This hugely successful blockbuster stars Keanu Reeves as Neo, a young computer hacker who comes to believe that the world around him is not as it appears to be. With the aid of mysterious subversive Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne), Neo discovers that his whole existence as he knows it is a lie. Together with Morpheus' acolyte Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss), Neo begins to fight back against the computerised hierarchy which is secretly manipulating the human race.
The Wachowski Brothers' The Matrix took the well-worn science fiction idea of virtual reality, added supercharged Hollywood gloss and a striking visual style and stole The Phantom Menace's thunder as the must-see movie of the summer of 1999. Laced with Star Wars-like Eastern mysticism, and featuring thrilling martial arts action choreographed by Hong Kong action director Yuen Woo Ping (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), The Matrix restored Keanu Reeves to genre stardom following virtual reality dud Johnny Mnemonic (1995), and made a star of Carrie-Anne Moss, who followed this with the challenging perception twister Memento (2000). Helping the film stand out from rivals Dark City (1998) and The Thirteenth Floor (1999) was the introduction of the celebrated "bullet time" visual effects, though otherwise the war-against-the-machines story, hard-hitting style and kinetic set-pieces such as the corporate lobby shoot-out lean heavily on Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Elsewhere the influence of John Woo, from the ultra-cool near real-world SF of Face/Off (1997) to the raincoats and sunglasses look of bullet-ballet A Better Tomorrow, is clearly in evidence. The set-up isn't without its absurdities, though--quite why super-intelligent machines bother to use humans as batteries instead of something more docile like cows, for example, is never explained, nor is how they expect these living batteries to produce more energy than it takes to maintain them. The Matrix is nevertheless exhilarating high-octane entertainment, although as the first part of a trilogy it perhaps inevitably doesn't have a proper ending.
On the DVD: the anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 image is virtually flawless, exhibiting only the grain present in the theatrical print, while the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is demonstration quality, showing off the high-impact sound effects and Don Davis' fine score to great effect. Special features are "data files" on the main stars, producer and director and "Follow the White Rabbit", which if selected while viewing the movie offers behind the scenes footage. This is interesting, but gimmicky, requires switching back from widescreen to 4:3 each time, and would be better if it could be accessed directly from one menu. There is also a standard 25-minute TV promo film which is as superficial as these things usually are. --Gary S Dalkin
--This text refers to the DVD edition.
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