on 24 February 2003
SF Movies have suffered from a lack of style in recent years. There's only so many times you can see Bladerunner or Alien ripped off cheaply before you start to get jaded. And it doesn't help that they keep casting muscular dolts with the intellect of a plank in violent revenge fantasies that do little more than ape the "Death Wish" movies.
So it's three cheers for The Matrix, the film that restored my faith in SF movies.
It starts with a bang, a chase across rooftops with some spectacular leaps that make you realise that wherever you are, it's not the world you live in.
Or is it?
Neo (or is that Neophyte?) is a programmer by day in a faceless corporation, and a hacker by night, searching for Morpheus, a shadowy figure who may hold the key to Neo's longings for a different world. Morpheus on the other hand is looking for a Saviour, someone who will come and lead the oppressed masses to a new Utopia.
Soon their paths cross, and Neo is shown the real world, a world that is not all he thought it to be. In this world everything is run by "The Matrix", a super computer that controls everything and everybody, body and soul. (Or, as the Oracle so succinctly puts it, "Balls to Bones")
Neo is removed from the system's influence, and is told he is "The One", the long-prophesised saviour who can remake the Matrix to his own will. He is trained in how to fight the Matrix defense programs (or "Agents".....software that takes the guise of super-powerful humans and can take control of anybody still hooked up to the Matrix)
To accomplish this he is given a crash course in martial arts in a manner that would be great if it were possible today (I can imagine the ads - "Learn Kung-Fu in thirty seconds....no philosophising necessary!") . Once he reintroduces himself to the Matrix's world the stage is set for some climactic fight scenes, among the best ever seen in cinema history.
To say more would be to give away too much of the plot, but suffice to say The Matrix is one of the biggest, most explosive, most stylish SF films ever.
It succeeds where lesser films fail by melding a hi-tech glossy look with martial arts battles familar to Hong-Kong film lovers, and overlaying the whole thing with a mythic plot of the Saviour who is slowly coming to realise his destiny.
Even the names hold a mythic quality to them, from Morpheus, the god of sleep who knows who is dreaming and who is awake, to Cipher who is not all he seems, to Trinity, the embodiment of child, mother and lover and finally Neo, the classic neophyte trying to find a path through the mysteries. The ancient Greeks would have had no trouble in following the basics of this story.
Reeves has never been better, portraying confusion and frailty one minute, strength and resolve the next. But it is Fishburne's movie....it is his presence that holds the whole thing together and keeps you rivetted to your seat.
All that and a shadowing of a peril coming to Zion, the last stronghold of the true believers, and we're all set up for a blockbuster of a sequel. I can't wait.
Couple that with an outstanding directors talk-over, and an ingenious "follow the white rabbit" extras feature that lets you cut in and view how any particular effect or stunt was achieved, and you have a DVD that's hard to ignore for quality, quantity and entertainment.
All that, loads of black leather gear, big boots and guns. What more do you want?
And any film that contains a clip of the cult classic "Night of the Lepus" is always going to be worth a look.
on 18 July 2007
The title of this review is a question I've heard asked quite a few times in conversations, normally asked in one of those Bill & Ted 'Whoa Dude!...' voices. And it illustrates something about this film, like it or not, it's one of those movies everyone has seen, say what you want about it but this thing is undeniably HUGE. This status sadly often means it gets either five-star reviews because everyone loves it or one star reviews because critics are trying to be arty and against the grain (by the way both previous comments refer to critics only, I haven't read enough of the amazon reviews to comment on them).
So, onto the review. This is a philosophical sci-fi action thriller with a noirish edge and religious themes. Interestingly it manages to balance all these elements in such a way that the film takes on something of a multi-layered nature, allowing you to watch it from any number or combination of stances and still love it from every one. It has stunning action sequences, a gritty cyberpunk sci-fi story and some seriously deep monologues (normally courtesy of Laurence Fishburne's smooth tones), which of these you pay attention to is entirely up to you, but watch them all and you'll get something pretty close to a sensory overload.
As far as action goes, this was absolutely revolutionary and still holds its own against the best of them (including its own massively inferior sequels). This isn't realistic, it's just cool. Slow-motion gun battles merge into wushu-esque acrobatics which merge into incredibly choreographed wire fighting martial arts. Amongst all this high-tech wizardry the film makes sure every hit has a really impressive feel, as bullets smash through concrete leaving bloody dust clouds in their wake and punches are accompanied with sound effects that make you feel them in your seat. The action scenes aren't just impressive, they're stunning.
