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Sunday, March 9, 2014
Last week, A.V. Club's A.A. Dowd took a look, with spoilers, at the Mission: Impossible film franchise, as part of the site's "Run The Series." Dowd notes that the franchise is, like the Alien franchise, "auteur-driven," as each film is helmed by a different director. "Though they’re all loosely based on the same popular television series," Dowd states, "every one of the four Mission: Impossible movies carves out its own conceptual and stylistic identity. The sequels don’t feel like sequels, but high-concept reboots, as though the gatekeepers of the series were so nervous that their hit formula would go instantly stale that they sought to rewrite it with each subsequent entry. As a result, the nature of Mission: Impossible depends entirely on who’s in the director’s chair.

"Brian De Palma, the New Hollywood veteran who brought M:I to the screen in 1996, offered a paranoid surveillance thriller about distrust of old heroes. Hong Kong heavyweight John Woo, who took the reins next, downplayed espionage in favor of balletic action, fashioning another of his enemies-as-brothers thrillers (this one featuring an enemy so brotherly that he 'doubles' for his rival). Moving from television to movies with his contribution to the series, J.J. Abrams shaped Mission: Impossible III into a big-screen Alias, again examining the attempts of a covert operative to balance professional and personal lives. And Pixar’s Brad Bird, in his fledgling foray into live-action filmmaking, crafted a characteristic ode to exceptional people (à la his The Incredibles), applying a playful animator’s touch to various feats of courage and strength.

"Setting aside thematic thrust, every Mission bears the visual mark of its maker, discernible in any random five-minute stretch of running time. Who but Woo could have made the very turn-of-the-millennium Mission: Impossible II, with its constant slow motion, its double-pistol gunfights, its white doves emerging from a fiery inferno? Who but De Palma could have made the original, flush as it is with split screen, POV shots, and dramatic zooms into faces? Mission: Impossible III proved that Abrams was nuts for lens flares long before Star Trek, while the car-factory finale of Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol is a dead ringer for the climaxes of several Pixar movies. Close your eyes and just listen to these films. Their scores—the inappropriate whimsy of Danny Elfman’s, the swelling bombast of Hans Zimmer’s, the third-time’s-a-charm urgency of Michael Giacchino’s—betray a specific time period and sensibility. Whatever one thinks of the individual movies, there’s no mistaking one for another."

The "inappropriate whimsy" of the Danny Elfman score? Hardly-- on the contrary, I find Elfman's score for the first film heavy with dark themes reflecting the betrayals, sadness, and paranoia of the characters, and any of the bombastic whimsy that occasions within some of the action scenes, perhaps, entirely appropriate.

Here is what Dowd has to say about De Palma's film, more specifically:


The biggest hit of his career, Mission: Impossible was the culmination of De Palma’s brief heyday as a Hollywood hit maker. (Just to try to imagine him getting a summer tentpole gig like this today.) But it’s no anonymous sell-out move: From its opening scene, which conflates government surveillance with the voyeurism of cinema, the film is unmistakably the work of the same director who made Blow Out or Dressed To Kill or any of those fabulously stylish, psychosexual ’80s thrillers. By asserting his authorial personality upfront, by conforming this franchise launcher to his own obsessions, De Palma set the precedent for the series. From here on out, the Mission: Impossible films would smuggle personal preoccupations into their crowd-pleasing packages.

After its cold open, Mission: Impossible launches into an homage to the original show’s credit sequence, teasing scenes from the forthcoming adventure with a fast-cut montage of enticing imagery. The callback proves to be a red herring; not long after, the movie throws reverence to the wind by having all but one member of the IMF squad slaughtered—the loud-and-clear message being that, unlike its small-screen predecessor, this Mission: Impossible won’t be a team exercise. Going one step further, De Palma and his writers (the Hollywood dream team of Steven Zaillian, David Koepp, and Robert Towne) later reveal the hero of the TV series, Jim Phelps, to be a double-crossing traitor. The controversial revelation announces that catering to the diehards will not be a goal of this franchise. Today’s geek-friendly adaptations, slavish in their loyalty to The Text, could learn something from the brazen infidelity of Mission: Impossible.

Naturally, fans—and original cast members—greeted these affronts to the show’s legacy with anger. Consensus among the incensed seemed to be that De Palma’s movie had not only butchered the source material, turning it into a vanity project for [Tom] Cruise, but had also applied the Mission: Impossible brand to a soulless Hollywood action flick. That criticism is a bit baffling, frankly. Yes, there are some pyrotechnics, especially during the speeding-train climax, heavily excerpted in the trailers. But in De Palma’s hands, Mission: Impossible is largely an exercise in suspense—in bombs under the table that don’t go off, as his hero Hitchcock might put it. The movie’s most memorable moments, like the undercover op during the party and the famous hanging-from-the-ceiling Langley infiltration, are models of escalating tension. Stealth is privileged over confrontation—a trend that would blessedly continue throughout most of the series.

In fact, the main reason that Woo’s installment now feels like the low point of the franchise is that it abandons the ethos of the original, essentially earning the accusations that were lobbed at De Palma’s movie. Whereas the first film boasts a Hitchockian wrong-man plot, with Hunt framed for a crime he didn’t commit, Mission: Impossible II riffs on Notorious—but only until about the midpoint, at which point Woo hijacks his perverse sleeping-with-the-enemy scenario in favor of some very Woo-ish adrenaline rushes. M:I 2 is a moronically caffeinated extreme-sports highlight reel, its story a thin pretext for rock-chord machismo and shots of its shaggy-haired star striking “badass” poses. (Even more so than the previous film, this one is basically The Cruise Show.) Still, there’s plenty of dumb fun to be had with Woo’s hilariously excessive approach, especially when the director pushes both his own and the series’ trademarks to their self-parodic limits.


