Retro Review: “Mission: Impossible” (1996)

Mission Poster

Paramount Pictures had repeatedly tried and failed to adapt the “Mission Impossible” television series to the big screen. Tom Cruise loved the show as a kid and began working on his vision for it. He believed so strongly in the project that he made it the first film developed under the banner of his fledgling production company. The two came together and in 1996 this unique interpretation hit theaters.

The first signal that “Mission Impossible” aimed to be different came with the signing of director Brian De Palma. Though not unfamiliar with studio blockbusters, De Palma came to the film with his own peculiar sensibilities. You see it on the technical side with his extreme closeups and fascinating camera perspectives. But also through his deconstruction of the popular long-running TV series and its characters. That’s what prompted the biggest response from fans of the show.

Mission1A

Obviously “M:I” launched Cruise’s upstanding Ethan Hunt character, less sexualized than James Bond but with the same unflinching moral code. The film begins with Ethan as the frontman for a covert IMF (Impossible Missions Force) mission in Prague. A very good Jon Voight takes over for Peter Graves as John Phelps, the team leader who sends his team to nab a top secret list of undercover IMF agents from the U.S. Embassy before it falls into the wrong hands.

Things go terribly wrong, a mole is unearthed and Ethan finds himself in the crosshairs of IMF director Kittridge (Henry Czerny) who brands him Public Enemy No. 1. He seeks out the help of fellow disavowed agents Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) and Franz Krieger (Jean Reno) to root out the mole and clear his name. The wonderful Vanessa Redgrave plays a crafty arms dealer, Emmanuelle Béart plays a mysterious IMF agent, and even Emilio Estevez pops up as a not-so-superhacker.

It was interesting to rewatch “M:I” in light of how we routinely see these types of movies today. It’s a blockbuster uninterested in franchise blueprints, shared universes, or other big budget considerations. Those things weren’t as prevelant at the time which allowed for De Palma to play with his Hitchcockian and genre thriller influences.

Mission2

I still remember the initial reactions from people I knew who didn’t quite know what to make of it. The big finale aside, “Mission Impossible” subverted the blockbuster at nearly every turn. Now keep in mind it was 1996. It shared a big chunk of the summer box office with “Independence Day”, a movie all about fast-paced action and large-scale destruction. “M:I” had a much different idea. Build quiet and focused sequences where a simple bead of sweat can create white-knuckled tension. Of course the famous train sequence showed De Palma could also go big and the scene was a unknowing prophecy of what the franchise would become famous for.

Over time I’ve grown to appreciate this movie more and more. Of course the irony of it all is that this weekend the sixth installment in the “Mission: Impossible” series hits theaters. A subversive first film that went out of its way to break the blockbuster mold birthed a multi-billion dollar franchise. But just like the original, the series has consistently differentiated itself from most other big properties and it has only gotten better. Much of that is due to a perceptive Tom Cruise and he certainly got things started on the right foot.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIES FROM 1980

A few weeks ago I decided to do a Phenomenal 5 centered around the movies of 1987. The choice of the year was completely random but it was a fun list to do. So staying in the 80’s, I’ve decided to look at 5 phenomenal movies from 1980. Over the next several months I plan on sprinkling in several of these lists that look at the best movies the years had to offer. So let’s get started. Naturally, when you’re dealing with an entire year’s worth of movies there are plenty to choose from. Therefore it would be pretty crazy to call this the definitive list. But there’s no doubting that these 5 movies from 1980 are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – “FRIDAY THE 13TH”

Over time the “Friday the 13th” series became more of a cinematic joke. To be fair, it has been loved by its large number of fans and completely brushed aside by others. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the series was launched by a pretty solid first movie that set the table for Jason Vorhees and his appetite for killing brain-dead teenagers as well as a whole genre of rather mindless slasher flicks. But in the original it’s all about his mother and this first film probably features more genuine scares than the other movies combined. It’s not a flawless movie by any stretch but it is a significant movie for horror fans.

#4 – “THE BLUES BROTHERS”

When I first saw John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd as Jake and Elwood Blues I was just a kid. But I remember thinking they were both hilarious and extremely cool. “The Blues Brothers” is one part comedy, one part musical, and one part amazing, blow you away, car chase. The brothers are trying hard to save the orphanage they grew up in from being closed down. Their “mission from God” puts them at odds with neo-nazis, a crazed bazooka-wielding Carrie Fisher, and every single Illinois law enforcement officer in the state. The result is a wonderful and wild ride that’s still fun today.

#3 – “AIRPLANE!”

Airplane!” remains to this day one of my favorite comedies of all time. It’s absurd, brash, and over-the-top and I love it. The hilarious cast makes this nutty material work, none better than Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges. “Airplane!” is a steady barrage of corny jokes and gags and the movie never (and I do mean never) takes itself seriously. This parody of the big-budget disaster pictures is still funny today and I can’t name a modern comedy that comes anywhere close to delivering the laughs of this true comedy classic.

#2 – “THE SHINING”

While I’m not a big Stanley Kubrick fan, he knocks it out of the park with the chilling horror thriller “The Shining”. Jack Nicholson shines as the caretaker of a creepy hotel with a very disturbing history. He and his family are trapped in the hotel after a huge snowstorm and soon the supernatural presence sensed by his ESP endowed son makes itself known. “The Shining” features so many memorable scenes and it’s still as spooky as when I first saw it. This is one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel and even though it was met with very mixed reviews at first, it’s now considered a horror classic.

#1 – “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”

Call me a fanboy, I don’t care. But for my money, “The Empire Strikes Back” is one of the greatest sequels in cinema history. Yes, I’m a huge Star Wars fan so my judgement may be tainted, but this film blew me away when it first hit the theaters in 1980. In fact, I was only 9 years old but I still remember seeing it on the big screen and being amazed by the special effects and deeply wounded by the sad and up-in-the-air ending. But there is a great story that unfolds as the movie progresses and for me this was the film that really gave the series a sense of weighty importance. I’ve seen this movie so many times and if I’m surfing the channels and see it on TV, I’m probably going to stop and watch it again. It’s that good.

There ya go – 5 phenomenal movies from the year 1980. What did I miss. Hey, even if you weren’t born then you’ve probably seen several that I didn’t mention. Please take time to share your thoughts.