Mission: Impossible Pays Great 90s Action

The first Mission: Impossible movie from 1996 holds up nicely as an action movie and vehicle/payday for star and producer Tom Cruise.

We’re continuing Payday May on You Love To See It (Fanbyte’s premiere movie podcast!) with Mission: Impossible (1996), a movie where star (and executive Producer) Tom Cruise famously got a sick paycheck (and continues to do so, as the franchise is alive and very well). We have extensive show notes this week, thanks to our excellent producer Paul Tamayo (who produced and co-hosted this week) diving all the way into the direction, cinematography, and editing!

We’ve got all that delicious detail for you here below the podcast, keep in mind these are show notes with a bit of creative punctuation and capitalization, but it gives a good sense of the items we saw and wanted to discuss in our respective viewings!

As always, you can listen to the show in the above embed and find it on your podcatcher of choice here!

Our synopsis

Mission: Impossible is a movie I shouldn’t have to explain to you, on account of literally every human being that exists on this planet knowing what Mission: Impossible is. It stars Tom Cruise as Ethan Hunt, a dude who can do pretty much anything — including the Impossible, which explains the title. On this particular film, which spawned a franchise that is projected to be outlived only by cockroaches and Henry Kissinger on God’s green Earth, Hunt finds himself on a frantic quest to save his own damn self after he is framed for the deaths of several of his Mission Impossible Force teammates in a mole-hunting operation gone awry.

Fernanda’s must-discuss items:

#1: Tom Cruise – $290 million from Mission: Impossible I, II, III and IV Tom Cruise is one of the wealthiest actors in Hollywood for a reason: He almost never does a movie without taking a huge percentage of the gross profits. That has been a problem at times, especially when his movies have gone on to flop at the box office. But for the most part, Mr. Cruise has always been able to pick himself up with another hit down the road. His highest paying role far and away (no pun intended) has been that of Agent Ethan Hunt in the Mission: Impossible franchise. Cruise’s production company optioned the film rights and has then produced all four movies. This allowed Tom to make $70 million off the first film, $75 off the second and third, and $70 million off the fourth. That works out to a grand total of $290 million which is the largest cumulative paycheck any actor has ever received for a single part.

Also from Celebrity Networth:

Like many major stars, Cruise is paid a flat fee up front and then gets a chunk of the back-end box office profits. For the first Mission: Impossible film in 1996, Cruise ended up making $70 million – which is insane considering that the films entire budget was $80 million. Oh, and that $70 million, adjusted for inflation, would be over $114 million in today’s dollars.

I also found this old Slate article, from 2005

“In return for deferring his salary, he negotiated a deal for himself almost without parallel in Hollywood. To begin with, he got 22 percent of the gross revenues received by the studio on the theatrical release and the television licensing. The more radical part of the deal involved the video earnings (the deal was negotiated before DVDs became omnipresent). As videos became a cash cow for Hollywood in the 1970s, each studio employed a royalty system in which one of its divisions, the home-entertainment arm, would collect the total receipts from videos and pay another one of its divisions, the movie studio, a 20 percent royalty. This royalty became the “gross” number that the studios reported to their partners and participants. The justification for this system was that, unlike other rights, such as television licenses, which require virtually no sales expenses, videos have to be manufactured, packaged, warehoused, distributed, and marketed. So, the home-entertainment arm keeps 80 percent of the proceeds to pay these costs. The stars, directors, writers, investors, actors, guilds, pension funds, and other gross participants get their share of just the 20 percent royalty. If a star were entitled to 10 percent of the video gross, he would get 10 percent of the royalty, which is only one-fifth of the real gross. But not Cruise. He insisted on—and received—”100 percent accounting,” which means that the studio, after deducting the out-of-pocket manufacturing and distribution expenses, paid Cruise his 22 percent share of the total receipts. As a result, Cruise earned more than $70 million on Mission: Impossible, and he opened the door for stars to become full partners with the studio in the so-called back-end.”

