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The Matrix Trilogy - 4K Blu-ray Review

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The Matrix

With word trickling down a new Matrix entry is on the way that will include Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie Anne Moss), it feels timely to receive the 4K versions of the trilogy in the post to review. Let’s get to it.

THE MATRIX

Not to start this review as a grouchy curmudgeon but the first feeling I had sitting down to view this 1999 action classic was pining. The Wachowski brothers’ gave us the last film of the 20th century that truly spoke to innovation. It was brave, it was bold, and it changed the way action movies would be made from then on. Many films (*cough) borrowed the amazing new techniques and visual tricks that debuted in this film. Not even the sequels were able to recapture the sheer commercial brilliance and balance of thrilling action, coupled with a unique story you could follow. I miss those days.

"This was a true surprise back in the day. It was a science fiction classic that made its mark"


It seemingly starts us in the late 90s with malcontent hacker Thomas Anderson being lured into the secrets of believers who share in the question: What is The Matrix? When those believers and the Gestapo-like ‘Agents’ converge to influence him, Anderson, known as the hacker Neo, learns the terrible truth. He is trapped, as are most humans, in an artificial construct of some far flung future. He can live his life as essentially a battery for the machines that created this construct, or he can free himself and become what one believer, Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), thinks he is destined to be: the savior of all mankind. Quite the head trip indeed.

Although not the first, or even the second choice, for the role of Neo, Keanu makes the movie. He’d made some headway departing from the Bill & Ted stoner image of his earlier career already with Speed and many others, but this film cemented him as a megastar. His Neo in this film has more humanity (he’s a smartass and completely flawed with fear and self doubt), and is therefore more relatable, navigating through the heady philosophical and archetypal phases of this narrative. It is something the sequels lack (which I’ll get to in the other films’ review) and is something he brilliantly tackles throughout.

A hero is only as good as his villain, and Australia’s Hugo Weaving as the hate-filled Agent Smith is one for the ages. He is sadistic, inhuman and artificial in his mannerisms. Damn threatening to a fault. Of all the creative embellishments the effects and the science-fiction elements provide the audience, it is Weaving’s quirky yet understated menace that makes this movie elevate. He makes you worry for Neo.

The reveal of illusion versus reality is thrilling, both visually and narratively. The film’s pacing is unmatched in its perfect harmony of anticipation and its draw dropping action sequences. The use of Hong Kong wire work, and the exhaustive training of the cast, gave us fight scenes the likes of which western audiences had never seen before.The Matrix

The film’s unique traditional/synthesized hybrid score, in addition to songs from the likes of Rage Against the Machine, Marilyn Manson and The Prodigy to name but a few, perfectly compliment this surreal canvas.

This was a true surprise back in the day. It was a science fiction classic that made its mark in the same year that saw the return of Star Wars after 16 years. Let that sink in. The unfortunate tarnish on such a momentous achievement is that the all those that tried to copy it, and even its own follow ups, are so copious and inferior, the memory of its effect has been watered down somewhat. It shouldn’t be.

The Matrix is one of the best science fiction/action pictures in existence. Its’ intelligence and accessibility are equal. It’s writing and technical feats are unrivalled and the mark of a pair of directors who are both passionate about their influences and clever enough to make them their own. This was the confident work of artists at their best, and it still shows. It is a masterpiece.

5/5 stars


The Matrix ReloadedTHE MATRIX RELOADED

No one was more excited than me when it was announced that we were going to get, not only a follow-up to The Matrix, but two sequels, that would be shot back-to-back and released within a year of each other. The Wachowski brothers had definitively changed the landscape of the action genre, so much so that everybody wanted in on what they visually brought to the world. They were now revered, and deservedly so. Anticipation was high. With every filmmaker and their dog copying their style to laughable volumes, we all waiting with baited breath to see what this visionary pair would unleash. They had certainly built enough into the first one to warrant more. What did Zion look like? What was with Keanu taking to the air in the closing scene of the first film? The possibilities were endless.

"This is still the better of the two sequels, but it’s not on par with its progenitor."


Reloaded would sadly curb the excitement a little.

The follow up entry takes place about 6 months after the first film. Neo, Trinity and Morpheus, along with the entire human fleet, are summoned back to Zion to learn that the machines will breach the last human city in 72 hours, and annihilate the last survivors on earth. Morpheus, of course, has other ideas and requests one ship remain to make contact with the Oracle in the Matrix. This causes friction amongst the human leaders, who aren’t as quick to believe that Neo—now something of a religious icon—is the key to their salvation. The Oracle wants Neo to rescue a rogue program called the Keymaker and use him to go straight to the Source: sort of the Matrix’s version of God. Of course there are hurdles in the shape of many rogue programs, including Agent Smith, who has learned of ways to clone himself and to enter the real world. It is a race against time to accomplish all that’s needed for Zion to stand a chance.

