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page added: 5/24/07

Hi-Def Reviews
HD-DVD reviews by Bill Hunt, Editor of The Digital Bits

The Ultimate Matrix Collection (HD-DVD)

1080p - Analog Full ResolutionHD-DVD FormatDolby TrueHDDolby Digital Plus

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The Ultimate Matrix Collection
1999-2003 (2007) - Warner Bros.
Released on HD-DVD on May 22nd, 2007

Overall Box Set Extras (Original/New): A-/C+
Overall Box Set Value: B-

Basic Set Specs:
All films rated R, presented in VC-1 1080p widescreen video (2.4:1), 5 discs (discs 1-3 - HD-30/9C DVD/HD-DVD Combo format, discs 4-5 - DVD-18), Elite Red HD packaging with slipcase, all extras from previous Ultimate Matrix Collection DVD box set are included (MPEG-2 480p), new HD extras include picture-in-picture In-Movie Experience (IME) commentaries for all three films, HD-DVD discs include "in-film" menu overlay, DVD discs include standard animated menus, scene access (various chapters), languages: HD-DVD - Dolby TrueHD 5.1 & Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French) and Dolby Digital 2.0 (Spanish), DVD - Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0 (English), subtitles: English SDH, English, French and Spanish (movies only)

DVD Features Not Included:
All of the features from the previous Ultimate Matrix Collection box set are included.

INTRODUCTION -------------------

We reviewed Warner's original 10-disc The Matrix Ultimate Collection when it was first released on standard DVD back in 2004. So we're going to forgo any discussion of the films in this review, and focus instead on the quality and features included in this new 5-disc HD-DVD box set. Click on the link above to find our previous reviews. Let's get right to it...

DISC ONE: THE MATRIX -------------------
(DVD/HD-DVD Combo format - most content repurposed from previous DVD releases)

Side One - The Matrix (HD-DVD)

Film: A
Video (1-20): 18
Audio (1-20): 18
Extras (Original/New): A+/C+

So the big question you're probably wondering right off the bat, is how does The Matrix look in 1080p video? The answer is pretty damn great. This isn't the best high-def we've seen on disc, but it's very, very good. Certainly good enough to make even the most picky HD fans happy. Colors are muted and stylized as part of the film's intended look, but they're exactly as intended and saturation is certainly better than the previous DVD release. Contrast is absolutely outstanding, with deep blacks and yet plenty of subtle shadow detailing. The only tiny issue here is just the slightest visible compression artifacting in the most complex motion - the quick flurry of "matrix" program code, billowing explosions, etc. It's very minor, but on very large displays, well-trained eyes can spot it. Still, this is superb looking video any way you slice it. The audio is also much improved in both English Dolby True HD and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. Both offer natural and expansive soundstages, with tremendous dynamic range and precise, even at times delicate imaging. The TrueHD adds to this an additional measure of subtle smoothness and clarity. This is a delightful HD home theater experience.

The best thing about the extras on this disc, and all of the movie discs in this set for that matter, are the audio commentary tracks (carried over from the 10-disc set). You get (at the Wachowski 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 back in 2004 when I first learned that the Wachowskis had no intention of recording a director's commentary. But to my surprise, the tracks 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.

From the previous DVD box set, the HD-DVD side also contains 7 Behind the Matrix production featurettes (17 minutes total), all 41 of The Music Revisited audio tracks, Marilyn Manson's Rock is Dead music video, the film's teaser and theatrical trailers, and 8 TV spots (all of the video content is standard definition).

For this HD-DVD release, Warner has also created a new In-Movie Experience (IME) picture-in-picture commentary option for The Matrix. It's certainly interesting - as you're watching the film, the many participants in its making pop up almost constantly talking about various aspects of the production (usually related to the particular scene you're watching), and they're identified by onscreen text. Unfortunately, the problem is that, near as I can tell, virtually everything you see and hear has been repurposed from the many documentaries and featurettes that you'll find elsewhere on this set. You're not really getting anything new, you're just getting it fed to you in a different way. I'd have preferred maybe new interviews with the Brothers... or more original content. As it is, it's sort of cool, but nothing you're likely to want to experience more than once.

