4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 1999; R for sci-fi violence and brief profanity; streaming via Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: “The Matrix Revisited” with just over two hours of interviews and behind-scenes footage
SO MUCH has changed since the Wachowski Brothers (Larry and Andy) from Chicago filmed their futuristic cyber adventure “The Matrix.”
Number One: Both brothers are now transgender sisters Lana and Lilly. And Two: The revolutionary fight sequences by Marital Arts master Yuen Woo-Ping, which demanded four months of training by the actors and stunt performers, is now considered the norm in Hollywood. Just ask “Tomb Raider” star Alicia Vikander how long she spent prepping to play Lara Croft.
Warner Brothers gave the four-Oscar winner (Film Editing, Sound, Sound Effects, and Visual Effects) a complete high-tech facelift for its 20th Anniversary release. The original camera negative (2.39:1 aspect ratio) captured on the Super 35 format, was pulled from the vaults and scanned in 4K. It’s the first remastering in 15 years. HDR/Dolby Vision contrast and color toning was supervised by director of photography/cinematographer Bill Pope.
The overall results are stunning in 4K and a major leap for the Blu-ray. Those groundbreaking Visual FX are still in their original 2K rendering, but hold up well against higher resolution footage. The famous three-minute lobby shootout with Neo and Trinity was filmed without CGI and took 10 days to film.
Natural film grain is much more apparent – always a little larger with Super 35 – while toning provides a much deeper black level without losing detail in shadowed scenes. The color gamut, with its dominating Matrix green and the frosty blue for the real world, are accurate and controlled – giving the hyper-kinetic thriller new life.
The Ultra HD resolution magnifies clarity within numerous wide shots filmed by the Wachowskis and Pope. They’re nicely intercut, with super-tight close-ups. The wide and tight shots are similar to the editing style used by Sergio Leone in his Spaghetti Westerns. Close-ups are detailed and textured from facial markings to costumes.
The 4K gets the expansive Dolby Atmos track (default six-channel Dolby TrueHD). Dynamic highs to lows fill the room from front to back and floor to ceiling. Sound effects from bullets, helicopters and explosions, and the score from Don Davis, who has spent most of his career composing music for TV shows, is very active in height speakers throughout the film.
The original “Matrix” story was a comic book pitch from the Wachowskis, for a friend starting up the publication. “We started thinking and came up with the whole shebang, which were ideas we’ve had throughout our lives,” says writer/director Larry (Lana) in a 2000 interview. All of the documentaries and behind-scene featurettes (standard-def) – more than three hours’ worth – have been ported onto a third disc from previous DVD and Blu-ray box sets.
Kung Fu movies, anime, John Woo films and the dark, futurist writings of Philip K. Dick heavily influenced the stylized tale. “They really put their heart and soul in it. It's like a band’s first album or a director with their first film. They’ve thought about it for a long, long time,” Pope says.
Before Keanu Reeves read the script to play Thomas Anderson, software programmer by day and Neo, hacker by night, the filmmakers demanded he read two books. First, Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra Simulation,” then “Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World” by Kevin Kelly, chronicling an era governed by machines.
“Neo is searching for the truth. He felt something was wrong, like he was not having real contact, and he was searching for something behind the veil.” — Keanu Reeves
Cyber rebels recruit Neo, led by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) and his partner, the leather-clad warrior Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss). Neo hopes Morpheus can break the veil. “That’s something Baudrillard spoke about. It’s not the search, but what gets in the way,” Reeves says.
The gigantic discovery within the Matrix is that the world doesn’t exist; it’s actually a form of Virtual Reality. Morpheus believes Neo is “The One” Messiah who can lead the resistance against the machines that rule the world, where humans are slaves.
The cast and crew were shocked that the Wachowskis were able to get their movie made. After reading the script and seeing the conceptual art, Visual Effects Supervisor John Gaeta said, “There’s no chance in hell this movie will be made. A whole slew of scenes I see being chopped out or left on the floor. It’s just too unlike a large studio to take a chance on something that seems very alternative.”
“It’s almost a miracle it got made because it is so smart.” ― Lawrence Fishburne
For actress Carrie-Anne Moss, it took many readings and conversations to fully understand the script. “I just remember thinking – they don’t really think I’m gonna do this stuff like jumping from one building to another or running sideways along a wall?”
Trinity's first jump between buildings was originally a jump onto a moving train. The roadblock? They couldn't find a usable train in Sydney, Australia, where a majority of the “Matrix” was filmed. Plus, the producers desperately wanted to avoid another million-dollar-plus FX sequence, says producer Joel Silver.
The Wachowskis wanted numerous commentaries that argued philosophical and critical points of view. Both tracks are not only informative, they're a blast. There are two additional tracks from the cast, crew and composer Don Davis; all are included on the 4K disc.
How to sum it up? A quote from Morpheus might do: "Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself."
— Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer