Tue, 27 Sep 2022

Mission: Impossible

Director: Brian De Palma
Screenplay: David Koepp and Robert Towne (story by David Koepp and Steven Zaillian)
Stars: Tom Cruise (Ethan Hunt), Jon Voight (Jim Phelps), Emmanuelle Bart (Claire Phelps), Henry Czerny (Eugene Kittridge), Jean Reno (Franz Krieger), Ving Rhames (Luther Stickell), Kristin Scott Thomas (Sarah Davies), Vanessa Redgrave (Max), Dale Dye (Frank Barnes), Marcel Iures (Alexander Golitsyn), Ion Caramitru (Zozimov), Ingeborga Dapkunaite (Hannah Williams), Emilio Estevez (Jack)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 1996
Country: U.S.
Mission: Impossible 4K UHD

Mission: Impossible

Throughout its history, Hollywood has tended to run in cycles, latching onto an idea and running with it until they run it into the ground. From screwball comedies, to Biblical epics, to disaster thrillers, to juvenile gross-out comedies, Hollywood producers love to run in packs, milking all they can from an idea or genre until it runs dry, and then they move on to the next big thing.

For whatever reason, in the mid- to late 1990s the big idea was to remake cultish 1960s-era television shows into big-budget movie spectacles. Starting with the surprise comic hit The Addams Family (1991) and its 1993 sequel (which was helped immeasurably by the visual stylings of director Barry Sonnenfeld), the cycle ran with voracious intensity for several years, kicking out a string of films, most of which were critically savaged box office disappointments such as The Beverly Hillbillies (1994), The Saint (1997), Lost in Space (1998), The Mod Squad (1999), and Wild Wild West (1999). There were a few bright spots that lit up the box office, including Maverick (1994) and Charlie's Angels (2000), but most were undeniable duds.

Arguably the most successful of this cycle was Mission: Impossible. Its triumphant move from almost-forgotten small-screen cult favorite to big-screen action spectacle that launched a multi-decade franchise can be attributed primarily to the impressive array of talent that came together to make it. The movie could easily be sold on the shoulders of mega-star Tom Cruise, who was coming off a successful, if controversial turn as the vampire Lestat in Interview With the Vampire (1994) and returning to the kind of uncomplicated rebel-hero role in which audiences loved to see him. The convoluted script-which makes virtually no sense the first time you see the movie, but reveals itself to be a surprisingly intricate and intelligent piece of work with each additional viewing-was penned by David Koepp (Panic Room, Spider-Man), one of Hollywood's more reliable mainstream writers, and Robert Towne, whose script for Chinatown (1974) is still the pinnacle by which virtually all great scripts are judged.

The movie's greatest asset, however, is director Brian De Palma, who leaves his indelible stamp on the movie despite its being billed primarily as a "Tom Cruise vehicle." De Palma, like his spiritual cinematic godfather Alfred Hitchcock, always has one foot in the mainstream and one foot in some kind of twisted netherworld where few filmmakers will venture. Many of Mission: Impossible's best sequences reflect his unique character, not just stylistically, but tonally. Who else would end the movie's climactic action setpiece with the hero splayed across the back of a high-speed train with the scorched remains of a twisted, knife-life helicopter blade slowly spinning inches from his throat?

The movie's connections to the original 1960s television series amount to little more than the title, the insanely unforgettable theme music (pumped up with techno synthesizers and heavy bass, of course), and the character of Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), who leads the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) team. Phelps, of course, takes a backseat to Cruise's Ethan Hunt, the team's point man, who finds himself the only survivor of a botched mission to entrap a terrorist who wants to steal the CIA's "NOC List," which contains the code names and identities of all its agents working undercover in Eastern Europe.

Framed for killing his own team, Hunt must strike out on his own to entrap the real villain (an arms dealer named Max amusingly played by Vanessa Redgrave) and a secret insider who goes by the name of Job. To do this, Hunt must engineer the actual theft of the NOC List, which is housed in a computer terminal inside a locked vault deep in the bowels of CIA headquarters, with the help of a couple of disavowed former agents, a computer hacker (Ving Rhames) and a helicopter pilot and all-around tough guy (Jean Reno).

