MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (FILM COLLECTIONS) – Blu-ray review

Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible” franchise is making a huge splash onto Blu-Ray with the simultaneous release of the third film on all three current formats and the simultaneous release of the “Ultimate Missions Collection” box set on both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD and the elder DVD format. The DVD set retails for a list price of $54.99, while the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are a much costlier $99.99. With a street price of nearly thirty dollars more for the high definition sets, it seems a bit steep. However, the box sets for Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are not simply upgrades to the sound and video of the standard definition releases, they feature some supplements that are also mastered in high definition.

Paramount Pictures is making a statement by releasing the latest film and the box set on all three formats at the same time. The statement is that the studio feels format does not matter and the content will sell – regardless of format. They are saying they will support all options so that every consumer will be able to enjoy the Tom Cruise trilogy on the format they prefer. Hopefully, their pricey release of the “Mission: Impossible” films will give other studios a swift enough boot to follow suit and nobody will be left out in the cold with other films. Though the high definition releases are available for a premium, Paramount must be applauded for releasing on DVD, HD-DVD and Blu-Ray simultaneously.

Three stories have been told thus far in the theatrical franchise for “Mission: Impossible.” Each impossible mission handed to Hunt via a self-destructing message have sent him around the world and often he has found himself the hunted by those that have placed him on a mission. Armed with high technology gadgets, powerful weapons and highly competent team members, Ethan Hunt is able to overcome any obstacle and perform the impossible tasks asked of him. There are always bound to be explosive stunts and high-octane action sequences. Pretty girls and a strong supporting cast are benchmarks of the film trilogy that was adapted from the classic television series. Clever disguises is another staple of the “Mission: Impossible” universe. The following are brief summaries of the plotlines for the three “Mission: Impossible” films:

Mission: Impossible
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) finds himself and his team nearly eradicated during an operation in Prague. Team captain Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), Claire Phelps (Emmanuelle Beart), Jack Harmon (Emilio Estevez) and Sarah Davies (Kristin Scott Thomas) are killed when the operation goes bad and only Ethan survives. Impossible Mission Force (IMF) official Eugene Kittridge (Henry Czerny) believes that Ethan is a mole that has been working for a mysterious arms dealer known only as Max. Hunt must work to clear his name and that of surviving teammate Claire by enrolling the help of disavowed agents Franz Kriger (Jean Reno) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) to find out who is the mole known as Job and bring him to justice as the one working with Max. Unfortunately, Ethan must steal what Job promised Max, a Noc List that is guarded deep within CIA headquarters at Langley and the identity of Job will completely change the way Ethan viewed the events that placed him as a prime target of the IMF.

Mission: Impossible II
When his vacation free-climbing dangerous peaks in New Mexico is cancelled by the IMF, Ethan Hunt finds himself involved in a mission where he must track down a genetically modified disease known as Chimera. Chimera has been taken by a rogue IMF agent, Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott) that knows how Ethan and the IMF operates and has found a way to become hidden. Hunt is told to build a team, but must include Ambrose’s girlfriend Nyah Nordoff-Hall (Thandie Newton) to find the location of Ambrose and infiltrate his operation. Hunt finds assistance from Billy Baird (John Polson) and his old friend Luther Stickell. Ambrose is aided by the vicious and untrusting Hugh Stamp (Richard Roxburgh). Ethan makes a tremendous mistake when he becomes emotionally involved with Nyah and she is placed in grave danger in the operation to located and gain possession of the deadly Chimera virus.

Mission: Impossible III
“Mission Impossible III” finds Ethan Hunt enjoying retirement from the Impossible Mission Force and settling down to marry his girlfriend Julia (Michelle Monaghan). However, when one of the agents trained by Hunt, Lindsey Farris (Keri Russell), is captured, Hunt is asked to do one more mission for the IMF. His involvement in the mission to rescue Farris places his directly in the wrath of the villainous arms dealer Owen Davian (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Davian strikes Hunt where it hurts the most – he captures Hunt’s wife and threatens to kill her if Hunt does not perform an impossible mission to retrieve a valuable weapon. Assisting Hunt on this impossible mission is his longtime friend Luther Stickell, Declan Gormley (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) and Zhen Lei (Maggie Q). While the IMF believes Hunt needs to be captured and arrested and the pursuit is led by high-ranking Theodore Brassel (Laurence Fishburne), he finds some help with agency lab tech Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg).

