4 stars out of 4. Immortal film.
“There is no spoon…”
The degrees to which The Matrix changed our cinematic landscape are inescapable. This is one of those rare cultural landmarks that overcame it’s cult status and truly became a part of our shared existence. It helps that The Matrix is a bit of a whole bunch of sci-fi, cyberpunk and dystopic fiction blended together with classic Hong Kong action film elements. Not bad for a film that stole much of Dark City‘s thunder.
You can argue about it’s value and worth all day, but in the end the first film in the franchise is simply put, a giddy fun ride for both young and old. There’s enough for the mind to chew on to keep us interested in this world, and things have not yet fallen into near-parody. This way, we can jokingly say “I know kung-fu…” with a sense of endearment instead of revulsion.
The film focuses on a lowlife computer hacker named Neo (Keanu Reeves) who tries unsuccessful to balance his criminal activities with a mundane 9-5 daily grind as a software programmer. He feels lost, dejected and confronted by something which he cannot grasp. (All the elements necessary for the great Keanu performance 😉 What he cannot grasp is the secret behind the world he lives in. By now everyone knows the real purpose of the Matrix, so the reveal lacks the initial impact. Neo is shown the truth by a band of escaped humans led by the enigmatic Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, who has the time of his life in this role).
Neo is let out of the Matrix to live in the real world along with the rest of the surviving humans not under machine control. He is believed by some to be “the One” who was prophesied to end the war between man and machine and finally bring freedom to all humanity. “Whoa” indeed.
The film thrives on style and never does this dissipate. The scope is actually quite limited, and this is the real key in maintaining the quality of the story. As the sequels proved, when the scope of the Matrix is expanded the story suffers in relation. Here the characters seem like the scared renegade humans they are supposed to be, and their actions take on greater significance because of this. We even feel a greater connection in the almost obligatory love relationship, not because it is expected but because it feels relatively natural.
This perception goes for the action as well which has a greater impact than all of the flashiness of the sequels. As soon as they came back for the second go-round, it was clear that no one knew what they were doing. There is more energy and focus in a single scene from this film than in the entirety of Reloaded or Revolutions. Here is one of the sad franchises where the sequels must be ignored so that the initial film’s enjoyment isn’t tainted by their stupidity.
Yes this is a sci-fi action film that was embraced rather unexpectedly by the masses. It isn’t that deep, and it isn’t as good as Dark City. It’s rare to be able to go back and enjoy a film that spawned a franchise, especially one such as this that is composed of many recycled elements from other sources. But I did, and The Matrix still holds up all these years later. It’s a great mix of films that I love, and works to such an extent on every level that it deserved its cult audience.
It may not be the greatest thing but dammit, it’s impossible not to crack a smile when Rage Against the Machine is cranked up on the soundtrack for the ending!
EDITIONS:The Matrix was originally issued on DVD and Laserdisc in 1999. The DVD was reference quality for quite a while with a 16:9 anamorphic image, Dual-layer transfer and shattering Dolby 5.1 surround mix. The LD was based off the same master but some have said that the LD 5.1 mix was more robust and the DVD mix was a bit toned back. They’re both at the same 384 kbp/s bitrate however.
In 2004, the films were revisited and reissued together in the Ultimate Matrix Collection boxset. New HD masters were struck for all three films, and the original film was improved in contrast and had grain toned down. But the decision was made to color correct the film to match the distinct color scheme of the two sequels. The original film is much more robust and lifelike, with a definite yellow and brown look amongst the green inside the Matrix. This same master was re-used for the HD-DVD and then the Blu-ray set, leaving the original theatrical version only available on the original DVD. I miss the color and grain on the new versions, and have stuck with my original disc. (Thank heavens for upscaling!!) The new Blu-ray Dolby True-HD 5.1 mix is quite good, but seems to be a bit different than the original.
What I’d like to see is the original film be rescanned at 4K and a new master struck that fully represented the original film with the different color scheme and grain structure. Then a lossless presentation of the theatrical 5.1 mix, which could show off the innovative mix that would resemble the theatrical DTS experience. (That would have been amazing!)
And talk about a cult movie that should be screened in arthouses at midnight…