  • I hadn’t seen this Mission:Impossible since I was a kid and I don’t really know what I was expecting but it wasn’t… This? In a good way, I mean. I think of the most recent movies of the franchise as quintessential pieces of mainstream action cinema, and this one is just… Quirkier, I guess? Granted, I don’t think I have ever watched the John Woo one, so that might stand out even more, but I was really charmed by De Palma’s camera play and so many of his visual choices. The pacing threw me off a bit, too, with this action-packed beginning and a sort of softer center and then you get right back into it. The vibe is more noir-esque than I was expecting, if that makes sense. I also wasn’t expecting the bloodbath that takes place early on. I think my memory was of this high-energy, “Tom Cruise jumping off things” thriller, and while that is part of it, it’s also more somber and stylish than I remembered. In fairness, I had no recollection of it being filmed by De Palma, so I guess I should have adjusted my expectations.mission impossible ropes
  • On the “bloodbath” note, though (from The Herald Times):

The 1996 “Mission: Impossible” is a mostly bloodless affair: It doesn’t feature any shootouts or gunfights. In fact, Ethan Hunt never even fires a weapon in the entire movie, and the final body count, seven, is almost entirely from the opening sequence. Compare that with its trigger-happy sequel “Mission: Impossible II,” which has 107 onscreen casualties (68 of them in a plane crash), according to a website called allouttabubblegum.com.

  • Is there a more perfect theme song in the whole history of audiovisual endeavors? The answer is no. Just no. Don’t debate this. 
  • Let’s all take a second to appreciate the beauty of the DERANGED “Max@Job 3:14” email address
    • PT: lmaoooo yeah we gotta discuss this
  • While we’re at it, let’s also take a second to appreciate the beauty of Jean Reno not only trailing a train through a channel with a helicopter but also actively trying to kill Tom Cruise with it. I had no recollection of this moment and honestly I’m glad. It’s like the universe granted me TWO opportunities to witness the epitome of human achievement.
  • #JusticeForJack
  • It’s kind of inevitable that we eventually get desensitized to these movie moments that have been played and praised and mimicked and parodied to death. And lord knows the going-down-the-ceiling scene has been run into the ground — and then into the basement, and the Earth’s mantle, and then all the way into its very molten core — by popular culture. HOWEVER. It is so, so good. It was nice to watch it again in the context of the film, and trying to put myself in the mindset of witnessing it for the first time, but as an adult (ish). It truly is an achievement to pack this much tension, excitement, and just this overall edge-of-your-seatness (?) into these few minutes, while still leaving some space for a little humor. I knew everything that was going to happen and I still wanted to keep watching it until the end. Iconic shit.
  • Speaking of iconic shit: Vanessa Redgrave!

Danielle’s must-discuss items:

  • I legitimately love a good mission-briefing-as-exposition. We learn the whole early plot, all the major players, etc. inside of five minutes. And all of that after the fun, wacky SPY SHIT intro. Economical action filmmaking, baby!
  • Who doesn’t love a good shitty coffee joke, huh? These people are super spies, but they’re just like us too!
  • Fun, spy mission gone awry and spy dude as fugitive is a pretty good premise IMO. It’s not like the writing is anything amazing, but structurally, the script is pretty tight and the action delivers.
  • Vanessa Redgrave is definitely my favorite part of the whole thing. Also Ving Rhames. 
    • FP: YES
      mission impossible tom cruise vanessa redgrave
  • Overall, the movie is a rock solid middle aisle pick – a fun action movie with most of the trimmings. It doesn’t have the audacity and vision and sheer excitement of the later mission impossible movies, but for a 90s action reboot of a 60s TV series, it works.

Paul’s must-discuss joints:

