The Mission: Impossible Collection #1

This week director Christopher McQuarrie teased an image from Mission Impossible 7.  Not surprisingly, it was a moody shot of Tom Cruise running.

The new movie is slated to arrive this November and as we work towards that date, hoping that cinemas will be able to reopen by then, I thought I’d look back at the superspy action franchise.

This short series of articles takes a brief look back to all the Mission Impossible films so far, applauding the highlights, and identifying that unique MISSION IMPOSSIBLE MOMENT in each.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE was released in 1996 and was the big screen adaptation of the 1960s TV series of the same name, created by Bruce Geller.  The IMPOSSIBLE MISSION FORCE is an elite team that engages in espionage when all other options fail.  The series had a rotating roster of stars, and each mission relied on deception, gadgets, undercover agents, and disguises. And if you weren’t aware of the show, you probably knew the theme song.

The Director

The film was directed by Brian De Palma and it showcases some storytelling techniques from his previous movies including point of view camera (the embassy), the use of Dutch angles (the restaurant), split diopter lens (the rat in the pipe) and many beautifully orchestrated scenes.

Spy Thriller

The film positions itself as a Cold War style spy thriller with tremendous stunts, gadgets and very memorable set pieces which hold up well today. After the stunning opening where the IMF team is picked off one by one in a disastrous mission, team leader Ethan Hunt must avoid being caught while trying to assemble a new team to find a mole and complete the job.

That job involves the NOC list, a list of spies and their cover names which has been stolen and placed on the black market to the highest bidder.  Like a Bond movie, the film hops across various countries from Prague to the USA and the UK and rewards with some great action and a twisty plot.

That “Mission Impossible” Moment

The team break into CIA headquarters in Langley to acquire a file.

The set up for the scene is explained during the team’s briefing meeting.  The file is in a secure room, staffed by one operator. The room is temperature controlled, is monitored for sound, and the floor is alarmed.  The team must get into Langley, divert the operator, then enter the room from above.

The suspense De Palma generates with the operator returning to the room before rushing off ill is tremendous, especially as Hunt is suspended above the operator’s head.  The imagery of Cruise in black, spidering down the cable and accessing the computer is iconic.  At one point he almost falls and has to starfish just above the floor to avoid touching the pressure sensors – and just when you think he’s in the clear, a bead of sweat begins to drip from his forehead.

The scene is so well conceived and executed that it has become unforgettable.  This movie may be a spy action thriller, but for a large section in the middle of the film, it becomes a perfect heist movie too.

Tom Cruise Running Scene

Hunt runs away from the exploding restaurant.

Don’t Forget

The Channel Tunnel train and helicopter chase near the end.

Honourable Mention

The soundtrack by Danny Elfman is brilliant and thrilling. Incorporating elements of the iconic Mission Impossible TV theme by Lalo Schifrin, the soundtrack is emotional, exciting, surprising, and bombastic when it needs to be.  A big blockbuster soundtrack for a spy actioner that really delivers.

Light the Fuse

Another famous part of the Mission Impossible style is the imagery of the fast-burning fuse, and the opening titles which swiftly preview the action and mystery in the upcoming episode.  This film recreates that beautifully.

FUSE RATING = 4 OUT OF 5.  This is a confident opening to a new franchise which I appreciate for the spy craft elements. That may not work for everyone, but the action and stunts in the film also appeal to a broader audience – indeed, the spy themes fade as the franchise progressed to become the over-the-top action movie juggernaut fans love today.

Next time

Mission Impossible 2 – with slo-mo, doves and lots of bullets.

This article first appeared on Reel Anarchy.

Producer Paula Wagner, Tom Cruise
Director Brian De Palma
Writer David Koepp, Robert Towne
Cinematographer Stephen H. Burum
Editor Paul Hirsch
Music Danny Elfman
US premiere May 1996
Tom Cruise Ethan Hunt
Jon Voight Jim Phelps
Emmanuelle Béart Claire
Henry Czerny Kittridge
Ving Rhames Luther
Jean Reno Krieger
Vanessa Redgrave Max
Kristin Scott Thomas Sarah Davies

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