The plot is a nicely twisting sci-fi affair that hinges on the concept of a digital reality transmitted into the human brain to make mankind believe it is free when in fact they are slaves. This reality (Which is what we would call the real world) is known as the matrix, but there is of course a twist, not everyone is plugged in, some have been freed. The story follows a newly unplugged hero (a surprisingly well cast Keanu Reeves) who must face not only the apparently unbeatable opponent of the matrix but his own apparently messianic standing as the 'chosen one'. the plot grabs you fast and has enough twists and turns to keep the philosophy from getting boring or the action from getting vapid.
Philosophically this film is about reality, belief and the nature of dreams. Don't really want to talk about that because though the film can keep it from being boring I'm not sure I can.
So, should you see this film? Yes, it's thrilling, visually stunning, occasionally profound and also just one of the coolest movies ever made. So watch it now, if only so you can say you have.
on 2 June 2004
The Matrix is one of the best films I have seen in any category: this is not just a feast for sci-fi fans! The soundtrack is wonderful, a must have for anyone who likes lots of bass to drive to, and goes well with the fast action and kinky special effects.
The basic idea is that NEO (Keanu Reeves) is living the life he - and we - call normal, and looking frantically for something, anything, to reassure himself that there is more to life than a deadly boring 0900 to 1700 job and an antsy boss. On the side he works as a hacker, selling pirated programs, almost as an off-shoot of his searching of the Internet.
It all goes a little weird late one night when his computer starts talking back to him in a program that he never entered and can't control (no, he wasn't running Windows XP) and tells him to follow the white rabbit.
This is the start of his journey to escape from the Matrix, which he didn't know existed and never realised was only an illusion ...
This idea is really gripping, and the Matrix says it all, without needing the rest of the trilogy: you can watch it as a sci-fi movie, because it is a very good one, with excellent and ground-breaking special effects, for the action scenes (which are sheer, self-indulgent eye-candy for any martial arts enthusiasts) or read as much more into it as you care to put there: because the basic concept is intriguing. Everyone wants, first and foremost, to know who they are, and what is real ... how else to all those Internet survey sites survive? - and the Matrix, following Neo's search for just that, has something to tickle everyone right on that spot.
on 20 March 2004
This film was without doubt a landmark for movie making. Never before had such special effects been seen, or at least been used to such wonderful use. It's hard to watch the 'Matrix' without marvelling at the sheer brilliance of it.
As for the storyline, the concept may not have been used in movies before, at least not to this extent, but it's probably something most of us have considered at one time or another. How many of us have had thoughts like 'what if this is a dream?' or 'what if when we think we're awake we're really asleep?', but more than likely have casually dismissed them as impossible. But how would we know? It's certainly a very scary thought for all humans, as faced without free will or free thinking of any kind would take away our very humanity itself & whether we think it's possible or not, it certainly grabs our interest on one level or other, at least for most of us it does......
Ok, enough of the deep stuff! Just how much fun is this movie? Visually it's awesome & as mentioned earlier the plot is fantastic. The effects are truly groundbreaking & to be honest, it's quite hard to get past how good & clever the effects are.
But either way, this should have something for everyone, great story, great effects, great fights.......the only thing I might've questioned was the casting of the main characters. Personally I wasn't too impressed with 'Trinity' & as far as 'Neo' goes, well, everytime I see or hear Keanu Reeves I have to hold in the laugh as all I can think/hear is him saying 'Bodacious dude!' in true Bill & Ted style. But then the same thing happened when he was in Dracula too, so it's probably just me! 'Wyld Stallions rule!'
Even though The Matrix was released in 1999, it can easily be considered the first motion picture of the twenty-first century, a movie unlike any that had come before. This was the DVD that, upon its release, many of us bought in order to see just how good our new DVD players could be. The special effects, with an exception or two, were unprecedented in terms of their scope, style, and presentation at the time, and the somewhat complex plot managed to capture the imagination of untold numbers of movie goers. Combining science fiction, action, and adventure in an entirely new way, The Matrix was nothing if not exceedingly cool. For once, I will not dwell on the plot; it is hard to explain, and those who know nothing about it can easily find summaries of it. I will say, however, that I'm a little surprised that so many people embraced this movie with open arms because the plot is somewhat ambiguous, and the ending seemed to invite the possibility of a sequel without coming right out and announcing that it would happen. I find similarities between this movie and Vanilla Sky in this regard, yet many who were totally confused by the latter film seem to embrace this one. Laurence Fishburne was the real star of this movie, in my opinion, bringing life to Morpheus in such a way that made the convoluted plot seem plausible; a lesser actor in that role could have doomed The Matrix, no matter how incredible the special effects were. Carrie-Anne Moss also blessed the character of Trinity with a humanity that enriches the film. Keanu Reeves overcomes a couple of what I like to call David Schwimmer moments early on and grows into the type of hero this movie demands.