Here's what the Prague Post's André Crous wrote about the Prague locations used in the first and fourth films:

Brian De Palma’s film adaptation of the well-known television series had some tense moments that were set in the land between West and East, where Americans were still hatching some dastardly plans even as the East’s veil of secrecy was gradually lifting. The first act of this film is set in a Prague where the U.S. Embassy apparently looks exactly like the National History Museum on Wenceslas Square, and main character Ethan Hunt finds himself missing a violent car explosion on Kampa square (Na Kampě), just off Charles Bridge, which is eerily deserted. In the film’s third sequel, the 2011 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Prague doubled as Budapest and Moscow (yikes!).

Posted by Geoff at 7:47 PM CST
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Monday, March 10, 2014 - 12:03 AM CDT

Name: "harry georgatos"

The Mission films are basically spy movies for 15 year old kids. The first three movies are an abomination of writing that have sleek blockbuster direction. GHOST PROTOCOL is an improvement but take my advice and watch the Daniel Craig Bond trilogy. CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL are instant classics in the mainstream spy genre. The first Mission film by De Palma has sophisticated visuals to the worse screenplay in the genre, with the biggest plot-hole out there.  This wasn't the story I was expecting by De Palma.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 3:49 AM CDT

Name: "Trevor"

Harry - what was the biggest plot hole you refer to? I'm a 40 year old kid and have so far enjoyed all four Mission Impossible films, De Palma's first is an exhilerating fun thrill ride, with some fantastic suspense scenes & set-pieces, plenty of surprise plot twists and turns, & that wonderful scene with Hunt and Phelps at Liverpool St train station where they both see different versions of events and the viewer doesn't know who knows what and when each other learned it. Don't get me wrong, I love the Daniel Craig Bond movies too, but they are entirely different films and more linear in their story telling approach than De Palma's film.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 - 6:08 PM CDT

Name: "harry georgatos"

The premise to M1 doesn't ring true to me. The CIA is a huge government organisation with endless budgetary resources meaning that they would have one team recovering the dead bodies in Prague and another team looking for Ethan. Jack would have been recovered from the elevator shaft. Sarah and Golitsyn would have been recovered along with Hanna in the detonated car. Leaving Jim and Claire unaccounted. Unless Jim and Claires dead bodies were on a morgue slab Ethan would not be that easily implicated! As far as Kitteridge was concerned Ethan was the mole and assassin. The CIA doesn't work that way and don't tell me they were all being watched because that's not the case. The twist with Phelps was obvious and had little surprise for me. I got nothing against De Palma's direction as it is the only saving grace to an ordinary screenplay. The story and script just isn't that good and needed another huge action set-piece, and has none of the mindbending Manchurian Candidate mind games that the iconic tv show had. For me these Mission films are for an undemanding young audience. If you like them then don't listen to me.

Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 5:43 PM CDT

Name: "ang"

I'm with Harry on this one. Leaving Jim Phelps to float in a city river is unbelievable to say the least. Having Jim unaccounted was a device to baffle audience with the ant-climatic twist that Phelps was the traitor. 

The CIA in real would want to see all the dead bodies first before making accusations.  

Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 6:38 PM CDT

Name: "Geoff"
Home Page: http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma

Now you guys could have a point, BUT, Kittridge does not go in accusing Ethan-- they try to play him first, but Ethan is too smart to be played, and it is only after he pushes back at Kittridge that he begins accusing him. What if they tried but could not find Phelps' body (which, just because the movie doesn't show or mention it, does not mean they didn't indeed try this)? They might even conclude that Ethan and Jim Phelps (along with Claire) were all working together on this act of sabotage/thievery.

Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 6:49 PM CDT

Name: "Geoff"
Home Page: http://www.angelfire.com/de/palma

Basically what I'm saying is that given what they have, Ethan calls them up, and he's the only person involved in the mission that they have heard from, you know they're going to be careful with him, and they're not going to want to let him out of their sights, but when Ethan lets Kittridge know that he knows what's going on, Kittridge throws that playbook out the window.

Thursday, March 13, 2014 - 8:35 PM CDT

Name: "harry georgatos"

In avoiding the Phelps dead body in a calm Prague city river was a ploy in baffling the audience thinking Phelps is dead. There's a lot of iffs and maybe's that a left unanswered. The way I see it is all these writers who were working on the script found themselves in a difficult situation they couldn't successfuly answer.

Look at the beginning of SKYFALL with Bond shot on the roof of the train by Moneypenny and falls from epic heights off the train from a rail bridge into a torrential river and over a waterfall. Everyone assumed Bond was dead even though Judi Dench had her suspicions. That's quality writing with a strong internal logic that M1 struggles to have.

I still enjoy repeated viewings of De Palma's Mission for his sophisticated direction , especially the CIA heist set-piece which is the best set-piece De Palma has directed. The stories in the tv show were implausible but entertaining which is the same way I now view the movie franchise. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014 - 5:50 PM CDT

Name: "harry georgatos"

 The CIA heist could not have happened the way the film shows it because CIA has it's own fire-fighting unit in the building. The way Ethan and the disavowed team break in can only happen in the movies.

Plus Phelps IMF team in Prague were being monitored by a second IMF team watching their every move. Apparently the only agent not monitored by Kitteridge IMF team was Phelps as he planned his own murder.  Very convinient to say the least.

Still from a directing point-of-view this is one of the directors best films along with SCARFACE, THE UNTOUCHABLES, BLOW OUT, CARLITO'S WAY and PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE. 

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