13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Much better than I thought it was at its theatrical release, 20 Nov 2007
This is an excellent box set. I find myself disagreeing with some of the other reviews here, in my opinion it's marginally better than the alien quadrilogy box (which happens to be the only other 'box set' I own)
Oddly enough I wasn't hugely impressed with the original movies when I saw them in the theatre, not even the first. I remember thinking "yeah yeah, brain in a vat, an idea that sounded interesting when I was 12". Not only did it seem rather banal philosophy but plot-wise its only one step up from the 'then he woke up and it was all a dream' ending that we were told never to use in creative writing assignments school".
Plus its also been done before by various dead philosophers and Dr Who!
But some vague memories of some neat special effects combined with the sheer value of these sort of box sets (even if its not very good, there's so much of it!) persuaded me to buy this one.
And I'm glad I did. The first film is in fact _much_ better than I remember (I must have been too busy being an intellectual snob to pay proper attention) and even the much-maligned sequels are improved by being watched back to back. The ridiculous damp-squib ending of 'Reloaded' and corresponding low-key opening of revolutions aren't really an issue when viewed together and when viewed on DVD its easier to follow the plot, despite some flaws in the story-telling.
The strongest aspect of the first movie is probably, as the critics' commentary points out, the beautiful way the shots are composed (here in full anamorphic super-widescreen and in a new and greatly improved transfer, so I'm told). Even though the special effects have become almost commonplace over time (notably being heavily used in advertising) the sheer style with which they are deployed here means they are still exciting to watch even if the tricks themselves are no longer so startling.
But the real strength of this box set is the wealth of additional material included (which is what this review seems to have ended up being about - after all, anyone buying this will have already seen the films themselves).
Possibly I'm just a fan of the DVD 'commentary' in general - I often find even poor movies become more interesting after listening to the commentary track - but the two commentary tracks contained herein are excellent, and surely unique amongst DVD releases.
The 'critics' commentary is interesting, and, particularly for the first film (the only one they like!) points out aspects of the movie that I missed on viewing at the cinema. Even when they spend pretty much the whole of the sequels slating everything they see its quite entertaining. Having a commentary track performed by people who don't like the movies they are commenting on is surely a first?
Further enterainment is provided by the 'philosophers commentary', with Cornel West and Ken Wilbur.
I admit I am not sure quite how seriously to take their 'reading' of the movies - Mr Wilbur seems to be one of those audo-didact grand philosophical system builders 'operating outside the academy'. A New Age Ayn Rand, perhaps, though I'm sure neither would like the comparison. Personally what I've seen of his work doesn't convince me, but nevertheless his take on the films is an intriguing one.
Anyway, not only is the 'philosophers' track interesting in its own right, it contrasts nicely with the critics' take. Whereas the critics concentrate on what they see as the flaws of the second two movies in terms of movie story-telling, the 'philosophers' focus entirely on the 'ideas' of the films. Its interesting to see how both perspectives miss certain things.
I have to say for the most part I agree with the critics with regard to the latter two films. Namely, the second lacks narrative drive, the world of Zion unfortunately resembles a 'Star Trek' movie, that world is too different from our own for the viewer to be able to fully identify with the characters, the big battle scene at the end of revolutions is overlong, there's a near disastrous absence of properly developed characters, and, as a critic at one point says, the dialogue is so unnatural it could be from an opera (though for the most part the actors make it work).
One irritation is that they (the critics) show an annoying refusal to do anything as geeky as actually attempt to follow the plot.
Despite the foregoing list of faults, and even if one takes the 'philosophers' commentary' with a hefty pinch of salt, it is clear that the critics do miss a number of elements that make certain decisions in the later films far more explicable (for example, the second film isn't as meandering in terms of plot development as it appears, and the trainman's station is not called Mobil Ave for reasons of 'product placement'!).
Its noticeable though that both sets of commentators, even the positively disposed philosophers, do what I did when watching at the cinema and completely miss the scene involving the Bane character and Agent Smith. It seems to me that the failure to establish Bane as a recognisable character before that point, so people would realise who the heck he was when he becomes crucial to the plot, is typical of the way the Brothers seem to be so keen to get their ideas across that they occasionally forget about proper narrative and certainly about character development. There is depth here though, probably not as much as Dr West and Mr Wilbur read into it, but certainly much much more than the single 'brain in a vat' idea that I thought was the sum of it on first viewing.
The box set also includes the 9 short Animatrix films, well worth watching, both for filling in details in the Matrix world and as beautiful pieces of Anime (in wildly varying styles) in their own right, as well as commentaries and documentaries about them and even a potted history of Anime in general.
There is also a wealth of geeky documenatry material about the world of the Matrix and some less geeky (and somewhat shallow but still interesting) documentaries about the philosophy and science behind the films. In addition each movie has the usual second dvd of (quite lengthy) supporting documentaries about all the technical aspects of making the films. The Matrix Reloaded extras disk includes the extra scenes shot for the Matrix computer game. Which is nice as the game itself wasn't much cop but the scenes fill in a couple of gaps in the movies (it seems movie tie-in games are never much good, unless they come out 20 years after the movies they are based on).
A few quibbles - given the emphasis on the the notion of a 'trinity' in the movies (mind/body/spirit, and matrix/zion/machines according to Mr Wilbur, not to mention the character name and the fact it's a trilogy), surely they missed a trick in not having a third commentary track? Given the Wachowskis' desire to maintain a Pynchon-type elusiveness they were never going to do one themselves, but a cast and crew one (present on the original Matrix DVD?), concentrating on the technical aspects of the movie might have been a nice addition and been consistent with the 'trinity' motif.
Secondly I'm surprised Dr West, being something of a leftist, didn't have anything to say about the decidedly Nietzschean aspects of the movies - the awakened 'supermen' slaughtering the still sleeping sheep of the matrix (all those hapless security guards and cops, not to mention the innocent power station employees!) without a single moral qualm.
(Its a topic that relates to the general lack of believably human characters in the film - don't any of the 'awakened' have any residual ties to people still in the Matrix? Would that not present some painfull emotional dilemmas for any real human being? Heck, maybe that angle would have been at least as interesting as the grand quasi-mystical ideas the Brothers seem so taken with?.)
Also Dr West's emphasis on the racial 'inclusiveness' of the movies (and he makes a plausible case for that being an important part of the theme of the films) seems to rather miss the fact that almost everyone is young and attractive (apart from a few of the 'councillors')- are there no old or ugly people in the future? Wouldn't people's representations in the Matrix be more of an idealised version of their real world self? Instead everyone in the 'real world' of Zion is as buff and pretty as they are in the Matrix.
Finally, in addition to the existing drinking game of downing a drink whenever Keanu Reeves says some variant of "I don't know" in the movie, one can now add a new one based on whenever Mr Wilbur uses the word 'exquisite' on the commentary track.
Oh, and the packaging is very nice also, though there's the usual awkward irony about fetishising a beautiful consumer object that is at least in part, if the commentary is to be believed, intended to be a critique of materialism and consumerism.
In short the movies, though not without faults have way more depth than the average Hollywood FX-fest and the sheer wealth of additional material makes this a worthwhile buy for anyone who at least _quite liked_ the films.