DVD REVIEW: The Matrix

Movie ••••
Opening up a century of fears - the fear of being fodder for the state and fuel for the corporation, the fear of being controlled through all-enveloping propaganda - The Matrix proposes a radical view of life at the end of the millennium: It no longer exists. It's all digital illusion. And what better place to depict digital illusion than end-of-the-millennium cinema?

Matching form to high-concept content, writer/directors Andy and Larry Wachowski - the Wachowski Brothers - have created a breathtaking film packed with state-of-the-art cinema technology. It's also the first kick-action film for the new millennium. A pop postmodern mélange of Hong Kong kung-fu, the Bible, comic books, Japanimation, film noir, mythology, and hallucinogenic transformation, it uses effects that were pre­viously seen as just an advertising gimmick, but here they point us toward a new way to photograph things. Above all, this fantasy about a computer nerd (Keanu Reeves) who transforms into a hero and starts saving the world through liberating his own mind, is a mind-bending blast.

Warner has met the movie's challenge by delivering a disc that deserves to be in every DVD collection. The images, though as dark as the film's gloomy vision of the future, are as sharp and distinct as the glints on Reeves's wrap-around shades or Carrie-Anne Moss's skin-tight latex suit. The soundtrack (accessible as an isolated music track with commentary by composer Don Davis), which combines electronica with metal (including Marilyn Manson, Prodigy, and Propellerheads), is dense, loud, and enveloping. The surround sound effects are ... whoa!

In one of the short but engrossing mini-documentaries presented on this disc, visual-effects supervisor John Gaeta demonstrates his "bullet-time" system, which uses 120 computer-sequenced still cameras and two motion cameras to turn a live-action event into a piece of animation. This, with computer interpolation between frames, allows the motion of the virtual camera and the subject to be sped up or slowed down enormously within a shot while still producing images of incredible, unblurred detail; it also allows the subject to be frozen in mid-air while the "camera" circles and swoops around him. As Gaeta suggests, these are all baby steps toward something much larger. The disc also contains a most enjoyable behind-the-scenes documentary and a Moss-led audio commentary. My only disappointment was that the features available to viewers with a DVD-ROM drive connected to their computer - screen­play and storyboards, links to Web events, game, and genre essays - are not playable in Macintosh drives.

Reality may be a horrific hoax, but while there are still visionary and innovative films like The Matrix, delightful innocents like Reeves, and cyber-hot heroines like Moss, there is hope for mankind. English, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed (2.35:1) and anamorphic widescreen; dual layer.

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