter egg on the original Matrix Revisited disc, are included here in a section labeled The Music Revisited. Aside from those differences however, this is basically the same content... most all the meat, just sans the fluff.

Disc Three - The Matrix Reloaded

Video/Audio/Extras: A/A/A-

The second film in this trilogy is presented here in an excellent anamorphic widescreen transfer. The only extras on this disc in addition to the film are the audio commentary tracks, which means the vast majority of the disc space is used for the film's picture and sound information. The film has likely been recompressed for this DVD release, so you'll see very little MPEG-2 artifacting here. There's light film grain visible, as is appropriate, and edge enhancement is a non-issue. What you'll appreciate is the clarity. The detail 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, giving this video presentation a wonderful sense of depth. 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.

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 good 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 leave you impressed. Matrix movies are all about mood and atmosphere, and the DVD sound here has both in spades. Note that, as with Disc One, French 5.1 audio is also available here, along with subtitles in English, French and Spanish.

The audio commentary tracks are once again excellent. In fact, I'm almost ashamed to say that I have a greater appreciation for this film's 10-minute rave scene than I did before. Not because of the critics ("This music is classic Tarzan..."), but rather for the philosophers, who basically (and rightly) point out that when you're confused about the nature of your reality, what you need is to ground yourself. And how better than with a good dose of hot sex and sweaty cave dancing? Well noted, oh great enlightened ones.

For those who want a more in-depth review of the film itself, check out my review of the previous DVD edition here.

Disc Four - The Matrix Reloaded Revisited

Extras: B-

For the bonus disc for Reloaded, the producers basically followed the same model that was used for The Matrix Revisited. You get lots of behind-the-scenes featurettes covering various aspects of the making of the film. There are 4 I'll Handle Them production featurettes (17 minutes total), 8 Car Chase featurettes (on the major stunt sequence in the film - a whopping 55 minutes in all), 2 Teahouse Fight featurettes (7 minutes), 5 Unplugged featurettes (40 minutes) and 2 The Exiles featurettes (17 minutes), all in 4x3 video with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio (and optional French subtitles). The content is all fine and good. There's nothing really amazing here (if you've seen one wire-fu featurette you've seen them all), but fans will certainly enjoy most of this.

The best bit here is a complete archive of all the film footage shot exclusively for the Enter the Matrix videogame - 23 unique scenes in all - featuring cast members and sets from the films themselves. This footage is presented in letterbox widescreen. I wish it were anamorphic, but it's still cool to have regardless.

Disc Five - The Matrix Revolutions

Video/Audio/Extras: A/A/A-

The final film in the trilogy is once again presented in stunning video and audio quality. This is a perfect, razor-sharp anamorphic widescreen image with impeccable levels of detail. Shadows are deep and rich with plenty of detail. Although it's a fairly monochromatic film, colors are vibrant and stable when necessary and are at all times accurate to the filmmakers' intent. The Dolby Digital 5.1 sound mix 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 only extras here are, once again, the two audio commentary tracks featuring the critics and the philosophers. If you've been listening to Brother Cornel and Brother Ken with the accompaniment of your favorite adult beverages, take a break and perk up a pot of coffee to sober up, because Part Three of their class is every bit as good as their first two installments (if not better). Their concepts finally all tie together here... and you don't want to miss that, do you?

Click here for our own Adam Jahnke's take on the film itself and his overall review of the previous DVD edition.

Disc Six - The Matrix Revolutions Revisited

Extras: B-

As with the other Revisited discs in this set, this behind-the-scenes look at the making of Revolutions is organized by category into a series of production featurettes. You have 4 Crew featurettes (24 minutes total), 6 Hel featurettes (27 minutes), 5 Siege featurettes (40 minutes), 4 Super Burly Brawl featurettes (16 minutes), 5 New Blue World featurettes (26 minutes) and 4 Aftermath featurettes (39 minutes). Once again, all are 4x3 video with audio in Dolby Digital 2.0 (and optional French subs). And once again, it's all fine and dandy - nothing really outstanding, but on the whole good, solid material.

By the way, if I haven't mentioned it yet, most all of the discs in this set feature DVD-ROM weblinks to the official Matrix website.

Disc Seven - The Animatrix

Video/Audio/Extras: A-/A/B-

Disc Seven is virtually identical to the previously released DVD version of The Animatrix (as reviewed here by Adam), save for the fact that the opening menu animation has been changed to fit with the menu scheme used for all of the discs in The Ultimate Matrix Collection. The only other omission here is the Enter the Matrix: In the Making featurette on the production of the videogame. I really love how most of what's missing in this set is the marketing/puffery pieces we all hated in the previous discs. Our hats off to whoever made that decision.

Included here are all 9 animated shorts based on the Matrix films that were on the previous DVD - Final Flight of the Osiris, The Second Renaissance, Parts I and II, Kid's Story, Program, World Record, Beyond, A Detective Story and Matriculated. All are presented in anamorphic widescreen video, with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in English and Japanese (and subs in English, French and Spanish). 'Nuff said.

