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While attempting to intercept Russian nuclear launch codes in Budapest, IMF agent Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) is killed by French assassin Sabine Moreau (Léa Seydoux). Following the debacle the other members of Hanaway's team — Jane Carter (Paula Patton) and newly promoted field agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) — are sent to extract agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his source Bogdan (Miraj Grbic) from a Moscow prison. Hunt is assigned to lead Carter and Dunn in infiltrating secret Moscow Kremlin archives to locate files identifying Moreau’s employer, Cobalt, who is known to be a Russian consultant intent on detonating a nuclear bomb. During the mission, the IMF frequency is hacked, alerting the Russians to Hunt's team. Dunn and Carter escape just before a bomb destroys the Kremlin, and Russian agent Anatoly Sidorov (Vladimir Mashkov) arrests Hunt, suspecting him as responsible for the attack.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
In 1993 the mega-star Tom Cruise and former casting agent Paula Wagner put together a production company, and aptly and uncreatively named it Cruise/Wagner Productions. The company’s first collaboration with Paramount Pictures was a massive hit adaptation of Bruce Geller’s Mission: Impossible television series, and was directed by a still hot Brian DePalma. Cruise and Paramount then set out to make an entire series of films, each with a different director with a different vision for the series. The second film was released in 2000, and was directed by John Woo, who was still hot off his first really successful American film, Face/Off. M:I-2 (as it came to be known) made even more money than the first picture, but was generally a kind of terrible film, valuable only for its heaping portions of inadvertent comedy. The third film took a while to materialize, but in 2006 Cruise/Wagner hired superstar TV producer J.J. Abrams to make his directorial debut (after David Fincher and Joe Carnahan both left the project), and M:I:III was unleashed to a pretty mediocre public response. Cruise’s erratic public behavior didn’t help at the box office, and the star entered a big enough slump (comparatively, his films still made money internationally) that the future of the Mission Impossible series looked pretty bleak. Few people outside of Tom Cruise and new producer J.J. Abrams were looking forward to a fourth film, and even Abrams’ interest appeared negligible given his ever expanding role in other properties since the release of M:I:3.

But love him or hate him, Tom Cruise is a shrewd businessman, and plenty aware of artistic development and trends in filmmaking. For the fourth film in the series, eventually titled Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Cruise hired highly respected, Oscar winning animation director Brad Bird. Despite years of trying to get a 1906 San Francisco earthquake film out of development hell, Ghost Protocol became Bird’s first live action film. Bird’s presence on the picture is so unique and unexpected in the mainstream Hollywood sense it became a chief point of interest for the film. Fans knew Bird had it in him to pull off something spectacular in live action thanks to evidence of a concrete, working understanding of traditional filmmaking and the spectacular action set-pieces seen in his three animated pictures. Even Ratatouille, a movie about a rat chef and his love of French cuisine (which Bird came to as a director and writer for hire by Pixar after the original director was fired) features a mind-blowing foot-chase along and across the Seine in Paris. Most in the know would designate The Incredibles as the obvious wind-up for Ghost Protocol, given its many and varied call outs to the ’60s James Bond films, and it’s plenty obvious Bird entered the fray with every intention of branding his own James Bond film, while André Nemec and Josh Appelbaum’s screenplay tethers him to the basic Mission Impossible series mythology.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
As a practice in pure movie action Ghost Protocol might be the best film of 2011. Bird’s direction is tight and dynamic, and the choreography or coordination is among the best since the Bourne Supremacy approach changed popular film action. Bird avoids over-cutting and obnoxious shaky-cam work, and lays out an easy to follow geography throughout the bombastic chaos. Occasionally the special effects are a bit ropey and physics don’t always apply in a realistic manner, but nearly everything action related is understandable, and even relatable, as Cruise and Renner engage in terrifying situations with the appropriate amount of anticipation. The invincible Ethan Hunt of Woo’s film is gone, replaced by someone only slightly super-human in terms of endurance, thanks in no small part to Cruise himself, who may have some nutty, career devastating idiosyncrasies, but is in better shape than most of Hollywood’s nearly 50-year-olds. There may be more running in this movie than any movie in the history of movies, including Chariots of Fire, Run Lola Run and Prefontaine, which are all movies specifically about the process of running. My only complaint in terms of Bird’s pin-point structured set-pieces is that the series of beats that take place in Dubai are more effective sequences than anything that follows, leaving the climax of the film slightly less incredible than climax of the second act.