That was a very difficult summation to condense. If one could appreciate the intelligence and complexities of the first film, while being completely being entertained at the same time, you REALLY need to set your brain to concentrate to keep up with the narrative in this follow up. The Wachowski brothers upped the ante, not only with the effects and action, but also doubled down with their rather heady philosophies and the characters that had to expound them. As a result, that accessibility from the original, takes a hit. It’s remarkable that this film still enthralled (for the most part) but I have to say there is A LOT of information and new visuals to bend your mind around. Very long-winded, although admittedly impressive, monologues from characters we’ve never met are not cinematic and self-indulgent; major Kudos to the actors who pulled them off though.The Matrix Reloaded

I also found the humanity lessened in the main characters, which, considering the story and scenes they have, shouldn’t have happened. There is a synergy in delivery from many of the main cast with the actors playing the Matrix programs; Reeves especially retreats back into a stilted persona that lacks the mischievous warmth from the first film. There is also a tendency in the characters of Morpheus and Trinity to serve as a function only, and the actors don’t stray from that utility. There was more layering in their deliveries first time out that is missing in both the sequels. It lessened my immersion watching the spectacle throughout and made it drag a little. I didn’t mind there being a cliffhanger or leaving matters rather dire for our heroes until the next one, but where it was left off and how was a little ho hum.

Also, this is the product of two directors with a smash under their belt. They didn’t rest on what had been done before (with every other movie stealing ‘bullet time’) but they also didn’t have people reining them in when it was needed. They accomplish some extraordinary visuals but sacrifice their efficacy this time a little bit by going too far with expository dialogue, under-characterization, and a glut of fast moving imagery. 

This is still the better of the two sequels, but it’s not on par with its progenitor.

3/5 stars


The Matrix RevolutionsTHE MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS

 The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

That, essentially, is what the finale of the Matrix trilogy comes down to after plodding through this spectacular looking but lackluster last chapter in the trilogy (until 2020 at least). Through a maze of unending visual candy and heavy handed religious allegory, we finally get to see if Neo can live up to his reputation.

"It seems like they ran out of story too early and filled it with noise"


The film, as a whole, is essentially a war movie that’s quite different in execution than the previous entries. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact it’s admirable that the Wachowskis kept trying to push their narrative to the end. But the sum total of those efforts is left wanting.

One of the main reasons for this is that almost all the main characters are not a part of the war proper. Half the movie is spent with essentially throw away characters that we’ve met (briefly) in the last movie and are nothing more than background noise. When background noise swallows half your running time, you have a big problem. Now the scenes are impressive to look at, visually jaw dropping in some moments, but since none of the characters are those we want to see go through this, it’s a disconnect and a gross misstep.

Neo has his story, and it is brought to a conclusion with some surprises and some challenges along the way, but his transformation into a savior steers away from being an interpretation and is hammered home in a Superman/Jesus hybrid that jettisons much of the man we met at the beginning. This isn’t character evolution either, it just seems they’ve run out of things for him to do except get to his final moment. That’s an oversimplification, but my point is he’s not in the movie enough and his transformation from relatable human being to cyber Christ isn’t organic.

Agent Smith is also lost somewhat in the congestion, but fairs far better narratively. He becomes a true threatening evolution. No longer just a security program, Smith becomes Matrix Malware, invading and consuming everything in his path, multiplying his presence and his risk to the heroes so well that he even crosses into the real world to become and all encompassing threat. Weaving’s inhuman quirks steal the show.The Matrix Revolutions

This film removed more of the intimate physical battles for CGI, right down to the Neo VS Smith scenes, as the characters aren’t the actors for half the shots. Maybe they were exhausted by the shooting of this one? The Wachowskis achieved great scope and vistas in these moments, but it all becomes a cartoon; a very expensive and vast cartoon that lacks any of the human elements so impressively present throughout the previous films. The operatic voices accompany the final fight seem like hyperbole due to this. It promises a pay off that it doesn’t deliver.

I don’t hate this movie but it’s a massive let down, after the first two thirds of this story. It seems like they ran out of story too early and filled it with noise. One hopes (whatever this fourth entry is to be all these years later) that it adds something better to the franchise than where they left it.

