Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Mimsy Review: The Matrix

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, October 15, 1999

Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague. And we are the cure.

Special features

Commentary Track5
DVD-ROM Enhancements2
Musical Commentary5
Special Effects Notes6

Wow! People are already talking about this movie as the new Star Wars, and they may not be wrong; the future will decide. It has all the right elements: action, story, mythical heroes, perhaps an overemphasis on the messiah bit, but otherwise a kick-ass movie.

DirectorsAndy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
Movie Rating9
Transfer Quality9
Overall Rating8
  • Enhanced Widescreen

The Matrix” came along with a shipment of four DVDs. Whenever I get new movies I test out the first few seconds and maybe a random scene to make sure the DVD is working okay. I put Matrix in and just couldn’t stop: I ended up watching the whole thing. It’s as good the second time through as it was the first time. It was also interesting to see it after seeing Dark City a few weeks ago. Dark City bears an ancestral relationship to “The Matrix” that is similar to Stanislaw Lem’s “The Futurological Congress” compared to modern cyberpunk. Not exacly: I’m not willing to say that Dark City is better than The Matrix, and “The Futurological Congress” is definitely better than its younger colleagues. But like Lem’s book, Dark City uses drugs to do what “The Matrix” does with virtual reality computers.

Matrix had a few of the same people as Dark City: Andrew Mason as producer and special effects man, Shauna Wolifson for casting, Michelle McGahee for art direction, and David Lee on sound. Bruce Hunt was assistant director for filmography in “The Matrix”, and visual effects director in “Dark City”.

“The Matrix” was filmed in close to the same place, according to the Dark City commentary. Being filmed in Australia also allowed them to use the incomparable Hugo Weaving. My guess is that we’ll be seeing more of Weaving if he wants us to; this movie could really open doors for him if he desires it. And if all else fails, the martial arts training he received in this film will let him bust doors down… is a Hong Kong remake of “Priscilla” in our future?

The four major characters received extensive movie martial arts training, and it definitely shows in the movie. You can see a tiny bit of this on the included HBO documentary. The documentary is interesting, but a bit heavy on flash. This is to be expected, of course, since it was filmed for people who either hadn’t necessarily seen the movie yet, or who don’t necessarily own it. There are also a couple of mini-documentaries sprinkled throughout the menus. One goes into “bullet-time”, and another describes the world concept. There may be others, but I haven’t found them yet: you have to search out “pills” hidden around the menus and choose the pills. Sounds like an encouragement towards drug use to me, good for them!

The movie commentary is not a director’s commentary, which is too bad, it looks and sounds like the directors are quite interesting people. But so are the folks they did get: Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity), Zach Strenberg (editor), and John Greta (special effects supervisor). It is definitely an interesting commentary, but it could be much better. (I think that “Clerks”, despite the sound problems, gives the definitive commentary. Get everyone together and toss in a lot of beer and pot.)

There is also an musical commentary: a commentary by Don Davis about his musical score. This is not an isolated score. The score is isolated from the movie, but not from the commentary. As near as I can tell, there is no way to turn off the commentary and listen just to the score. Its too bad, but I can hardly blame them: at this price, they probably can’t afford to cut sales of the soundtrack. Still, I’m not likely to buy the soundtrack but I would be willing to pay a few extra bucks to get an isolated score; Davis did a very, very good job.

There are special effects notes sprinkled throughout the movie. It’s a bit innovative. Like Ghostbusters, you watch the movie, and when the icon (a white rabbit, in this case) appears, you can switch to the different view. However, where Ghostbusters simply put an alternate angle in with the special effects removed, “The Matrix” cuts out with a wordless collage of special effects in, out, and partial for the scene in question, and then returns you to where you left the movie. It works quite well.

Ignoring of all the extras, this is just plain a great movie. The story was simple yet strong and it survives multiple viewings. I’ve already heard people comparing it as the “Star Wars” of the current generation. We’ll see what happens with the next two movies that are already in planning. “The Matrix” is definitely in the “Star Wars” style “hero with a thousand faces” mold. If you’re getting tired of Joseph Campbell, you’re probably going to run screaming from “The Matrix”—or it might be the movie that revitalizes your interest in mythmaking.

