Who doesn't know the theme to Mission: Impossible? It's so iconic, it's as recognizable as the Bond theme, or the Jaws theme, or the Chariots of Fire theme. Originally a TV show, in 1996 Tom Cruise decided the time was ripe to turn it into a movie starring...why, it starred Tom Cruise!
Cruise plays Ethan Hunt, the star member of a team of espionage agents working for the government division known as the Impossible Mission Force, or IMF for short. The team's leader, Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), sets the team out to catch a traitor to the country who is attempting to obtain a list of all of the real names of covert operatives in place around the world, known as a NOC list. During the course of the mission, everyone but Hunt, including Phelps, is killed by unseen assailants. Hunt is taken in by another IMF team, only to discover that the entire job was an attempt at finding a mole who is selling IMF secrets to an arms dealer known only as Max, and since Hunt is the only member of the team left alive, they believe he's the mole. Hunt, of course, knows that he isn't, so he escapes and begins his own investigation, aided by two hackers (Jean Reno and Ving Rhames), and the only other member of the team to survive, Phelp's wife (Emmanuelle Beart).
The only film in the Mission: Impossible series to either name check the TV show or actually involve any of the plot-twisting intrigue the show was known for, this first foray really works well. Director Brian De Palma was an inspired choice, as the plot twisting suspense thriller is his bread and butter. He brings a real sense of style and a good amount of thrills to the proceedings. He even manages to throw in a few of his trademark diopter shots.
But, of course, De Palma is not the star of the film. That would be Tom Cruise. Personally, I think Cruise is underrated as an actor, but here he's in full action star mode. And you know what? He's damn good at it. There are very few people that can be as effortlessly charismatic as Cruise, and there's a reason he's one of the world's top movie stars, and his performance in Mission: Impossible is a perfect example why.
The other gem in the flick is Jon Voight. Voight, a thoroughly underused actor these days, brings class and distinction to the flick. The other supporting actors vary in quality. Ving Rhames and Emmanuelle Beart work well, but Jean Reno is over the top and Emilio Estevez cannot be ushered out of the picture too soon. Vanessa Redgrave has a wonderful cameo as Max, featuring some great interplay with Cruise.
The other aspect that really makes the movie tick is the screenplay by David Koepp and Robert Towne. Unlike the following two sequels, Koepp and Towne bothered to include some actual intrigue. Mission: Impossible actually feels like a spy movie with some action, instead of an action movie that happens to have a spy in it. The plot seems confusing at first, but after having not seen the film for over ten years, I understood it better now than I did back in the theaters. Just a good time for all.
The Blu-ray Disc:
Paramount Pictures presents Mission: Impossible in a 2.35:1 MPEG-2 transfer. This is the same disc that was found in the Ultimate Missions Collection available on both HD DVD and Blu-ray. I was pleasantly surprised at the generally high level of quality on display here. It's not perfect, though. Several of the darker scenes exhibit low detail, and a couple of scenes at sunset look downright dreadful. Furthermore, there are marks and scratches here and there on the source print. But overall, I was pleased with the HD image on display.
Paramount has not yet come to realize the sheer, unmitigated joy of lossless audio, despite the fact that an overwhelming amount of Blu-ray discs feature uncompressed PCM. So what do we get? Dolby Digital 5.1, that's what. This certainly isn't a bad track. I thought the surround mix for a 1996 film would sound dated, but the mix was active the whole way through. The score, from the famous theme to the new cues written by Danny Elman is full and compelling. The action sequences are a constant barrage of sounds from all the speakers. While I really would have liked to hear this in lossless, this track will do for now.
I don't know if I've ever seen such a useless collection of fluff extras on what is meant to be considered a "special edition." To make things worse, only the trailers are in HD.
Mission: Remarkable - 40 Years of Creating the Impossible: Producer Paula Wagner discusses the three films, with period interviews from Cruise, De Palma, John Woo, and J.J. Abrams. Nothing but an ad for the series, there's no useful information conveyed here.
Explosive Exploits: An absurdly short featurette about the aquarium explosion and CIA break-in. This almost gets interesting, but it's over before it begins.
Spies Among Us: A closer look at the actual world of spycraft. If anything, this only highlights how little like actual espionage work these movies are.
Catching The Train: Another painfully short featurette, this time about the train-based climactic sequence.
International Spy Museum: By far the most interesting extra on the disc, this is a quick look at the real International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. The curator shows off several gadgets spies actually have used in the past.
Agent Dossiers: A nice little touch, these are the full texts of the dossiers Jim Phelps sees on the video at the beginning of the film.
Excellence In Film - Cruise: Just to make sure you don't forget that this series is a Cruise vanity project at heart, we get to see a montage of Cruise clips that was shown before he received a BAFTA award in 2005. Utterly pointless and completely disconnected from the film on the disc.
Generation - Cruise: Apparently Tom Cruise won two awards in 2005, because here is almost exactly the same montage, shown before an MTV award he won at the same time. Talk about annoying.
Teasers and Trailers: In HD!
Mission: Impossible is fun, plain and simple. Brian De Palma and Jon Voight elevate the film beyond its sequels, as does the screenplay which actually bothers to make the audience keep up with it. Cruise is Cruise, but I mean that in the best possible way. This Blu-ray disc neither looks nor sounds perfect, but it's still a step above the DVD. All told, I'd say this isn't such a bad package. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.