Monday, December 19, 2011

Missions: Impossible

One of my favorite guilty pleasure TV shows when I was growing up was Mission: Impossible. It was exciting, exotic, and you always knew that the bad guys were really bad and that, in the end, the villain would be standing there with a bewildered look, victim of an ingenious plot that left him wondering if anyone got the number of the bus that just ran him down. This was the original cast (well, the sort of original cast, as the chief of the IMF in the first season was played by Stephen Hill, who was replaced by Peter Graves in subsequent seasons):

I loved the show because of its intricate plots, and because I always knew the good guys would win in the end. Much of the attraction for me was that the IMFs plans relied on clever subterfuge, disguises, and psychology rather than raw physical action.

Fast forward to 2011, where the fourth film in the Mission: Impossible series, Ghost Protocol, has just hit theaters with a cinematic bang. It's getting good reviews, and will no doubt make its director and cast thousands of cubic feet of thousand dollar bills. But to me, it's just not the same.

The TV show relied on intricate plots, timing, clever disguises, and applied psychology. There were very few high-speed car chases, huge explosions, and wild, choreographed fight scenes. The members of the IMF were in and out before the bad guys ever knew they were there, and they usually left a confused and broken villain, rather than blazing piles of wreckage. They were clever, fearless, and completely unbelievable ... but they were my heroes.

The movies, on the other hand, reflect the current emphasis on wild stunts, huge explosions, and high-tech wizardry. When the curtain falls, the bad guy is still out of business, but your ears are ringing and your eyes hurt from the pyrotechnics. And Tom Cruise is no Peter Graves. Or Stephen Hill, for that matter.

It's just not the same thing.

My favorite episode of the original show was the 1967 episode titled "The Train," in which the IMF had to convince the dying president of a country that his chosen successor was actually a despicable snake just waiting for him to die so he could seize power and become a dictator. The team hijacked the train carrying the president to a distant hospital for treatment and staged an accident to set up a situation in which the bad guy, thinking the president was dead, would reveal his true colors. It was completely unbelievable, but cleverly staged with low-tech special effects and psychological manipulation. At the climax, when the fake walls of the hospital room were rolled away to reveal the sick president sadly looking on the protege who he realizes has just betrayed him, you can't help but cheer.

Another great episode was the two-part "Old Man Out," in which the IMF team was assigned to rescue a elderly religious leader from an escape-proof prison. You knew they'd get him out in the end, but there were enough twists and kinks in the plot that you were kept on the edge of your seat. The actual escape was a thrilling slide-for-life high over the heads of a crowd while the IMF team distracted everyone with a dangerous high-wire circus act.

I'll watch Ghost Protocol, just like I've watched the other three Mission: Impossible movies, and I'll enjoy it. But it just won't be the same as watching Peter Graves and his team make the world safe for ... well ... what we used to call democracy.

Have a good day. Enjoy the movie, but check out the original series.

More thoughts tomorrow.



eViL pOp TaRt said...

Very interesting. I'll look to see if Mission Impossible (TV series) is avaliable by Netflix.

Amanda said...

We used to watch the Mission Impossible series every week when we lived in Malaysia. This was in the 80s and at that time, they mostly broadcasted the much older shows...I guess they didn't want to pay for the new ones. I remember there were no ads on TV until later and then, my brother and I were all amazed at that. Imagine WANTING to watch the ads.

Mike said...

The Train was on PBS the other night.

allenwoodhaven said...

It was a great show. I remember watching it as a family as a kid, and it was always exciting. It has the most recognizable theme music of any tv show (and best to me).

It was always a great team. I used to wonder who were the ones who didn't get picked (as Jim looked through the photos). I thought it would be fantastic to have my picture among them, even not being picked.

I gave the movie version a try for the first one but then swore I'd never see another when they had the gall to make Mr. Phelps the bad guy. THAT would never happen, ever, ever ever. I know that it is a very successful series, but they'll never get me to buy a ticket. Some things are a matter of principle.

Thanks for the topic. It was great to remember such an excellent show.