Mission Impossible (2-Disc Special Collector's Edition) Review
Prague and an IMF mission led by veteran agent Jim Phelps (John Voight) is going terribly wrong. Assigned to recover a disc of the names of CIA deep cover field agents, Phelps is shot dead, a security expert is killed in a trap set above his position whilst others are blown up or knifed. All of Phelps' team are dead...except one, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and with Phelps' last words stopping short of identifying a mole in his team, the CIA are suspicious of this one survivor. Meeting CIA director Kittridge (Henry Czerny) in a restaurant in Prague, Hunt hears that he is prime suspect in the death of Phelps and the other agents, it being no coincidence that his mother and father have recently been the recipients of a great deal of money.
Escaping from Kittridge and disappearing into the ether, Hunt goes all out to clear his name and to uncover who the identity of the real mole in Phelps' team. Using two disavowed agents, Krieger (Jean Reno) and Luther (Ving Rhames), to break into a secure data facility at CIA headquarters in Langley to copy the list of agents, Hunt prepares to use it as bait, knowing that it will prove irresistible...
If you've been a regular reader of this site for some time, you'll know that an excellent review of this film has already been posted by Mike Sutton when reviewing the Region 1. Unlike Mike, my knowledge of Brian De Palma is rather sketchy. Being something of a Star Wars fan, I did, in my younger days, take something of a personal umbrage towards De Palma when it was reported that following the disastrous first screening of Star Wars - black-and-white WWII dogfight footage instead of X-Wings - that it was De Palma who was most critical of Lucas. I know...it's an embarrassingly stupid thing to admit to but once upon a time, I'd have forgiven Lucas almost anything. Hanging my head in shame, I felt this personal assault on his space opera was unforgivable, particularly from the man responsible for - and imagine a Star Wars fan sniffing at this film in the manner of The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy - Carrie. Actually, I'd still forgive Lucas almost anything.
Hence, I never really got De Palma. Carrie was dismissed as schlocky Stephen King nonsense and I tended to swallow whole the various accusations of plagiarism that surrounded films such as Dressed To Kill and Raising Cain. The Untouchables was reasonably entertaining but De Palma, as Hollywood turned its back on him, began to make sense, his glossy visuals finding a perfect match in the crumbling decor of Europe. Even a film such as Femme Fatale, which would be a dreadful softcore whodunit in the hands of anyone else, became a sparkling, sophisticated Euro-thriller, its plot twisting between the glamourous and the genuinely surprising. And therein, now at least, lies the appeal of De Palma. Like Ronin, La Balance, the two Jason Bourne films (Identity and Supremacy) and both French Connection films - one of which may well be set in New York but it's Euro to its core - Femme Fatale was a terrific thriller, over which the old Eastern bloc countries cast a subtle shadow.
Much more explicit, though, is this film, the first in what producers Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner planned as an ongoing series of Bond-inspired international spy thrillers. From its opening shots in and around Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge in Prague, this first Mission: Impossible film is all about the hangover from the Cold War. Therein, agents greeted one another with codes as obtuse as, "The swallows fly south this winter" and Central European countries like the Czech Republic - or Czecheslovakia as it would have been at the height of the Soviet Union - were a hotbed of subterfuge and espionage. Mission: Impossible builds on this, with the trading of a list of names of CIA field agents being the bait needed to draw mysterious arms-dealers like Max (Vanessa Redgrave) out of anonymity, whilst the various buggings, disguises and gadgets lend this globe-hopping spy thriller a touch of the fantastical in amongst what is occasionally a touch personal.
Much like the Bond films of the same vintage, Mission: Impossible reflects the reality of spycraft as much as EastEnders does life in a London village but in De Palma, Cruise and Wagner chose wisely. The plotting of the film is sometimes criticised as confusing - although anyone who thinks this complicated probably still gets lost in their own house - but De Palma glosses over much of it regardless by making this a fantastic film to just look at. Any of the scenes shot on location in Prague look terrific with the bringing down of Phelps' team and the scene in the restaurant in Prague between Tom Cruise and Henry Czerny probably being the highlights. Familiarity has not dented the sight of Cruise dangling from the roof in the CIA building in Langley - it remains as tense and as well-executed as scene as ever - and it's even nice to see such a well-known location as the Broadgate end of Liverpool St. station looking smart. If the finale in the Channel Tunnel is ridiculous, it's no less so than a good deal of modern Bond and in amongst Cruise's exposed neck being only inches away from the rotors of a helicopter, operated with intent by Reno, I even enjoy the comedy mugging of The Day Today's David Schneider as the driver in the rear engine of the Eurostar.
Mission: Impossible is almost sinfully good fun throughout, almost as good as the ridiculously entertaining Ronin. And all of it is, I suspect, due not to the presence of Cruise - if it were, M:I:II, as we're being asked to call these things, would be a great deal more entertaining - but of De Palma who turned a sow's ear of a story into a silk purse. It is, then, his film and as tongue-in-cheek as John Voight is with his Jim Phelps - he wouldn't be this hammy again until Anaconda - and as solid as the support is, it's De Palma's movie throughout, bringing a confidence and a clear sense of style throughout the film. Thirty years, or thereabouts, is an awfully long time to bear a grudge, particularly when, with this and Femme Fatale, there's such a good time to be had with De Palma. It may be time to forget.
