Blu-ray Review: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL

Jason Gorber, Featured Critic
Out of all the films that were hitting in late 2011, the one I was most looking forward to was the return of Ethan Hunt on the very, very big screen. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol is notable for a couple reasons - first, it marks the debut of Brad Bird as a live action director, formerly associated with 2D [The Simpsons TV show, Iron Giant] and 3D work for Pixar [Incredibles, Up, Rattatouile].

The MI series has always been a pet project for Tom Cruise, his first big films as producers for Paramount. The four films are each uniquely styled by the director that Cruise has employed. DePalma's original plays far more like a classic Bond film. The flawed second outing under John Woo's control succumbs to more than a few of that director's usual quirks. Abrams' outing was more in line with the Daniel Craig era of Bond, extremely dark and intense, utilizing J.J.'s common trick of starting with an intense scene and then quickly flashing back in time for the work to catch up.

So, what does Bird bring to the party? Well, borrowing a trick (as well as a camera operation tips) from Nolan's Dark Knight, he decided that a large percentage of the film be shot in the 15 perf/70mm IMAX format. Forget some digital blow up, this is the real deal, and on the giant screen the footage looks absolutely stunning. Secondly, he brings a pace that's extremely effective, knowing when to slow down and when to suddenly ratchet up the action. Save for a few missteps with the ending, it's an assured film adroitly directed, easily living up to those flicks that preceded it.

A film of this type lives and dies by its set pieces, and this one's a doozie. From some mighty shots of an exploding Kremlin (faked on sets in Vancouver and Prague), to the absolutely insanity of seeing star Cruise dangle precariously on the Burj in Dubai (shot on location, the first film to do so), we're gifted with some memorable sequences indeed. The Burj elements in particular are mindboggling, giving you that visceral thrill that films of this nature excel at.

Cruise himself, at 50, continues to maintain more than enough physical presence to make his actions at least cinematically believable. The whole series has gone out of its way to showcase its star during the majority of the stunt work. Here there's another added sense of danger, as Bird drew explicitly from films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Die Hard where the hero might save the day, but not without his fair share of bumps and bruises.

Through it all we've got more than enough twists and turns to keep it interesting. After the culmination of it all, set in this mad carpark elevator, we're left with a dénouement that ties more explicitly to the previous film than any other outing. It's cheesy, but pretty well earned considering, and more than hints this is not the last mission for this group.

The Disc

The four disc set I received from FOX includes two Blu-Rays, a DVD and a digital copy disc.

Of course, the Blu-Ray looks fabulous. It should be noted that unlike with Dark Knight,  where the aspect switched from 16:9 to 2.35:1 as the capture stock shots changes, the producers of the MI disc have decided to maintain a consistent 2.35:1 throughout. This makes the differences between the elements captured on 35mm vs 70mm slightly harder to determine, although the increased amount of grain and slight decrease in clarity will be noted by some viewers. It's a shame, really, as cutting that much off of the 15/70 frame (an almost square aspect) does result in some claustrophobic framing in sequences that theatrically were much more vertically impressive.

Again, like Dark Knight before it, the disc is about as good as you'd want for a home presentation, but it only serves to remind just how astronomically better the film looks on the giant IMAX screen.

Soundwise we're treated to a 7.1 TrueHD soundtrack that captures explosions nicely, dialogue clearly, and presents Giancchino's score with appropriate lushness.

Supplements

All the extras are on the second disc. We're not treated to a running commentary by Bird on the feature, but we do get his thoughts on the 15 minutes or so of deleted scenes that are provided.

The documentary features are actually quite robust, running through in detail a number of the production elements, from shooting a car flip to uncovering the mysterious art of the orchestrator. Frankly, I wish more films had behind the scenes features of this nature  - we really get a sense from a technical point of view the challenges in a production of this scale, but also get to delve in with detail on some specific participants.

Credited as a producer, J.J. was stuck on set with Super 8 while principal photography was going on for MI. The doc does a good job crosscutting between J.J. on set in the U.S. with the goings on in Dubai - while it may be a way for Paramount to cross promote the other piece, but it was in fact quite effective with the use of voiceover interview material to tie the two major motion pictures together.

As we travel from Czech Republic to the UAE to Canada, we see how each element ties together to make a whole. We also get candid responses from both J.J. and Bird about Cruise's involvement (referring to him as a "Capital-P Producer", showing how the international superstar's production involvement provides leverage to allow the film to achieve its desired scale.

In Conclusion

Bird's first live-action outing more than solidifies his ability as a director, at least equaling the better parts of this extremely fun series of films. Cruise's personal antics and couch jumping may put off some, but he's still more than capable of making us believe that the guy's able to swing across a building in order to shove a USB key into a server in order to bypass security systems so that nuclear codes can be exchanges with rogue arms dealers (man, I love this kind of shlock!)

The disc itself is more a souvenir of the magnificent IMAX presentation, but the fabulous, thorough documentary almost makes up for not having a eight storey projection setup at home. The film's worth seeing, the doc's worth owning, it's a Blu-Ray set well worth picking up.

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