The plot is refreshingly simple and straight forward. There are unexpected moments and turns in the story, but the focus here is on suspense and momentum, not on blowing the audience’s mind with piles of unneeded plot twists. Some time is wasted on unrealistically high-tech weapons and stealth mechanics, but these usually amusing give Bird a proper chance to deal in satirical comedy. The tender side of the story, something that has failed the series over and over again, works well within this specific film’s character base, but when the screenplay tries to wax poignant about Hunt’s experiences on previous films it falls flat, mostly because it’s almost impossible to remember anything about the plots of the previous films. Often Ghost Protocol makes such a point of fixing the narrative and structural problems of the previous two sequels that some of the improvements become pointed in-jokes. Especially amusing is the fact that the mask-making machine never works, thus negating M:I-2 and M:I:III levels of face-peeling idiocy. In fact, comedy itself plays a pleasant, rather than distracting role in improving upon the other films, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Simon Pegg, who’s given a much bigger role in here than he was in Abrams’ film. The theme of the team over the individual is also important. Every single previous Mission Impossible film, including DePalma’s generally liked original, is mostly The Ethan Hunt Show, not an accurate representation of Geller’s original show. The final coda of the film feels almost like an apology for missing the point of the series for so long. Really the only thing the second and third films have up on Ghost Protocol is a memorable villain. I’ve seen the film twice, and I still can barely remember what Cobalt/Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist) looks or sounds like.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Video


Based on the trailer, I feared Brad Bird was going to make his live action debut shooting everything with the dreaded orange and teal tint. Well, Ghost Protocol has plenty of orange and teal in it (the party sequence is a prime example of the problem), but there are other colours here too, and the orange part of the tint doesn’t turn skin tones unnaturally tanned. Teal has a greater effect, though I’d probably call this more cool in general, including steel blues in the place of pure whites, and blueish overcasts on some of the deeper black levels. Usually darker shots are overcast with warm hues, specifically orange. Other colour options are largely consistent, and plenty pure in terms of hue quality and separation. Some of the richer reds show minor bleeding, and some of the poppy yellows feature slightly busy edges, but blends and gradations are smooth, without looking awkward or fluffy. Detail levels are split between the two formats. Bird and cinematographer Robert Elswit didn’t shoot their film in 3D, but after seeing The Dark Knight they picked up the alternative gimmick of utilizing IMAX cameras for some of the film’s more expansive sequences. The IMAX scenes are swimming in impossibly sharp, lifelike details and are utterly clear. The 35mm scenes don’t always match the utter clarity of the large format shots, showing minor distortions, light grain that increases based on lighting schemes, and generally less clean details. I also noticed some edge haloes on the highest contrasting blacks, and a few small moiré effects on complex patterns and textures. This is all really relative, though, and without the IMAX scenes it’d be much harder to notice the minor inconsistencies. The one big issue is some digital blocking on the blurrier elements, which is a little shocking in the cast of the sequence where Renner reveals his back-story to Pegg and Patton (somewhere around the 85 minute mark or so).

Before release it was announced that this Blu-ray would not feature a switchover to a 1.44:1, or even a 1.77:1 aspect ratio for the IMAX scenes, which bothered some fans. I admit it’s a bit disappointing to not have the option to view these scenes in their vertically enhanced framing, but Bird and Elswit seem secure in the 2.35:1 framing, and there’s something to be said for consistency. Considering the fact that all the extras were delegated to a second disc, thus saving enough space for the IMAX footage, a branching option would’ve been preferable.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Audio


