Monday, March 5, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "The Plot" from Mission: Impossible by Lalo Schifrin

Hey Cinnamon, can I borrow your towel for a sec? My car just hit a water buffalo.
(Photo source: Starlet Showcase)
Whether it's an episode from the Martin Landau/Barbara Bach era or an episode from the Leonard Nimoy era, each time you catch the original Mission: Impossible, you're guaranteed five things.

1. Lalo Schifrin's swinging main title theme while the opening title sequence gives huge spoilers of the episode to come.

2. Exposition delivered by some doohickey called a tape ("Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to...").

3. Said tape self-destructing.

4. A scenery-chewing moment from the main guest star where his villainous character loses his mind thanks to the skills of the IMF.

5. "The Plot."

"The Plot"? That's the other musical staple of the original Mission: Impossible. It was Schifrin's march theme for the IMF. "The Plot" is also one of the few elements Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible movies retained from the late '60s/early '70s show, which was influenced by the heist flick Topkapi and then wound up influencing Alias and shows outside the espionage genre like TNT's Leverage and BBC's Hustle (one of Hustle's funniest moments was both a shout-out to the old show and a sight gag that played around with non-diegetic music: Hustle needle-dropped the Mission: Impossible main title theme while Marc Warren's Danny practiced his moves for a future heist, and then what we thought was non-diegetic music turned out to be a CD of the Mission: Impossible theme that Danny likes to play while he practices).

'Hello? Is it me you're looking for? I don't usually quote Lionel Richie songs that were made into creepy and stalker-y music videos, but I just wanted to impress you with my knowledge of '80s soft rock.'
Many critics have said that the best Mission: Impossible movies are the ones that are closest in spirit to the show. True that, but I've also noticed that the more the film uses "The Plot," the more enjoyable the film. Danny Elfman included "The Plot" in his score for the first film. Michael Giacchino referenced "The Plot" in his Mission: Impossible III score and used it more than once during Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol, the best of the four feature films. Hans Zimmer never featured "The Plot" in his Mission: Impossible II score, a badly dated mash-up of Zimmer's Gladiator sound (Zimmer worked on both Gladiator and Mission: Impossible II in the same year) and nu metal (nothing says the year 2000 like the presence of mega-douchey Limp Bizkit on the soundtrack). Not exactly one of John Woo's finest moments, Mission: Impossible II retained the fewest elements from the show (hey Cruise, where did the ensemble go?) and ended up being the weakest installment in the film franchise.

I'm not a musicologist, so I can't explain why "The Plot" works as a theme. Like the skills of each IMF agent during any mission masterminded by Dan Briggs or Jim Phelps (the gladiator movie-liking version, not the traitorous douchenozzle version), the suspenseful strings and militaristic percussion of "The Plot" just come together well, and I love it when a plan comes together. Woops, wrong ensemble action show.

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