Paramount pictures had been trying for over a decade to get a movie version of Mission: Impossible off the ground. It appeared to be stuck in production hell until Tom Cruise and his production partner Paula Wagner came along. With their interest a script was developed and Brian De Palma was brought in as director. Expectations were not particularly high for the film as it had been off the air since the early nineteen seventies. What was produced was a classic.
After a successful mission in Kiev, the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) team is sent to Prague. Under the leadership of Jim Phelps (Jon Voight) and point man Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise), the team are tasked exposing a traitor within their organisation and stopping a dummy copy of the NOC (Non Official Cover) list from falling into enemy hands. The mission goes badly with all but Ethan and Jim’s wife Claire (Emmanuel Beart) meeting their maker. Ethan has to figure out what is going on, why he is being set up as the mole and how the mysterious Max (Vanessa Redgrave) fits into it all. For this he needs a new team and heads off to steal the real NOC list from IMF headquarters.
This film set the standard for all future Mission: Impossible films. They are all director led. This has the look and feel of a classic Brian De Palma film. He was well known for being a huge fan of Alfred Hitchcock. A lot of his films feature the same techniques and style choices without being a complete rip off or over the top homage to the great director. The film makes use of a number of striking techniques to engage the audience. There are a lot of variation in shots used from close ups to shots from below and unusual angles. It is perfect for a spy film and adds to the tension in several key scenes. It has the feel of an old style European spy film with the misty streets of night time in Prague and the dramatic score from Danny Elfman
The film is best remembered for two scenes in particular. The first has gone down as one of the most iconic in modern cinema. It involves Tom Cruise being dropped from the ceiling of a secure vault at the end of a cable and attempting to extract information from a computer while hovering three feet off the ground. The scene is notable for its lack of any sound. The tension it raises while watching it almost makes you hold your breath. It’s not often that a bead of sweat trickling down a pair of glasses is the height of drama.
The second scene is the spectacular final chase sequence on the TGV style train. It is the opposite of the first scene. It is a spectacle with explosions, sound effects and a dramatic, sweeping score. Some of the special effects look a little dated (it was 1996!) but it doesn’t take anything away from the excitement of the scene.
To Brian De Palma’s credit, he didn’t forget about the origins of the film. From the opening scene, we know we are in safe hands. As the Paramount logo appears on screen, the music playing in the background is a snare drum playing a brief tattoo which was used to great effect in the TV show. After the opening sequence, the titles roll. This is a direct reference to the show where the fuse is lit, the Lalo Schifrin theme kicks in and the titles are comprised of the actors involved and short snatches of the action to come.
One criticism at the time was the plot. Some complained that it was complicated and hard to follow. I could never understand this as it all seemed pretty straightforward to me. It does demand your attention and there are very few sequences where a character gives a handy recap.
Overall, a superbly constructed film that was the first step in a super franchise that is still going strong. Highly Recommended.