Unlike its two sequels, Brian DePalma's 1996 Mission: Impossible at least made a token effort at referencing the 1960s TV show from which it was purported based with one character name and the basic premise, but took a great many liberties in its zeal to turn the teamwork emphasis of the original into a Tom Cruise vanity project. That one carry-over character, team leader Jim Phelps (played by Jon Voight here), undergoes a major personality rewrite that certainly displeased fans of the old series. If you can get past that, however, the first Mission makes for some pretty damn good slam-bang summer blockbuster entertainment, and frankly is the only entry in the franchise that could honestly be called a spy movie.
As portrayed in this first film, Cruise's Ethan Hunt is a young and inexperienced secret agent, and even kind of a wuss (he actually gets beaten up by an old man at one point). Forced to go underground after most of his team is assassinated in a botched operation, Hunt's bosses back at the Impossible Missions Force suspect him as a mole, an accusation bolstered by a heavy-handed frame job that points all clues directly at our hero. The only way to prove his innocence is to steal some top-secret intelligence info and use it as bait to root out the real mole, a plan that seems simple enough until it's revealed that this intel can only be procured from a highly-secured room in the heart of CIA headquarters. Sounds like a job even James Bond would find daunting.
You couldn't ask for a more appropriate director to launch the series than DePalma, a filmmaker infatuated with convoluted, twisty plots and elaborately-staged suspense set-pieces. The movie lets him indulge these obsessions in just the right measure while keeping some of his greater excesses reigned in. The storyline, heavy on jargon involving N.O.C. Lists and various tricks of the intelligence trade, is confusing on first viewing but just coherent enough to keep the audience involved between the big action sequences. The movie's signature scenes, including the initial ambush and the dead-silent CIA break-in (designed in homage to Jules Dassin's caper classic Topkapi), are nail-bitingly suspenseful. The climactic train/helicopter stunt is obviously digitally-manipulated and arguably goes too far over-the-top at its conclusion, but is undeniably exciting nonetheless. I actually find it hilariously subversive in its flagrant sexual imagery; a phallic train plunges into a tunnel where the action builds and builds until exploding in an orgasmic release, followed by a moment where it deflates in exhaustion. This movie is a blast!
The HD DVD:
Mission: Impossible previously debuted on the HD DVD format as part of Paramount Home Entertainment's Ultimate Missions Collection box set. The studio has just now gotten around to releasing it separately. A comparable Blu-ray edition is also available.
The disc automatically opens with a lengthy HD DVD promo that can fortunately be skipped but is a nuisance.
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc is a Combo release that specifically includes a secondary DVD version) or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Mission: Impossible HD DVD is encoded on disc in High Definition 1080p format using VC-1 compression. The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
Brian DePalma's entry has certainly the most elegant widescreen framing of the Mission: Impossible trio. The director's sense of composition is just superb. Sourced from the same master used for the recent "Special Collector's Edition" DVD released in 2006, the High-Def transfer is satisfyingly sharp and detailed, though the photography does occasionally look a little gauzy for effect. Colors are great and black levels are solid, however certain scenes seem overly dark and have weak shadow detail. The picture is a bit grainy and has some minor age-related dirt and specks, and additionally the end credits are strangely quite soft, but overall the image has a pleasing film-like texture. This is a very nice-looking disc.
The Mission: Impossible HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 format. Danny Elfman's score stands out as especially expansive and impressive, filling the front soundstage with directional instrument cues, warmth, and fidelity. The movie has a terrific sound design that takes advantage of the entire dynamic range from deep explosions to nail-biting silence. The climactic train sequence is quite a doozy, aurally overwhelming the room with sounds from every direction. It's a great sound mix, and the disc delivers it well.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - English, English captions for the hearing impaired, French, or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - French or Spanish DD+ 5.1.
The bonus features on this HD DVD title are duplicated from the DVD edition. Most of the supplements from the Special Collector's Edition DVD have carried over.
Missing from the DVD are Cruise's acceptance speeches from the BAFTA and MTV Movie Awards. Neither sounds like a big loss.
- Mission: Remarkable - 40 Years of Creating the Impossible (11 min., SD) - This piece starts as a tribute to the old TV series but transitions into a shameless plug for all three Tom Cruise movies.
- Mission: Explosive Exploits (5 min., SD) - A behind-the-scenes look at the aquarium explosion and CIA break-in sequences.
- Mission: Spies Among Us (9 min., SD) - Technical advisors and various other supposed experts on the espionage trade attempt to justify the movie's silliness as if it had some vague basis in reality. Sorry folks, nobody's buying it.
- Mission: Catching the Train (3 min., SD) - Analysis of the visual effects in the movie's climax.
- Mission: International Spy Museum (7 min., SD) - The proprietor of the title location takes us on a tour and showcases historical "tradecraft" gadgets that spies purportedly used over the years.
- Mission: Agent Dossiers - Character bios in text format.
- Excellence in Film (9 min., SD) - A tribute to Tom Cruise from the 2005 BAFTA Awards featuring a montage of clips from his movies.
- Generation: Cruise (4 min., SD) - A similar tribute montage from the MTV Movie Awards.
- Mission: Marketing (7 min., HD/SD) - Two theatrical trailers in High Definition and four TV spots in Standard-Def.
- Photo Gallery
If you weren't a big enough fan of the franchise to splurge for the Ultimate Missions Collection box, the first Mission: Impossible is finally available for separate purchase. It's the best entry in the series, and the HD DVD has nice picture and sound. Recommended if you don't need or want all three movies, though honestly the box set is a better deal.
Mission: Impossible II (HD DVD)
Mission: Impossible II (Blu-ray)
Mission: Impossible III (HD DVD)
Mission: Impossible III (Blu-ray)
Mission: Impossible - Ultimate Missions Collection (HD DVD)
The Last Samurai (HD DVD) - Tom Cruise
HD Review Index
Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD Player