DVD Review

Mania Grade: C

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  • Disc Grade: B+
  • Reviewed Format: DVD
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Voices: Hedy Burress, Mindy Clarke, Kevin Michael Richardson, James Arnold Taylor
  • Writers: various
  • Directors: various
  • Distributor: Warner Home Video
  • Original Year of Release: 2003
  • Retail Price: $24.98
  • Extras: widescreen anamorphic; Dolby Digital 5.1; audio commentaries; featurettes; biographical profiles of the filmmakers; trailer; Japanese language track; English, French and Spanish subtitles


Mixed bag has one gem

By Mike Whybark     June 05, 2003

The home-video release of THE ANIMATRIX shorts on DVD June 3 comes on the heels of the theatrical release, to mixed critical reaction, of THE MATRIX RELOADED. The disc contains nine animated shorts, many by veterans of Japanese anime; four of the shorts were written by MATRIX creators Andy and Larry Wachowski. On the whole, the shorts will appeal most strongly to hardcore MATRIX fans, but there are works of genuine merit as animated short films in the mix. Five of the films have been previously available theatrically or online.

The first short, "Final Flight of the Osiris," was presented in February with DREAMCATCHER and looks very much like the CG animated film FINAL FANTASY. That's no accident, as the director, Andy Jones, was the animation supervisor for FINAL FANTASY. Here we learn how the denizens of Zion gain knowledge of the robot army that menaces them in THE MATRIX RELOADED.

As is the case with much CGI-based work that overtly attempts to present photo-realistic humans in action and emotion, one is struck by both the scale of the accomplishment and the fact that it still fails. One just can't help but think, "Why didn't they use real actors instead these digital dolls?" Despite this, the film's nonstop action and the intensity of the visualized and rendered environment override the concern while watching, and in certain sequences the synthespians do not register as digital representations but as flesh-and-blood. Unfortunately, those instances are confined to quick-cut sequences in which a real actor would neither be moving much nor required to show complex emotion through facial expression.

The best film of the set is "Beyond," in which a glitch in the Matrix's rendering software creates a haunted house that is gleefully explored by some Japanese kids. Director Koji Morimoto, who worked on Miyazaki's KIKI'S DELIVERY SERVICE, creates an affecting, beautifully imagined and visualized vignette of urban Japanese life. The sunwashed piece directly echoes the theme and appearance of Miyazaki's SPIRITED AWAY, yet the work is in no way imitative or derivative. It's an honest homage, a gesture of admiration for that film.

The rest of the material is of varied quality and feel, from the psychedelics of Peter Chung's "Matriculated" to the familiar-feeling work of Takeshi Koike's "World Record." "Matriculated" comes from the creator of MTV's AEON FLUX, and relies heavily on computer-based imaging, both in the animation of robots in combat and the presentation of a lush virtual reality within which a Zion ship's crew attempt to convert robots to the service of Zion. Sadly, some poor choices dramatically undermine the piece. Let me simply say: there is a monkey in the bit, apparently added in homage to the immortal Hollywood rule that adding monkeys makes it better. Alas, it doesn't.

One of the less-successful films, however, stands out partly because of its spectacular misconception, somewhat amazingly credited to both Wachowski brothers. "Kid's Story" directly equates the suicide of a teenager (amusingly named after the philosopher Karl Popper) with joining the rebellion against the Matrix. The kid mutters, "Neo, I believe," before diving off of the roof of his high school, lawsuit bait if I ever saw it.

The Wachowskis also penned the well-executed Matrix backstory pieces, "The Second Renaissance Parts I and II," and of course the "Osiris" film mentioned earlier. The "Renaissance" shorts provide background on the world of the Matrix, telling a tale of how humanity came to be used as the universal Duracell, and attempt to counter the dry voice-over presentation with graphic and disturbing images of wartime and riot violence, with mixed success. Some of the images in these shorts are indelible, but the decision to eschew character-based storytelling leaves the films open to critical reactions of the nitpicking geek variety as well as the cinematic.

On the whole, the films do not live up to the hopes and expectations of the hardcore MATRIX fans who are likely to pick it up anyway, if primarily for the "Osiris" and "Renaissance" material. While it's understandable that the Wachowskis had many things to do over the past couple of years, the apparent willingness to allow some perfunctory material out the door may undermine the otherwise well-deserved fan relationship the brothers have so carefully developed.

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