As for the special effects, I found them exceedingly good but perhaps a tad overrated. The early "mouth" effect, for example, was shockingly unimpressive, and the slow motion wave-like movement of bullets toward the end looks a little hokey to me; everything else was impressive indeed, though, particularly the famous jumps and helicopter sequence. One of the really nice extras available on the DVD is the feature on the making of The Matrix. While it takes a tiny little something away from the movie to see how those acrobatic jumps and fight scenes were filmed, one cannot but be deeply impressed by the level of commitment of the actors in terms of their months-long preparation and training. The movie commentary offers more insight into the movie, and the music-only audio track is also a nice touch. When I first dove in to the DVD owner pool, The Matrix instantly became the movie by which all of my DVDs were judged. As time marches on, this has changed a little bit, but age should only enhance the fascination of movie lovers with this very impressive, unique, and extraordinarily cool film that heralded a brand new century in movie-making.
[I've added a photo to the item page showing the back of the Blu-ray box which details the disc specification and content. I have written Amazon reviews for the Blu-ray disc of each film in the trilogy...]
'The Matrix' is the first film in a trilogy written, directed and produced by the Wachowski brothers. Although dating from the 1990s, it will continue to stand as a benchmark for the use of special-effects in films for many years to come....
It is arguably THE series of films which should be watched first on any new Hi-Definition video format to fully appreciate it and the film; Blu-ray is no exception to this 'rule' and I can confirm that it is simply astounding to watch (and listen to !) in this format. The remaining films are 'The Matrix Reloaded' and 'The Matrix Revolutions' and you can buy all 3 films in a Blu-ray boxset; Amazon links below for product and my review :
The Matrix Reloaded [Blu-ray] 
Matrix Revolutions [Blu-ray] 
The Matrix/Matrix Reloaded/Matrix Revolutions [Blu-ray] 
The film is notable for including imagery produced using a special filming process to digitally enhance the simulation of variable speed. Although 'The Matrix' was not the first film to use the technology, it did so in such a way that it essentially pushed the process into mainstream film-making; so much so that it was quickly given the registered trademark of 'Bullet Time' by Warner Bros (the film studio which financed the film).
The overall plot for the trilogy is novel and extremely complicated, requiring 'mere-mortals' to watch the films several times to start appreciating everything that occurs and all the reasoning behind it; quite a lot of the dialogue is involved and needs to be properly understood for everything to make sense....
I think that the latter part of the Amazon synopsis sums things up very well : 'Reality is a world run by artificially intelligent machines who control the human slaves in a simulated 20th Century'. Although obviously only telling part of the storyline, it is enough to get going with as well as knowing that 'The Matrix' refers to the simulation and that the lead characters are either human 'rebels' who are free from the simulation and fighting for 'true reality' or computer program villains, known as 'Agents', tasked with defeating the rebellion.
Each film stands on it's own as a story, but the plot progresses through the 3 films and all need to be watched to get the whole picture and, of course, the ultimate ending.
Things get moving very quickly in this film and from then on there are several periods of 'explanation' as well as a multitude of stunning set-piece action sequences. There is a lot of violence/shooting/death and some truly terrific fight scenes. The fighting is usually based on techniques originating from the Orient and are extremely complicated/magnificently choreographed; they took a LONG time to produce and, for the most part, are performed by the actors...
Adding to the these notable features are an overall heavy-reliance on spectacular digital special-effects (which blend seamlessly with the imagery and look completely authentic), massive and dramatic explosions, superb 'machinery' creations and a pulsating rock-based musical soundtrack (which often has an injection of synthesised music accompanied by choral vocals !) - this film demands to be watched in a darkened room, on a big screen and at high volume !
The Blu-ray image on this issue is flawless/superbly detailed but I found the sound quality a bit subdued and not as good an improvement over the DVD format as I was expecting (but still perfectly acceptable). The extras on the disc are copious, including a 'Picture-in-Picture' narrative inserted into the film, 4 feature-length commentaries and a load of very interesting 'featurettes' - one covers the 'Bullet Time' process very well; see the photo I've added to the item page showing the back of the Blu-ray box which details the disc specification and content.
*** A final notable aspect of this disc is that the film is uncut with no change to the viewing classification; all previous UK versions (including that in the 'Ultimate' DVD boxset) had head-butting scenes from 2 of the main fight sequences removed....
Anyone who either already knows about, or wants to experience for the first time, this ground-breaking film really should see it in Blu-ray format - it will blow you away !