Review:
The first film in the series, “Mission: Impossible” is easily the superior of all three films. It sets the tone for the over-the-top stunts and insane situations that Ethan Hunt quickly becomes accustomed too as the franchise steams along. The first story finds Ethan Hunt on the run and he is kept in a situation where he has very few people to trust and the enemy of both his own IMF compatriots and those that the IMF is working to bring to justice. In the first film, the stunts are far more grounded than those of the following two films. Aside from the action sequence where Ethan Hunt is hanging on the side of a high speed train and must try to bring down a helicopter that is pursuing him as they go through a railway tunnel is definitely an over-the-top sequence that defies rule of physics and probability, but it is quite fun to watch unfold. There are a lot of explosions and lots of cool and nifty gadgets and weapons – I want some of that two-colored chewing gum. This is the most intelligent and ‘spy-like’ film of the series. The scene where Ethan Hunt must pull files from a computer locked deep in Langley and do so while being held by a fellow agent from the ceiling in a room where temperature, sound and touch will set off the alarm is the trademark and defining scene in the series.

The cast assembled for the fist film was very good. Jon Voight is a great actor who always makes his presence known. Any inclusion of the veteran actor instantly adds credibility to a film, though “Anaconda” may be a valid exception to that rule. French sweetheart Emmanuelle Beart has only made two American films and “Mission: Impossible” benefits from this film being one of the two projects she has done. Jen Reno, Ving Rhames, Kristin Scott Thomas, Vanessa Redgrave and Emilio Estevez are some of the familiar names and faces that help give “Mission: Impossible” an above average ensemble cast that has become another mainstay of the series. One of the ideas behind “Mission: Impossible: III” was to make the character of Ethan Hunt more three-dimensional than how Cruise portrayed the character in the first two films. I feel the Ethan Hunt in the first “Mission: Impossible” film was the best the actor portrayed the confident and capable spy.

The storyline and action for “Mission: Impossible” is streamlined and minimalistic when compared to the film’s two sequels. Yes, the plot twist that occurs towards the film’s explosive finale can cause some confusion and was a bit more than what was necessary, but that is my only complaint with the film’s story. This was intended to be a big budget action film and not a movie that was trying to woo audience’s with a clever story and engaging plot. It was intended to be crafty and fun and under the careful direction of Brian De Palma, the first “Mission: Impossible” film is easily the best of the three and watching Ethan Hunt succeed during the big Langley sequence is easily the best scene in the entire series.

The second film in the series is also the lowpoint of the trilogy. Directed by John Woo, the direction moved solely towards action and tried to push the action barometer far higher than what was achieved in the first film. From the opening sequence where Ethan Hunt is rock climbing and jumping from rock face to rock face without an ounce of climbing gear, the film just screamed “I have more action and stunts than the first film.” An over-the-top car chase between Ethan Hunt and Nyah Nordiff-Hall that finds Ethan saving Nyah from falling out of the car to the bottom of the cliff, to a motorcycle battle that is trademark John Woo, “Mission: Impossible: II” is louder and more over-the-top than the first film. There is a greater amount of convenience in the film and an ability to fully suspend disbelief is a pre-requisite to fully enjoy the storyline. Where the first movie was an spy-thriller that had some nice stunts and action scenes, “Mission: Impossible: II” is an action film that dabbles in espionage.

Ving Rhames is underused in the second film and Tom Cruise strives to make Ethan Hunt more of a superhero than a superspy. Watching Rhames run a camera to Hunt during a horse race and then quickly return was a great scene, but one of the few with the entertaining charcter. Thandie Newton had worked with Tom Cruise in “Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles,” but was a relative unknown when her big break came in this second film. She is a very lovely lady and it is sad that this is the high point of her career. The ensemble cast contains Dougray Scott, who is effective in his role as a fallen from grace IMF agent. Brendan Gleeson, Richard Roxburgh and a cameo by Anthony Hopkins provide other familiar faces, but “Mission: Impossible: II” did not contain the powerful casting of the first and third films in the series. Other than Rhames, Hopkins and Scott, there were not many familiar faces in this film in supporting roles.