Disc Eight - The Roots of The Matrix

Extras: A

Okay... now we're finally getting to the REALLY good stuff. When I think of the sort of things I'm looking for in a good special edition of a favorite movie, I usually have in mind a specific question or questions I want to have answered. With The Matrix films, my questions were these: "Where the hell did these ideas come from?" and "What the hell were Larry and Andy smoking when the ideas came to them?" Disc Eight is where the answer to the first question at least can be found.

The content of this disc is broken into two documentaries - Return to Source: Philosophy & The Matrix (61 minutes) and The Hard Problem: The Science Behind the Fiction (also 61 minutes). Each of these documentaries goes in depth to address the various ideas, concepts, technologies and settings depicted in the films. Each boasts interviews with numerous philosophers, professors, futurists, scientists, theorists, writers and other heavy/free/outside-the-box thinkers. As an added perk, both of these documentaries are presented in anamorphic widescreen video (audio is Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subs).

I don't want to say anything more than I already have about this material. Just check it out for yourself. It's great stuff - the kind of thing I really love in a good DVD special edition of a science fiction film. At the very least, plenty of food for thought.

I will tell you that this disc includes 7 Easter egg featurettes which you'll find if you select the DVD credits box and press ENTER. FYI, the disc does NOT include the Re: Action - A Brief History of Action in Cinema documentary that was listed in the original announcement for the set (see the listing below).

Disc Nine - The Burly Man Chronicles

Extras: A

The Burly Man Chronicles (94 minutes) tells not so much the story of the making of these films, but rather the story of the people who gathered to make them and their collective struggle to get it all done. This is their journey and it's a pretty fascinating one, featuring select interview footage with some of those involved, as well as lots of interesting, fly-on-the-wall glimpses of work behind-the-scenes. It's presented in 4x3 format, with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and optional French subs. Interestingly, this documentary utilizes the Follow the White Rabbit viewing option that was found on the original DVD release of The Matrix. Through it, you can access nearly 80 minutes of additional behind-the-scenes featurettes, presented in relevant context within the documentary as a whole. You can also view these featurettes separately if you'd rather through an index in the menus. There are 7 Pre-Production featurettes (32 minutes in all), 4 Alameda Shoot featurettes (15 minutes) and 10 Australia Shoot featurettes (33 minutes). The only thing I don't like about The Burly Man Chronicles is that there are no chapter selections, so you can't skip to specific segments. It's all one continuous piece. That's a minor pain in the ass, but the program is so interesting that it's well worth a bit of irritation. Best of all is the fact that the Wachowskis are everywhere in this piece. You see them at work on these films, you see the method to their madness. This is fun stuff.

Disc Ten - The Zion Archive

Extras: B-

Disc Ten serves as a catch-all for this set. It contains galleries of many hundreds of pieces of production design artwork, storyboard art and production photos, organized into categories by subject (characters, ships, sets, machines, etc). When you select one of the galleries, you can either scroll through the images yourself or your player will slowly cycle through them on its own. The galleries are formatted for 16x9 displays, which is appreciated. The menu navigation in this section is awkward, but you quickly get used to it.

Also available here is a collection of trailers and TV spots from the films (some 16x9 and some 4x3), a so-called "rave reel" of in-progress effects footage set to music and a video preview of The Matrix Online - a forthcoming massively multiplayer online game. Guess we can't escape this set without at least ONE piece of marketing fluff.

So there you have it. The Ultimate Matrix Collection in a nutshell.

Just a last word of note: If you buy the Limited Edition Collector's Set version of this set, you get a collectible Neo resin bust and a nice booklet about the size of a CD jewel case that contains Larry and Andy's text introduction to the commentary tracks, a complete disc by disc guide to all of the contents in the set, lots of cool production artwork, DVD credits, bits of trivia on the films and (my favorite) a 2-page bibliography of recommended reading - books that inspired (and might help you understand) the various philosophical concepts presented in the films (although conspicuously missing is Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation, which was part of Keanu Reeves' required reading before the Brothers would even let him read the script for the original film). Booklet aside, I prefer the regular edition of this DVD release. I could care less about the Neo bust and it's WAY more friendly in terms of shelf space. Besides, you've gotta love that shiny, reflective-y, Matrix-y slip case.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection is, on the whole, a very good and solidly constructed box set. Better special edition work has been done on other films on DVD to be sure, but this is certainly the most comprehensive look at The Matrix films that's ever been assembled. For my money, the philosopher commentaries and Discs Eight and Nine are worth the upgrade price alone. Despite the somewhat uneven value of the bonus material collected here, when you're done with these discs (and it will take you a LONG time to take in all this material), you WILL have a much greater appreciation of both the Matrix "phenomenon" in general and of these three films in particular. That's really the best you can hope for from ANY decent special edition.


Editor's Note: A number of readers have asked whether the new transfer of The Matrix will be made available by itself on a stand-alone DVD release, separate from this box set. The answer is probably... eventually. It's almost certain to be the transfer used for the eventual HD-DVD release. If it is released by itself on standard DVD, it probably won't be until well into 2005 at the earliest.

Bill Hunt
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