I complain a lot about Dolby TrueHD mixes, generally preferring DTS-HD Master Audio in most cases (it’s largely my dated system’s fault), but there’s almost nothing to complain about concerning this 7.1 mix, especially not volume levels or dynamic range. Well, there’s still a hair of flatness in the center channel dialogue, but nothing in comparison with some of the recent TrueHD tracks I’ve heard over the past year or so. Ghost Protocol was mixed by Spielberg favourite Gary Rydstrom, and it shows. Standout moments include the steadily building Kremlin explosion, the dynamically sharp attack on Hunt and Brandt in the car, which includes some really aggressive water-piercing bullet effects, the wind-swept Burj climb, and the sandstorm encrusted chase, where every channel is crushed with surreal weather effects and delicate shards of dirt. The LFE gets a proper workout thanks to a myriad of earth shattering explosions, bass-heavy punch and gunshot impacts, and more vague, almost musical bass representations for the sake of ambience (especially during that sandstorm sequence). Composer Michael Giacchino, a favourite of both Bird ( The Incredibles) and producer J.J. Abrams ( Star Trek) knocks it out of the park with a busy, driving, but never distracting score. The audio designers take pains to include the soundtrack in the surround channels throughout the film, including a rear to front introduction of the main theme during the opening credits.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Extras


As stated in the video section above, the first disc in this Best Buy exclusive collection features nothing but the film, all the extras are delegated to the second disc, starting with Mission Accepted (48:00, HD) a three part look behind the scenes of the film, divided by shooting location. The first section, Suiting Up in Prague, sets the basic pre-production and production processes (a lot of it concerning hiring Bird as a dream director, and Bird’s intended tone) with on and off-set interviews with director Brad Bird, producer/star Tom Cruise, producer J.J. Abrams, cinematographer Rober Elswit, 2nd assistant photographer Ian Beer, stunt coordinator Greg Smrz, co-producer/production manager Tommy Harper, co-writer Josh Applebaum, and actor Simon Pegg, set against raw footage from behind the scenes, much of it shot by Bird himself on a camera phone. The footage includes make-up tests, location shooting (some with J.J. Abrams on Super-8), and stunt prep. The second section, Heating Up in Dubai, features mostly the same interview subjects, plus stunt rigger Randy Hall, stunt man/trainer David Shultz, associate producer Ben Rosenblatt, executive producer Jeffrey Chernov, and cast members Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner, and covers the production process on the Dubai section of the film, mostly those scenes of Cruise climbing the Burj (yes, that’s him doing that crazy shit), including stunt rehearsals, a look at the hotel itself and the surprising invasive impact the production had on the building, and using IMAX cameras. The final section, Vancouver Fisticuffs, covers the bulk of non-location production, including just about every set-piece and indoor sequence. It again features mostly the same interview subjects plus special effects supervisor Mike Meinardus, editor Paul Hirsch, producer Bryan Burk and actor Michael Nyqvist, and features general behind the scenes footage/technical information, including pre-viz.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol
Next up is Impossible Missions (50:40, HD), a series of 11 featurettes, themselves featuring more interviews with cast and crew members, and more raw behind the scenes footage. These include The Russian Prison, covering the filming of the opening scenes in a real deserted Czech prison, Shooting in IMAX, covering the ins and outs of the large format process, Art Department, covering art and production design in Prague, A Roll of Film, covering the process of moving a reel of footage from set to the editing bay, Life Masks, covering the process of creating Michael Nyqvist’s mask for make-up purposes, Stepping into the Storm, a brief glimpse of the crew using fans and dirt to create the sandstorm scene, The Sandstorm, a longer and more technical look at the sequence (without much narration), Dubai Car Crash, a look at the sequence’s climatic car crash, Lens on the Burj, a quick look at the climb stunt, from the crew’s POV, Props, which kind of speaks for itself, and Composer, a look at the music with Michael Giacchino and his crew.

Extras end with eight deleted/extended scenes with optional Brad Bird commentary (mostly unneeded character melodrama, 15:00, HD), and trailers.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Overall


Despite even my assumption that Brad Bird would pull off great action film in his first live action movie, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol defies expectations, and isn’t only a very good film, it’s easily the best in the entire Mission Impossible series. Hell, it’s even among the best third sequels and television to film adaptations I’ve ever seen, both faint praise I suppose, but still well deserved for what its worth. This Blu-ray release will disappoint plenty of fans due to its lack of correctly framed IMAX shots, and the standard 35mm film has its share of issues, but overall I’m considering it a solid video representation, and have zero complaints concerning the DTS-HD MA soundtrack. This Best Buy exclusive release’s extra features disc is full of fun facts and entertaining behind the scenes footage, and I’d recommend fans seeking it out.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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