a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Monday, May 22, 2006

An Impossibly-Weird Plot Moment

So I saw Mission Impossible III over the weekend, which I actually liked for what it was, a fun thrill ride that holds together well as long as you don't actually think about it too much.

Except for one sequence, that had me largely baffled.

(No real spoilers. Read on.)

In a key part of the movie, Tom Cruise has to save his wife by stealing a certain item from a heavy-guarded building in Shanghai, that despite his being given 48 hours to get, somehow comes down to his actually only having 15 minutes to do it.

(Like I said, don't actually think about it too much).

It's actually a great writing test for a screenwriter. It's time for a big setpiece, in which your hero is indeed faced with an impossible mission; not only does he have to swing on a wire from one building to another, then gun down a bunch of guards (which we see); he then has to go down into the building, and find this object in less than fifteen minutes, despite the fact that he doesn't know exactly where it is, and he has to do it without being spotted or shot.

It's a mission so hard that the bad guy would rather have Tom Cruise do it than send in his own heavily-trained gunmen to do it.

Plus the setpiece has to be different enough from all the other setpieces of this movie (and the previous two movies), so that the audience doesn't feel you are going back into the same well again.

The filmmakers' solution?

They completely blow it off.

There's no setpiece at all.

Tom Cruise disappears into the building, and suddenly it's ten minutes later, and two of his cohorts are praying for him in the car (because this amazing mission is so impossible, even jaded agents worry he can't do it, though given that they have no other apparent purpose there than praying, one wonders why they bothered coming).

And then rather than give us any idea of what happened in the intervening ten-plus minutes, Tom is suddenly parachuting out a window with the item.

I have no idea whether there was a setpiece, and they cut it for budget reasons, or for pacing reasons, or whether they just couldn't come up with anything and did this bit of filler instead.

But it feels dumb, and lazy. They go to all this trouble to set up this contrived storyline, and then they can't even be bothered to pay off the action bits they are setting up. It wouldn't even have taken much, just a few bits of cleverness and then you can parachute him out the window.

Apparently a $150 million budget doesn't buy as much as it used to.

By the way, even though I saw this on at a 4 PM show on the movie's third Saturday, there were only 8 people in the whole theater. It was so quiet that Katie Holmes could have given birth in there.


At 1:29 AM, Blogger Ismo Santala said...

I actually loved that solution!

I mean, come on, the whole film is about how Ethan Hunt is the Hero, the Unstoppable Warrior.

So when he jumps out of that building, I couldn't help but smile.

At 2:26 AM, Blogger Steve Peterson said...

I actually liked it too -- it sort of grows on you.

We've seen the big break-in already in M:i 1 and M:i 2, so putting the intensity on the break-out gives a little change of place, and the too-low parachuting I thought was well-executed.

At 4:25 AM, Blogger taZ said...

I guess a applied the "don't actually think about it too much" rule when it comes to that too, cause it didn't really bother me when I saw it...

At 5:06 AM, Blogger The Moviequill said...

I saw it first weekend Sat afternoon matinee and only 8 people... maybe because they had it on 5 screens in the same theatre... interesting dilemma though, since it was wall to wall action I had to pick my pee break carefully

At 5:59 AM, Blogger Brett said...

One of the little-discussed down sides to these mega movies premiering on eleventy-jillion screens at once is that everyone who wants to see the movie easily does see it that first few days, meaning there's no backlog of interested viewers, meaning there's no buzz in the theater unless you bother to wait in lines that opening weekend.

Part of the fun of a movie is (IMO) the group experience-- you can feel the emotion of the room in which you are watching the moe. When there are no people, there's little emotion, and even a balls to the wall action flick can come off as a bit tired and underwhelming.

I remember standing in line all day on a Saturday to catch the second day showing of EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and I can recall the "oooosss" and "aaaaaahs" of a packed house.

You don;t get that so much anymore, at least, not nearly so often after the initial rush of viewers on the first Friday and Saturday nights.

Oh well.

B (never seen any MI movies, and not really concernd about that)

At 7:47 AM, Blogger Twixter Scripter said...

I had several problems with this movie. Your "impossibly-weird plot moment" only made number three on my list. Number one was the ridiculous McGuffin (which is stolen in your scene) and number two was the multiple extraneous break in scenes at the Vatican (half of them were just not necessary). Another nuisance (Number 4 on my list) was that I felt that I had already seen half the movie before. There were scenes 'borrowed' from True Lies, episodes of ER, earlier MI movies, Speed and Entrapment (just to name a few). I was very disappointed although I liked it more than MI:II.

Let us know when you see The Davinci Code.

At 9:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I could think of during said scene was a fairly similar break-in in the Ocean's 11 remake.

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Twixter -- Yeah, the fact that Tom Cruise needs a convoluted plan to climb over a wall into the Vatican, when his buddy just walks in disguised as a student, is rather eye-rolling. Hell, Tom could even have gotten in by hiding in the sports car.