I always thought the second film was far too over the top. The motorcycle scene with the various special effects falls into levels of near absurdity. The recreational activity by Ethan Hunt in the opening moments would have been just as effective if Hunt had climbing gear and the whole intent of the scene was to just push the groundwork that had been laid by “Mission: Impossible” and move the series way too over-the-top and too far into the realm of absurdity. There were a few fun scenes during the film that didn’t completely attack the intelligence of the audience, but I believe there is a point in any filmmaking when those responsible can go too far and though I love John Woo as a director, I feel the direction he and Tom Cruise took for the sequel was a bit too much. Thandie is hot. Ving is a presence. The film was fun, but just too silly for me to completely appreciate.

Thankfully, the filmmakers took a step or two back for the third film in the trilogy. “Mission: Impossible: III” is likely to be the last of the series, as Tom Cruise and Paramount Pictures have parted ways. The series did not get back to the solid foundations that the first picture set, but it moved away from the complete absurdity of the second picture and under the careful eye of “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams, “Mission: Impossible: III” helped ground the character of Ethan Hunt and place the series back into the real world. There are still some aggressive action sequences and the film continued its heavy reliance of action scenes that began with the first sequel, but it was a definite improvement and created a film where only a small amount of suspension of disbelief was necessary to full enjoy the picture. Sure, every action/spy movie has a car chase and they decided to include one here and the exploding mind-capsule should have been used only once, but the series took a positive step in its second sequel.

The cast was improved upon over the first sequel for the third film in the series. Ving Rhames is the only person other than Tom Cruise to be involved in all three series and if “Mission: Impossible” would continue without Cruise, Ving would be a good choice for a lower budget adaptation of the film where maybe another super spy could take over the lead role. I love Ving as an actor and I don’t think you can ever get enough of him onscreen. Philip Seymour Hoffman is easily the best villain of the series. Billy Crudup, Keri Russell, Simon Pegg and Laurence Fishburne all add star power to this great ensemble cast that may not reach the level of the first film, but definitely overpowers those involved in the previous film.

“Mission Impossible III” is a fun film. In the end, it does feel a little disappointing because it does not seem to push any new boundaries. Ethan Hunt manages to infiltrate a building and grab an impossible to obtain item, but you don’t see the actual snagging of said item. Where the previous films showed the gadgetry and trickery needed to perform the impossible missions, the third film races forward to throw more action and stunt sequences at the audience. “Mission Impossible III” lacks the soul and intelligence of the first film. The espionage and inventiveness of the first film are long since gone and the third film simply feels like a loud continuation of the series. The first sequence where Hunt and Stickell and the others rush to rescue Lindsey Farris is the best sequence in the film, but it ends quickly and the only time spent where technology is pivotal to the mission is when Simon Pegg’s character leads Ethan Hunt through the streets based upon a cell phone locator. If you liked the first two films, then “Mission Impossible III” will be more than enjoyable to you. However, it is just another “Mission Impossible” film and offers nothing new.

The “Mission: Impossible” franchise may have reached its conclusion given the current bad blood between its star and producer, Tom Cruise and Paramount Pictures. The series went toe-to-toe with the James Bond franchise and where the first film was an effective spy/action film, the series transgressed into being nearly all action. The gadgets and other assorted toys of the “Mission: Impossible” films were high tech and interesting. They were also mostly believable. You didn’t have any watches that featured metal burning lasers. Instead you had magnetic mines and miniature tracking devices. I feel the first film is a very entertaining and well done picture. The second can be fun, but slipped too far in being over-the-top in nearly every element. The third film stepped back a bit into reality and though it is still primarily an action film and has far less to do with nifty spy tricks and gadgets, it was a lot of fun. The series always had great ensemble casts and good performances. Brian De Palma, John Woo and J.J. Abrams is a good alumnus of directors and Emmanuelle Beart, Thandie Newton and Michelle Monaghan are not too shabby of being the primary pretty lady for each picture. This was a nice alternative to the aging Bond franchise and though it pushed the boundaries just as far, if not further than the Bond movies, it was fun while it lasted.

