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Category:    Home > Reviews > Spy > Action > Thriller > Mission: Impossible Trilogy (HD-DVD Box Set) + Mission: Impossible III (DVD-Video)

Mission: Impossible Trilogy (HD-DVD Box Set) + Mission: Impossible III (DVD-Video)


Picture: B/B+/B+ + C+     Sound: B+/B+/B+ + B     Extras: C+/B-/B     Films: B



The Mission: Impossible Trilogy is the first to ever be available in all three optical formats:  DVD, Blu-ray and HD-DVD.  We have looked at the DVD of the first film, but surprisingly not much else, which we are now happy to change.  For starters, my review of the Special Collector’s Edition of the first film (1996) can be found at:




The second film landed no less that John Woo, much more known for action than the thrillers De Palma was associated with and it did mark a shift to more outright action.  Mission: Impossible II (2000) decided to abandon the more confined Cold War-like world and go somewhere between “Woo World” and a more outright Spy Action mode closer to James Cameron’s True Lies (1994), which is what the Bond people also did with Roger Spottiswoode’s Tomorrow Never Dies a year later with Michele Yeoh.  The story is similar to the first in getting that singular deadly object, but more money and energy (plus a few digs at Goldeneye) make this a fun romp that gets preposterous towards the end.  Unless that throws you off, this is fun.


Helping out here cast wise is Anthony Hopkins as Ethan Hunt’s (Tom Cruise) boss, who is not a nice guy always and does not get along with him much.  To the film’s credit, thing stay this way throughout, instead of offering the usual juvenile reconciliation.  Ving Rhames is back as his best co-worker, Thandie Newton is his love interest caught in the middle of his mission and the underrated Dougray Scott (in a role that stopped him from becoming Wolverine in the X-Men films when this production went over schedule) is the traitorous spy out to get Hunt for personal reasons.  Their adversarial relationship is chock full of resentment that slowly builds to the bloody kickin’ finale.


The stunt work is pumped up and so are the gadgets, but not to the point where they undermine Cruise the way they did in Pierce Brosnan’s last two Bonds films, the money-machine disasters that are The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.  Then Woo is a better outright action director than Michael Apted and Lee Tamahari, though they are obviously better dramatic directors (see Extreme Measures and Once Were Warriors, for example).


Once again, Robert Towne is on board as screenwriter and he knows what he is doing to make the film both intelligent and commercial.  Cruise grows more into the Hunt role and having broke the curse of failed M:I revivals of the past freed all to go all out here.  Again, the film was a huge hit and kept Cruise the #1 box office draw worldwide, something more remarkable since he had been out of the blockbuster game working on prestige projects like Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Paul Thomas Anderson’s grossly underrated Magnolia, which earned cruise another Academy Award nomination.


So, what do you do about a third installment? Cruise originally and justifiably had grand ambitions for a film that originally had a huge price tag rumored to be in the $200 – 250 Million range.  You can understand the enthusiasm since these were the biggest so many big hits for him, but the studio had Cruise scale back the budget for obvious reasons (too expensive), several directors (including David Fincher at one point) came and went, then there is the fact that the third parts of any franchise rarely work out to be larger or better than their predecessors.  Of course, Cruise was thinking (for good reason) about how Goldfinger (1964) was even bigger than the first two Bond films.


Finally, with a still-sizable budget, the surprise choice became TV phenom J.J. Abrams, whose multiple-identity Spy show Alias had been the biggest TV hit in the Spy genre since…  Mission: Impossible wrapped up in the early 1970s.  Even after The New Avengers and less successful shows like A Man Called Sloane and even likable revival attempts of The Wild, Wild West, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and even M:I itself, Alias was a commercial smash.  So Mission: Impossible III arrived and despite being equal to its predecessors in quality, worksmanship, action and putting the money on the screen, the reception was mixed.  Our theatrical review of the third film is as follows:




Now I liked it much more than my fellow critic, but even I had to admit that it was the same singular deadly item chase one too many times and Abrams did not have the cinematic grasp of De Palma or Woo, yet the film is better than I think it has been given credit for.  Many Alias fans thought it was too much like the show, while others thought it was too self-contained to ever take off like it could have.


I would not say the film was exactly playing it safe, landing Philip Seymour Hoffman as the villain, bringing Ving Rhames back wisely again, adding Maggie Q and Johnathan Rhys Meyers as partner agents, Keri Russell as an apprentice agent in trouble, amazing Michelle Monaghan as Hunt’s love interest and both Laurence Fishburne and Billy Crudup as Hunt’s higher-ups.  I like this cast and they more than make up for any qualms one could have about the film.  The screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Abrams has its moments, though too bad Robert Towne was not back again for synergy purposes.


It is worth noting that the film suffered because the press was too busy hounding Cruise and any controversy he courted to really look at the film.  Though it will not change the minds of those who were disappointed, I believe the home disc release of the film will show people that it was better than they were led to believe and if you forget about Cruise the press image, it turns out the film is one of the best action films of the year and a rare top-notch production where the money is on the screen.