But here's what IS very cool... with the added space on this HD-DVD, Warner has also included the cast/crew audio commentary track (with star Carrie-Anne Moss, visual effects supervisor John Gaeta and editor Zach Staenberg) and the music-only track (with intermittent commentary by composer Don Davis) from the original Matrix DVD, neither of which were available in the previous Ultimate DVD box set. A very nice touch.

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

One more comment: Warner's obnoxious new anti-piracy warning screen must go. It's more than a little irritating to be scolded about copying the moment you put the disc in your player, especially after dropping a cool $100+ for the set.

Side Two - The Matrix Revisited (DVD)

Extras: B

Side Two of this combo disc is basically the same DVD that was released in 2001, and again as Disc Two in the 2004 box set. 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 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. 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). The film's trailers and TV spots are all included on the HD-DVD side, as are the Behind the Matrix production featurettes and the 41 tracks of electronic music inspired by the film (which were part of an Easter egg on the original Matrix Revisited disc), here labeled The Music Revisited. Aside from those differences however, this is basically the same content... most all the meat, just sans the fluff.

DISC TWO: THE MATRIX RELOADED -------------------
(DVD/HD-DVD Combo format - most content repurposed from previous DVD releases)

Side One - The Matrix Reloaded (HD-DVD)

Film: C+
Video (1-20): 18.5
Audio (1-20): 18.5
Extras (Original/New): A-/C+

The 1080p video quality of The Matrix Reloaded, if anything, is even a little bit improved from The Matrix HD-DVD. This might be due to the original film stock or the transfer - both Reloaded and Revolutions were shot a couple years after the original Matrix. Color and contrast are every bit the equal of the previous film in HD, and overall clarity is very slightly better. There's still a little tiny bit of compression artifacting (visible on very large displays, for example when Trinity dissolves into a flurry of "matrix" program code in the film's opening) but again it's very, very minor. The Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio options are also every bit as good as the original film on HD-DVD, and possibly even a little better given that more effort and money was spent on the production. The mix just sounds a little more active - like the film's more elaborate visuals, Reloaded offers just a little more ear candy too.

As far as extras on the HD-DVD side of this Combo disc, the two 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.

From the previous DVDs, the HD-DVD side also includes 5 Behind the Matrix featurettes, P.O.D.'s Sleeping Awake music video, the film's teaser and theatrical trailers, 8 TV spots, 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, and even the Enter the Matrix: The Game featurette (We believe this is the one that was on the original Reloaded DVD, but was omitted from the later 10 DVD box set. It was also on the original Animatrix DVD). You also get another written intro from the Brothers W.

As with The Matrix HD-DVD, Warner has created another In-Movie Experience video commentary for Reloaded. As with the first, it's solid but it's mostly repurposed material.

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

Side Two - The Matrix Reloaded Revisited (DVD)

Extras: B-

For the bonus side of Reloaded (similar to Disc Four of the previous box set), you get more 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. As we noted above, the Enter the Matrix game footage archive is on the HD-DVD side.

(DVD/HD-DVD Combo format - most content repurposed from previous DVD releases)

Side One - The Matrix Revolutions (HD-DVD)

Film: B
Video (1-20): 18.5
Audio (1-20): 18.5
Extras (Original/New): B-/C+

The video and audio quality on Revolutions is exactly on par with the Reloaded HD-DVD - superb 1080p video and outstanding Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio. Not much more needs to be said on that score.

As for extras, the two audio commentary tracks featuring the critics and the philosophers are again quite good. 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?

From the previous DVDs, the HD-DVD side also includes 7 Behind the Matix featurettes, the film's teaser and theatrical trailers, 6 TV spots and the written introduction by the Brothers.

Warner has created yet another IME commentary for Revolutions, but it has the same inherent qualities and problems as those on the other HD-DVDs.

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

Side Two - The Matrix Revolutions Revisited (DVD)

Extras: B-

The DVD side of this disc includes much of the Disc Six content from the box set - basically a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Revolutions, organized by category into a series of production featurettes. You have 2 additional Behind the Matrix featurettes, 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.

(DVD-18 - all content repurposed from previous DVD releases)

Side One - The Animatrix (DVD)

Shorts/Extras: B+/B-

The first side of Disc Four is virtually identical to Disc Seven of the original box set, and is very similar to the previously released DVD version of The Animatrix (as reviewed here by Adam) save for differences in the menus. Included here are all 9 animated shorts based on the Matrix films that were on the previous DVDs - 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).