Video:
Paramount Home Video has nicely reproduced all three “Mission: Impossible” films in lovely 1080p / MPEG-2 encoded transfers that nicely present the 2.35:1 aspect ratios of the theatrical releases. One thing that definitely needs to be said about the “Mission: Impossible” series is that they have always looked spectacular. Incredible vistas and exotic locations provided great scenery. Even the interior sets were impressive and full of detail. No matter how far from believability the stunt and action sequences were, they still looked absolutely spectacular. They are colorful and detailed films that nearly never have a dull visual moment and their debut on the high definition Blu-Ray format is where the films truly belong.

The first film showed how pretty Prague could look at night, but later showcased beautiful European exteriors and interiors. Watching the fire trucks move towards Langley was near poetic and the train ride was a visual tour-de-force and a fine example of special effects. The second film started off with gorgeous New Mexico visuals as Ethan Hunt climbed the perilous rock face. Sean Ambrose’s house by the sea was beautiful, as was Thandie Newton. The seaside scenes during the final moments were equally beautiful and even the underground location of the Chimera virus provided plenty to look at. The third and final film presented lovely shots of Italy and Vatican City. The film made even the Chesapeake Bay bridge look stunning. The first film was delivered in 1996. The third and final picture of this box set hit theaters ten years later. They all looked spectacular and used the best special effects available at the time.

There is a slight improvement in picture quality as you move from the original 1996 film to the first sequel, which was circa 2000 and then finally to “Mission: Impossible: III,” which debuted this year. The level of detail is noticeably sharper in the newest film and was slightly improved in the second film when compared against the original entry. There are a couple moments when film grain makes it presence known. Additionally, I saw some moments of posterization and macroblocking in the second picture, notably during the lovemaking scene between Thandie Newton and Tom Cruise. Aside from the singular moment of digital imperfection to the slight film grain in the older films and the level of detail – it is fairly safe to review the picture quality of the “Ultimate Missions Collection” as a whole.

Colors and level of detail are two of the more important measures for these high definition transfers on Blu-Ray. Throughout the films, there are highly detailed images and glorious colors. Additionally, there are numerous action scenes that move by the camera at high rates of speed and would typically introduce artifact problems or lower level of detail. Fortunately, all three films hold up very well, even during the most dynamic and aggressive moments. Colors are perfectly reproduced during all three pictures. Skin tones remain warm and accurate. Every color of the spectrum are nicely reproduced and though the newest film has stronger detail, all three films possess a nicely detailed image. You can’t expect a film that is ten years old to match a movie that was filmed with HD cameras, but regardless of which “Mission: Impossible” film you are watching, you can expect to be looking at a very good picture, but if you want a true visual treat, the third film is incredible looking and definitely should be experienced in high definition.

Sound:
Sound nearly echoes the pattern set by video throughout the three films. As technology has improved, so has the ability to have knock-your-socks off sound effects and reproduction. With the impressive action and stunt sequences, high count of explosions, gunfire and other elements that have become synonymous with the “Mission: Impossible” films, a lively and solid soundtrack transfer is a necessity for these films to be enjoyed as they were intended to be – loud. There is absolutely no reason to watch a film from the “Mission: Impossible” franchise if you are going to simply enjoy it through your television speakers or at low volumes. At least, you should not be enjoying these pictures in this manner if you have purchased the Blu-Ray box set and its salty $100 price tag.

