Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Mission Impossible 4 and the Ilk

If there is one thing I really don't like in film, it's when they are "incestuous" in their plot devices, especially for films like Mission Impossible, and the ilk (family, class, or kind). I was a kid and a big fan of the original TV show. I like the actors well enough. I'm a big Jean Reno fan, from MI's first movie. And Simon Pegg, from this current installment, MI4.

But now they're doing it again. Instead of focusing on a good, solid story line about the team performing one of their impossible missions, they are dealing with being turned inside out yet again. Why?

The very first show in this series, put a traitor in their midst, on a team where that simply isn't supposed to ever happen, and should have been saved for possibly MI4. This is a team where it should never be a consideration that one of the team is a traitor. Yes, it's find to have them suspected, or even have one of the peripheral team members be bad, but not the core team. Not the leader. Certainly, as in the first film, not Phelps. I find it cheap and tawdry. I was highly offended by that first movie.

For the one team in the history of the world who are supposed to have their act together, these guys sure do have a lot of problems.

Let's see, producer/writer Josh Appelbaum is a TV producer and writer. André Nemec is the same. Interesting. Director Brad Bird has done blockbuster cartoon movies like The Incredibles and Iron Giant, but of which I did like. Brian DePalma directed the first film in the series and they had not a few writers on that project. John Woo directed MI2 and J.J. Abrams directed MI3. Both solid directors whom I like.

I don't know Brad Bird for this kind of film, but maybe, the director isn't the problem, yes? He has an Oscar, so he's no hack. I'm thinking culpability goes to Studio, Producers, Writers, in that order. It may not even be the writer's fault at all.

It wasn't that I thought the first film was bad, I just felt they started off on a false footing.

Raise the stakes! Let's make them have a mole in their midst. Let's make the leader, the bad guy. Do literally everything that can be done to guarantee we squeeze the most money out of the audience and the widest audience possible. Well, Hollywood, Frankly, Up Yours....

So, no. In my book, the playbook for this series is and has always been, that just doesn't (shouldn't)  happen. They are  loyal to one another, that is part of who this team is, always has been. Yes, we can think they have turned, but no, they don't turn. Maybe I'm a purist, but that was part of the original attraction to the TV show.

Again, maybe, some time down the road, when the franchise has become old and tired, juice it up a bit, but you just don't start out at the gate with it.

Now, in a similar kind of move, they have the team being disavowed because of blowing up the Kremlin. Really? They "get caught", that is, found out? Which to them is pretty much the same thing. They are shadows, ghosts, they don't exist, shit just happens. So, no, I don't think so, that simply isn't what they do (get caught, that is).

They are, the Impossible Missions Force! What don't you get about that? It makes me miss the original TV show. Yes, it could be cheesy and far fetched, but the spirit of the thing is what counts, and that now we can achieve what they were trying to do. But instead, they seem to revel in making them dysfunctional instead.

That's one of the things that is so interesting about the Indies. An independent film doesn't have to be a whore to the Hollywood (studio) paradigm. They have the ability to just made a good movie without pushing it to the point of being defective.

So why can't they just have them doing their impossible missions? Too impossible to write? Is it too hard kiddies? Perhaps they need better producers and screenwriters? Or an independent studio, if Hollywood can't handle their own genre/style of film.
This brings to mind the James Bond franchise. Always trying to be the end all be all, always trying to outdo itself, it bogs itself down in wasted money on pyrotechnics thinking that people can't handle real tension in a true thriller fashion, rather thinking people need bright shiny objects to grasp on to, in order for a movie to make a buck. Personally, I much prefer the human element against the larger than life situation, than explosions, which are frankly, overkill.

Much like the 9/11 terrorists action, I just wasn't terrorized. I was a worried at first, but the more time I had to think about it, the more angry I got. I wasn't terrorized, I was pissed off. It was too much, for what they were allegedly trying to do. Did they want to simply strike out, and damn the repercussions? Or did they have an agenda they wanted to pursue? Smaller things, in the right place, at the right time, are always more effective for your cause. Otherwise, it tends to backfire.