The special effects in this movie really kick butt. We’re in a period of transition today where animation is becoming more and more realistic. But there’s also a move by people who grew up reading comic books to make real life movies more and more like cartoons. This was a conscious effort in “The Matrix”, according to the documentary, and it shows. If you’re a comic book reader, go over the movie again with an eye for Miller-esque scenes and interesting panel creations. If you look, you can see the panels in parts of this movie.

While I’m not quite sure about the level of the hype “The Matrix” is getting, I think it is a milestone in one sense: it is the first movie I can recall seeing in which an assault on a normal police station is so clearly a “good thing” for the heroes to do. It certainly must be the most successful. Those cops were, after all, real people even if they did exist in tanks, and when they died they really died, worse, they were recycled and fed to the rest of world’s population. (Hungry? Kill a cop!) The cynic in me says that the increasing number of bad laws designed to be broken (vehicle laws, drug laws, and soon Internet laws) are what makes this possible. I’d dare say that if such a scene had been part of a movie twenty years ago there would probably have been quite an uproar, and if it had been part of a movie forty years ago, well, it actually would never have made it out. I don’t see the inclusion of this scene as reflecting badly on Warner or the directors or the writer. If we (at least here in the United States) have placed our police in an adversarial position with our laws, it is our own damn fault. We live in a democracy and a republic. We make our laws.

Note that besides the special features I’ve listed here, there are even more for use with your DVD-ROM drive: a trivia game, the screenplay (which you can watch while watching the movie), and some sample trailers. I would complain, but this DVD was so nicely priced on pre-order that it was worth it without these extra features. On the Windows end of things, it went and installed a bunch of junk I didn’t really want. And, it installed Internet Explorer on my desktop after I asked it not to. I couldn’t get the MPEG trailers to play sound under Windows, so I went off to the net to see if there were any solutions. Turned out there is: if you hold down the CMD-OPT-I (that’s letter ‘I’ as in ‘eye’) keys while inserting the DVD into your Mac, you can see the files. Most of the software won’t run, but the MPEG trailers will run just fine in Quicktime Player. They’re pretty cool, much better quality than you’ll find on the Internet. But it would have been nice if they were actually on the DVD-Video end of things for playback on television.

The “essays” listed on the back will also appear on the Mac (and don’t seem to have any trouble on Windows either). There’s a somewhat interesting history of martial arts in movies, comic books in television and movies, and science fiction.

The screenplay is also available on the Macintosh, although you cannot use the “view this chapter” links. The screenplay is very cool, it is interesting to see how lines change between the script and the movie. Trinity’s speech while Neo is faking death definitely made a turn for the better, for example. And how the descriptions become action! Here is Neo’s last fight with Agent Smith: “He rushes Neo. His attack is ferocious but Neo blocks each blow easily.” There are so many ways this could have been interpreted on screen. What they did—the way they showed him almost bored with what was going on—goes well beyond this simple description, and is an example of the many brilliant choices that went into making this film.

Some of the shockwave stuff appears to partially play on the Mac; it might be worthwhile to try harder if you’re really interested, but it just doesn’t look like the DVD-ROM side of things got the same careful treatment as the DVD-Video did.

The weird part is that the Macintosh does have the ability to read ISO disks. The only reason it doesn’t on this disk is that there seems to be an empty Macintosh volume on the DVD, fooling the Macintosh into thinking it doesn’t need to load the ISO portion. It seems like poor planning on the manufacturer’s part.

Despite the problems, the quality of this disk and the low price make it definitely worth purchase if you’re a fan of the movie. If you only “casually” like the movie, you should at least rent it, and if you’ve never seen it, you need desperately to rent it, you just don’t know it yet. (Note that there are reports of problems with certain models of DVD players. I’ve used it on the Pioneer DV414 with no problems, and the built-in DVD player on the Grey Mac with only the problems mentioned above. Playback was fine.)

Recommendation: Purchase

DirectorsAndy Wachowski, Larry Wachowski
ActorsKeanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hugo Weaving
Spoken languageEnglish
Special FeaturesCommentary Track, DVD-ROM Enhancements, Documentary, Musical Commentary, Special Effects Notes
More links

If you enjoyed The Matrix…

For more about apocalyptic, you might also be interested in The Road Warrior.

For more about cyberpunk, you might also be interested in Dark City, Pi, Blackout, The Futurological Congress, and The Heretic.

For more about Hugo Weaving, you might also be interested in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

For more about The Matrix, you might also be interested in A savior, for people who don’t want to be saved and The Adjustment Bureau.