Paramount Pictures is taking the unusual step of releasing Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol exclusively on IMAX screens this weekend and conventional theaters on Dec. 21. IMAX tickets cost a few dollars more, so let's examine what that expense offers, shall we?
First of all, we'll concede that it's a cagey way to squeeze a few bucks from anyone who simply can't wait to see Tom Cruise in action hero mode again. Wondering who exactly those people could be is beside the point. But judging from an IMAX viewing of Ghost Protocol, the extra price isn't worth it.
For the uninitiated, IMAX isn't what it used to be. Screens installed in previously standard auditoriums aren't much larger than normal. Only sequences filmed with IMAX cameras fill the screen to capacity. The rest is shown in a letterbox format, with black bars shrinking the image at the top and bottom, making it no more expansive than conventional projection. I'll generously estimate that 25 minutes of Ghost Protocol utilizes the entire screen.
And for what? A nifty, vertiginous sequence involving secret agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) scrambling on the outside of a Mumbai skyscraper, a multilevel parking garage chase in which a few more feet of view don't matter, and a chase through a sandstorm turning the screen into a hazy brown blotch but larger so. None of these scenes would lose much impact with regular, less expensive projection.
The expanded IMAX audio system does make the booms sound bigger. But it also amplifies sound effects that are distracting; sand blowing across a desert, a jet engine's whine, and guest chatter during a cocktail party. The latter almost made me turn around to shush someone talking during the show. Nice technology but needless in the scheme of things.
Ethan and his team of espionage experts are framed for the bombing of the Kremlin, and disavowed by the U.S. government as has been threatened since the 1960s TV series. It is part of a master plan devised by a terrorist (Michael Nyqvist) cribbing from Professor Moriarty's plot in the new Sherlock Holmes flick. Just consider it more chances for Cruise to run from danger, eyes narrowed in suspicion.
To be certain, Ghost Protocol doesn't need anything diverting attention from another convoluted Mission: Impossible plot. This franchise has never dazzled with brilliance but it certainly baffles with something else. Mostly it's video game-style violence — Ethan's mission message sounds delivered by a bland gaming narrator — occasionally pausing for necessary exposition that at home would be times to rest your thumbs.
Even on the IMAX screen, the ideas seem small. Paramount will recoup a chunk of its $140 million budget this weekend with the surcharges and exclusivity but the strategy deserves to self-destruct in five seconds.
Steve Persall can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8365.