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Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
No plan. No backup. No choice.
Filmmaker(s): Brad Bird

Ethan Hunt and his team are racing against time to track down a dangerous terrorist named Hendricks, who has gained access to Russian nuclear launch codes and is planning a strike on the United States. An attempt to stop him ends in an explosion causing severe destruction to the Kremlin and the IMF to be implicated in the bombing, forcing the President to disavow them. No longer being aided by the government, Ethan and his team chase Hendricks around the globe, although they might still be too late to stop a disaster.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)

The Unused Helo

I saw this close to seeing the third Transformer movie, and the lessons are clear.

That other film was unconstrained, had no coherence other than the external reference to the world order established by the toy manufacturer. This film in contrast is shaped, pruned from a single vision. Oh, the basic ideas are the same, though this sub-genre involves some mental exercises of the audience to interpret what is going on. No matter what a nitwit Cruise is otherwise, he gets the value of control and within a narrow range can support it.

That’s why Brad Bird was the ideal man for the job. There are other paths to understanding the challenges of constraining the the world than an apprenticeship in fantasy animation, but that will do. The result is that this does the job of competently filling a couple hours in an empty life, without giving any sustaining value. But suppose you do want to watch this for lessons on constraint.

The final fight, as the genre demands, is a monumental battle between two men with the fate of an entire world in the balance. It has to be brutal, and involve (at this point in the evolution) lots of third dimension action. (Third dimension here means height in the world of the movie.) It has to go on so long, have variety and such and such.

In Michael Bay‘s hands, this would have involved every excess available. (I am thinking particularly of Arnold jumping onto and wrestling a Harrier.) You can clearly see that the special effects lab brought such a possibility to the production. At the beginning of the fight scene our small guy Tom chases the evil scientist into a parking garage with elevators. Everything about this is designed for the fight: there are no people and elevators go up and down with noir caprice. The thing is open and superbly lit. This is clearly what the CGI guys like and I‘m sure what they brought to the project.

But look just as our guys are approaching the garage, the helicopter that we have briefly seen earlier is landing on top of the structure. I have no doubt that storyboards had Tom elevating over the structure after we saw some ups and downs within. Likely, the ultimate drop (which wrecks a car) as proposed would have involved this device.

What we have instead is still pretty silly as reality goes, but it is constrained within a single structure, whose behavior we understand and accept. It is all about decisions my friends, and when there is a steady hand and some conscious steering, we should applaud.


I hate to point this out (because of the hate mail I will get), but this is the difference between Apple products and those of others. Others sell devices based on specs: bigger, faster, cheaper. More, more, more. And people buy those devices because who wouldn‘t want more? People go to Michael Bay movies because he‘ll just be more excessive than the last guy.

Apple is all about delighting customers with a well designed experience. A bit slower for massive improvements in battery life? A bit smaller so it can be operated one-handed? Thousands of tiny decisions all guided by a single philosophy, all intended to add something to the richness of the experience.

Is it an accident that Apple products are featured in the Bird movie while commodity electronics firms are featured in the Bay one?

Posted in 2012

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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