At 11:46 AM, Blogger Tom said...

I thought that sequence was pretty cool, given the emphasis the movie gives to the team and the idea of family. The chase right after had enough thrill to keep me involved. I was glued to the screen the whole time, hook, line and sinker.

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Ismo Santala said...

Yeah, yeah, all the set pieces are really Zen koans about the importance of family! ;)

But seriously, emotional impact has very little to do with the logistics of plot. I can usually find some raw emotional connection with the material. Even when it's just Tom Cruise dodging bullets...

At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They didn't show this because they stole it srtaight from M:I 2 when Hunt braks into the lab to steal the Chimera virus -- so, since we've seen it already... no need to show it again, right.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...



Ok, Cruise and Ving Rhames decoded the "microdot" from Keri Russell. She leaves Cruise a message telling her that Philip Seymour Hoffman was receiving phone calls from Lawrence Fishburne's character.

Was I the only one who exclaimed at that moment: "Oh, so the turncoat is Billy Crudup"? It's such an obvious set-up for misdirection that I think I'm trained to expect these things from now on. Had Fishburn been the guy all along, I would have a bit more respect for the flick.

At 3:57 AM, Anonymous Chris Soth said...

I noted the missing action too, and thought it was weird -- but it's not like there's no set piece -- just getting to the roof of the building is probably the best set piece in the film, and getting out might be the second best. Maybe they knew they couldn't top them. In any case, did a little review of MI3 over on my blog -- long story MI yet, but that still doesn't mean it's good, does it?

At 4:41 PM, Blogger Abe Burnett said...

Actually, MI:1 was my favorite, followed by MI:3. I too noticed the abscent set piece. It was an odd experience for me. Internally I could feel myself getting geared up for the impending lab crash scene, and then it just wasn't there. It took me a while to decide how I felt about that. All in all, I think it was a smart move: 1)such a set piece would've cost a bundle and 2)it'd be very hard to do anything new--and worth watching. You could argue that it was an opportunity to pull out the creative stops and really surprise us, but I respect their having the balls to make a valid, yet atypical decision. Something else I thought of was that MI:3 was already a longer action flick as it was; there really wasn't any room for another big set piece. I appreciated that they cut out (or left out) the big--but entirely gratuitous--set piece in favor of the scenes that heighten the emotion values in the movie...especially since--atypically again--many of those scene had to do with family, real love, etc.

I personally loved that he got married in MI:3, and that much of his motivation was the saving of his marriage.

At 8:36 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

I liked the missing scene, as you guys mentioned earlier, was he really going to fail?

I just liked that fact that he's THAT good, he fucking probably zipped through that place, grabbed his shit, and got the hell out because the clock was ticking for his girl.

There may have been a scene already shot, and maybe at that point it did slow things down because at that point we're eager to see the climax.

Overall, I thought it was a great action movie, best in a long time.

At 12:01 AM, Blogger Formerly, The Dude Spoke said...

Logically, I suppose the decision makes a great amount of sense, given that the movie poens with him after he's already retrieved it. So you KNOW he can't fail. And to add yet another huge action sequence so quickly after the ridiculous entry (ridiculous in a good way) would be overkill and make the flick more like M:I2.

yet, I can't shake the feeling that they planned something that needed to be cut for budget reasons. Naturally the only way they could top the scene is to either make the lab full of zombies or he has to cross a river of molten lava.

At 8:04 AM, Blogger Whaledawg said...

I went to the Creative Screenwriting Magazine screening of this film on Monday and the writers said that they didn't show that part because:

A) You can never top the break in from the original MI, with him hanging over the pressure sensitive floor.

B) There's so much action in the movie already they were afraid a long break in scene would wear the audience out too soon.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger IQpierce said...

Actually as soon as I saw that sequence, I thought to myself, "Hmm, so I guess when they release the video game of this movie, that's what I'll be doing."

Seriously, think about it.

First of all, they did EXACTLY this with the season finale of Star Trek: Voyager. Part of Janeway's intricate plot was for Voyager to get captured by a Borg ship, and then somehow miraculously escape. On the show, they got captured; went to commercial; and then came back from the commercial and miraculously escaped.

Then a few months later they came out with Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force 2... whose plot was about you, the player, going through the Borg ship and getting the Voyager to miraculously escape.

I work in the game industry, so I could go on for a while about game "adaptations" (see: tie-ins) for movies, and how they sell so much better, in spite of sucking so much worse, than other games. (Exception on the suckage: Goldeneye 007 for the N64, one of the finest games of its time.)

But anyway it looks like I may be wrong, because I haven't heard anything about a MI:3 game coming out. Although it's surprising that no one tried to cash in and do so; many big-budget movies get some form of video game tie-in or another, no matter how misguided.


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