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YOUR MISSION, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT...

From Kklak! issue 6, September 2001

In the fifties, television was seen as the great threat to the movie industry. The desire to overcome the allure of the goggle-box led to some great and lasting innovations (the widescreen for instance) - as well as some best forgotten. (3D monster movies, anyone?) Itís an irony, then, that the world of television should provide so much inspiration for modern movies. Weíve seen many big screen remakes of old tv shows in recent years. You could say this was just symptomatic of the dearth of imagination that currently afflicts Hollywood - but I think there are more subtle ploys at work here. Itís not as if the studios are simply plundering tv formats for movie ideas - often, the finished film bears little or no resemblance to the series whose name it wears. Theyíre simply using the name for nostalgia value, tapping into the audienceís fond memories to attract them to a film they might otherwise not choose to see.

Now Iím not saying that concepts shouldnít be updated - times change, and the historical and social context of a series will be lost, so some revision is necessary. (Though the converse of this argument is that old tv shows are the products of their times, and lose their meaning when you try to re-invent them for the present day - so why bother? Create something new and relevant to todayís audience.) But in amongst all this updating and rewriting, I think thereís been only one film that has actively set out to destroy everything the original series stood for. That film, of course, is Mission: Impossible.

Iím told that this film was pretty successful, and a lot of people seem to like it. But it is a no-brain action adventure, a vehicle for making Tom Cruise look cool, and little else. Itís as if they drew up a checklist of Mission: Impossible iconography - self-destructing messages, rubber masks, people crawling through ventilation shafts, etc. - and once theyíd ticked every box, they didnít care what context they put these items into.

Iíll put my cards on the table straight away - Iím a huge fan of the original Mission series, so the expectations I took into the cinema were coloured by my understanding and appreciation of the series concept. From the beginning, it was obvious the film-makers were going to get it wrong. The mission the team are sent on - although we later learn it is a set-up - is ridiculous. All they have to do is place a camera in the records section of the US Embassy in Prague to record someone stealing some documents. This doesnít require the IMF - any trainee CIA man could do it. It certainly doesnít require Cruise to disguise himself as a senator, a man to crawl up a lift shaft, cameras to monitor everyone - just to put a camera in a room! Even before Cruise knows itís a set-up, alarm bells ought to be ringing - itís just not an impossible enough mission!

Later in the film, Cruise and team break into CIA headquarters to steal the information they need. Again the emphasis is on simple physical action. The film-makers have not really grasped the Mission format - overcoming physical impossibilities (breaking into secure vaults, etc.) are the basis of just a tiny minority of episodes. Most Missions are far more cerebral - they involve setting up an elaborate deception to manipulate the villain into doing what the IMF want. The team donít steal things, donít assassinate people - they make the villain do it for them, by so altering his perception of reality that he canít act in any other way. The IMF arenít secret agents - theyíre con men. What a great film you could make from that concept - though far too intellectual to be a modern movie blockbuster.

But ignorance of the Mission format wasnít the filmís worst crime. It sets out to completely destroy the legacy of the series, so that weíre left with nothing of the original Mission: Impossible - it becomes just a name to hang a Tom Cruise franchise on. They only carry one character over from the original series - Jim Phelps (albeit played by a different actor) - and they make him a traitor. As I sat there in the cinema, and it first began to dawn on me what was happening, I had an almost physical reaction - it felt as if a lead weight was pressing down on my chest. I donít think Iíve ever felt so dismayed by anything in my life. Itís certainly the only time Iíve ever felt like getting up and walking out of the cinema - and Iíve seen some pretty dreadful films in my time.

People tell me that M:I 2 is terrible - I wouldnít know, I never went to see it. The first was enough for me. I went back to videos and the Channel 4 repeats of the original series, preferring complicated mind-games and jigsaw-puzzle plotting to brainless action adventure. I disavow any knowledge of the movie. This column will self-destruct in five seconds...
 

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