The Real Mission: Impossible

There was a time, back when I was a kid, when I would get home from school in the afternoon, let myself in, set myself up with graham crackers and a tall glass of milk, settle into the bean-bag chair and watch Mission: Impossible.

From this distance I don’t remember all the circumstances that combined to create this quiet time between me and Peter Graves, but it was special. Each show ended with some bad guy walking through a door, knowing they had absolutely fucked themselves, while the MI team drove away in a nondescript van, peeling off latex masks and sharing a chuckle.

The beauty of the whole thing was that after the success of a ludicrously complex plan, that required flawless performances by a group of spies and actors with varied skills, Mr. Phelps and his team would vanish. Even then, the bad guy couldn’t be sure they ever existed.

The episodes didn’t end with shooting, or even confessions. They ended with moments. That’s how you write a story.

Many years after that, yet many years ago, when I heard they were making a Mission: Impossible movie, I was very excited. This was gong to be MY kind of thriller. Plenty of action and even more intrigue, when half a dozen people work in perfect harmony to achieve psychological dominance and destroy an asshole with minimum outward fuss. Winning a quiet war.

Nope. Just another superhero movie. No ensemble. No mental game. As antithetical to the source material as I, Robot was (well, almost — I, Robot was filmed on opposites day). But there’s money in the franchise; they keep making more. Tonight I saw a promotion for another Mission: Impossible superhero flick, this one shamelessly bearing “part one” in the title.

Honestly, I don’t begrudge them the franchise. They are making movies people who are not me will pay to watch. What angers me is that they burned the name, without paying it any respect. Now it will not be possible to make a Mission: Impossible movie true to the source and use the name to sell it.


6 thoughts on “The Real Mission: Impossible

  1. Aw goddammit, now you got the MI theme stuck in my head for the rest of the week.

    Also, I don’t think you were nearly harsh enough on “I, Robot.” Was just forced to watch it again (my wife loves it, having never read the original) and it’s just atrocious.

    • Asimov: *writes a series of stories about how fear of robot uprisings is irrational and will just hold us back*

      The only time I’ve seen parts of that movie was at Little Cafe Near Home in Prague, and you can be sure I will not seek a friendlier viewing. I hate the very idea that this was made.

      Do you remember the MI theme playing as the fuse burned across the screen? Right from the little flute florish that was an opener with a hook.

  2. As per my earlier reply on another thread about reading source material after watching adaptations on streaming services, when Kristi got a new iWatch and we got 60 days of free AppleTV, I was looking forward to watching Foundation. Other than the concept of psychohistory, it didn’t much resemble what I remember in the books from discovering them in my father’s bookcase 40 years ago (right next to the Lord of the Rings trilogies).
    So I went back and re-read the original trilogy, plus a couple of the subsequent books in the series, in an attempt to find out what was new by the screen writers and what was brought in from additional Foundation books.
    Conclusions: 1) Asimov wasn’t that great of a writer. 2) The screen writers brought in the concept of Daneel Olivaw being tied from Robot series to Foundation from Asimov himself (who did it the subsequent prequels to Foundation Trilogy), but then ruined it by having him kill humans.
    So I have relegated Foundation as you have I Robot, as an adaptation using the famous name and little of the original content. Won’t be subscribing to AppleTV to catch season 2.

    • I’m going to disagree – a little bit. I have mentioned recently that Foundation really isn’t that good in retrospect. It’s mostly Men Talking about Stuff, until the end, when finally the best character in the whole series is female.

      After the first season, we’re two short stories in. I think is was after episode three that I mentioned to The Official Sweetie that so far exactly ONE scene came from the source material. At some point, on Trantor, two men talked about psychohistory. All the Cleon shit is not in the source, and the fall of the space elevator is straight from the Mars Trilogy.

      Far from the foundation, the robot angle got very nuanced, and R. Danieel is the ultimate embodiment of the trolley thing. Reduce Earth to radioactive waste to force humanity to embrace the stars — before humanity destroys itself. That is a good and big idea, and, well, Asimov may not have been the writer to make it real.

      When I heard my brother would be working on the project, I said, “man, I hope you’re not too faithful to the source material.” I think it’s a good thing that they haven’t been. Mostly. I can’t say my teeth didn’t grind a little now and then.

      To be honest, my biggest gripe is the personal force field that the emperor wears. In the original material the emperor had an “aura”, but is was some radioactive thing that clouded people’s judgement. It was categorically NOT a personal force field, with special Dune “attack must move slowly” modifications. The fact the Empire never had personal force fields is a central point not too many episodes from now.

      And they way the vault is portrayed. That is right annoying. And the part where it is merely by accident that there are no mathematicians on Foundation. The very idea that Seldon would have wanted a mathematician on Foundation breaks the story. The first Foundation is a place for engineers and traders and liars and pragmatists of the highest order. Opportunists. For such a small population, awfully predictable.

      And then there’s the whole superhero “Gut Feeling” character that uses mystical inspiration to get the good guys out of the jam. That’s kind of… not what Asimov wrote. Much like it was statistically inevitable that some asshole in a boat would cross the Atlantic and come home to tell the tale, psychohistory predicted that Foundation would find itself surrounded by stronger nations, and find a way to survive. Seldon would not have known the name Christopher Columbus, but he would have known that someone like Columbus was inevitable.

      The Foundation Trilogy isn’t actually very good. The series is a little better, but abandons the real anchors of the original. So is it actually Foundation?

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply, and the reference back to your Foundation blog post (to which I replied, back in the day, so I was at least temporarily aware of its existence).

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