As if the world needed another case of Tom Cruise at his most insufferable, here comes the special collector's edition of Mission: Impossible. While the 1996 movie's retooling is surely about amplifying buzz for this summer's upcoming Mission: Impossible III, it also effectively reminds us how America's most famed Scientologist had his eye-rolling moments long before he became a self-styled expert on psychiatry, post-partum depression and South Park.
Loosely based on the old espionage television show of the late 1960s, Mission: Impossible stars Cruise (who also co-produced) as secret agent Ethan Hunt, the "point man" for a team of IMF spies headed by Jim Phelps (Jon Voight reprising the only character originally from the TV series). Trouble ensues when Phelps' team is assigned to keep a list of U.S. spies' covert identities from falling into the hands of a mysterious baddie named Max (Vanessa Redgrave). At a cocktail party at the U.S. embassy in Prague, Ethan and his colleagues try intercepting the sale, but there is an ambush and all the agents are slain.
Except Ethan, that is (incidentally, this all happens early in the film, so don't worry about any spoilers being revealed). Being the sole survivor doesn't sit too well with IMF chief spook Kittredge (Henry Czerny), who informs Ethan that the mission had been a subterfuge to ferret out a traitor on Phelps' team.
And since Ethan is the last guy left standing …Well, you get the picture. Now under suspicion by his own agency, Ethan must clear his name and track down the real mole.
But the plot isn't too important – which is a good thing, too, since portions of it are just plain convoluted. Despite a screenplay by first-rate writers David Koepp and Robert Towne, the movie's chief reason for existing (aside from giving Cruise an opportunity to smile, smirk and sneer) is to let director Brian De Palma flex his gifts for suspenseful set pieces.
There are three such set pieces in Mission: Impossible, each one well-crafted and obviously heavily storyboarded. The most successful also happens to be the leanest, in which Cruise and a makeshift team of "disavowed" spies (Jean Reno, Ving Rhames and Emmanuelle Beart) break into CIA headquarters to steal some super-secret files. With Cruise dangling by cable from a hole in the ceiling, he must hack into a computer in a room where the slightest temperature change or pressure on the floor will sound alarms. It is vintage De Palma, which is to say it's a vintage homage to Hitchcock (what else is new?), although the scene's deafening silence also recalls the famed heist sequence in Jules Dassin's Rififi.
Now, for the disappointing news: Those three set pieces are not the entire film. Too much of Mission: Impossible is impossibly dull. De Palma's pacing is surprisingly limp. One can't help thinking that, somewhere along the way, the proceedings shifted into a Tom Cruise vanity project.
It might be a special collector's edition, but the picture quality is hardly pristine. Presented in widescreen 2.35:1, Mission: Impossible is serviceable, but it is disappointing to spot some white flashing on the left side of the screen in one early scene. Elsewhere, there are hints of grain in a few nighttime scenes. Neither defect is a deal-breaker, but c'mon – the movie is only 10 years old.
Audio tracks include 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and 2.0 Surround, with French dubbing also available in 2.0 Stereo. The 5.1 is the obvious choice, and it is of very good quality, making judicious use of sound separation. The only complaint, and it's a minor one, is an inconsistency of volume. Occasionally Danny Elfman's thundering music score is followed by subdued, quasi-muffled dialogue.
Subtitle options are English and Spanish.
As you would expect and hope, Mission: Impossible – Special Collector's Edition piles on the bonus features, although quantity does not equal quality.
First up is Mission: Remarkable – 40 Years of Creating the Impossible, an 11-minute, 20-second featurette that provides a self-congratulatory retrospective on both M:I and John Woo's M:I:2. Interviewees include Cruise, Voight, De Palma, Towne, Woo, producer Paula Wagner and M:I:3 director J.J. Abrams. That's a lotta people, but not much insight.
Mission: Explosive Exploits is a five-minute short lauding Cruise for doing his own stunts. Yes, his commitment is commendable, but viewers might have benefited from a more detailed "how'd they do that?" examination of the movie's special effects.
Similarly, Mission: Catching the Train, which clocks in at nearly three minutes, is a facile glimpse at how the moviemakers created the finale involving a train, a helicopter and some gargantuan suspension of disbelief.
Perhaps the most interesting extra is the Mission: International Spy Museum. Did you even know there is an International Spy Museum? Well, there is, and its executive director, Peter Earnest, escorts viewers through this fascinating Washington, D.C., facility. While I'm not really sure why this six-minute tour is included on the disc -- does anyone think Mission: Impossible is even remotely representative of actual spy work? -- it shows all sorts of real-life gadgetry, from a poison-injecting umbrella to a transmitter concealed in fake dog poop.
Also worth watching is Mission: Spies Among Us, which includes interviews with several former CIA spies about what their work entailed. With the exception of some talk concerning the CIA's harebrained schemes to take out Fidel Castro in the 1960s (including the hairbrained plan to make his beard fall out, thereby humiliating him), the short is not exactly illuminating. After all, ex-spooks probably aren't eager to spill many tricks of the trade. Nevertheless, the eight-minute featurette scores points for topicality, touching upon the recent Valerie Plame controversy to illustrate how important it is that an undercover agent's identity not be compromised. No word on whether Scooter Libby ever saw Mission: Impossible.
After that, the quality of the bonus features tapers off considerably. Agent Dossiers is a throwaway bit, fictitious dossiers on the movie's IMF team members. Um, next …
Do you like acceptance speeches? If so -- and God help you if you do -- you're in luck. Among the extras is Cruise's three-minute acceptance speech for the 2005 Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA)/Los Angeles. The DVD also includes Excellence in Film: Cruise, a three-minute montage of the actor's onscreen work. Among the accompanying music clips are the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" and Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra," a composition that was inspired by Friedrich Nietzche's "Superman." Was BAFTA trying to tell us something about that that Top Gun ego?
Never let it be said that you can have too many acceptance speeches. The DVD also boasts Cruise's acceptance speech last year for the MTV Generation award. Pop culture junkies will enjoy the cringe-inducing banter between Tom and Katie Holmes, who introduces Cruise. Oh, and there is another three-minute montage of Cruise clips entitled Generation: Cruise. Yawn.
Theatrical trailers include one teaser for M:I, one trailer for M:I and one teaser for M:I:3. Nine TV spots are also available. Finally, there is an exhaustive photo gallery. Does anyone actually clamor for stills on DVDs?
Really a mixed bag. While Mission: Impossible - Special Collector's Edition ladles on the extras, only two featurettes hold much interest, and even they are only peripherally related to the movie. All in all, this retooled DVD is a bit of a disappointment.