The theft of the list is the movie's high point, as it involves a dizzyingly complicated plan involving Hunt being lowered from the ceiling on wires because the floor is pressure sensitive. He can't make any sound, either, because the room is wired to sound an alarm if any noise is made, plus he has to trick the temperature control system because the alarm will also sound if the temperature inside the room raises a single degree. The scene works so well because it plays to all of De Palma's visual strengths and his love of complex, wordless sequences (think about the extended tracking shot in 1976's Carrie that depicts the rigging of a prom queen election or the elegant Steadicam sequence in 1980's Dressed to Kill that follows Angie Dickinson around a sterile art museum). It also allows him pay homage to one of cinema's greats, in this case the incomparable Jules Dassin (Rififi).

Mission: Impossible does lag at times due to its complex plotting and subsequent reliance on heavy dialogue to explain what's going on, although there is a brilliant sequence near the end of the movie in which one character tries to explain to Hunt what happened while we see Hunt's mind concocting a different scenario (or, in one case, two different scenarios). These lags feel even slower than they need to because they tend to alternate with so-over-the-top-they-border-on-parody sequences such as the secret meeting at a postmodern Prague restaurant/aquarium that culminates with Hunt escaping by detonating a piece of explosive gum and running out just ahead of the ensuing tidal wave of water and fish. It's silly, but expertly rendered and ridiculously exhilarating, which is exactly what De Palma does best.

Mission: Impossible 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital
Aspect Ratio2.35:1

  • English Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
  • SubtitlesEnglish, French, Spanish, Portuguese

  • "Mission: Remarkable-40 Years of Creating Mission: Imposssible" featurette
  • "Mission: Explosive Exploits" featurette
  • "Mission: Spies Among Us" fearturette
  • "Mission: Catching the Train" fearturette
  • "Mission: International Spy Museum" featurette
  • Agent dossiers
  • Two Tom Cruise tribute montages
  • Tom Cruise BAFTA Excellence Award acceptance speech
  • Tom Cruise MTV Movie Award acceptance speech
  • Photo gallery
  • DistributorParamount Home Entertainment
    Release DateJune 26, 2018

    Presented for the first time in 4K, Mission: Impossible looks very good, with a strong, vibrant image with excellent detail and virtually no signs of dirt or damage. Colors are well saturated and natural, and black levels and shadow detail (which is particularly crucial during the film's opening 30 minutes) look great. Since the film was made in the mid-1990s, it was actually shot on film, and the transfer maintains a god celluloid feel. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround surround soundtrack is good, but not outstanding. The action sequences make generally solid use of the surround channels, but it never seems to reach a level where you feel fully enveloped in the action.

    All of the supplements included here previously appeared on earlier DVD and Blu-ray editions, most of which are brief featurettes about the movie and real-life espionage. The first category includes a featurette on the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC (best moment: the doo-doo camera), a featurette on the actual work of covert CIA agents, and the disappointing featurette "Mission: Remarkable-40 Years of Creating Mission: Impossible," which I had hoped would focus substantially on the original television series, but is composed primarily of clips from other making-of featurettes about the Mission: Impossible movie franchise. There are two featurettes about the actual making of the movie, one that deals with stunts and the other that deals with the train sequence, but both are too brief to be really informative. Also included are two tribute videos to Tom Cruise's career: one that was assembled in 2005 by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts when they honored Cruise with the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for Excellence in Film (the earlier DVD edition included Cruise's acceptance speech, but that is not include here), as well as one created for the 2005 MTV Movie Awards when Cruise was given the first-ever "Generation Award" (again, the DVD edition had video of Katie Holmes presenting the award to Cruise, but that has been nixed on this disc).

    Copyright © 2018 James Kendrick

    Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick

    All images copyright © Paramount Home Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3)


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