  • This movie is such a perfect playful exercise in illusions and is summed up by two scenes in particular: the first interaction between Ethan and Max and Ethan’s magic trick show. Max tells Ethan: “you’re aggressive, yet playful. Somewhat of a paradox.” That’s this movie. lol.
  • Love a good introduction scene that basically sets the tone for the entire film. It also does a good job of planting the seed that gets some masterful payoff at the very end w/ Ethan’s mask disguise. The movie does this setup and payoff thing so many times it’s dizzying to keep up. It requires several viewings which I have done over the course of my life because I’m an espionage pervert and a connoisseur of playful flicks.
    • The disguise is also reinforced in the brief glimpse of Hunt as that fake senator on TV which is hilarious.
    • You can definitely see elements of the background on repeated viewings if you missed it the first time. De Palma also did this really well in Snake Eyes years later.
  • Briefing scene in Prague is so much fun. All of these young, sexy spies casually talking about espionage and joking about how bad the coffee is. Helps cement these players as humans and Hunt as the hotshot quarterback. It’s all so American in a goofy and intentional way.
  • De Palma really nails what it’s like to watch a plan unfold and unravel too. Both equally as fun to witness in a stylish presentation.
    • As neat and tidy as the briefing montages are, the moments when everything falls apart is great too. A standout is the blatant breaking of the rules when it comes to movement throughout the frame, particularly during the moments leading up to where Phelps gets shot. Characters move right to left, left to right, forward, backwards, etc. It is dizzying on purpose.
  • The POV shots are so jarring and perfect for the dream-like floatiness of this movie. It also continues to literally confuse your perspective as a way to misdirect the viewer and pays off wonderfully in the movie’s climax when Ethan reveals Phelps as the mole in the baggage car.
    • My favorite POV shot is Ethan meeting Max’s contact on the bench. It starts as an establishing shot, slowly moves in to reveal that we’re seeing this from Ethan’s eyes and moves into car. I LOVE LONG TAKES LIKE THIS. Efficient use of a camera moving through a 3D space and elegantly getting to the f’n point.
  • I adore all of the 90s technology ASMR throughout. Mini DV tapes on the plane, bloody floppy disks inserted into drives, CDs playfully handled as a part of a magic routine, Ethan’s frenetic typing. Love it. Need more of it at all times. I hate touchscreens. Give me little motors, buttons, translucent plastics.mission impossible fishtank
  • The film was shot using anamorphic lenses by Stephen H. Burum who worked a lot with De Palma and does the same in a lot of their movies together. Anamorphic lenses basically give a much wider frame than normal circular lenses and give off an oval-like boket which is that blurry effect on backgrounds. It feels like a painting and that dreamy vibe goes so perfectly with the magic tricks this movie pulls on the viewer.
    • One of my favorite effects is the use of the split-field diopter which in English is a filter that covers one half of a lens and is placed in front of a lens that allows for something on one side of the frame in the foreground to be in focus while something or someone in the background is also in focus. There are tons of examples of this, but by far, my favorite is the slow motion shot of Claire detonating the bomb in the car and turning to look directly into the camera. GASP! It’s also just beautifully composed with the blur line being disguised by the edge of two buildings coming together and the shadow of a tree. Masterful cinematography work happening here at all times.
  • The playful nature of the filmmaking, writing, performances, all gel together to misdirect and entertain you in a way that’s fun to revisit. There’s always something new to pick out on a repeated viewing.
  • Two great examples of the set up and payoff of bookending scenes is Ethan’s meeting with Phelps in London. This time, as he pieces it together in his head, he chooses to put a poker face on and not reveal that information up front. He knows where it got him last time and so do we! So we see Ethan grow from the hotheaded quarterback to a more calculated spy. Chef’s kiss.
  • The audacity to have Jean Reno and Ving Rhames in scenes together is amazing. Reno plays the sleazy disavowed spy and Rhames plays Luther as a cool dude who just likes to mess around with toys.
  • The set design for the Langley rope-hanging scene is so much fun. The regular office areas feel so familiar, but then the super secure room feels like something out of Star Wars or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Great way to make that scene feel visually distinct and easy to parse. A good example of how De Palma and co. show and tell, first with the brief and then the execution. So much is communicated visually that is easy for us babies to absorb like the water hitting the floor from the guy’s drink.
    • Another highlight is when Reno’s character, Krieger, snatches the disc from Ethan and drops the knife at the same time. It’s a little NOS boost to the already-tense realization that he is not to be trusted while they both have to remain still and watch their plan freefall just like the knife. Again. Chef’s mf’n kiss.
  • Side note: this really makes me want to play Hitman and then I remember IO Interactive is making a 007 game and wow I cannot friggin’ wait.
  • The one gripe I have is when Tom Cruise picks up the bible on the floor after his magic routine and somehow notices the Drake Hotel stamp.
    • I remember being taught in school that coincidence works best when it gets characters further into trouble, not magically point them to an answer or solve something.
  • The climax in the baggage car is fucking hilarious. Voight’s character, Phelps, is basically upset because his wife wanted to bang Ethan? Or banged Ethan? Unclear. Either way, she’s dead and Ethan… lives? Idk, man.
  • Final note: Tom Cruise yelling after he hooks the chopper onto the train is so fucking funny to me and I will laugh every time I see it. I truly love to see it.