Directors Larry and Andy Wachowski have said in their few interviews that they are big fans of Japanese animation (or, "Anime"). Watching "The Matrix", one can sense the influences from Anime style. Given the fact that the story of "The Matrix: Reloaded" was too big to tell in one nearly 150-minute movie, elements of the story are being told both in the video game "Enter the Matrix" and this set of animated features, the "Animatrix".
Given their desire to expand the side and back-stories, the Wachowski brothers had several famed animation directors go to work on 9 short films that further enrich the "Matrix" tale. The first feature is the "Final Flight of the Osiris", a fully CGI tale constructed by some of the same artists who were involved with "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within". However, as remarkable as "Final Fantasy" was, the animation technology seems to have improved even further, as the kind of detail present here is extraordinary. Without giving anything away, the tale involves the crew of the Osiris trying to get a warning to Zion. It's interesting to see how this story ties into the first level of the video game.
"The Second Resistance: Parts I and II" are dark and fascinating shorts that are essential to the understanding of the "Matrix" story. Both stories cover how the machines developed under the eye of man and how they eventually rose up and defeated mankind. As with the rest of the shorts, the imagery throughout these stories is dark, haunting and remarkably imaginative. Sound designer Dane Davis ("The Matrix", "The Matrix: Reloaded") has a voice cameo. Directors Larry and Andy Wachowski were also responsible for the writing of these first three segments, which deal the closest with the stories of the two films.
Carrie-Anne Moss and Keanu Reeves also offer voice cameos in "Kid's Story", a tale of a young student who finds out the truth, and must run from agents. "Program" features a samurai battle between a male and female warrior, who debate existence while waging a tense battle. "World Record", a rather odd feature, involves a track star whose extraordinary talent and drive leads him to find out about the existence of the Matrix. "Beyond" focuses on a young woman who stumbles upon an abandoned building full of children with strange powers while she was searching for her lost cat. "A Detective Story" is a noir-ish piece that has an investigator trying to track down Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss. The piece has a fascinating black-and-white look. Finally, "Matriculated" has members of the human resistance attempting to reprogram a machine to fight on their side.
The shorts are: Final Flight of the Osiris, The Second Renaissance Part 1, The Second Renaissance Part 2, Kid's Story, Program, World Record, Beyond, Detective Story and Matriculated.
VIDEO: "The Animatrix" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. All of the short films share the same aspect ratio. The shorts also share image quality that is extraordinary - just a little bit short of perfection. Sharpness and detail are remarkable; the images are not only well-defined and crystal clear, but have a smoothness to them that's extremely pleasing. Only a slight hint of edge enhancement in a couple of the shorts gets in the way of these presentations achieving perfection. Otherwise, there's no concerns - no pixelation or other faults are spotted, and colors look superb.
SOUND: All of the shorts boast an amazingly aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation. Every possibility for surround use is taken advantage of; discrete effects can often be heard from both sides, enveloping and immersing the viewer in the worlds that are created in these shorts. Sound quality is extremely strong, with crisp and clear effects, rich bass and clean-sounding dialogue.
EXTRAS: Audio commentaries (in Japanese, subtitled in English) are offered by the directors of The Second Renaissance Parts 1 and 2, Program, and World Record. The other major supplements of the DVD are two large featurettes, "Scroll to Screen", which is a 22-minute look at the history of anime, as well as "Execution", which is a 55-minute look at the making of all of the shorts of the "Animatrix". "Execution" is actually short featurettes that can be played together in a 55-minute whole. These are interesting pieces that really explore the background of the animators and how their vision and the vision of the Wachowski brothers came together into each of the short films. Other interesting tidbits are scattered throughout the featurettes, including a look at a test by the "Final Flight of the Osiris" team that stars the main character of the "Final Fantasy: Spirits Within" film the animators worked on.
Rounding out the supplemental section are a group of profiles on the "Animatrix" animators and a look at the making of the "Enter the Matrix" video game.
Final Thoughts: The first three shorts of the "Animatrix" are not only fascinating, but richly animated and provide an enjoyable look at the backstory of "The Matrix". The other shorts, which are the animator's own looks at the "Matrix" universe, are not always as compelling story-wise, but the animation is nothing short of spectacular and the different styles are marvelous to watch. The DVD offers magnificent audio/video quality, along with stellar supplements. Highly recommended.
The Films *** 1/2