There's a curious flatness to Mission: Impossible, which isn't to say that the money isn't there on the screen - it clearly is - but that it's a film that looks as good on any television, regardless of the size. Indeed, I would say that it's a film best suited to watching on television as, it's aspect ratio notwithstanding, it's almost as enjoyable even on a pan-and-scanned broadcast version, the highlights somehow surviving the chopping about of the image.
This DVD is a very good one, though, looking sharp, clean and with the only obvious signs of digital noise being in the film's finale in the Channel Tunnel. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is excellent, making great use of the rear channels for audio and ambient effects and for musical cues, notably that theme music. Again, though, most of the time, it's barely noticeable, showing the filmmakers as ones able to decide when best to make use of the surrounds.
Mission: Remarkable (11m27s): Producers Paula Wagner and Tom Cruise are on hand to talk the viewer through this short look back at the first two Mission: Impossible films and, via an interview with JJ Abrams, the recently-released third film in the series. It may be familiarity that one has with the first film but with the exception of those scenes that feature Phillip Seymour Hoffman, nothing in the two sequels is as impressive as Brian De Palma's original. The three directors are also featured here giving their thoughts on their contributions to the scene.
Mission: Explosive (5m10s): Are you detecting a pattern here? With stunt coordinator Greg Powell - his brusque London accent is at odds with the placeless Cruise - on hand to briefly explain two stunt sequences in the film. Cruise and De Palma are interviewed to explain how the actor did his own stunts, even to telling us that it's harder than one might think to hang from the ceiling as Cruise does in Mission: Impossible.
Mission: International (6m32s): A turd bug? It's only being presented with such a thing that you think, "Of course!" Peter Earnest, Executive Director of the International Spy Museum is our guide through the world of poison umbrellas, one-shot lipstick guns and video cameras in sunglasses.
Mission: Spies Among Us (8m41s): With various Operations Officer in the CIA, retired agents and journalists appearing in this feature, we're being given a sneak peek behind the vapourous wall that surrounds spying. Coming right up to date with the mention of the Valerie Plame affair, there's also discussion of the support of the Mujahidin in Afghanistan, the backing of the coup that ousted the Chilean President Salvador Allende and the various plots against Fidel Castro, including one that planned, unbelievably, to make his beard fall out.
Mission: Catching The Train (2m40s): Not a feature on trying to get on the Central Line at Liverpool St during the morning rush hour - an act that's more impossible than anything attempted by Cruise in this film - but one concerned with the scene late in the film in which Phelps and Hunt fight on top of the Channel Tunnel. As you would expect, there's much mention of animatics and storyboards as well as a little behind-the-scenes footage of the scene being shot.
Agent Dossiers: Someone, I suspect, had a great deal of fun writing these dossiers for Ethan Hunt, Jim Phelps, Sarah Davies and four other members of the IMF team. To make Jack Harmon an expert in Karate and Davies one in Aikido? To say that given enough time, Jim Phelps can hack through 97% of current security firewalls? More fun, I would suggest, than actually reading these dossiers in this bonus feature.
Excellence In Filmmaking: Cruise (9m15s): Beginning with choice scenes from the films of Tom Cruise to the sound of Also Sprach Zarathustra, even I'm almost convinced by the notion that there may indeed be excellence in Cruise's career. Well, Old Time Rock'n'Roll may have been one of Bob Seger's finest moments but dancing in his underpants wasn't one of Cruise's but then this pulls The Monkees' utterly gorgeous The Porpoise Song, a Jerry Maguire and Magnolia out of the bag and I think...maybe not excellence but certainly not bad.
Acceptance Speeches: There are two included here, one for BAFTA/LA's Stanley Kubrick Brittania Award for Excellence in Film (3m20s) and another for MTV's Generation Award (3m43s), which are as different as one might expect. In the former, Tom takes a long time to say that filmmaking isn't a solo activity - unlike his speech, which, being a kind of verbal masturbation, clearly is - whilst, in the later, Katie Holmes brings him out on stage to honour him before his screaming fans. Although, given the audience at the MTV awards, I suspect they would whoop and holler just as loudly were Katie Holmes to hand the MTV Generation Award to the Chuckle Brothers.
Finally, there are three Trailers (1m49s, which is on the first disc as well as 1m05s and 1m56s on the second disc), nine TV Spots (Play All, 3m56s), a Photo Gallery (40x Still Images) and a M:I:III Teaser (1m31s) that you will have seen recently on television.
Mission: Impossible is a much more enjoyable film than it's generally given credit for and this is a very reasonable disc. Contrary to the claim of this being a Special Collector's Edition, though, it isn't, looking as though it were cobbled together by a DVD production team whilst the actual production team were otherwise involved in M:I:III and with little co-operation from anyone involved in either of the two earlier films. However, for anyone leaving M:I:III and thinking that it might be time to catch up with the earlier adventures of Ethan Hunt, this really isn't bad. With there being something of a rewatch value to this - it's good to watch Mission: Impossible a second time around just to catch how the later twists become apparent much earlier than you might have first thought - this is a good, but not brilliant, DVD release, albeit one with an eye on M:I:III than paying this film its dues.