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The Ultimate Matrix Collection on HD DVD Review
With the release of the Matrix Trilogy on HD DVD, fans can finally see the Matrix as it was intended. Glorious visuals and immersive sound design are sprinkled liberally through all three movies in the set, and the HD DVD presentation truly does them justice.
Regular readers of this site know my feelings on the films themselves, so I'm going to focus on how this set differs from previous sets, and look at it from the point of view of a Matrix fanatic. For those unfamiliar with the films or the contents of the set, a synopsis is available.
The three films all benefit tremendously from a new HD DVD transfer. The video for each film is 16X9 1080p widescreen with a 2.4:1 aspect ratio. All of the special features are presented in 480i or 480p standard definition. The detail level in the new film transfers is astonishing, from fabrics to skin pores. The detail and composition of the Wachowskis shots really was made for HD DVD and Warner Home Video has done a fantastic job taking advantage of this. The Matrix, especially, really shines on HD DVD. You'd be hard pressed to locate a single scene in any of the films that doesn't look noticeably better, and in some ways it's like watching the movies for the first time.
The audio mixes of the Matrix films have always been extremely impressive. From the beginning it's been a crucial tool in making the world of the Matrix real and immersive. The 5.1 audio on the HD DVD discs is at least as good as the previous releases and improves on it where possible. These films continue to be some of the most amazing demo material for a properly rigged 5.1 setup.
As mentioned above, the extras included with this set are all presented in 480i or 480p standard definition. While this is definitely a little disappointing for some fans, I'm not overly bothered by it. Most of the extras are talking heads, behind-the-scenes footage, etc, and while HD presentation would be nice, overall you're not missing too much. What is disappointing is that The Animatrix, packaged as an extra, is also not in HD. I was really looking forward to seeing these fantastic shorts in 1080p widescreen. The vivid colors and kinetic action showcased throughout many of these animations would be particularly beautiful in HD. The extras included in this set have all been released before, with one major exception. If you already have the previous 10 disk set, Warners has graciously avoided double-dipping the hardcore fans and has released a movie-only set of the three HD films, The Complete Matrix Trilogy [HD DVD], so you won't have to re-buy everything unless you want to. The one extra we haven't seen before is presented on each of the 3 films: The In-Movie Experience. Activating it brings up a picture-in-picture video commentary with context-sensitive commentary on the scene that's playing. While most (all?) of this material can be found elsewhere in the 35 hours of bonus features, its effortless placement in the context of the scene is a fantastic way to go deeper if you don't have the time or interest to watch all the extras separately.
The packaging is a fairly standard black cardboard box with some Matrix code stamped on the front of it. It's serviceable and functional, but a bit of a letdown from previous Matrix box sets. The content is presented on 5 double-sided disks, and while this allows for a more compact set and saves shelf space, it precludes disk artwork, which I do like. Blank silver disks always tend to look cheap or unfinished, but that's really a nitpick.
The Matrix, and the Real World, have never looked this good. Brilliant detail, true blacks, fantastically immersive sound all combine to make this the first must-have set for the HD DVD enthusiast. While a few nitpicks prevent it from getting a 10 out of 10, it's a solid 9, and it represents to best way to experience the Matrix in your own home. Just as the original Matrix DVD was the favourite demo material for the high-end systems of 2000, this collection is unquestionably the best way to show off your HD DVD setup. Pop in The Matrix, skip to the lobby scene, or maybe the helicopter rescue, sit back, and prepare to be blown away by The Matrix...again.
Did You Know?
The Animatrix film The Second Renaissance Part I alludes to the story of a robot named B1-66ER who ends up in a pivotal court case after killing his human master. It's been suggested the robot's name came from 'Bigger Thomas', the main character of Native Son, a novel about a black man in 1930's Chicago who commits a murder he believes he has no choice but to commit.