- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Here’s a look at some hardware and software that’s available:

Enter the Matrix; by Atari for Xbox, PlayStation 2 and GameCube; rated T: content suitable for ages 13 and older; $49.99. The video game and movie continue to become one in a new third-person adventure game based on Hollywood’s current box-office champ.

This expensive experiment of combining media brings the violent world of the “Matrix” movies to home entertainment consoles with assistance from the fathers of that universe, filmmakers Andy and Larry Wachowski. The pair wrote the game’s story and directed live, unique footage incorporated into the game’s action.

Additionally, the game uses motion-capture imagery of actors Jada Pinkett Smith and Anthony Wong and turns them into pixilated characters while offering a unique story line that fits tidily into the current movie’s mythos.

A single player jacks in and takes control of lead characters Ghost or Niobe to infiltrate the Matrix and help Neo, Trinity and Morpheus in the war to save Zion from some nasty machines. To unlock all of the secrets of the game, players must work completely through the two heroes’ quests and explore a hacking option that simulates the computer chicanery of the original film.

Mainly appealing to the occasional, mass-market-mesmerized gamer (check out the holographic packaging), the title mimics most of the moves found in the martial-arts universe of “The Matrix,” including those “bullet time” special effects and running on walls. It also uses a guiding arrow function to help keep the missions from being too overwhelming for the amateur.

Lots of chopping, blasting and jumping occurs throughout, with occasional flying and driving battles thrown in. Wise players will carefully monitor their Focus meter to take full advantage of the fun effects, and astute players eventually will unlock a multiplayer challenge to turn the title into a fighting free-for-all.

I do appreciate the theory behind blurring game with film found in Enter the Matrix, but others such as Electronic Arts’ Lord of the Rings did a better job. Using live movie scenes contrasted against current computer design worlds still displays too much of a gap of believability to look amazing. The Lord of the Rings title cleverly melded the effect, offering a smoother transition and more immersive feel.

Also, with this being the first Matrix game on the market, I really wanted to control Neo or Trinity, not the secondary characters. Despite the flaws, the Wachowskis do deliver by trying to offer a fresh, bonus-laden experience to their fans.

Matrix maniacs may also want to grab BradyGames’ strategy guide ($14.95) for some assistance with the game, to read interviews with Mr. Wong and the developers, and enjoy a two-sided poster presenting the official Matrix Universe Timeline.

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Black Hawk Down, Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment for DVD-enabled computers and home entertainment centers, rated R, $39.95. On Oct. 3, 1993, U.S. soldiers entered Mogadishu, Somalia, in the hopes of arresting a warlord and his associates accused of atrocities against the people of the civil war-torn country. The events that followed during the tragic mission were turned into an Academy Award-winning film for director Ridley Scott and producer Jerry Bruckheimer and now have been incorporated into an immersive DVD package.

After my look at Buena Vista Home Entertainment’s four-disc homage to Mr. Bruckheimer’s ludicrous, soap-opera driven tribute to Pearl Harbor with its gratuitous extras, I was hoping the “Black Hawk Down” film tribute would be a bit more reserved in capitalizing on the death of U.S. troops. It was, and viewers will find more somber results in the epic three-disc set that tries to balance the dangers of modern military warfare against Hollywood.

I would suggest high-tech historians work backward by first viewing the third disc’s 100-minute documentary about the 1993 incident told through survivors’ interviews and by narration from “Black Hawk Down” author, Mark Bowden.

A second 60-minute documentary from PBS’ notoriously hard-hitting Front Lines series follows and looks at the incident and uses even more intense first-person interviews to delve into who is to blame for the death of 18 Army Rangers and Delta Force soldiers and more than 1,000 Somalis.

Also on disc three is a well-done, interactive timeline of the 15 harrowing hours using maps, text and footage from the film as reference, and a scene deconstruction of the initial Ranger drop by four Black Hawk helicopters shown from six different cameras and narrated by assistant director Terry Needham.

The film connoisseur in me then absorbed a 151-minute making-of-the-film extravaganza found on the second disc, tracing the film’s development from the writing of the book through film scoring. Additionally, the obligatory deleted/alternate scenes, storyboard comparisons and production photographs can be found on the disc.

After digesting all of the above, viewers may find watching the actual 144-minute film to be more of a numbing exercise in violence rather than a cinematic event that might stand against the brilliance of “Saving Private Ryan.”

Actors such as Josh Hartnett and Tom Sizemore simply had no chance of conveying emotional impact compared to seeing the real-life men talking about the conflict.

Computer users will find nothing honed specifically for their medium other than a Web link to the “Black Hawk Down” Sony Web site, which has some pretty aggravating menus.

Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; or send e-mail (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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