PS You then need to watch the remaining 2 films in the trilogy....
on 1 March 2000
"It would appear, Mr Anderson, that you have been leading two lives.... One of these lives has a future; the other does not".
These chilling words introduce us, and a freshly black-belted Keanu Reaves, to Agent Smith. And let's be honest, who among us does not know a superior at work or school who is, perhaps, a little like Agent Smith?
The Wachowski brothers have not merely created a superlative special-effects kung fu homage movie. They have redefined the scope of the action picture to encompass thought-provoking pop philosophy. Read the quotes and trivia for a taste of this (and check the IMDb link below for more). They combine brilliant technical innovation (bullet time, so well captured on DVD) with a spooky science fiction premise that, frankly, makes you stop and think. Maybe the little boy bending the spoon is right....
Watch it again and decide for yourself. It gets better every time.
on 15 March 2000
Why do you enjoy a film? Is it because you leave the cinema with your head buzzing with the questions the film has raised? Is it because it was filled with heart-racing action? Did you just sit back and switch off while the film's special effects blew you away? Or do you just like a soppy love story?
It doesn't matter with The Matrix. The film fills every niche, from the most cerebral to the most superficial.
Science fiction haters will still love it, since, if you wish, you can ignore the SF supertext and enjoy the stories and action beneath it. Even Keanu Reeves haters will have to accept that his inability to show any emotion other than vacant fits his role as a no-life hacker perfectly.
This film is perfect for DVD, as it will be watched again and again and you can skip straight to your favourite bits. The DVD also includes fascinating "making of" material.
If you don't watch this film you missed out on one of the best films this century. Your loss.
on 1 August 2009
While I made a rule for myself not to go back and repurchase films I already had in my collection, I only had the matrix on VHS which is virtually redundant now, and a bit of an eye strain to watch on an HDTV, so I ordered this classic film in its latest visual incarnation. I had this preconceived notion that only recently released new films would show the real quality of Bluray. But I was wrong, and glad to be proven wrong, this movie from ten years ago looks every bit as good as a modern action film, if not better than most.
The movie is full of dark scenes which traditionally may have just limited how much detail was visible but with this version all the blacks are well defined, all their black outfits show their layers and woven structure excellently. All other colours look great too, particular good scenes include the agent training program where the colour and definition are so well pronounced, and any moment with a mirror or shiny sunglasses looks fantastically detailed, so much so that a finger print mark would be clearly visible. While most of the film has various colour filters applied it still looks completely blended and natural and not as if the colour filtering was a CG after-touch.
Facial textures are completely crisp, All the facial pores are visible, depending on your sharpness setting, it feels like a truly high definition experience to really see the pits in morpheus' face. Although it's a small thing, I really liked how dust looks in this high definition version. Picture grain is generally minimal with the exception of the plain white construct scenes. There is no blurriness in image anywhere and no jagged motion or artefacts.
The Sound quality is good, all the sound effects sound crisp and have good directional detail through a surround sound system. All the gun sounds are great, the green matrixy style opening is a very exciting sound test intro, and all the dialogue is clear to hear, and not drowned out by background noises.
A great film revived for the latest media capability, the high standards of filming and production used a decade ago seems to have paid off. Definitely worth getting for your collection but you really should have a good home set up to do it justice.
The Wachowskis’s stylish and audacious SF movie has to be the most depressingly dystopian vision of the future of humankind ever filmed. Despite being filmed in 1999 it still retains an exhilarating inventive energy as it imagines the ultimate artificial intelligence nightmare. It is as if Samaritan after triumphing over Northern Lights has declared war on the human race, proved victorious, subdued and enslaved it. Where the excellent Person of Interest TV series explores the fledgling and insidious growth of artificial intelligence The Matrix presents us with its inevitable conclusion. When omnipotent sentient machines control the world what is the purpose of humans? The reveal comes reasonably early in the film and is devastating and horrific in its impact. There is a miniscule resistance/terrorist movement led by Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus into which Keanu Reeves’ Neo is enlisted since it is believed that he is “the one”, destined to free the human race from slavery, but their struggle appears futile. The chase sequences and the slow-mo / fast-mo fights in the computer generated dreamworld of the Matrix are superbly realised while the depiction of the deadly ubiquitous chameleon agents tasked to hunt and destroy the human rebels are chillingly effective. Not having seen the movie for some years I was more than pleasantly surprised when I watched it again recently since the themes addressed are universal and the special effects have certainly not dated. Undoubtedly, this is definitely a film to watch if it has somehow passed below your movie-watching radar. However, if like me, you are a sucker for SF you have probably already seen it, most probably on more than one occasion.