The music and sound design of the “Mission: Impossible” trilogy is an important element of the picture. There is just something magical about hearing Danny Elfman’s interpretation of the well-loved and overly familiar “Mission: Impossible” theme song in the first film. The rushing sound of the train in the tunnel and the beating of the helicopter blades against the air sound great. What is very impressive is that you can hear the fabric of Tom Cruise’s clothes as the air beats him down onto the train. Then of course, Elfman kicks in. One of the beautiful things about the first film was the involvement of Danny Elfman. The second film brought about another familiar name, Hans Zimmer. The second film is more impressive in its sound design, but maybe I’m biased, but the first film had better music. The third film uses the talents of Michael Giacchino and though the music was not as impressive as the first two films, the sound design of the third film was absolutely incredible.

As the series evolved, so did the sound capabilities of each film. The rear surrounds are a good indicator as to which film you are watching. The first film uses the rear surrounds to a far lesser degree than the second and third picture and the final film in the series is just jaw-dropping in the full assault the soundtrack gives your ears. The first film uses the rears effectively, but just not nearly as much as the final film. Imaging across the front speakers was also improved as the series evolved. The center speaker seemed to have more responsibility than the left and right in the first film. In the second film, all three are busy throughout and in the final film, you are faced with a complete wall of sound. The .1 LFE channel becomes more and more active as the films become newer. Explosions still rock hard in all three pictures, but the first “Mission: Impossible” is timid when compared to what is delivered by “Mission: Impossible: III.” All three pictures still contain very good soundtracks that are more than adequate, but there is a definite improvement in the content as you go through the series.

Paramount has included English 5.1 Dolby Digital, French 5.1 Dolby Digital and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital for all three films. For $100, I think I would have liked some Uncompressed PCM love, but in all honesty, these are very good soundtracks. The third film rivals nearly anything else released and I was pleased with how good the first two films sounded. All three movies sound very good with the sound cranked up. The theme song is joyous regardless of which chapter in the trilogy you are experiencing. If I had to give letter grades to the three films, I’d give the first a B+. The second film would secure and A- and the third film is about an A+++. It gets lots of bonus points for simply being that good. English, French and Spanish subtitles are provided, as well as an English SDH track.

Extras:
Each of the three films in the “Ultimate Missions Collection” box set contains at least an hour of additional material. To watch all of the supplements and take in both commentary tracks from the three films would take roughly ten hours to fully digest. The packaging of the box set is fairly nice. Each film is contained in their own Clear Blue box, with the third film having two discs. A sturdy cardboard box holds all three cases and is nice and shiny. A blue shiny Blu-Ray header is found on the top of the front cover of the box and also at the top of the spine to denote this is the Blu-Ray release. The packaging is attractive and compact. “Mission: Impossible: III” features its supplements in glorious high definition. However, the first film and the first sequel pretty much contain what was on the original releases. A nice photo gallery was added to the first film, but aside from that, there is not a lot of new material.

“Mission: Impossible”:
The first film is the only title of the set that lacks a commentary track. There is, however, over an hour of vignettes and featurettes detailing the production of the film. Most of the features are provided in 480p and were simply lifted from older DVD releases. However, the new photo gallery that mirrors the one found on the third film looks extremely good in high definition and the teaser trailer and theatrical trailer are also provided in high definition. The “Excellence in Film” feature oddly is contained on each three disc. This pretty much announced that all three films will be available individually in the future. The first and second films each contain the MTV Music Awards supplement “Generation: Cruise.” A new commentary track would have been very nice and I seem to remember hearing that the first film was to also have an enhanced commentary track. I suppose it never quite made it to the finished product.

* Mission: Remarkable – 40 Years of Creating the Impossible (11:25)
* Mission: Explosive Exploits (5:08)
* Mission: Spies Among Us (8:38)
* Mission: Catching the Train (2:38)
* Mission: International Spy Museum (6:30)
* Mission: Agent Dossiers (14:40)
* Excellence in Film (9:14)
* Generation: Cruise (3:36)
* Photo Gallery HD
* Mission: Marketing (6:59)

