Soundtrack Reviews: Mission: Impossible

To celebrate the release of Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1, I released a series of reviews of each CD release of the franchise. Here is the summary (with Part 2 coming in Summer 2024!).

9 Album covers

Mission: Impossible (1996)

Mission: Impossible – The orchestral score is one of the best Mission: Impossible soundtracks. Danny Elfman quoted Lalo Schifrin’s classic theme and “The Plot” theme. He beat Alan Silvestri to the chase but that’s worth a listen too. Military drums, dissonant strings, flutes and punchy brass align to pay homage to the original series. Much like Alan Silvestri’s rejected score (see bottom of the page).

Mission: Impossible – Soundtrack CD2 from the Mission: Impossible original’ film is “music from and inspired by” the movie – however, apart from a couple of Danny Elfman tracks and the theme tune remixes by half of U2, only one song from the Cranberries is in the film. The rest is just Marketing fluff and filler. Mission: Impossible CD single / 12” releases.

The main theme was successfully remixed by Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton from U2. Sampling from the original they convert the 5/4 groove into 4/4 and the main version is very listenable. Track 2 is Junior’s Hard Mix Edit – which unfortunately edits out a long orchestra introduction before a dance mix by Junior Vasquez kicks in. Track 3 is Mission Accomplished – a piano heavy remix in 5/4 with a Bondesque middle section. Track 4 is an ambient remix by Goldie and Rob Playford. Track 5 is the Dave Clarke remix. Only available on the 12” single is the full 8 minute version and dub version of Junior’s Hard Mix and on a rare 12” promo there’s also a Guru Mix. Some of these are on YouTube.

Mission: Impossible 2 (2000), Mission: Impossible III (2006) and Ghost Protocol (2011)

Mission: Impossible 2 has a great orchestral soundtrack by Hans Zimmer. Recorded at the same time as Gladiator, it features his usual team of musicians, with the haunting vocals of Lisa Gerrard and expressive guitar playing of Heitor, Pereira playing the emotional Nyah’s theme as portrayed by Thandiwe Newton.

M:I 2 CD2 is unfortunately another album largely “inspired by the film” with only a few songs actually used. An hour of ear-draining heavy Nu Metal powerchords, the main theme is interpolated into “Take a Look Around” by Limp Bizkit, with other tracks by Metallica, Rob Zombie, Foo Fighters and Brian May, Chris Cornell, and Tori Amos to name the famous ones. It sounds better when masked by John Woo’s motorcycle engines and helicopters.

Mission: Impossible III is back on track with the partnership of JJ Abrams and Michael Giacchino. Heavily quoting from the original theme and The Plot, the soundtrack is dramatic and full of emotion with the thematic introduction of Ethan’s wife Julia but it also allows space for the comic timing. Flutes, piano, bongos, trills and 5/4 add a sense of nostalgia and homage to the original 1960s soundtracks by Lalo Schifrin.

Mission: Impossible 4 Ghost Protocol – Michael Giacchino returns with Brad Bird & JJ Abrams. Urgent and paranoid string ostinatos (reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s dissonant score to Psycho) feature alongside The Incredibles style punchy brass and wind. Witty track names abound along with clever ethnic instrumentation to suggestion locations such as Russia, India and Dubai plus quotes of the two original themes. The icing on the cake is the return to Julia’s theme from M:I 3. Poignant and beautiful.

Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015) and Fallout (2023)

Mission: Impossible 5 Rogue Nation has a stunning and well-crafted soundtrack by Joe Kraemer. Leitmotifs abound. For the recurring evil mastermind Solomon Lane (conjuring ominously building repeats akin to John Barry). For British spy Ilsa Faust, he allocates the Nessun Dorma theme. In her first scene (the interrogation) it’s disguised in 7/8, transposed and in the minor yet on the feminine flute. Later this semi-love theme recurs with full strings after the exciting scene at the opera. Quotes and variations on the main theme and The Plot continue the thematic franchise thread with 5/4 and 7/8 keeping the mood tense.

Mission: Impossible 6 Fallout, Lorne Balfe’s first instalment with Chris McQ, at the helm is almost too intense. Rhythmic grooves and ostinato based on the main theme and The Plot support a powerful brass re-harmonisation of the 3 note theme (Eb-C-F#) using Cm D Ab D and other variants. Impending doom! Paranoid octave piano figures add tension to an already dissonant intense score. There is little musical comedy or time for romance here. Julia’s surprise return really misses Michael Giacchino’s love theme.

Mission: Impossible Dead Reckoning Part 1 (2023)

For Dead Reckoning Part 1 Lorne Balfe returns with director Chris McQ. It’s a film running almost 3 hours and the soundtrack release is 2 hours. My 2CD set is coming from La La Land Records in Los Angeles.

For this score, they recorded musicians in cities which form the locations of the filming, with 555 musicians playing across 5 cities. Unlike Fallout, there are moments of rest and peace (based around the thematic chords), mystery and excellent cue point timing to go alongside the heavy brass drama. The instrumentation during dialogue scenes is more subtle, with harp, piano and tremolo strings, contrasted with his Eb C F# derivative of the main theme. As always, the best use of sound during the big stunt pieces is silence – to allow the audience to hold their breath!

Bonus: Alan Silvestri’s rejected score for Mission: Impossible (1996)

Alan Silvestri’s rejected score to Mission: Impossible After recording his soundtrack for two days for Brian De Palma’s original film, Alan Silvestri found himself replaced by Danny Elfman, (who was later replaced for Mission Impossible 2 by Hans Zimmer.) Silvestri’s score has a few main elements – variations of the main theme and The Plot, military drums, persistent rhythmical electronic patterns, suitable for trains and tense build ups, punctuated by wailing distorted guitars and electric drum kit fills, plus a Russian sounding theme based on the Dies Irae. Interestingly, one variation on the theme pre-empts the 4/4 groove/ rhythm used by Larry Mullins and Adam Clayton in the single release remix. The notable theme for Claire is beautiful and melancholy with a lyrical oboe (probably the lovely Tom Boyd) and cor Anglais solo, quiet and dissonant strings and piano.

Come back in 12 monrhs for the review of Dead Reckoning Part 2 in July 2024.

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