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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> May 1999 >> The Matrix

The Matrix

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
5 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Dates on Record:
May 1999, June 1999
IMDB Name:
Matrix, The (1999)
Andy Wachowski
Larry Wachowski
action, sci-fi
MPAA Rating:
R for sci-fi violence and brief language.

Like Nothing Before

One of the great joys of movies set in made-up universes is the ability to toy with audience expectations based on the rules of our universe. Tron leaped inside a computer and provided dazzling landscapes and great effects. Tron's universe clearly calls for a new set of rules, and the audience learns as Flynn does. By starting in a universe that looks very possible, The Matrix impresses by breaking the rules. We are even reminded that the rules are being broken by the characters on a few occasions. I'm still wondering how Morpheus's temple-less sunglasses stayed on.

The staples of action movies are brought to life here in a way that blew my mind and even gave me genuine frights a few times. I was particularly dazzled by the sound editing, which gave the already- impressive visuals new punch. Several things which were in the trailer were no longer shocking for their visuals, but were suddenly shocking because the sounds that went with them were so vivid. This was also far and away the most convincing use of the now-popular technique of having a virtual camera panning around a frozen or near-frozen moment.

Strangely Familiar

I found myself drawing comparisons to Dark City. The confused citizen learns to change the universe to serve his own needs. An old car used in an early scene also sent me back, reminding me of the potpourri of old vehicles on the streets of Dark City. Even some of the machines bore a strong resemblance to the aliens in Dark City. I don't mean to imply that the lack of originality in these elements lessened the movie, which was a very effective thrill-ride, even at two-and-a-half hours.

Mr. Smith

Kudos to Hugo Weaving for his great performance as Agent Smith. Weaving uses an unnerving accent that seems to be based on overenunciation and slightly off- kilter syllable lengths. I was reminded primarily of Reverend Lovejoy from "The Simpsons". Come to think of it, Weaving's physical presence is probably the equal of Robert Patrick's turn as the T-1000 in Terminator 2. I don't think the part was written to be menacing in quite the same way, but there are many similarities. The other agents, Paul Goddard and Robert Taylor, are pretty good, too, but their screen time is limited and their characters not given over to emotion.

Martial Masters?

Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Laurence Fishburne, and Weaving did some significant training to pull off the martial arts sequences in the movie. In a particularly nice segment, Reeves has several hours of instant training to show off. The scenes were coordinated by Woo-ping Yuen, who has directed dozens of martial-arts movies, including Drunken Master, a personal favorite. I hope he enjoyed working on sequences that were not bound by the traditional rules of gravity!

Gunplay Spoilers!

I've heard complaints from several fronts that a movie with as much revolution in it shouldn't end with a gun battle. Umm... maybe it's just the advantage of having the DVD, but to my eye, and I've watched this many times, the movie doesn't end in a gun battle! The last volley of bullets fired at Neo never makes it to him, the first sign of firearm transcendence. When Neo "kills" Smith, he does so in a most unconventional way: jumping into him, then shattering him from the inside. This is not a matter of explosives, or of killing one shell that was inhabited by Smith for a while. This is the destruction of Smith's agent code. The green innards that we see momentarily in the explosion resemble no gun fight I've ever seen. Maybe this goes by too quickly in comparison to the screen time given to conventional weaponry, but it's definitely a step away from the usual fighting.

DVD Comments

So far, I am forced to conclude that the DVD for The Matrix lives up to the movie for interesting innovations. Of immediate note is the "follow the white rabbit" feature. This is essentially the entire movie with a twist. Every so often, essentially for each big effects sequence, a rabbit will appear on screen. Pressing the select button on the DVD controls activates a clip that shows a quick making-of segment for the shot that's about to happen. They apparently did this by creating a second subtitle track which is forced on when watching the alternate version and unavailable during the regular version. How they make it link to a video bit is beyond me. If this trick is used on other discs, I haven't seen it. While excellent from a content standpoint, the feature is slightly lacking from an interface standpoint. There is no way to get into the white rabbit version through the scene selection menus, and there's no menu of just the rabbit-initiated making-of shorts.

As far as other content, the disc is superb. There are two alternate audio choices: editor Zach Staenberg, visual effects supervisor John Gaeta, and Carrie-Anne Moss on one, and the isolated score plus composer Don Davis on the other. The first track is actually a little weak. Whole minutes go by with nobody saying anything, particularly during all of the "normal" sequences. I'm very surprised to not find a director's commentary, which is usually the first one. This would be the place to hear them talking about particular actors. There is also an HBO special on the making of the movie included. The menus also contain a few (two) pill icons, which start the behind-the-scenes vignettes "What is the Concept?" and "What is Bullet Time?". Although a little more narration would be appreciated for the former, the visuals answer many questions about the production. The one missing item is a trailer. Since some of the advanced buzz for the movie was generated by the mind-bending visuals in the trailer, this would be a logical inclusion.

Unfortunately, I do not have a DVD-ROM drive, so I can't report on the features specific to popping the disc in a computer. I would hope it's at least as good.

See the IMDB information on The Matrix's DVD or compare prices at DVD Price Search.

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Copyright 1999-2001 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.