This extremely clever introduction will self-destruct in five seconds, but will Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol do the same now that it’s on Blu-ray and DVD? With a runtime of 132 minutes and over two hours of bonus content, that’d be a waste of well over four hours' worth of seconds.
As a movie franchise, Mission: Impossible allows itself to adjust with every installment. It started off with Brian De Palma’s cerebral spy thriller, cliff-jumped into the deep end in slow motion with John Woo’s follow up, and buoyed back with J.J. Abrams' brighter take on the genre. With its fourth installment, subtitled Ghost Protocol, Mission: Impossible grabs hold of J.J.’s approach and straps it to a rocket.
In the director’s chair is Brad Bird, a name that animation fans have not only heard of, but view with reverence. After playing a substantial role in making The Simpsons great, Brad Bird went on to direct some of the best films of all time in The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille. Ghost Protocol marks his live-action feature debut, and even as a fan of the series, it was his involvement that sparked the fuse of anticipation. And once that fuse lights we all know what happens next.
The movie begins with a bang, a gadget, and a breakout. Everything you could want. There’s a nice bit of getting the team back together followed quickly by a "Wait, who are you and why are you doing this?" It’s quick, it’s fun, and it does what this series loves to do, in that the facts are just confusing enough to seem complicated without losing the audience. That said, it’s all broken up by the title sequence -- an element missing from most recent movies but surprisingly wasted here. The conceit of it is fantastic, following the trademark fuse through a series of spy related environs and imagery. It would be a perfect way to get into the story if only the imagery wasn’t borrowing clips from later in the movie. It’s an odd mix of flash-forward and gentle hints that only serve to lessen the impact of the scenes as they reveal themselves in the actual context of the film.
Of course, what really matters is the body of the film, and it can be best described in the following sentence: “You know how movies are supposed to begin with a big action scene? This entire movie is a series of those big opening action scenes.” The spirit of this movie is fun. It’s a simple word but I feel it’s at the heart of Ghost Protocol and the thing that it takes the most seriously. The story isn’t going to work your mind like the first one, but it’s not about that here.
Mission: Impossible has always been about deception, and you’re usually just as surprised to learn the truth as the characters. This time it’s different. You’re on the IMF team, you know the deal and you know when the deal goes sour and exactly why. It’s a unique perspective that allows you the excitement of vicariously joining in on the mission. In a movie about the agency being disavowed, Brad Bird and Tom Cruise are asking the audience to accept this role and choose to go further with it. If you do, you’ll go places you’ve never gone before.
Ghost Protocol was shot with IMAX cameras that use a magical film stock that makes even watching this movie on Blu-ray a stunning experience. In theatres you’d giggle with giddiness at the sheer heights of it all, but even on TV you’re left gasping with how pristine it all looks. And for those of you with fancy sound systems, this seems to offer every option you’d possibly want to hear.
The three-disc Ghost Protocol set excels with its features and is the first set since The Social Network to strike me as something special. Starting with the dry joke looping continuously on Disc 2’s menu, you know you’re in for a unique experience, and the two major featurettes called “Mission Accepted” and “Impossible Missions” offer a look into filmmaking as you rarely see it. These are not the standard featurettes that check off the boxes, these are intimate documentaries that allow you to be a fly on the wall as you learn about making a blockbuster that’s crafted with care. These features show that the passion put into this project is overshadowed only the singular love of making movies.
“Mission Accepted” is very much about being on location and “Impossible Missions” focuses on individual elements such as the prop department, stunts, make-up, and extras. They are mostly visual studies, with voiceover narration from professional climbers, executive producers, and nearly every position in between. Even footage from Brad Bird’s personal iPhone is used to immerse you in the world beyond the frame. Surprisingly, you also take away a sense of how much of a powerhouse Tom Cruise is as a producer and the dedication he has put forth to create this escapist experience. In addition to the exceptional behind-the-scenes footage, this set also includes 15 minutes of deleted scenes with director’s commentary that are worth watching but understandably removed from the film. It’s surprising that this offering lacks a feature commentary but what it gives you instead is far more revealing.