The first film in the series is a single-disc set. The majority of the supplements are sadly mastered in standard definition. The first feature, “Remarkable” takes a look at how Cruise and his fellow filmmakers brought the film from television to the big screen. The second, “Explosive Exploits” is about the stunts and how Tom Cruise did them all himself. “Spies Among Us” discusses some of the background on the IMF and the technology displayed in the film and how it relates to real life CIA technology. “Catching the Train” is about the train sequence. Peter Earnest takes us through the “International Spy Museum” and the real tools used by spies. “Agent Dossiers” is an interactive feature that gives background info on the film’s spies. “Excellence in Film” features the presentation for an award given to Tom Cruise. This supplement is on all three discs. “Generation: Cruise” is a similar supplement, but from the MTV Movie Awards. The Photo Gallery is a lengthy interactive photo gallery that is nicely presented in high definition and “Marketing” is composed of two trailers and nine TV spots. The two trailers are presented in high definition.

“Mission: Impossible: II”
The second film presents a slightly disappointing set of bonus materials. I was pleasantly surprised by the John Woo commentary track and found the film to be far more entertaining with John Woo talking over the action. The rest of the supplements that have not already been found on the first film’s “Extras” menu runs for just about one hour. Compared to the wonderful treatment given to the third film, this is a bit thin. Still, fans of the series will certainly want to listen to the commentary track and it will still take three full hours to fully experience all of the bonus materials provided for the second film. What is disappointing is that the film lacks any high definition supplements. The first picture had a photo gallery and some trailers. Here, we have only 480p transfers from the original special edition DVD releases.

* Commentary by Director John Woo
* Behind the Mission (14:27)
* Mission Incredible (5:12)
* Impossible Shots (34:15)
* I Disappear – Metallica (4:33)
* Alternate Title Sequence (:36)
* Excellence in Film (9:14)
* Generation: Cruise (3:36)

The second film in the box set is another single disc edition that features supplements that are entirely contained in standard definition. The commentary track is nicely done by John Woo and the director talks highly of Tom Cruise and delivers his thoughts of the making of the film. “Behind the Mission” is your typical EPK style documentary featuring Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner and others as they discuss making the second film and working with the franchise. The EPK materials continue with “Mission Incredible” as they discuss the scenes such as the motorcycle stunts and the opening mountain climbing sequence. “Impossible Shots” is eleven vignettes that break down some of the various shots in the film and what was done to create them, with the cast and crew discussing their thoughts on the scenes. A music video for Metallica’s “I Disappear” finds the band rocking on a rocky plateau. Good song. The “Alternate Title Sequence” is just an alternate take on the animated title sequence and the final two supplements are also found on the first disc.

“Mission: Impossible: III”
“Mission Impossible III” marks a few firsts for Blu-Ray. One of these firsts is that this is the very first 2-disc set for a Blu-Ray title. Much of the argument during this format war has been on the storage space available. “Mission Impossible III” finds two 25GB Blu-Ray platters in the blue case, and the HD-DVD is also a 2-disc release. This will be a good gauge as to how welcoming the public is to a multiple disc set on formats where the great amount of available space was one of the primary selling points. If 2-disc sets are accepted without any moaning and groaning, then the argument as to how Blu-Ray can contain much more data on a single disc becomes lesser of an argument, as studios will have no problems releasing multi-disc sets on the high definition format, though the Blu-Ray platters are only single layer and technically speaking, this could have been a single disc release on Blu-Ray. The question will be if studios will pay the additional cost or just stay with 2-disc releases.

This two-disc set is the true gem of the box set. Sadly, the Blu-Ray does not feature the enhanced audio commentary, which only makes it’s appearance on the HD-DVD version of the “Ultimate Missions Collection.” Fortunately, many of the pieces of value added content for the third film are mastered in high definition. There is nearly three hours worth of additional content to be found on the second disc and when you combine that with the two plus hours of the enhanced commentary track, you find over five hours of bonus materials. To sit through every bit of this interesting material provided for “Mission: Impossible: III” will take a good amount of time, but sitting down and enjoying this third and final film in the box set exhibits perhaps the best example of a next generation release.