If there is a fourth film, they need to find a new storyline and they know that.  As a trilogy, it is the best we have seen for a commercial franchise in a while.  Eleven years had yielded more of the kind of smarter blockbuster Hollywood used to make all the time, even if this is not as cynical or edgy throughout as it could have been, but that is the approach they took.  Even if Cruise does not return if there is a fourth film, which would be odd, the films are meant to entertain their audience and show them a good time.  The new HD-DVD editions prove this, even in their performance.


All three films are here in 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition presentations and look better than their DVD predecessors, all of which I have seen.  The first 1996 film is thankfully better looking than the standard DVD already covered, if offering some flaws and limits in its transfer.  Color and the wide use of the scope frame just play better here and are closer to the 35mm prints.  I bet this is an early HD transfer because the film is a key Paramount title, which would explain some of the limits in the image occasionally where detail is concerned.  Video Black is thankfully better.


The second 2000 film was shot by Jeffrey L. Kimball, A.S.C., and has a great wide-open look to it making all the locations look exceptional and capturing the action in a way where you actually see it without stupid cutaways!  This transfer is even better than the 1996 film and therefore more of an improvement over the regular DVD versions.  This is one of the few American Woo films where the look is closer to what you would expect from a Woo film, if still limited versus The Killer and Hard Boiled.


The new 2006 third film is interesting as the DVD is really washed-out looking, while the HD-DVD is one of the best in the format to date.  Video Black is flat and Grey Scale very disappointing on the anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 standard DVD, while it looks amazing on HD-DVD.  The no-brainer #1 reason is that this is the first time a real Panavision scope film has come to either format instead of the usually inferior Super 35mm too many films settle for these days.  Cinematographer Dan Mindel does a great job in his use of the scope frame and even those who did not like the film will not be able to argue how good this looks.


For picture, Cruise has had the series do what the James Bond films have done in sticking with real anamorphic Panavision for the most part since it look so much better than Super 35mm or digital High Definition, though the latest installment tried some HD in parts, like capturing Shanghai since it was far too expensive to light.  M:I:III has a picture in particular that is inarguably demo quality and is a must see for the least interested just to see how good real Panavision can look at 1080p.


Each film was a 5.1 theatrical release, with every film from the start being a digital theatrical release in all three formats going back to the first, which was one of the first films to do so.  The mixes are all good, all getting a little better as the years and films go on, though all have good character and are above most such mixes in the genre.  Danny Elfman did one of his more refined scores for the first film and that worked, Hans Zimmer turned in one of his better scores for the second and Michael Giacchino did as good a job in the third, including some great referencing to the original TV score.  Of course, none of them would work without the classic Lalo Schifrin theme song, all of which are here.  U2 members rethought it for the second film, while Kanye West did his own reformulation for the third.


The standard Dolby Digital on the regular DVD set of the latest installment is one of the better such Dolby mixes you will hear, even as the format becomes obsolete in the face of its TrueHD counterpart.  The sound is Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 only on all three HD-DVDs, though I still think something is not there in the details of the 1996 film’s mix, yet it is strong despite this.  The latter two fare better, with the latest being the most dynamic, if limited by not being here in DTS HD or Dolby True HD for whatever reasons.  Maybe more advanced audiophile versions will be issued later, but all three are great for home theater playback for their own reasons, so these will be more than worth your time.


Extras on the first film were already covered in the previous review.  The second 2000 film includes the Metallica Music Video “I Disappear”, alternate titles that were interesting, two pieces on Cruise, three featurettes about the making of the film and a solid feature-length commentary by Woo himself.  Most of the extras for the third film are all on a second disc in all three formats.  Why that does not help the film’s performance on regular DVD is a mystery, but deleted scenes, another Cruise tribute piece, a behind the scenes piece and full length audio commentary by Abrams and Cruise appear on the first disc.  Maybe in the regular DVD’s case, it should have been the commentary only, which is more about the fun of the film than production detail.


The second disc adds deleted scenes in HD, "Mission Action: Inside The Action Unit" featurette in HD, "Visualizing The Mission" featurette in HD, "Inside The IMF" featurette, "Mission: Metamorphosis" featurette in HD, “Scoring The Mission" featurette in HD, "Launching The Mission" featurette, Moviefone Unscripted: Tom Cruise/J.J. Abrams, Tribute Montage: Generation: Cruise, photo gallery and trailers.  Go Behind The Camera With The Making Of The Mission is on standard DVD 1, but HD-DVD 2, plus is in HD in the latter case.  The two trailers for the first film are also in HD on its single HD-DVD.  Now that’s a nice upgrade.


The Blu-ray set is virtually identical for the most part (no blue vs. red color jokes, please) to the HD-DVDs, so no matter which set or single you buy in which format, you’ll enjoy what you read about here.  Overall, the Mission: Impossible Trilogy is underappreciated and often written off as just a money machine, but especially when you can see it in HD-DVD, you realize it is much more and even challenged the James Bond films for a brief time.  All in all, this is an excellent set and the first of many to come in HD-DVD.  It is an early HD-DVD winner you’ll have to experience to believe.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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