2/5 stars

The Matrix

Blu-ray

4K/Blu-ray Details:

THE MATRIX - 4K UHD

Home Video Distributor: Warner Bros.
Available on Blu-ray
- October 30, 2018
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch
Audio:
English: Dolby Atmos' English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0; English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 4K Ultra HD; Blu-ray Disc; Nine-disc set
Region Encoding: 4K Blu-ray: Region free; 2K Blu-ray: Region A

VIDEO:

WOW! As good as some of the previous releases were, you have never seen the movie this good. The previous Blu-rays always had an artifice to them that was crisp and probably apt, considering the subject matter. However, heavy color correction and edge enhancement had been used to achieve it. Here, original DP Bill Pope has overseen a native 4K scan of original camera negative and effects elements to eliminate such dated techniques and create a spectacular presentation. There is a new organic picture that ups the contrast and makes the HDR leap off the screen. Blacks are inky and detailed beyond belief, and whites may require sunglasses. Flesh tones, for the first time since I saw this movie theatrically, are natural, removing the heavy color timing and DNR from previous releases. As a result the contrast and detail is unbeatable. Explosions and CGI are showing their age at this resolution, but are still spectacular and layered with eye watering color. Absolutely worth the upgrade.

AUDIO:

WOWSER! The Dolby Atmos 7.1 mix actually leaves all previous releases in the dust. That’s saying something, since even the near-two decades old DVD had a great mix. This intricate mix is as busy with its directionality as the film is with its visuals. The base is unrelenting in its heft and efficacy. The swooshes of the punches and kicks will make you feel like you’re there. The explosions will envelope the room (and depending on your volume, the neighborhood). This is as good as it currently gets. Even if you’re not interested in buying the trilogy box-set at least treat yourself to the first one: this is the kind of disc to show off your new shiny home cinema.

SPECIAL FEATURE: The Matrix trilogy is one of those sets of films that had exhaustive making of material, and film obsessed fans were well catered to in previous releases, culminating the “Ultimate” set back a few years ago. The bulk of those expansive extras are included in the accompanying Blu-ray. The actual 4K disc houses only the previously recorded and copious commentary tracks, again from earlier versions. It’s a generous amount of supplementary stuff, as this series is renowned for, but I will never award an archive title more than 3 stars of it doesn’t give something substantial and new. The beautiful work done on this 4K restoration and the fact this film is 20 years old, gives Warners, or any studio, excuses to revisit their classics and show how they honor them. It’s entitled to describe this offering as lacking, but contemporary material is lacking on/or with new transfers.

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 5/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 3/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4.5/5 stars


The Matrix Reloaded

Blu-ray

4K/Blu-ray Details:

THE MATRIX RELOADED - 4K UHD

Home Video Distributor: Warner Bros.
Available on Blu-ray
- October 30, 2018
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch
Audio:
English: Dolby Atmos' English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0; English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 4K Ultra HD; Blu-ray Disc; Nine-disc set
Region Encoding: 4K Blu-ray: Region free; 2K Blu-ray: Region A

VIDEO:

Warners, in keeping with their more natural and cinematic tones of the first film’s restoration, have ported over the same native 4K scan aesthetic to Reloaded. The oversaturated green hue from all previous scans is gone. You can actually see the flush in Persephone’s cheeks when she discovers her lover is a cheater; and Neo when he exerts himself, instead of them looking corpse white. The detailed whites of the Twins really leap off the screen. Top of the line re-master here, folks. Full marks for the transfer.

AUDIO:

What else can one write? It’s equal to the first movie, and only adds more layers of flying ships and carnage that work the surround channels to their full potential.

FEATURES: SEE THE FIRST DISC’S REVIEW. SAME STORY HERE.
  

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 3/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 3/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4/5 stars


 

The Matrix Revolutions

Blu-ray

4K/Blu-ray Details:

THE MATRIX REVOLUTIONS - 4K UHD

Home Video Distributor: Warner Bros.
Available on Blu-ray
- October 30, 2018
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Dutch
Audio:
English: Dolby Atmos' English: Dolby TrueHD 7.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0; English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 4K Ultra HD; Blu-ray Disc; Nine-disc set
Region Encoding: 4K Blu-ray: Region free; 2K Blu-ray: Region A

VIDEO:

It’s getting repetitive. How many ways can one say these movies look spectacular? They really are beautifully restored and have never looked better. As this is a war movie, there are a lot of explosions—more than the first two—and they lit up my room on an 82inch 4K QLED Samsung. I may not enjoy this entry very much but watching it like this was a thing to behold. I will note, and this is nothing to take points off for, that the Matrix movies are almost two decades old, and in 4K resolution those (at the time) groundbreaking effects (rendered at 2K) are showing their age at points.

SOUND:

Same. Flawless and ground-quaking awesomeness from start to finish. It is a busy movie, with many layers not present in the other two, but everything from the dialogue to explosions, to superhero actions, to rain and to the damn footfalls on the ground are an A++++

FEATURES: SEE THE FIRST DISC’S REVIEW. SAME STORY HERE. 

Blu-ray Rating:

  Movie 2/5 stars
  Video  5/5 stars
  Audio 5/5 stars
  Extras 3/5 stars

Overall Blu-ray Experience

4/5 stars

The Matrix Trilogy 4K

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