While these shorts are great, and they're presented in good standard definition video quality, the fact that they haven't also been upgraded to 1080p is this box set's MAJOR oversight.

Side Two - The Roots of The Matrix (DVD)

Extras: A

The second side of Disc Four contains the same content as Disc Eight from the original DVD box set. It's 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). Also included here are 7 Easter egg featurettes which you'll find if you select the DVD credits box and press ENTER.

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.

(DVD-18 - all content repurposed from previous DVD releases)

Side One - The Burly Man Chronicles (DVD)

Extras: A

The first side of Disc Five contains the same content as Disc Nine from the original DVD release. 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.

Side Two - The Zion Archive (DVD)

Extras: B-

The second side of Disc Five serves the same purpose as Disc Ten from the original DVD release. It's basically a catch-all, containing 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.

Available once more on this disc are all of the trailers and TV spots from the films (some 16x9 and some 4x3 - they're on the HD-DVD side of the movie discs too), as well as a "rave reel" of in-progress effects footage set to music and a video preview of The Matrix Online game. By the way, if I haven't mentioned it yet, the Experience DVD discs in this set feature ROM weblinks to the official Matrix website.

SUMMARY -------------------

So here's the deal: The original 10-disc The Matrix Ultimate Collection was, hands-down, an absolutely outstanding special edition DVD release - a deserving winner of our Best DVD - Overall award in our 6th Annual Bitsy Awards back in 2005. Thankfully, all of that content remains here and remains excellent - it's just been shifted around a bit. The problem is that most Matrix fans already own it. So the question is this: Are the new features offered by Warner's HD-DVD release worth a $100+ upgrade price. That's very hard to answer. The upgraded high-definition video and high-resolution audio is excellent, no doubt, and if you're a diehard fan of these films with a home theater that's "go for HD", that alone might be reason enough to buy this box. But other than that, you're not getting much value. As I noted above, the new In-Movie Experience commentaries are okay, but they basically just repurpose documentary and interview footage that's already available elsewhere in the set (making Warner's decision to delay the Blu-ray Disc version of this set in order to include the IMEs somewhat puzzling). That said, it IS cool that Warner has used some of the extra space available on the HD-DVDs to toss in a couple of the extras from the very original Matrix DVDs - things that weren't somehow shoehorned into the previous 10-disc box. Warner definitely get points from me for that - it's something I really appreciate. So if you haven't purchased the 10-disc DVD set yet, this HD-DVD box delivers truly everything you could want. Well... almost.

The thing that COULD have made the upgrade to HD-DVD a no-brainer - new high-def transfers for all nine of The Animatrix shorts - didn't happen for some unknown reason. The shame of it is, if Warner had released all the standard DVD content included here on actual HD-DVD discs, the additional disc space might have allowed the Animatrix shorts to be presented in 1080p. Was this a cost/corner-cutting decision? Would a couple more HD-DVD discs have had enough disc space to include all the standard def content plus the 9 shorts in actual HD? Who knows? On the other hand, will Warner's promised Blu-ray Disc version take advantage of the added disc space on BD-50s to include the Animatrix shorts in HD? Unlikely.

In the end, Warner's The Matrix Ultimate Collection is a very solid HD-DVD release, but it's not a particularly good value. Diehards will love it, but we suspect that more casual HD fans will prefer to purchase The Complete Matrix Trilogy on HD-DVD instead, which includes just the three movies in 1080p along with the original and IME commentaries (and the other HD-DVD side extras described in this review). Who knows... maybe Warner will re-release The Animatrix in HD separately later. (We should note that those who purchase The Complete Matrix Trilogy on HD-DVD are being offered a free download of The Animatrix from Microsoft's Xbox Live via the 360, though the shorts are in 480p only.)

It's worth saying here that since Warner claims to support both high-def formats evenhandedly, we certainly hope the studio's The Matrix Ultimate Collection Blu-ray Disc announcement is set to happen imminently. May we suggest ditching the IMEs for high-def Animatrix? In any case, whichever version you ultimately purchase, there can be no doubt that watching these films in 1080p video is a treat. Well... the original Matrix anyway. It's tough to watch Reloaded and Revolutions again, even in HD. But did we mention The Matix is pretty cool in HD? 'Nuff said.

Bill Hunt, Editor
The Digital Bits
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