Monday, May 01, 2006

The Mission: Impossible Dossier

No, am not going to venture into the classic television series, where there are countless of material written, from cast listing to episode guides, which you can find out more by clicking on the links below

I'd like to share my thoughts on the Cruise-Wagner movie franchise, with the third in the series due out this week in Singapore.

Good Morning

Just a quick intro for those who are clueless to this billion-dollar (by the time the third movie gets released) movie revenue franchise thus far, Mission: Impossible's basic story is espionage, with jet setting locales combined with nifty agents skilled in deception, latex masks, and technology. They hunt down terrorists with grande plots to take over the world, yadda yadda, and it's up to our good agents at the Impossible Mission Force (IMF, not International Monetary Fund, though I think their operating budget is about the same size) to foil their diabolical plans.

In the series, Jim Phelps (leading the team from the second season on) and his fellow agents get ample time through the seasons to build their reputation as super spies, and plenty of purists and fans of the TV series felt betrayed that their beloved screen heroes suffered the indignity on screen in the first Mission: Impossible movie.

Your mission, should you decide to accept

Mission: Impossible 1

This Brian De Palma directed M:I was largely panned for its treatment of characters from the television series, in particular, the heroic Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) who committed treason and betrayal to the IMF. It would have seemed against the established character in the series, but don't forget, ultimately this is a Tom Cruise vehicle, and naturally he's the star with his own billing on the marquee, so a new character, the central character of Ethan Hunt, was created.

The other gripe that many folks had, that given Tom Cruise, this movie degenerated into a one-man show/army. M:I was always about teamwork, though the movie had shades of it in the mission gone awry in the beginning, with casts like Jon Voight, Kristin Scott Thomas, Venessa Redgrave and Emilio Estevez, it's basically Ethan Hunt up against impossible odds to clear his name. Well, I've no qualms about this, given the storyline that was written, it's got to be a one man show. But don't forget, there was a team element with the recruiting of agents Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames), and of course, help from fellow survivor Claire Phelps (the beautiful Emmanuelle Beart).

I liked this movie. It's stylish, slick, sophisticated, about what you'd come to expect from Brian De Palma. Despite it's boo-boo on internet email address, it had one of the most interesting trivia, that Ethan Hunt NEVER fired a single shot from his gun. In no way would you have expected that in a spy movie ya?

Also, this movie anchored the M:I movies with incredible sequences like the exploding fish tank (ha!) and that eye-popping visual in the train tunnel with the exploding chopper propelling Hunt onto the train. Always liked that. In addition, it had one of the most spoofed sequences in its infiltration into the CIA. Extremely quiet and intense, with a little comedy thrown in with the help of a mouse.

Mission: Impossible Soundtrack CassetteCassette Soundtrack - Collector's Item?
Mission: Impossible Soundtrack CassetteInside Cover, it spells Mission:Impossible

With the help of U2's Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, the all too familiar theme by Lalo Schifrin was given a slick update for the 90s, together with the soundtrack composed by Danny Elfman, make it one soundtrack to own.

But of course there were certain flaws and omissions (like that love scene between Ethan and Claire which was suggested in the trailers but not shown in the final product - probably will make the Hunt character look like a damn adulterer) which stood in the way of making this M:I a classic.

Mission: Impossible 2

Keeping up with Cruise's intention that each M:I movie be helmed by a different creative director to make one film distinct and unique from the other, John Woo was selected to give the sequel his creative spin, that is, the slow motions, white doves fluttering, and plenty of gun fights.

I disliked this movie, for the above. Imprinting it with Woo's signature made it feel like a generic Woo movie, not a M:I movie. From slickness, it got stained with tired action genre repeated ad nasuem, and the incredible just became truly implausible. Not even Anthony Hopkin's uncredited cameo could lift this movie from the doldrums of commonality.

From M:I:1's sophisticated action sequences, we got dumb sequences like the collision of motorcycles head-on, and the leaping of its riders into a mid-air bear hug. What gives? The knife fight for its finale is pretty intense, but like I said, the entire movie plays out like a plain action flick. Lacks intelligence, lacks finese. It's out and out wham-bang-thank-you-ma'am. Especially preposterous was the girl-wooing (pardon the pun)-car-chase sequence where the vehicles interlock and spin around and around at the edge of a cliff. You'd just wish they crash and burn and the movie ended there.