Give me a visceral feeling, against possibility, not the explosions, not the tearing apart of the team that is supposed to be perfect, unfathomable, indestructible. Fine, make them seem more Human, if you want, but the one thing they aren't to be doing, is turning on one another. Ya know? That, to me, was one of the two things that set them apart, because you find it hard to believe they would stick together like that to start with, that's a given.

The other thing about them, is being able to achieve the impossible, THAT's why they are the IMF! Making them THAT fallible, kind of ruins the entire concept to begin with, so the, what's special about them. Then they aren't the IMF, they become, the RDMF, the Really Difficult Missions Force. Not as cool, right? Tearing apart the team, tossing them in the waste basket, blowing up the world, is all much like what director Stanley Kramer once said in a seminar I was attending.

To paraphrase:

"When you shoot a close up to show emotion, never show the tears falling, only show the tears brimming up full in the eyes, nearly bursting forth; never drop that tear down the cheek. That tension of, "when is it going to fall", is priceless. Letting it fall, releases the tension, and throws away much of what you are building. To throw that buildup away in the tears racing down the cheek, is to waste a lot of effort for nothing."

Now, I'm not saying this current film will be bad, just that it is starting out on a bad conceit. Again, at MI4 I could buy this, that the team is being set up, but if it turns out to be someone on their team, or up the ladder in the government from them, I'm going to call in my own IMF team and take these producers out myself.

This is part of the problem with typical Hollywood formula films. Raising the stakes so high, that it's simply out of the ballpark for the character's filmic universe. What happened to the perfect special ops team? I could go more for MII4 than MI1 storyline, but still, just give us a good plot based upon what the team is supposed to be doing and leave the tired plot devices as in MI4 (and especially, MI1), for when you are burning out the franchise and have no where else to go.

Oh, wait a minute... are we there now? Seems to me, we started there with MI1.

NPR article on MI4


  1. I don't follow Mission Impossible and I thought the IMF was the International Monetary Fund, but I know the feeling you describe. Plots get tired and then it's like addiction, you need bigger and bigger hits to get any effect. However, it is possible to reinvent, introduce new ideas: the extremely popular and durable British SF series Doctor Who has done that repeatedly: it had run for some time before it emerged that the main character was an alien, then much later his planet had been destroyed, then mystery is introduced about who he really is. Conversely, one of our most popular soaps, "The Bill", a police series, started as a refreshingly realistic look at police life, only slightly more dramatic than the real thing, but when viewing numbers started to drop the response was to introduce a lot of relationship drama (suddenly all these cops had impossibly complicated and troubled personal lives) and dramatic events in buckets. I think there were no fewer than three bombs at the police station and Sun Hill's coppers were getting killed at a rate that would make Detroit cops run. For more time than it deservfed it worked, perhaps because there was still a lot of realistic stuff in it (programmes were actually used in police training to show correct procedures in cautioning or subduing people etc), but finally the increased drama shots no longer worked.

  2. Thanks for the comments. I come at this not only as a viewer but also as a screenwriter. The desired screenplays tend to require a certain format, high concept, high stakes, etc., to the point of being absurd. I find that formula (to supposedly "guarentee" success and profit) ludicrous. Perhaps it's okay as a standard as you have to have something, I suppose, but to be consistently told something won't sell, or worse, won't "work", because it doesn't have the elements many of the produced Hollywood style films have, is at very least, irritating. I find those films that don't follow that format (if they are well done), typically refreshing. But then, that is what is nice about Independent film. My hope in my own screenplays is to go against that grain as much as possible and offer something else in it's place. I understand that means I will have a harder road to progress in an already impossibly hard industry, but such as it is, so shall it be. Of course, I may be the guy at some point, whom you hear about on the evening news who jumped off a cliff out of frustation. But at least I will have given it my very best efforts. Hmmm there may be a film in that....