The history of the “Mission Impossible” series goes way back to 1966. Steven Hill played the original IMF leader. As an Orthodox Jew, Hill had to leave on Fridays at 4 p.m. to be home before sundown and was not available until sundown the next day, which ultimately got him replaced without explanation in favor of the more available Peter Graves (James Arness’s brother) who created the role of Jim Phelps from 1967 to 1973. The second lineup included Academy Award winner (Ed Wood) Martin Landau and his wife Barbara Bain, who went on to do “Space 1999” in 1975 (the moon breaks off it’s orbit and wanders around space looking for adventure).
The plots were of a cold war theme, popular in that era. The TV series did not have a huge budget. The plots were more along the lines of John Le Carre’, clever and imaginative but low tech. A similar genre was “Secret Agent” (or in Europe, “Danger Man”) in 64-’68, starring the late, highly under-rated Patrick McGoohan. The IM regulars were the James Bonds of their day but without a License to Kill. Only a license to creatively manipulate.
Episodes always began with the leader of the IMF getting the assignment via a tape recorder and an envelope of photos and information. The tape always begins with “Good morning/afternoon/evening, Mr. (then) Phelps.” Then it explains the situation and ends with “Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it. The listener is then reminded, “As always, should you or any of your I.M. Force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” An enduring shtick that has held up for over 40 years.
Then in 1996 came high tech cinematography and Tom Cruise. The writers and directors combined flashy action shots with pretty good writing for three consecutive MI feature films (1996, 2000 and 2006). They were all entertaining and worth the watch. The latest in the series “MI: Ghost Protocol” is a stunningly energetic new iteration, clearly made for big screen IMAX.
Filmed in Prague, Moscow, Mumbai and Dubai, Tom Cruise is in top form, bolstered by good writing and fantastic cinematography. The story is coherent, the action is world class, and the photography is breathtaking. Director Brad Bird’s best film was the imaginative “Ratatouille” (2007), an excellent film if you haven’t seen it, you should. Any director that can make a rat cooking your supper look good is serious talent.
Best feature: Cruise doing his own action shots dangling off the Burj Khalifa hotel, the world’s tallest building. Bet his insurance premiums are about as high.
Worst feature: The film starts big then slows down toward the end, with increasingly silly and impossible action sequences almost as if the writers ran out of ideas.
I recommend you choose to accept this mission. I give it four of five big toothy Tom Cruise grins.
A word about IMAX. I think IMAX is overrated. The screen is really too big, requiring the viewer to sit in the nosebleed seats to avoid straining your neck turning from side to side following the action. The surround digital sound track is too loud. And today for the matinee show Usually six bucks for an afternoon show, it cost US$11.00 apiece and I don’t think it was worth it.