The Animatrix

Warner Bros. Home Video, $24.98

THE NINE SHORT animated films that compose The Animatrix (on disc June 3) were originally conceived as Web teasers to generate buzz for The Matrix Reloaded. As it turns out, that sequel needed no such buzz, although opinion's divided about whether Reloaded measures up to the original. But there can be little disagreement about the quality of this DVD spin-off. Not since Fantasia have animators been given such free rein to push the envelopeor responded so enthusiastically and successfully.

The Wachowski brothers had the good sense to get the hell out of the way when their hirelings tore up their originally assigned Animatrix scenarios. In some casesnotably Final Flight of the Osiris by Final Fantasy director Andy Jonesthe result is merely technically awesome: Never has the bloom of tiny hairs on a woman's peach-toned butt been more faithfully rendered through CGI. OthersMahiro Maeda's two Second Renaissance filmletsare marvelously inventive visually but constrained by their "prequel" function to a predetermined narrative straitjacket.

But the six remaining films function both as an instant anthology of today's greatest animators working at the top of their form and a hint of where the art of anime, and maybe cinema as well, is headed. Highlights include Cowboy Bebop creator Shinichirô Watanabe's wry recycling of film noir visual clichés into something new and strange in Detective Story; newcomer Takeshi Koike's World Record, like monochrome woodblock prints brought to reeling life; and Peter Chung's hallucinatory Matriculated, containing the best filmed acid trip since 2001's, which, unlike that celebrated sequence, is dramatically integral to a narrative.

All that, plus nearly two hours of interviews with the anime masters and clips from their previous work. If this collection can't earn anime the place in world cinema it deserves, nothing can. ROGER DOWNEY

JUNE 3 ALSO greets Die Another Day (with seven hours of extras!); an expanded Terminator 2 (with James Cameron commentary); 1943's The Song of Bernadette (don't ask why); 1995's Empire Records (ditto); Werner Herzog's Invincible (with Tim Roth); the 1996 AIDS weepie It's My Party (starring an against-type Eric Roberts); the middling Polanski films Death and the Maiden and Bitter Moon; The Guru (with Heather Grrrr-aham); and About Schmidt (no commentaries, few extras), which was co-written by Seattle native Jim Taylor. EDS.

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