Surprisingly though, this movie made a lot more money than the first installment did. I suppose non-Asians really dug into John Woo's style. Over here, we've seen enough.

Gone is the ensemble cast of well knowns, and we got relative unknowns back then in the likes of Dougray Scott (who must be kicking himself for turning down X-Men's Wolverine for this turkey) and Thaandie Newton. The storyline was some whacked out disease called Chimera, which the baddies want to use and unleash a worldwide epidemic, and to enrich the coffers of their pharmaceutical backers.

However, I can never forgive the movie in making fun of the disguises. Latex masks are almost the de facto tool used by the IMF in their masquerades and infiltrations. Here, this technique was given what I deem as the opera effect - no, it's ABC (peels off mask), who happens to be DEF (peels off another mask), but is in fact, GHI!!! (peels off yet another mask). Oei, this is not Chinese Wayang ok? Truly made fun of, intentionally or otherwise, by the scriptwriter Ronald D Moore (stick to Sci-Fi, ok?) and with a straight faced direction by John Woo.

The theme signature tune was given a rock update by the limp Fred Durst and his equally Limp Biskit, and they bastardized the tune for their theme song "Take a Look Around" (which sucks by the way). Talk about opportunists. Hans Zimmer composed the soundtrack, which I thought was pretty mediocre except for the Nyah theme, which stuck with its ethereal sounds.

On the whole, this sequel was a letdown, a plain action movie done in a generic John Woo fashion. So it made a lot of money, but it surely didn't win a lot of new fans. I could picture the M:I purists foaming in their mouths now.

As always, should you or any of your IM Force be caught or killed

My friend Shaiful and I were just a whisker away to have attended the World Gala Premiere in Rome, had we won Mediacorp's contest. It was widely advertised in the local media, but somehow from what we observed, many had shied away from this golden opportunity. They even laxed the rules for having a male-female couple - same sex couple, or individuals, are allowed to participate.

No pain, no gain, never participate, no hope.

So we decided to go for it, and we had to don black clothes and gear, given prop guns, and huddled in an extremely small booth with a video camera, had to introduce ourselves the producers, and tell them why we deserved to go to Rome. It didn't help that I thought of kick-ass lines only AFTER we had done the shoot. WTF.

Not only that, we had to improvise some action in that small booth, Shaiful with his prop M-16, and me with twin handguns. Didn't realize that there was no roof over our heads, and shoppers from the upper floors can see what these two idiots are up to :-P Before we left, we had to provide 3 static cool-action sequences, which I thought we did well. Not sure if we'd have the chance to see the pictures though.

The secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions

It was a pretty tense one week waiting for the results, which I thought we had a fairly good chance of attending the World Gala, though the local one wouldn't be that bad after all, since winning the sponsored trip to the World Gala would mean a tremendous logistical begging from the army to release me early from in-camp training for this one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If we won, it'd be my second encounter with Cruise, and I'll definitely try and get my cassette autographed lol

m:i:III Gala InviteGala Invite

So the results were in, and some other lucky couple (dunno who) has gotten that chance. For us, the local gala will suffice. :-)

This article will self-destruct in 5 seconds

What are my expectations of the third movie? From what I've seen from the trailers and whatever material gleaned from production, I would say it's pretty positive.

Helmed by J.J. Abrams, who had been very successful on television with his Alias and Lost series, this movie promises to go back to Teamwork, bringing back an ensemble cast and team concept in the likes of Ving Rhames (third outing), Lawrence Fishburne, Maggie Q, Keri Russell, Billy Crudup, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Michelle Monaghan and Capote turned villain Philip Seymour Hoffman. At the same time, the story also takes a closer look at what makes a secret agent tick (i.e. opportunity for some Cruise alone action/drama. Spotlight gotta be somewhere still you know?)

With the theme done by Michael Giacchino (The Incredibles which I enjoyed, and frequent Abrams TV collaborator), and the teasers of action sequences having a field day in theatre and television trailers, I have a cheeky question though, it seemed like Ethan Hunt likes to leap out of / into buildings. Adrenaline junkie I tell ya!

It's been 10 years since the first Mission: Impossible. Let's see if this could be the best amongst the trilogy.

m:i:III Gala InviteAre You Ready?

Time to light the fuse....

*cue signature theme by Lalo Schifrin*

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