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Blu-ray Review: The Ultimate Matrix Collection

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Blu-ray was the only new frontier left for the Matrix films, having already appeared as an ultimate collection on DVD in 2004 and on the now-defunct HD DVD in 2007. The format is the only new side of the story here, but The Ultimate Matrix Collection Blu-ray set isn’t an entirely minor footnote, as it brings three of the most visually impressive and influential films of recent history to what is presumably the format of the future.

In addition, this is the first time The Animatrix collection of nine short films is available in any kind of high definition disc. The Ultimate Matrix Collection may not bring much new to the table, but it’s certainly one of the landmark Blu-ray releases of the year.

The Films

There’s no denying the greatness of The Matrix. It’s the quintessential action film – a two-hour adrenaline rush that’s brainy to boot. Almost ten years later, The Matrix still holds up to every conception I have lodged in my brain about it. I remember thinking that it was a film that needed no sequel – it ended exactly how it should have.

Unfortunately, we know how things actually turned out. Before viewing this new collection, I was determined to approach the series with an open mind. I’d only seen The Matrix Reloaded one time, and I’d been so disappointed I never even bothered with The Matrix Revolutions.

The Matrix Reloaded surprised me this time around, mostly because it wasn’t as infuriatingly confusing as I remember it being. I’m still convinced the Wachowski Brothers just threw as many different philosophies and brain-boggling concepts into a pot, stirred and called it a screenplay, but at the very least, the illusion of coherence was present this time.

Reloaded has some truly great action scenes, no doubt, but it undeniably threw the series off track, reducing Morpheus to little more than a common pawn in the grand scheme of things – the brilliant character developed in the first film deserved better treatment.

Revolutions surprised me mainly because of its straightforward middle section with the three main characters completely absent from the screen. The fight for Zion is a wholly uninspired sequence, and it’s made worse by the lack of characters we’ve been investing in.

The concluding events of the film came as no surprise to me – it’s kind of hard to avoid spoilers like that for five years – so the impact was likely lessened, but the ending just isn’t that great. The underwhelming conclusion is fitting for a series that took a sharp turn downhill, but it’s still disappointing.

As for The Animatrix, it’s a mixed bag for me. Some people love these short films, and although it’s nice to get the context some of them provide, others are just too obscure for most casual fans.

The Blu-ray Discs

Considering the sequels’ shortcomings, it should come as no surprise that their technical performance is far and away the most impressive thing about them. Still, the picture and sound quality is so strong that watching the second two films goes beyond being bearable and actually becomes enjoyable. The Matrix films were made for the high-def treatment.

The Matrix is unsurprisingly the weakest disc technically. The clarity is still superb though even if it lacks the eye-popping colors of the sequels. Scenes such as the epic car chase in Reloaded and the subway station scene in Revolutions look absolutely gorgeous. The picture looks best in moments of high contrast – the whites pop and the blacks are deep and rich. Even the drab green pallor that coats the world of the Matrix looks sharp, making every minute of all three films a joy to behold.

Even more impressive is the sound quality, presented in Dolby TrueHD – you’ll want to find the best speaker system available to do this uncompressed mix justice.

Special Features

There is nothing new on the special feature front, save for a digital copy of the first film included on an extra DVD. Each Blu-ray disc has special features pertaining to the specific film, although not all of these are presented in high definition. There are an abundance of commentaries and an immersive in-movie experience if you like watching a tiny picture-in-picture of running featurettes while the film is playing.

On a separate two-disc DVD set is The Matrix Experience, a previously available wealth of information. The enormous amount of special features this set offers are positively daunting, but it’s always nice to know you have them available in case of an overwhelming urge to watch hours upon hours of filmmaking footage from the series.

The Bottom Line

Do the Matrix films look sufficiently better in high-def? Absolutely.

Is it hard to justify spending 80 bucks on any set that includes two of the most disappointing sequels ever? Absolutely.

The Ultimate Matrix Collection is a hard sell in a number of ways, but for consumers on the edge, I’d say the set is nominally worth it. From a technical standpoint, the set delivers the goods. From any other standpoint… well, you’ve seen the films and you certainly know how you feel about them. If the wonders of Blu-ray can make you forget those feelings, then go for it.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.