“Well, you think about it, Ethan, it was inevitable. No more cold war. No more secrets you keep from yourself. Answer to no one but yourself. Then, you wake up one morning and find out the President is running the country without your permission. The son of a bitch, how dare he. Then you realize, it’s over. You are an obsolete piece of hardware, not worth upgrading, you got a lousy marriage, and 62 grand a year.”
The more things change, the more they tend to remain the same. In 1996 Paramount was nearing the end of a run of feature films that started with a 1960’s Desilu Studios television series called Star Trek. That same year the studio was beginning a run of feature films based on a 1960’s Desilu Studios television series that at one time shared an actor with Star Trek, Leonard Nimoy. That series was Mission Impossible. The show starred Peter Graves as the leader of a cold war covert government group called the IMF or Impossible Mission Force. Each week he would select from a group of series regulars after getting his mission, should he decide to accept it, from a tape recorder that always self-destructed in five seconds. The tape’s dissolving vapor would lead to the fuse being lit that started the opening credits and an iconic theme written by Lalo Schifin. It ran for seven seasons between 1966 and 1973. The series returned for a short while as another television series in the 1980’s before it vanished into post cold war oblivion, until Paramount and Tom Cruise decided to join forces and create a new film franchise that has lasted over 20 years and is about to launch its 6th big-budget film.
Enter Brian DePalma, who 10 years earlier had made a successful film out of a 1950’s Desilu television show called The Untouchables. It certainly appeared that this film was more a product of fate than anything a Hollywood script could dream up. But DePalma would not remain with this franchise after the first film. In fact it would become somewhat of a tradition that each film would be directed by a different person, bringing a bit of a unique style to each outing. The results have certainly been rather mixed, but one thing is for certain. The box office for these films has brought some much needed cash to Paramount over the years, and that’s expected to continue in 2018 when Christopher McQuarrie becomes the first directed to repeat in the franchise. The release of a new movie is the perfect opportunity for Paramount to release the five previous films in 4K on UHD Blu-ray discs.
Mission Impossible starts with a nod to the original series. We see the IMF team just finishing up one of the elaborate scams that were a trademark of the show in order to have international bad guys get a little unofficial justice. The only character from the series to return is Jim Phelps, this time played by Jon Voight. The case has a happy conclusion, and the iconic fuse is lit, and we’re treated to a modern version of the classic opening, pulse-pounding theme and all. The resemblance to the series except for a few homage moments ends here.
Jim Phelps receives a new mission on the plane ride home. There is a list of secret agent identities out there in two parts. Apparently an international bad guy is about to obtain the second part of the coded list, and that means a lot of compromised agents. He assembles his team, which includes Ethan Hunt, played by Tom Cruise. Phelps has been his mentor and is about to retire, putting the IMF team into his hands. But the last mission goes horribly wrong, and it appears Hunt is the only surviving member of the botched mission. Of course, that makes him look like the mole the agency has been trying to track down, and Hunt has been framed for the role. We finally learn what it means to be disavowed, and Hunt has to put together a team of disavowed agents in order to clear his name, find the real mole, and keep the agent list from falling into the wrong hands.
The first film of the new feature film franchise begins to establish the move from the con aspect of the show to a more furious action film genre. Cruise establishes himself as a bit of an action hero who has been insisting on doing many of each film’s signature stunts. In this one we get the first of many iconic images of Cruise as Hunt dangling from a rope rig as he enters an impenetrable vault and drops to within inches of the rigged floor, arms and legs spread-eagled in what has become an easily recognizable scene from the franchise. Hunt also hangs on to a speeding bullet train while battling and taking out a helicopter as it enters the Chunnel between England and France. These action moments have become the trademark moments of each new film as one attempts to outdo the others.
This film also introduces us to the character of Luther Stickell, played by Ving Rhames, who is the only other actor/character to appear in all of the films to date. He’s a disavowed computer hacker who helps Hunt retrieve the film’s McGuffin in the computer list of agents. Rhames is a powerful force and really the only member that can hold up to the larger-than-life performance of Cruise in these films.
Vanessa Redgrave is a particular standout as one of the film’s villains. Max is a delightful character, and she manages to go toe to toe with Cruise, delivering some of the film’s best banter and chemistry. Jon Voight is actually rather underused in most of the film, but he takes the character of Jim Phelps in a direction that did not sit very well with the big fans of the television series. It’s not a total surprise that Peter Graves reportedly turned down the chance to reprise the character in the film.
The plot of this one isn’t quite as original as one might have hoped. It’s actually a surprise that the franchise has lasted this long if you just look at the first film. The twists and turns are too much of a cheat as each twist is accompanied by someone ripping off a latex mask so that you never really know who any particular character might be. It’s based on the Martin Landau character from the series, who was good at masks and character impersonations. But this film uses it too much as a cheat so that it really isn’t possible for us to figure it out on our own. It stopped being thrilling after the first six or seven times it happens. Part of the problem here is that the script was never locked. Changes were being made as filming was progressing, and even after a scene was filmed it would be rewritten. That kind of process always suffers in the end.
Mission Impossible is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The ultra-high-definition 2160p image is arrived at by an HEVC codec with an average bitrate of 65 mbps. The ultra-high-definition image presentation shows considerable restraint in the re-master process. The use of DNR appears limited, and no attempt was made to try to squeeze this film into looking like the later digital films. There is that faint hint of grain that makes the film appear more organic. Colors are actually on the reserved side except for certain dramatic instances. It’s explosions that deliver the advantage of the HDR color boost. Black levels remain just fair, and interior shots suffer from some soft focus issues. The action scenes deliver the best from the increased resolution and sharpness. The greenscreen stuff isn’t as smooth as it looked on Blu-ray, revealing some of the film’s age.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 presentation isn’t quite as dynamic as I hoped. No, this film was not originally made in 7.1, but that hasn’t stopped most UHD releases from expanding the surround field a bit more. This is an action film that could have benefited from the boost. Subs are made to make up for the surrounds by delivering some pounding moments. The theme song benefits massively from good sub range here. Dialog manages to cut through the rather loud audio design just fine. I found that levels were much more constant, which was an issue on the original Blu-ray.
The extras are all on the Blu-ray copy of the film and represent a reproduction of the exact extras on the original Blu-ray release. Most of them are actually in Standard Definition.
Mission Remarkable – 40 Years Of Creating The Impossible: (11:26) Cast and crew talk about how this version of the series got off the ground. There are clips from the television show as they talk about that material and their experiences with it. There are also clips from the second and third film.
Mission Explosive Exploits: (5:09) A look at Cruise doing his own stunts with the focus on the water tank explosion and the iconic computer room rope dangle.
Mission Spies Among Us: (8:40) Real-life operatives talk about what it’s like to be a spy.
Mission Catching The Train: (2:39) A look at the big train stunt climax.
Mission International Spy Museum: (3:59) Get a tour of the tools of the spy trade at an actual museum.
Mission Agent Dossiers: These are text info on the main characters.
There are 2 Tom Cruise Tributes: Excellence In Film and MTV’s First Generation Awards.
The film made a respectable $180 million and ended up competing that year for box office with Cruise’s other film of the year Jerry Maguire. It was enough to warrant a second film, but these haven’t been rushed as quickly as most film franchises tend to be. There has been an average of 3-6 years between the films, so we only have had five since 1996 with the sixth about to open. But now you can binge all five films before you sit down to the new one thanks to this bulk release of 4K films. That’s your mission, “should you decide to accept it”.