* Go Behind the Camera With the Making of the Mission (28:36 / HD)
* Inside the IMF (21:14)
* Mission Action: Inside the Action Unit (25:39 / HD)
* Visualizing the Mission (10:36 / HD)
* Mission: Metamorphosis (8:08 / HD)
* Scoring the Mission (4:56 / HD)
* Moviefone Unscripted: Tom Cruise / J.J. Abrams (8:03)
* Launching the Mission (14:02)
* Deleted Scenes (5:21 / HD)
* Theatrical Trailers (5:30 / HD)
* TV Spots (3:12)
* Photo Gallery (HD)
* Excellence in Film (9:14)

“Go Behind the Camera With the Making of the Mission” is your typical, run-of-the-mill talking-heads styled EPK feature. “Inside the IMF” looks at how the third film in the franchise involves the Impossible Mission Force and actually looks into the IMF headquarters. “Mission Action: Inside the Action Unit” looks at the special effects of the film. “Visualizing the Mission” looks at storyboarding and other techniques on laying out action sequences. “Mission: Metamorphosis” takes a look at the making of the digital masks in the picture. “Scoring the Mission” looks at those involved in the films score and how they helped bring the familiar theme song back for a third time. “Moviefone Unscripted: Tom Cruise / J.J. Abrams” finds the two interviewing one another with questions submitted by the public. “Launching the Mission” looks at the fervor surrounding Tom Cruise and others as they attend the premieres around the world. The five “Deleted Scenes” were entertaining and would have been decent additions to the final film, but they are far from necessary. Four “Theatrical Trailers” are included. Six “TV Spots” are included and an Interactive “Photo Gallery” with literally dozens and upon dozens of scenes from the film and the making of the production in glorious high-definition. Finally, the “Excellence in Film” makes its third appearance in the box set.

Comparison to HD-DVD:
There is one major difference between the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD releases for “Mission Impossible III.” This difference is the Commentary by Tom Cruise and Director J.J. Abrams as they discuss their experience making M:I:III. The HD-DVD release contains an enhanced audio commentary track as well as the standard commentary track that is also included on the Blu-Ray release. The enhanced track features picture-in-picture and additional dialogue. However, the standard commentary track is quite good. Abrams and Cruise impressed me in how well they did creating this commentary track. The standard audio commentary is an edited version of the video commentary that is cleaned up to remove the references to pausing the picture and such. The enhanced version is easily the better of the two offerings and sadly, the Blu-Ray release does not contain the better, HD-DVD only track.

Closing Comments:
The “Mission: Impossible” franchise has found three theatrical releases over the past decade. The loud and aggressive films brought about some strong stunts and fierce action sequences that gave “Mission: Impossible” its own brand of high-octane spy/action cinema. Where its gadgets are more closely related to real-life technology, the action and stunts were even more over-the-top than those seen in most James Bond films. Though I am not a fan of the second film, the series is, in general, a lot of fun to watch. Tom Cruise is great as Ethan Hunt and I am more than happy that Ving Rhames remained as a part of the series for its entire run. With Tom Cruise now at odds with Paramount, the future of the franchise is in great doubt and if I was a betting man, I’d say these three films will be the only films of the “Mission: Impossible” franchise. There are many trademarks of the series. Its theme song is well known. The films always have a strong ensemble cast. The action and stunt sequences look spectacular and the series is visually strong with highly detailed sets and beautiful vistas.

The “Ultimate Missions Collection” is pricey for the Blu-Ray release at $99.99. Essentially, you are paying $39.99 for the two-disc “Mission: Impossible: III” release and $29.99 for each of the first two films. Throw in two cents for the cardboard packaging and it really is not a great bargain over what you would pay if you found the discs separately. However, at this point in time, the first two movies are only available here. It would have been very nice to see all three films being two-disc sets and having full high definition supplements. For fans of the film, the $100 asking price is not that terribly bad and this does mark the first box set release for the Blu-Ray format. There are a lot better ways to spend a hundred dollars these days, but honestly, if you want the third film and you can find the box set for a decent price, I’d recommend it to have the entire series in a set that looks and sounds wonderful. At least, you’ll be letting the studios know there is money to be made in releasing on all three formats simultaneously.

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