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Blu-ray Review: Mission Impossible – Extreme Blu-ray Trilogy

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Mission: Impossible – Extreme Blu-ray Trilogy arrives just in time for the theatrical release of the fourth film in the franchise, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. It should be said upfront, there is nothing “extreme” about this box set except for the laziness of Paramount. This is a repackaging of the same, previously available Blu-ray editions of these movies. If you already own them, there is literally no reason to buy this set. The transfers are the same, the lossy Dolby Digital soundtracks are the same, and the extras are the same. Actually the extras are less, as the second disc from the previous release of Mission: Impossible III has not been included.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that this set is very reasonably priced, making it a good buy for fans who haven’t owned these films on Blu-ray. Although there is a pretty good chance that Paramount will be reissuing updated versions, along with Ghost Protocol, at some point in the future. It seems almost inevitable, especially since the new film has revitalized the franchise and will likely be a smash hit. Mission: Impossible is a rare case where each film has improved upon the previous one in the series. Ghost Protocol completely blows away everything else in the series to date. It’s hard to think of another example of a third sequel that so obliterates the movies that preceded it, including the fifteen year old original.

So the Extreme Blu-ray Trilogy offers a cheap way to revisit those earlier films, which in retrospect feel like warm-ups to Ghost Protocol. Brian De Palma brought a taut style to the 1996 original, but unfortunately the script strained to sustain interest. Tom Cruise delivers a fine performance in his first outing as Ethan Hunt, but the movie feels jumbled and confused. The IMF team is taken out right at the beginning, with Hunt being the only survivor. The main driving force of the plot is the hunt for a mole within IMF, with the primary suspect being Ethan Hunt. A few good sequences and some decent plot twists help keep Mission: Impossible watchable, but ultimately it’s a confusing mess.

John Woo was brought on to direct 2000’s Mission: Impossible II from a script by Robert Towne. The result was an even bigger hit than the first film as this sequel turned out to be the year’s top grosser worldwide. The second time around the plot carries a little more weight, with Cruise’s Ethan Hunt attempting to track down a deadly new virus called Chimera that has fallen into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, where De Palma kept the tension high with the first one, Woo bloats this one with too many drawn out, slow-motion action sequences. Thandie Newton was an interesting choice for the female lead, Nyah Nordoff-Hall, an expert thief that Hunt partners with. But her performance is a lot like the movie itself, a little lifeless.

2006’s Mission: Impossible III didn’t set the box office on fire, it was by far the weakest performer of the series (especially when adjusting for inflation). This wasn’t a reflection on the film’s quality, as director J.J. Abrams injected a lot of energy into it. The third time was the charm, as this is very much the most entertaining of the trilogy (though eclipsed handily by the new fourth film). This plot is far more personal for Ethan Hunt, with his new wife (Michelle Monaghan) being in peril. Even though the twisting and turning story is nearly as convoluted as the previous two films, there is more dramatic weight. The action scenes are handled with more flair, tighter than Woo’s sluggish bombast and even snazzier than De Palma’s work in the original. This one directly ties in to plot elements of Ghost Protocol so you’ll definitely want to see it before the new one.

These Blu-ray transfers are, as I mentioned, the exact same as those released in 2007. None of them look horrible, but the 1996 original is pretty obviously subpar and in need of remastering. Many of the problems come from print flaws. Far too many shots are plagued by black and white specs which are so frequent I almost stopped noticing them. Fine detail is really pretty weak. The image is not necessarily soft, but even close-ups do not show the amount of detail we expect from high definition. Black levels are reasonably strong, but black crush becomes an issue during some of the darkest scenes. M:I II is much stronger in terms of fine detail. The transfer is much cleaner as well, with a source print that was pretty much free of defects. The red rock cliffs that Hunt scales near the film’s beginning look fairly detailed. Black levels are less deep than the first film, but overall this is an acceptable transfer. M:I III looks the best, matching or improving on everything that was good about the second disc. Sharpness is a tiny bit lacking in some shots, but not in to a distracting degree.

Audio-wise things are also the same as the previous Blu-ray releases. None of the three films has been given a lossless soundtrack. Each movie features Dolby Digital 5.1 and just as with the visuals, things improve from disc to disc. But again, these movies need lossless audio in order to compete with what is standard for most new Blu-ray releases. The 1996 original makes the poorest use of the surround channels. This was a fine mix for standard DVD but it could be so much better. There isn’t much heft delivered to the subwoofer. Clearly from the car chase early on, 2000’s M:I II has a much fuller sounding mix. For a dated, lossy soundtrack this is still pretty good. M:I III, while still lossy, improves on things with noticeably deeper bass response and fully immersive use of the surround channels. Dialogue cuts through loud and clear on all three movies even during the noisiest scenes.

Though this sounds very repetitive, the extra features on Mission: Impossible – Extreme Blu-ray Trilogy the same as the previous Blu-ray versions. The one exception is that part three’s second disc has been scrapped, so we lose all the material on it. There is a commentary on the third disc, but that’s it. And part three was the only one that originally had high definition features on included. The array of superficial featurettes on disc one and two are all in standard definition. If you want these movies for a low price and you can’t wait, this repackaging fits the bill. But it is a safe bet that Paramount will spruce them all up for an eventual four-film set at some point in the future.

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About Sherry Lipp

Sherry Lipp is an entertainment and food writer who specializes in film and television reviews. She has published the gluten and grain-free cookbook Don't Skip Dessert.